Posted by Brian Loring
We can finally breathe a brief sigh of relief now that James Laube’s reviews for many of our 2007 vintage wines have been posted (see Tasting Highlights: California Pinot Noir, part 1 and part 2). Submitting wines for review can create a lot of anxiety. We’re not told ahead of time when reviews will be made public, or if the wines will be reviewed at all. We’re never given a head’s-up on scores. And we’re not allowed to call and bug the reviewers.
We typically start seeing reviews about a month after we submit the wines, so that’s about when we start getting antsy for results. That's when you'll find me constantly hitting my browser's refresh button: What’s in the latest Insider? Did Jim’s latest blog just get posted? Is there a new Tasting Highlights? I’ve talked with many other winemakers, and they also check the Spectator website constantly when they have wines “in play.” It’s like waiting to get the scores from your college final exams. You think you did well … but you’re always afraid that you screwed up.
Any winemaker who tells you that reviews don’t matter, or that they don’t care, isn’t being completely truthful. At a minimum, we all want the validation that comes from nice reviews. Reviews are a valuable tool for the consumer who’s faced with trying to differentiate between thousands of wines vying for their attention. And there’s no denying the power of a good review to help sell wine quickly.
But even “bad” reviews have their worth. As winemakers, we often develop a house palate, wherein we get accustomed to what we do. We sometimes can lose sight of the bigger picture. It often takes an objective, critical review to get you to refocus.
I remember talking with Jim Laube back at the 2002 Wine Spectator California Wine Experience in Las Vegas. Jim had given our 2000 vintage wines some great reviews, but I was a little hesitant to send in our 2001 vintage wines since I thought they weren’t quite as good. I told Jim as much, and he gave me what has turned out to be some very helpful advice. He told me to submit them anyway since less-than-great reviews would be good for me. I didn’t take much comfort in that at the time, but he was right. I’ve often learned more from less-than-glowing reviews than I did from the great ones. They have made me examine what I do, and have given me inspiration to continue to try to do better.
I know that some of you are saying to yourself, “I knew it! Winemakers do try to make wines that appeal to certain reviewers.” But that’s not it at all. I think the fact that there are so few 95+-point wines demonstrates that it’s not possible to artificially create high-scoring wines. And reviewers never tell you WHAT to do. They only respond to what you’ve done.
If you think it’s as easy as making a “bigger” wine, or copying another winery’s style, then I dare you to try it yourself. ☺ It’s easy to point at certain wines and say that certain reviewers just like one style of wine. But it’s not true. For every big, bold wine that scores well, there’s a food-friendly, elegant wine that gets big numbers as well. Good wine is good wine. It’s as simple as that. And the experienced reviewers can and do objectively review all styles.
Nobody tries more wines than the major wine critics. They’re in a unique position to give you an honest, unbiased opinion of how your wine stacks up against the rest of the industry. (Especially if the tastings are truly blind, as they are at Wine Spectator.) That insight is invaluable. And if you’re open to accepting criticism along with praise, you’ll probably end up being a better winemaker.
But waiting to find out what they think really sucks.
Timothy Perr — January 7, 2009 5:00pm ET
Richard Robertson — January 7, 2009 10:28pm ET
Totv — La Quinta, CA — January 8, 2009 12:08am ET
John Leclair — January 8, 2009 3:18pm ET
Brian Peters — Broomfield, CO — January 9, 2009 2:49pm ET
Thomas Matthews — January 9, 2009 5:41pm ET
Brian Loring — Lompoc, CA — January 13, 2009 12:54am ET
Jon C Martinez — Overland — January 14, 2009 9:57pm ET
Brian Loring — Lompoc, CA — January 15, 2009 4:09pm ET
Jon C Martinez — Overland — January 20, 2009 9:02pm ET
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