Only the Stones

There is a song of the Cheyenne people that I came across in a library book my son and I were sharing for our nightly story time.  The song was a mantra during times of sickness, or before going into battle.  It was a song to bring strength and remind us of both our mortality and our potential for greatness in our lives.

cheyenne

My friends,

Only the stones

Stay on earth forever.

Use your best ability.

I’m pausing.  I almost want to just leave it here for each reader to ruminate and cultivate their own thoughts.  But as is often the case, so many of my “life” moments overflow into my “wine” moments and this one is no exception.  Pour yourself a healthy size sip here and please be obliged to continue.

The sauce and I have spent the last couple of weeks doing some promotional work for Falling Bright through guest spots on a few local (and national…and international) radio programs.  On most occasions when we are interviewed about our professional backgrounds and our thoughts on wine and other trivia we receive a lot of questions such as…how do you choose wines for your collection?  Those wines that are so expensive, are they really worth that much?  Can you taste the difference?  Do scores matter?  And you get the point.  My interpretation of this line of questioning from the wine consumer’s standpoint is fairly simple:  People want to know what they are getting and they want a stamp of approval that it’s top notch and they want to know that other people would envy what they got and want to get some too.  And you know what?  I love this piece of the human nature that seeps into the world of wine appreciation.  If there were not a drive to seek out the best of the best and the hidden gems and the over-deliverers then the wine world would be set to become a pretty boring destination.  But with human nature being what it is, the simple soon becomes so much more complex.

Here is where my roads diverge.  Critical ratings of wines seem to be focused toward the consumer.  The purpose of the score is to provide tasting insights, a short preview of the wine, and a summary of it’s merits in a quantitative format.  However, if it is so well-known that wine appreciators are out there benchmarking and precious gem mining then why is there such a move to ignore the score?  It seems there a tendency to reject what is said by the critics only so that we could all return to the mines with our pick axes and no headlamps.  Now let me be clear, while I certainly appreciate what a wine critic has to say, I most definitely do not live and die by the numbers when I am considering the wines that are best for me or best for a consulting client.  This being said, I would never wish for a world of wine where there were no benchmarks and no scores to follow.  For me, scores are a road map for a leisurely journey rather than GPS navigation in heavy traffic to an appointment you’re late for.  There are options along your route and the options are laid out to enhance your pleasure rather than to bring you to your destination with the least delay.

So where did that other road lead?  If critical ratings and reviews of wines are focused ahead to wine consumers, it seems that they leave winemakers and wine producers in the rear-view mirror.  The picture this paints for most wine appreciators is that winemakers will always be chasing after the critics for the next big number.  But I have to say, of all the winemakers I’ve ever spoken with, very few if any of them speak of scores.  There are plenty of numbers on their minds – lab sheets, calendar dates, degrees Celsius, degrees Fahrenheit, degrees Brix, the price of barrels, etc… but usually not critics’ scores.  They give a wave to the rear-view mirror just before getting back to the work that’s cut out for them, the vintage that is on their hands.

So what about the poem from my introduction?  I’m trying to keep a reminder around for myself to constantly be aware of the work I am doing – to give my best effort.  This includes the work that we are doing to build quality into the wines we are bringing to our shop.  We recognize that our work is under constant review and that it is a reflection of the work that has been done all the way back to the vineyards – and the work of the winemaker.  When the time comes for review and recognition, there is one thing a good winemaker will be able to stand on – the stones on the earth.  The stones will remain right in place on the earth and a good winemaker will know that he/she has used their best ability.  We should all be so sure in our every endeavor that we have used our best abilities.

At Bucher Vineyards

Going by most of the charts and timelines that attempt an illustration of the lines dividing one generation from the next, I’m technically a millennial [GASP!] and Sauce is a GenX-er [eye roll].   This would explain why his taste for music far exceeds my taste for noise but it is still a mystery why he is so much better at social media than I am.  Somehow, someway we have managed to come together on most topics concerning world politics, we don’t argue over religion, and we have a deep respect for each others’ work ethic.  So it seems that the dividing lines between generations are not as straight or narrow as one would initially assume.

