On April Fool’s Day (coincidence?) Bloomberg writer John Mariani published an article titled, “Washington Wines Pack High Alcohol Wallop, Little Else.” Mariani notes in the article that his impressions came from a recent visit to Seattle, and he mentions about a dozen wines and brands, some of which he apparently tried on said visit.
Now let me just say in advance that I haven’t read other articles from Mariani, and it is unwise for any writer to draw sweeping conclusions from a fly-by visit and a small sample size (right?). However, I’ll play along and say from reading this article that Mariani appears to be one of the many writers who favors hit generating headlines over articles of substance (see what I did there?).
In terms of research for the article, the bulk of it seems to have come from not one but two quick trips – one to the Washington Wine Commission’s website for story details, such as 750 wineries, $3B, 13 approved appellations, varietal experimentation, etc., and the other a brief jaunt to Seattle where Mariani proceeds to proclaim the state of the industry over a few bottles and a veal chop noteworthy enough to warrant a subheading – though not the name of the restaurant.
Much of the writing in the article is breezy, disconnected, and quaint. For example, Mariani states, “Washington has always prided itself on intense, highly tannic, high-alcohol wines that show well in their youth but often lose brightness and complexity with age.” Umm, what?
Putting aside the present, look back even fifteen years let alone forty in the industry’s history and one will be hard pressed to find any wines that match that description, so the use of the word “always” seems odd here. Additionally, I’m not sure any winery anywhere would “pride itself” on wines that show well in their youth but not with age let alone an entire industry. But perhaps this is just sloppy writing (or editing), which brings me to…
Pictured at left in the article, Chaz Point – one of the wineries mentioned – is listed incorrectly as Chazz Point (unless that bottle shot is missing its second ‘z’!). Can’t say I’ve heard of them personally but Mariani liked the wine, so we’ll let that wine represent the industry, right? One of the paragraphs disparages a specific 2003 Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon but fails to even provide the winery’s name. Presumably, based on other things Mariani writes, it’s Quilceda Creek but the omission of the name seems unintentional.
Mariani writes, “Washington vintners have a knack for quirky names for their wines, like Boom Boom, Livewire and Jigsaw.” This seems an odd point to mention in a short article that says so little, especially since Washington does this no more than any other New World wine region. Perhaps it’s just another way to trivialize Washington wine but it seems trite. However, unless there’s a Washington winery using the Jigsaw moniker (in which case, lawyer up!), Jigsaw is an Oregon Pinot Noir from Ransom, not a Washington wine. Overall, errors and inaccuracies like these make the article seem specious and unbefitting of a outlet like Bloomberg.
Does Washington have an alcohol problem as Mariani posits? Yes and no. Yes, there are many wines from Washington where the alcohol (and oak) levels are higher than many people such as Mariani would like to see. But no, no more so than many New World (and even many Old World) wine regions. That is to say, it is a problem in some producers but not a uniquely Washington problem. This world-wide trend has been written about exhaustively over the last decade, perhaps even by the likes of Mariani himself.
It’s notable – but not noted by Mariani, however – that there are many producers in Washington and elsewhere that are bucking that trend. Washington has a growing and diverse wine industry where many winemakers are pouring their heart and souls into trying to create wines of distinction. Many of them are succeeding and are not making wines characterized by the broad strokes Mariani paints. They deserve better. To cast them all aside on the basis of a few bottles on a short visit is not just intellectually lazy, it’s a disservice to these wineries and to the entire industry, let alone to Bloomberg’s readers (and publisher).
Just as wineries shouldn’t be convinced that bolder is always better, writers shouldn’t either. Mariani’s readers would be better served by ratcheting down the attention grabbing headlines. Instead, offer articles of work and substance before making sweeping, potentially damaging proclamations about an entire industry. You wouldn’t, for example, want me to make faulty generalizations about the overall quality of Bloomberg based on one shoddy article would you?