Wine Culture

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Blame it on my Anthropology undergrad work, but I have written that, still feeling fairly new to the wine industry, I often feel like Margaret Mead, looking in on and trying to understand the behaviour of some lost tribe. As a participating observer having now lived 6 years among “the people,” things still baffle me, and I like to wonder why.

No matter how hard I tried the other day, it seemed I could not shake that Chateau following behind. Sam and I were off that day from Portland to the Willamette Valley, to pick up some of our wine at Oregon Wine Services  (very nice people) in McMinnville, and en route, I had the best chuckle: a Chateau on wheels. It was just a camper, but how funny to see a “Chateau” traveling through Oregon’s best-known wine country. It’s apropros in a way, you know, how wine and chateaus like to go hand-in-hand here in the USA? As if a chateau is some marker of what, authenticity? Prestige? The “Old Country”?

I always say, “Only two letters separate ‘arrogance’ from ‘ignorance,’ meaning, in my pointy head, there’s not much that differentiates the two words. Don’t get me wrong, I like chateaus just like the rest of us romantic souls, but only when they’re the real deal, LIKE IN FRANCE, or GERMANY or some other country where the provenance is legitimate, and not some contrived artifice used for marketing. Which, c’mon, it is.

Not that there are many chateaus in the Willamette Valley, if there are any at all—things seem pretty real down that way on the physical landscape of rolling, verdure hills, and tucked away places. On the brand landscape there might be a few; a quick Google search turned up Chateau Lorane (no picture of a chateau, though); Chateau Bianca (again, no image of a chateau), and Chateau Benoit (not clear if a chateau is really there, either, since all I found was a label, and no chateau on that).

Up Washington way there are some actual chateaus, as well as “chateau” brands. Chateau Ste. Michelle would be the acting queen of Washington castles and brands, the oldest wine biz up there. Then there’s Chateau Champoux, but I don’t get a sense that there’s an actual chateau on the premise. Nor at Chateau Rollat’s. Things look more promising for Le Chateau Winery, since that’s what the “under construction” website suggests. There is a chateau up on La Montagne Rouge (all this chateau talk is making the French come out of me, sorry), as we all know, one of the founding partners having connections direct to la France (there it is again). But all these other chateaus, I just don’t get. We’re not France!  Two years ago I was still wondering about all this chateau stuff, but more with a peek into Cali, and here’s the post I wrote, if you’re interested.

Anyway, we don’t have a chateau on our hill, and have no plans for one. But what we DO have is something we like to refer to as the “Campeau” (or “LE Campeau,” if we’re feeling very French), so we might fit in a little out there in the wilds of the wine world.

It’s not even a Chateau, like the one cruising so close behind the other day, it’s a Komfort (that’s right, with a K). “And it’s paid for,” Scott pipes in, “as of this week.” And klassy, in its own, krazy way, I might add. I wonder what Margaret would say.

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As members of what amounts essentially to a farmer’s electric company cooperative, Wasco Electric, we receive their monthly publication, Ruralite, a magazine that covers life and individuals out in the agricultural reaches and towns they service. I enjoy reading it because it’s “real,” not air-brushed imagery or loaded with Madison Ave adverts, its glamour is in its simplicity. Anyway, after dinner I was thumbing through and came across an ad in Marketplace, that began, “Plant Grapes, Make Wine.” It went on to tell about the acreage and location of “prime, undeveloped land, water rights, blah blah blah” from a notable Washington State AVA. Didn’t I have a chuckle. How easy. Plant grapes, make wine. Just like that, people. And we wonder why the market is as the market is. Holy crap.

Chatting with Scott, he told me about a phone conversation he had with a wine broker? wine something or other, who said to him how she often checks the Oregon Liquor Control Commission website, and sees, as Scott relayed, “All the wineries springing up.” That’s right. springing up. And indeed they are. And we wonder why the market is as the market is. Yes, I’m saying it again.

For better or worse, we took a true path. Our endeavor was not one that sprung up. It’s been decades in the making, years of searching, and of waiting. We planted a vineyard on land that met our requirements, and we waited, to make wine based on Scott’s palate, one that he developed in France with one of its top wine merchants. Yeah!

And then there are ads like this, thank goodness, to leave us smiling even more, where someone 64 years young wants to meet “sexy looker that can treat me right and cook well.”  Ha! Good looking and a good cook! At least he didn’t ask for some sexy looker he can plant grapes and make wine with who’s also a good cook and on top of it all treats him right. I’d end our subscription.

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Watching an Ed Sullivan “Classic Performances” the other night on a public broadcasting station, we were struck by the authenticity of the performances. There was no big show, it was about the music, and each song and its performer/s showed true individuality. Petula Clark, The Mamas and the Papas, The Beatles, The Four Lovers….How could it not be so, when it was nothing but the performer on a bare stage—singing, not lip synching, or rarely, since Sullivan wanted the music to be live— and in black and white to boot? Such clarity of focus, of the song, of the artist. “That performance was just stunning,” said Scott of “Down Town.” No, Ed truly appreciated the unique. And through him gave a lot of people their first break.

We need an Ed Sullivan for the wine world. Someone not afraid to step out there and discover new, singular talent. Writing a piece for about the International Wine Style, it made me wonder, “If Ed were resurrected, and had wine producers on his show, who might he have these days?” Would he have given in to the masses and opt for a bunch of Britney Spears-like lip- synchers who simply go through the motion, mastering the art of dazzling through performance? Or would it be Petula Clark-esque, a sole singer on a stark stage where the song/wine is so much a part of the singer, that you can’t tell where one begins and the other ends and the whole performance belongs to that person alone, never able to be replicated? It’s really hard to know. We would hope Ed would appreciate us, and not for our singing!