Naturally, I am in favor of blurry generational lines because they allow me to extricate myself from membership in the “worst” generation.  But wait, weren’t GenX-ers well-hated by the Boomers?  And Boomers just being “kids these days” as their parents and grandparents wagged a finger in their direction?  It is a perpetual cycle that we search for disdain – we cannot approve of the next because it makes ourselves the last.  It is so hard to face the imminent arrival of our own irrelevance.  And this is where I have to drag myself away from the pull of negativity, force myself to stop categorizing, and adjust my focus to see the good [deep breath] – the good in the millennials.

Lucky for me, a breath of fresh air and a change in the view are just the thing for accentuating the positive and encouraging a new perspective.  And what do you know?  Sauce and I found ourselves rolling through the bucolic hills and dales of the Russian River Valley in Sonoma County.  Bucher.Cows-and-vineyard-looking-east-panoVineyards as far as the eye can see…wine tasting…Pinot Noir!…and…Dairy Cattle?  [Grrr].  Sauce, this better not be one of your crazy cheese things.  As we turn up the long drive bordered with white rail fencing and fringed with electric green grass my reality snaps into focus; this is not the midsummer Pinot Forum jaunt of my pre-children years.  It’s January.  It’s pouring rain.  The seats around me are occupied by Nona, Sauce, and our toddler happily munching his second packet of fruit snacks and it’s only 10am.  I just realized I’m the mom.

Stepping out into the persistent drizzle, we were greeted by Diane Bucher at Bucher Farms / Bucher Vineyards & Winery.  Her wide smile was welcoming as she invited us to explore the family farm

Bucher.KalonCrossing.
Mr. Hollywood visits the Bucher Farm.     

operation and familiarize ourselves with the lay of their land.  After a few layers of rain gear, a pair of rubber boots, and my brief but earnest explanation of why not to jump in the puddles next to the cows, we were off on our adventure.  Simply stated, farm life is every three-year-old little boy’s dream.  There are large vehicles, tall haystacks, cows that moo, and doggies that bark.  I don’t think that Sauce and the mini Sauce could have been happier with the sights, sounds, and even the smells of a working Dairy.  They were in their element together and only the offer of a warm & dry seat in front of a glass of Pinot could pull the Sauce from his frolic with the milk maidens of Bucher.

 

Back up the hill we climbed and ducked under the flying Swiss flag to find ourselves around the table with Diane & John Bucher and daughter, Hannah.  John’s firm but friendly handshake was a familiar reminder of his likewise personality  – we had met a number of times over tastings down the road at the Williams Selyem winery featuring the single vineyard line-up of Pinots that includes a bottling from the Bucher Vineyards that stretch out before us just beyond the panoramic window across the room.  John pours us his Rosé of Pinot Noir to start with and as we taste through his line that includes an unoaked Chardonnay, the barrel fermented Rio Oro Chardonnay, and three smashing Pinot Noirs, the conversation drifts between cows, grapes, land, cheese, business, and Family.

My happy, warmed up, cow-whispering toddler is busily crayoning his next masterpiece on the broad antique living room table that Hannah Bucher has so graciously spread with layers of newspaper.  My mother-in-law has a contented I just sipped amazingly creamy Chardonnay grin across her lips.  There’s not a cell phone in sight (save for the dormant device in front of Sauce – discreetly set to silent mode).  My pencil is down and my glass is up.  There is a millennial amongst us and my aggravation meter isn’t zipping off the charts.  It’s actually not even registering – my inner grouch is flatlining here folks.  There is a pair of vibrant, attentive, curious eyes across the table from me and they are attached to a twenty-something that is fully engaged in a conversation about agriculture, family-owned businesses, and social media [of course].

