When is a wine not a wine?

October 26, 2016.  The title of this post goes back to the old childhood riddle: “When is a door not a door?”  Answer: “When it’s a-jar.”

I have always taken a rather laissez-faire attitude toward American wine consumption.  I figure, if people are drinking wine, and enjoying it, great!  I am glad for any increase in happiness in this world.  So much the better!

But I have to admit that it was disheartening for me to open my mailbox today and pull out the current issue of the Wine Spectator.  On the cover is Joe Wagner, the silver-spoon heir of the Caymus Vineyards Wagner Family.  Last year Joe sold his family’s fairly new “Meiomi” brand to Constellation for the tidy sum of $315 million.

Now don’t get me wrong.  Business is business, and I do not object to someone’s selling a brand, or a name, or an image, for whatever a buyer is willing to pay.  But in my world, what Joe Wagner sold — the name, the brand, the image, the marketing machine — is not wine: not any more than Tang or Sunny D is orange juice.

For me, it comes down to the authenticity of what is in the bottle.  As an enthusiastic drinker of blended wines, I do not object to blending up to 25% of other grape varieties into the predominant grape identified on the label — unless, as might be in this case, it’s a cynical ploy to attract unwitting consumers to a wine with a flavor profile untethered to the place or the grape variety from which it is made. The Pinot Noir grape continues to ride the tide of popularity it gained from the movie “Sideways.”

But if I open a wine labeled “Pinot Noir” and find it to be super-ripe, full-bodied, jammy, rich, and sweet — in other words, a manufactured wine geared to win high ratings from palate-weary wine-magazine tasters but having nothing to do with the signal characteristics of the grape (light bodied, ethereal, subtle, and elegant) — well, . . . I feel cheated.  I smell a rat.

Again, let me be clear.  I have no objection to sweet wines with names like Apothic, or Layer Cake, or Jelly Jar — wines with the kind of branding deliberately aimed to attract consumers of sweet wines.  Furthermore, I have no objection to sweet wines in general or broad-shouldered, burly wines.  I love many of both types!

What I do object to is the cynical marketing of one kind of wine in the guise of another kind of wine.  I object to a winemaker’s addition of a substance like “mega purple” — even if it is grape-derived:
To me, that “wine” is not wine.

NONE of the winegrowers I work with use this kind of manipulation.  If you want a sweet wine, or a big burly wine, go for it!  I applaud your search!  But that ain’t Pinot Noir.