Steve Heimoff

What Makes A Wine “Authentic”?

by Tim Elliott on June 18, 2013

As is often the case, Steve Heimoff has posted a “think piece” on his blog today. And judging by the relatively few comments at the time I write this most readers are just doing that; thinking. His post is on authenticity in wine and how difficult and subjective it is to define. In the end, Steve gives no answers on the subject but does get one thinking about what makes a wine “authentic”.

To me authenticity starts with the intent of the winemaker and what the site and vineyard manager has provided her or him to work with. Can you make authentic Syrah in Napa Valley? Perhaps but other sites might be more suited to growing the grape. Should anything be added to the crushed grapes to make an “authentic wine”? Some would argue no, but denying scientific advances is similar to not using modern medicine to avoid fatal illness. The issue is loaded with traditional, cultural and political nuances.

Feet crushing grapes Photo by stromnessdundee via Flickr

No discussion of wine authenticity should lack the obvious mention of low intervention or so-called “natural wine“. My own preference in my single quasi-commercial winemaking venture to date used as few processes as was possible in a shared winemaking facility like Crushpad in Dog Patch. Yes, yeast was inoculated as conducting a native yeast ferment, which was my preference, was not recommended within a winery with dozens, if not hundreds, of other fermentations taking place. Yes, enzymes and a minimal dose of sulfur were used on the must but after pressing only regular stirring of the lees was applied and the wine was only racked once after several months in barrel (it is a Roussanne/Marsanne blend).

Is this not a “natural, authentic” wine? Some would argue one or all of the three additives used makes this wine somehow makes it un-natural and less authentic. A few others might argue that trucking the grapes several hundred miles in a refrigerated container is also unauthentic but that’s another story.

My point is what is authentic wine is highly debatable. What is not is a sea of industrial wines sold that not only use modern science to produce clean wines but also techniques that make the resulting product softer and more approachable (think micro-oxygenation, mega-purple and other such processes or additives here). That doesn’t mean the wine is not better for all the manipulation but what is left is not an authentic representation of the site and grapes harvested that year.

But that’s just my opinion, and as Dennis Miller used to say, I could be wrong.

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Why Do Wine Blogs Need To Make Money?

by Tim Elliott on February 18, 2011

Connoisseurs' Guide to California WineThe Connoisseurs’ Guide to California Wine has long been a resource for consumers looking to find great wines from my native state. Founded in 1974, the publication was among the first I purchased when I first got into wine almost 30 years ago. My old green CGCW guidebook has long since been replaced by other wine pubs and I haven’t thought about the Connoisseurs’ Guide for a decade or more. So I was surprised last night as I read a post entitled, “Wine Blogging: Can It Survive?” on their blog, no less. This post was inspired by an earlier musing by Steve Heimoff.

After thinking about both posts for a bit, I wonder why most times wine bloggers are referenced by the wine writing establishment the issue of making money comes up? Most likely because they themselves would not do what they have been doing for free and are mystified why we choose to spend time blogging with little or no monetary reward. The irony, of course, is these same wine writers are using the blogging medium to syndicate their somewhat disparaging views about wine bloggers.

If you look at the wine blogging scene today there are hundreds of entrants chasing the attention of a niche audience who have both a passion for wine and the tech savvy to know what a blog is. The top wine blogs, according to the alawine.com listing, are mixed between pros like New York Times wine writer Eric Asimov, wine blog pioneers like Vinography, New York Cork Report and Tom Wark’s Fermentation. The only “new entrant” is 1WineDude who has been around for 4 years. But for the hundreds – or even thousands – of voices in the wine blogosphere there are really only 25 or 30 who have built online communities of any size.

So that brings me back to monetization. Even the very top trafficked independent wine blogs don’t produce enough clicks to make online advertising a viable source of income. Sure, they could make a few bucks here and there but the volume is just not large enough for anything significant. For the rest of us, the income might cover the server costs and some of our travel expenses but that’s about it. For some, just the access to the wine industry is enough with event passes and wine samples a nice perk. For others, such as the folks at Catavino and myself, outside consulting opportunities in the wine industry help pay the bills. But the vast majority of wine bloggers make little to nothing from blogging. And I don’t see anything wrong with that.

What do you think?

via Connoisseurs’ Guide to California Wine

Steve HeimoffSteve Heimoff’s blog is one I read everyday. As the West Coast editor and critic for Wine Enthusiast magazine, his industry insider experience brings an important point of view and legitimacy to the wine blogosphere. I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Heimoff, and even sharing some wine at the first WIne Bloggers Conference, but I don’t think he will remember this encounter since his expression was somewhere between deer in headlights and, “my brain will explode.” Yes, it was after the speed tasting and humbling blind tasting events.

So I was pleased to see an incoming link from his blog just a week after I restarted here. Following the link I found a somewhat humorous post taking me to task over my review of my past years’ predictions. This post was just a, “clear the desks and start fresh,” sort of thing and I never expected anyone to comment, let alone inspire a post. Since Mr. Heimoff took the time to dissect my predictions, I thought it only proper to answer in kind.

On my first prediction, Mr. Heimoff casts doubt to whether the “luxury wine” segment has really come back in any meaningful way. Apparently he thinks I was referring to $100 plus cult bottlings and not the, “$35 and up” range noted in my original post (in fact, I mentioned $60-80 Cali Cabs specifically). I agree with him that the market for such heavily allocated wines has not returned and will most likely never return to levels we saw just a few years back. The consumer has changed and the “new normal” does not have space for such novelties. I’m not sure where he got his point about China but perhaps that will make a good subject for a future post.

My second prediction post-mortem fared a bit better but it is clear Mr. Heimoff looks at social media with a very skeptical eye. He poses a fair question about what I mean by “integrated.” No, the random Facebook wall post, YouTube video or tweet does not make for an integrated marketing strategy. And yes, there are very few examples of best practices in wine social media marketing. But it is clear this is the way wine will be marketed now and into the future.

The knives are being sharpened on my third prediction about wineries using mobile to reach customers. It is clear Mr. Heimoff is unaware of innovative uses for the iPad being pioneered by wineries like Jordan or of apps such as CONVERGE. I’ll give him a pass here as he’s clearly looking for someone to inform him of these sorts of mobile applications.

I knew my next two predictions would meet with some pointed commentary and Mr. Heimoff did not disappoint. On my aspirational prediction of wine bloggers figuring out a business model, he agrees with my assessment of being wrong but seriously doubts anyone will figure this out ever. My only response is if someone can figure out a business model for blogging to professional bloggers, then a wine blogger will figure this out, as well. It’s just a matter of time.

But it’s on my final prediction that, “A Major Wine Print Publication Will Fold,” where his true colors are revealed (in fact if this prediction was not made, I doubt he would have written his post at all). Clearly Mr. Heimoff has a horse in this race and firmly believes wine print magazines will continue on as they have in the past, while slowly shifting their focus to more online distribution. My point of view is the consumer of the future will not be paying for many magazines, and if they do, it will be $1.99 an issue and they will read them on their iPad or similar device. The entire print business model will change very quickly and only those publications with a solid base in the wine trade will have the resources to make the transition. For others, it will not end well. But that is in the future, as Mr. Heimoff agrees, not in 2011.

This exchange reminds me of what attracted me to blogging six years ago. I hope to have many more of these discussions with Mr. Heimoff and other wine bloggers in the future. Perhaps over an old bottle of Ridge Monte Bello Cab or BV George Latour Private Reserve.