I understand that there is a major gripe about the work ethic of millennials and I am certainly guilty of proliferating this complaint; but I’m turning a long slow corner.  The further I navigate into my own journey of parenthood the more obvious it becomes that the state of the next generation [whichever generation that may be at present] is a  direct product of those who came before [read: those who are griping].   The deeper I dove into the conversation at The Bucher Farm, the more inspired I was to take ownership of my parenting possibilities and to proliferate forward thinking with this next generation.  Accepting responsibility for the future generation seems to be a daunting task but there is no other way unless we plan to stop time in it’s tracks.  How will I make it through this?  My advice to myself is this:  when this task seems overwhelming I will make pit stops along the way to take in the view and adjust my focus.  These diversions will include places like the vineyards of the Russian River Valley and The Bucher Farm.  These backroads jaunts will lead to conversations with people like Hannah and Diane and John.  And these talks will continue to bring new perspectives that drive us to seek out the good – the good people, the good wines, and the good in ourselves.

Bucher.Family.jpg
The Bucher Family

 

 


More Reads & Sites:

Get Inspired by Hannah Bucher – here’s her Bio.

Virtually Visit Bucher Vineyards

What’s that Williams Selyem wine we mentioned?

Get yourself a bottle at Falling Bright.

 

 

At Mending Wall

Walking the rows of fermentation tanks at the Mending Wall winery, the first impression is a sense of meticulous order that is borderline sterile.  It’s unnerving at first.  Sauce and I are standing in this enormous space holding glasses that contain a few splashes of Stone on Stone and our breaths come a little shorter.  Our gazes shift from tank to floor to expansive rafters back to tank then floor…our reflections stare back from either of these…then back to the wine in our glasses and then our eyes meet.  I’m thinking that I should have made the bed this morning and maybe I could have pressed a shirt for Sauce.  My mind starts making it’s way down a to-do list of things I have done only half-way or half-heartedly – it’s one part accomplishment and two parts failure with a dash of try again.  Just before I get to the part where I hyperventilate and start rethinking my career path I’m snapped back into the moment where Sauce is saying something to me about the wine…

Mending Wall Tryptic

Ah yes, we’re here for the wine – not for a regressive therapy session of self reflection.  Going deeper into this realm of wine greatness, we arrive in a barrel room that is stacked with the wines we’ve always wished for.  It’s here that the calm that lies beneath the powerful perfectionism is revealed.  A great sense of “anything is possible” fills the space that comes into focus as a blank canvas ready to become a masterpiece.  Self-consciousness subsides and I’m able to take part in a wine experience that flirts with the idea that creativity, genius, and methodical precision can come together for a common cause.  So this is Thomas Rivers Brown.

If our count is correct, Robert Parker has awarded 100 points to a Thomas Rivers Brown wines 8 times in the past 10 years.  Wine Spectator has given him the 100 point high-five 2 times.  With recognition like this, most people would have an ego to match, but it seems that Thomas maintains a certain sense of modesty about his wines.  He expresses a genuine appreciation for the mystery of the vine and a deference to what nature provides.  Seeing wine as a product of place, he cultivates his relationships with the vineyard sites he works with and matches the wine to the site.  He has seen much success from his patient and persistent practice in both Napa and Sonoma on sites such as Beckstoffer’s To-Kalon vineyard with Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay from B.Theriot and Pinot Noir from Summa and Boars’ View both on the extreme Sonoma Coast.  We can only assume that there is a certain sense of satisfaction with the wines that have resulted from his work here, yet there is a continuing desire that drives Thomas to continue his search for another challenge.

What could challenge an incredible talent like Thomas Rivers Brown?  Perhaps it will be to seek out new vineyards – cooler climates – unexplored territory.  To continue his relationship with the land by matching grape to location to style.  To discover a deeper intuition with his craft.  And possibly to turn focus to his own label, Rivers-Marie, where he seeks to fine tune the tension between size and surreptitiousness.  Wherever and whatever his discoveries may be, we are confident that the final result will end up swirling in our glasses, showcasing in our gallery, and stealing our hearts.


