Sunday, September 24, 2006

The Passing of a Giant

(photo courtesy of Martine's Wines)

Burgundy legend, Henri Jayer, passed away last Wednesday. He was 84.

In wine there are few who are truly legends and Henri Jayer was one of them. So legendary that some presumed that he passed away many years ago mainly because he laid low and turned over his estate to his nephew, Emmanuel Rouget, in 1996.

Jayer leaves a legacy that is hard to overestimate as the vineyard and winemaking practices he espoused are routinely applied by vignerons and winemakers all over the world today. His motto was: “quality before anything else”. He freely gave advice and mentored fellow Burgundians such as the late Denis Mortet, Philippe Charlopin, Jean-Michel Meo, and of course his nephew, Emmanuel Rouget.

In the vineyard, he pruned severely to reduce yields, and he plowed to discourage surface roots and encourage roots to go down deeply. He also harvested late, making sure that the crops have reached full ripeness.

But it was in the cellar that the Jayer method was copied widely by winemakers all over the world, whether making wine with Pinot Noir or other grape varietals. He brutally sorted. He fully destemmed. He cold-soaked for a week to extract color and aroma and macerated with the skins for up to a month. Then he aged his wines in 100% new oak

Although the Jayer method can easily be copied, the results are seldom duplicated. The secret, if it’s any secret at all, is that one must still know the wines that one is making. That is something that cannot be taught or copied.

Next time you enjoy a Burgundy or Pinot Noir offer a toast to Henri Jayer, as there's a good chance the wine you may be drinking has his imprint on it.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

The Future of the Wine Advocate

It is the sign of the times. Instead of waiting for the next printed issue of the Wine Advocate to announce sweeping changes in its staffing, Robert Parker opted to post a thread on the Squires forum housed in the Web site.

Details about the new staff critics dominated Parker's post, but he also revealed new directions for the Wine Advocate's reporting and Web strategies. Parker has entrusted David Schildknecht to handle the bulk of the Wine Advocate's content. In addition to his current beat in Germany and Alsace, Schildknecht will also be covering Burgundy, Champagne, Loire, Languedoc-Roussilllon, New Zealand, and South Africa. Yet that's not all, with more critics on hand, the Wine Advocate is also looking to reach out to other wine frontiers heretofore given little coverage. Thus, Schildknecht's mandate includes reporting Central Europe and the United States' East Coast and Midwest winegrowing regions. Given his wide-ranging role, no doubt Schildknecht is Parker's new right hand man.

During the runup to the announcement, Parker observers heavily predicted Antonio Galloni, the young New York-based editor and publisher of the popular online Piedmont Report, to join the Wine Advocate. They were, of course, correct. Galloni will be covering all of Italy this time and, get this, the entire content of the Piedmont Report will be made accessible in

The other two new members of the staff are Parker cronies. Dr. J. Miller, Parker's longtime friend and supposed clone, will be taking on wine regions known for producing Port-like wines: Australia, Spain, and of course Oporto. Plus, he will be reporting on wines of the Pacific Northwest and South America. Meanwhile, Mark Squires gets the all-important task of writing about the dry wines of Portugal.

Parker, presumably, is a much happier man now, as he gets to focus on his main bailiwick of Bordeaux, Rhône Valley (and Provence), and California.

Parker also hinted bringing in a "critic-at-large" for the Web site. One who's "a prolific writer who will provide remarkable diversity and expertise, and will represent a point of view outside the American perspective that now dominates this site.” Hmmm. Could this be Michel Bettane?

Highlighting the importance of engaging readers directly via the Web, Parker also stated increased Web participation of the Wine Advocate staff: “All of us will be even more active on the Mark Squires Bulletin Board that appears on the web site”. For sure, this new emphasis on the Web will draw even more traffic to the Web site.

Overall, Parker is to be congratulated on most of these changes. The strong presence of Schildknecht and Galloni gives the Wine Advocate great credibility in the areas these two gentlemen will cover. No doubt they will help boost readership for the Wine Advocate, which, needless to say, must happen as the publication now has a considerable payroll to meet.

Perhaps more importantly, the reorganization also paves the way for the publication to thrive beyond Parker. The Wine Advocate is now a viable brand on its own. Competing wine media should take notice.

Wednesday, September 6, 2006

New TV Series on Wine Seeks to "Demystify" Wine

The Cork Dorks, a new educational TV series on wine, will air soon on a Public TV channel in your location. Hosted by two wine industry characters ("the cork dorks", get it?), the 30-minute episode features on-location shots at vineyards and wineries as the hosts goof around and explain heady winemaking terms as "green harvest" and "skin-to-juice ratio".

Their narration is helped along by nifty "Powerpoint"-type bullet-point presentation graphics and catchy numbered lists borrowed from glossy magazine headlines, such as: "The 6 Napa Wineries That Made Napa What It Is Today", "4 Things That Wine Lovers Should Do (But Probably Don't)", and "3 Secrets of Wine Labels".

This is a truly educational program that's slick and entertaining as well. The hosts do succeed in demystifying many aspects about wine, but let's hope they don't succeed too much. Edutainment shows like these could be deceptive. It might make you more wine smart but not necessarily enhance or widen your appreciation of wine.