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WARNING: This post is waaaay more heady than a meadowlark warbling (my last post).

Was at the best lunchtime presentation about the power of story last week, where the presenter, the creative mastermind behind the Portland Timbers advertising, Jelly Helm, a former Executive Creative Director at Wieden and Kennedy, shared some of his expertise. Even now it’s all still swirling in my head: the idea of story deficit in our culture (what we do have is way too shallow), about how the stories we’ve all depended upon as a society have been challenged and are in many cases no longer valid, the hero story — lots of heady stuff that I just LOVE, having a brand storyteller/writer background.

As I sat there and listened, I started thinking about the wine industry, the industry I now write for, and work in, and The Grande Dalles, and Scott and myself. And Steve Heimoff. What stories are now being told in the wine world, what stories aren’t, and at this junction the industry finds itself at, because it’s clear the wine world is going through something, what  scenarios will characterize the wine world and its stories moving forward?

Read the rest of this entry »

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The Grande Dalles made Bottle Notes’ Wine of the Week (see below), the news hitting the internet while we were in transit to New York and our James Beard event. So it’s been almost 2 weeks ago, but I’ve only just now had the chance to pop it in The Uncultivated Life.

While being chosen from all the wines I’m sure they receive was indeed quite an honor, even more so was what was written about us, like:

–Referring to The Grande Dalles as “That winemaker who goes the extra mile to defy convention and produce wines that are different from everything else in the immediate surroundings.”

–“For doing things just a little bit differently, The Grande Dalles is our Wine of the Week.”

“The Grande Dalles is…a contrarian in the massive Columbia Valley, producing unique, small-batch wines…”

“…Use The Grande Dalles as inspiration to seek out other wines that diverge from the regional norm.”


Thank you, THANK YOU Bottle Notes — for recognizing our wine and the spot-on words about our endeavor.


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It’s been a worrisome last few weeks. Scott’s been out and about with our wine, to select, highly esteemed Portland, Oregon restaurants and sommeliers who we felt would appreciate the obvious uniqueness of our wines. And now we seem to be at a standstill. Here’s the problem in a nutshell: our wines are so atypical for this local area and the current collective state of this industry, people don’t know what to do with them. How atypical you ask? Well, for one, they have tannins (gasp!). For another, they are well-structured, angular, some might say, with very distinct flavours, and they’re all 13.5% alcohol and under, ACTUAL, not fudged, numbers. These are wines that were made in our vineyard, the grapes carefully tended to and watched for the right picking time. Our wines are both elegant and robust, and individual beyond all get-out. These wines were made with a very clear vision, and it shows. And people don’t expect it, and don’t know what to think about it.

Really, how does one go about finding people who value individual wines? We’ve got to get more creative here. It’s obvious the wine industry is on the cusp of returning to more singular wines, personal wines, like ours. We’re seeing more and more how people who either lack or lost vision (like Kluge and Cosentino) are shaking out, little by little. We’re reading how over-ripe wines are trending downward. We feel in our gut the yearning for the “authentic” and real in all walks of life, not just wine, a return to a simpler moment that brings pause and reflection, instead of this non-stop go-go-going. BUT WHERE ARE THESE PEOPLE? WHERE ARE YOU?! I just hope we’re not too much before our time. But it’s starting to feel very lonely, and I’m not even out on our hilltop.

So that’s what we’re finding ourselves up against. Maybe we just need to stay away from these Portland bastion restaurants and try with the new, young, more experimental places; it seems the big guys have a system that works and they don’t want to introduce anything new to it. And that makes me gasp, for when one no longer values the distinct and individual, what is there left?

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No critic has ever said it better:

“In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read.…[T]here are times when a critic truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defense of the new. The world is often unkind to new talent, new creations.” Anton Ego, Ratatouille

Yes, I took a quote from a movie about a rat who wanted to cook. If you’ve seen the film, you’d understand. Or maybe not. But if you’ve ever attempted to step out and do something new, be it enter a new industry or profession, run a race, hell, cook a soufflé, there will be those—critics— who cut you down, telling you you can’t because you’re not experienced enough, out of your league, don’t have what it takes, or, you’re not following the “club rules.”

I’m just perplexed as to why? (Wasn’t I perplexed in my last post, too? Is it the full moon? Or is it that time of year?!) Monsieur Ego provides some insight. Be you a professional critic or simply an armchair pessimist (like myself), there’s no risk when you criticize someone else. Read the rest of this entry »

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People who can’t wait for the table to be poured drive me nuts. You know, the ones who reach for their glass the minute the bottle is lifted away? I don’t know why, but outside of my buddies in Europe, I know a lot of people like this. People, who, like a nervous herd of gazelles gathered at a pond, lower their heads and quickly drink, as if this immediate gratification will save them from the lion about to pounce. Makes me wonder if this behavior IS vestige to our time on the savannah, when we had to dine and dash because we knew the lion was lurking close by? Today, 1.8 million years after the appearance of Homo erectus, what’s wrong with breaking from the herd and slowing down a bit?

I started thinking about this not only because ‘tis the season of celebrating and friends gathering, but because of our 16-month (partner and) son. He loves to have a “fancy drink”—something we believe he thinks is more special than the milk, water, or diluted juice he typically quaffs—especially when we celebrate occasions like the bank giving us more money to limp through another growing and wine making year on, or the end of harvest, and I want my little guy to join in and engage with those around him fully in the occasion. To break from the herd. Slow down. To know he is no longer on the savannah. Read the rest of this entry »

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