Pull up a chair and read more….Mending Wall Seats

For a better BLOG on Thomas Rivers Brown: The Terroirist

Winemaker of the Year 2012: Food and Wine

Just more of us… www.tiffandsauce.com

 


Find the Wine

fbLogo125pt  www.fallingbrightwinemerchants.com

 

 

 

Subjective Theory of ValueWine

Back when I was a youthful twenty-something I took it in the ribs a few times from friends and family that would say I had returned to college to get my M.R.S. degree.  Somewhat true <grinning sheepishly>.  However, I did not meet my husband until after leaving Oregon State University and all her splendid Northwestern beauty for the great State of California.  Truthfully, I forced myself into completing my Bachelors Degree – by hook or by crook – just to finish.  I had become notorious for starting things and not reaching completion and I wanted to end that nonsense.  At the same time, I wanted to be able to some day offer a somewhat educated parent to my future child(ren).

I forged my way through a liberal arts degree knowing full well that there was no end “Career Goal” in sight and I will admit that along the way there were some failures.  As in, F for Failure.  Math 119b Survey of Calculus II;  F the first time around and a passing grade on the second try after my instructor was probably so tired of my ignorant questions that he just pushed me through.  Chem 320a Organic Chemistry; no passing grade in sight and the realization that I don’t actually enjoy Math, Chemistry, or Physics and that pre-Med would be a bad idea.  Econ 101?  Only suffered through that course to fulfill a requirement and the whole thing was a bad dream – BUT – I did take away one concept that has stuck with me since that class:  The Subjective Theory of Value.

Before continuing, I will strap on my Helmet to deflect the stones that are certain to be thrown in my direction for the following reasons:

  1. I am not proficient enough in Economics to properly explain the theories associated with this field (so of course, publish my feeble attempts to understand, right?) and…
  2. The way this Subjective Theory of Value ties into a discussion on Wine will make some people cry foul; or just cry.
Class is in session, let us begin.
Value is thus nothing inherent in goods, no property of them, nor an independent thing existing by itself.  It is a judgment economizing men make about the importance of the goods at their disposal for the maintenance of their lives and well-being.  Carl Menger, Principles of Economics
If value exists as Menger defines it, why then do we continue to question the high prices of Cult Wines, First-Growth Bordeaux or Grand Cru Burgundy and then continue into a diatribe/sales pitch about “value wine”? This topic is beaten to a pulp in popular wine media, social media, the Blog-o-Sphere, etc..  and the entire debate has no leg to stand on.  Price is not Value.  Before we get all heated up about wine, let’s consider some other consumer commodities:
Chocolate.  Nestle Semisweet Morsels 20.7 cents/ounce.  Sharffen Berger 62% Cocoa 61.8 cents/ounce.
Coffee.  Yuban Traditional Medium Roast “Premium” Coffee 25.8 cents/ounce.  Peet’s Coffee Major Dickason’s Blend “Deep Roast” 74.9 cents/ounce.
Diamonds.  Where 1 ounce = 141.747616 carats and an average diamond is about $1500 per carat give or take…we’re looking at about  $212,641.42 per ounce.
Water.  A liter bottle of Evian comes in at about $1.79 making it 5.3 cents/ounce…penny for your thoughts and a nickel for a sip.
The question of price is answered objectively as the above examples convey.  The question of value is subjective…and as explained by Menger, gets a little confusing.  Why pay more for coffee or chocolate?  What was the cost of producing these goods?  Which goods required more labor?  How much is water worth to you?  What value does a diamond represent for you?  Are we lost in the desert and dying of thirst?  Or are we wandering in a proverbial love desert of loneliness hoping to get engaged?  Questions like these will begin to guide you toward your own subjective interpretation of value.
Carl Menger on Screaming Eagle
The last time I put my finger on the pulse of the consumer base in the wine industry, the heartrate was strong and nobody was dying of thirst. But there were plenty of connoisseurs hoping for love at first sip from their next bottle.  My point here is that wine is a luxury product.  And that’s it.  Wine is not a resource that we need for survival (though I treat it as if it were the air I breathe).  It is the Diamond and not The Water in the Paradox.  There’s no “fair and equal distribution of Wine” Act.  There’s no “Price point to make wines affordable for Everybody” Act.  However, there IS fierce competition, a free market, ingenuity, creativity, sustainability, talent, marketing, vineyard designation, oak programs, “Rock-Star” Winemakers, art labels, wax caps, screw caps, original wood cases, Parker Scores, Spectator Reviews, corporate conglomerates, mom and pop shops, and everything in between.  And then there’s you – and your discriminating palate (by the way, it’s not PC to “discriminate”) and hopefully your discriminating consciousness.
YOU will be the one to make the final decision about what a wine is worth to you and what you can afford to pay.  Coming to the realization that a wine you might want is out of your price range is not a reason to tear it down.  That is a promotion of mediocrity and when provisions are made for mediocrity you get people like me who are granted a Passing Grade in Econ 101.  The world does not need more of that – go back and read paragraph 2 to decide for yourself the value of this article, the value of your time, and the value you now place on not promoting mediocrity.
If a wine you want is out of your price range, pick yourself up, dust yourself off, understand that wine is one of life’s Beautiful Luxurious Pleasures, and go find a bottle that gives you enough pleasure per dollar for you to consider it a value.  Then step back from the article/blog post/commentary that is deriding Screaming Eagle and Lafite, compose yourself for one second, and understand that the prices for wines like these are ridiculous because enough people paid them.  <I will enter a plea here that we not digress into a dialogue on “supply and demand” as that is such a sophomoric approach to this discussion.>  We are all well aware that scarcity drives up the price of a rare bottle.  In truth, the price paid for a status bottle of wine was a simple expression of the consumer’s perception of value – and they were entitled to it.  No sooner could we make everybody drive a Honda Civic and not a Mercedes or everybody have bare walls in their mud hut rather than Monet in their Mansion, then we could make every wine drinker swirl <insert your favorite value wine here> in their glass.  And thank God for that!
If the intention is to share ideas about which inexpensive wines drink better than their price point, and a popular opinion grows on that shared idea, then go with it.  But if the aim is to convince an ultra premium category buyer that they won’t find value in the rare or exclusive bottlings they are purchasing then you might as well be talking to an empty room. This category of wine consumer does find value in obtaining nearly unobtainable wines and they quite possibly spend a fair share on less expensive wines that they enjoy for another purpose as well.  So why is there a bully push to get the biggest supporters of wine out of the game?Inexpensive wines that cost conscious consumers enjoy are not mutually exclusive to astronomically expensive Wish Wines that are collected and curated and occasionally chugged down with wild abandon.  Both price categories can exist in the same economy and really one has little effect on the other.
The bottom line is that all wine should not be equal.  All wine should not be the same.  All wine should not be priced under a cap that a cohort of wine writers deems to be appropriate.  Sitting around speculating about what that saturation point in the market will be is simply a waste of good wine drinking time.  One man’s affordable luxury is another man’s swill and vice versa.  And that, my friends, is my Subjective Theory of Value as it pertains to wine and I encourage you to continue the debate and commentary.  Should name calling (Elitist!) and Stone-throwing commence, I’ve still got my helmet on.
If you haven’t had enough, please enjoy the following
Elite Wine Bashing Posts for your Reading Pleasure:
-Richard Hemming for Wine Searcher gives us “Hemmings Rule” where if you love expensive Bordeaux you will find more “value” in spending less on a Bordeaux varietal wine from another region where the most expensive wine costs less than 10 times the price of its cheapest equivalent. Sounds simple, right?
-Mike Steinberger rails away on how he agrees with Keith Levenberg of Noble Rot Magazine that Sine Qua Non wines are vile and disgusting and more expletives than you can say in front of a sailor.  Steinberger then continues to say that critics who give high ratings to both wines like Sine Qua Non and wines like La Tache and other DRC are a huge farce and are misleading consumers.  Don’t miss the comments section where somebody actually asks, “Do we really need all these different wines from everywhere?” <— is your Screen Name “The Wine Nazi”?
-W. Blake Gray ponders the mysteries of Screaming Eagle and passive aggressively calls for transparency from a Cult Cabernet producer.  There is hope…by #10 We don’t know if Screaming Eagle wines are worth the money… Gray is beginning to understand the Subjective Theory of Value.
-Chris Mercer for Decanter.com reports on an incredible wine sale and at least sticks to facts and information.  A breath of fresh air.

Memory of Taste: exchanging a Kiddie Cone Moment for a lifetime of Sense(s)

 

Taste Memory

There was (still is?) a little roadside hamburger stand in Wallowa, Oregon where my mother would stop in with a car full of us kids for a post-game treat on our way home from the softball field.  As I begin the telling of this story, the voice of Sauce is in my ear reminding me, “You have told me this story a million times”.  Perhaps I have.  But I will tell it again.

As we age (like a fine wine of course), this repeated story telling in an almost ritualistic fashion assures us that we’ve still got that glimmer of memories past.  That we came from somewhere.  And that we’re possibly even going somewhere.  We see children practice this ritual in a similar fashion.  Our three-year-old son tells us over and over a recounting of his daily events – trivial, complex, pleasant, and disturbing – it is all captured in his mind’s eye.  The most trivial usually being bathroom and bodily function related.  A more complex story covering emotions, questions concerning the universe and it’s existence, and long scenarios beginning with “once upon a time”.  He is comforted in his relationship to his narrative.

Going back to The Little Bear.  There was a vanilla soft serve kiddie cone for dessert.  Their signature touch was a red gummy cinnamon bear on the top.  It looked so appealing in that red-on-white cherry on top of a sundae sort of way.  But it tasted like – FIRE!

A few decades later, the fire has settled down into a warm bed of coals and I find a cinnamon gummy bear to be a sticky sweet nostalgic confection.  So where does this road lead me in terms of my Memory of Taste?  It is but a short side jaunt on the larger supersensory highway of a Lifetime Palate.  Retelling The Little Bear story in my own mind, and out loud just to tickle the Sauce nerves, reminds me that my best and most highly sensitive reception of taste was when I was a little girl, a baby even.  Where something could be so delicious – or so offensive – that it would stick.

So that’s it? We have lost the sharp sensory abilities of our youth?  The best wine quaffing opportunities passed us by when we were but babes on the breast?  Not entirely.   While I have not gone deep enough into the depths of science, I have a lukewarm assumption that as we age our perception of aromas and flavors does dull.  However, if we tune into the world around us, our bank of sensory memories continues to expand which in turn gives us a greater capacity for interpreting the sensory perceptions we receive.  To keep a sharp palate, we exercise beyond the physiology of tasting and smelling to log in to a longer term memory bank what otherwise would be a very short term experience.

And the how…It’s all just a presence of mind.

There are no “5 Easy Ways” or “10 Simple Steps” coming up, but rather suggestions for how your everyday sensory experiences can be heightened just by being present in the moment.  Take yourself on mental field trips.  Go to extremes and then contrast them.  Try a few versions of the following:

  • a hot & dry place and a cold & dry place (think desert vs. tundra)
  • a cool & damp place and a warm & damp place (think Redwood Forest vs. Tropical Rainforest)
  • a very empty space (think Vacant parking lot or warehouse or an open field)
  • a very crowded space (think New York subway/sidewalk, Disneyland at Fireworks, Costco on Saturday, the I-5 any second of any day)
  • a modern place (think Art Museum or Luxury Car Showroom)
  • a rustic place (think Horse Stable, Mountain Lodge, Roadside Hamburger Stand, Tombstone Arizona)
What did it smell like?
What was the intensity level of the aromas?
Now take those observations down in a mental note and return to them on your daily path.  If you shop a farmer’s market tune into the smells of the fruits, vegetables, herbs, and flowers.  When you step into a coffee shop for a quick chat over an espresso – stop and smell.  When you go for a jog, a ride, a row, a walk with your dog, or whatever is your choice of winding down – breath in.  Taking notice of the scents in your surroundings is building your memory bank for future reference.
Then go and uncork that bottle.  Follow those truly simple “3 Easy Steps”:
swirl, sip, repeat

If the smells and tastes from your glass transport you into your Memory of Taste, then congratulations, you have arrived at your wine destination.

More Places, Smells, & Memories for your reading and viewing pleasure: