IN PRAISE OF COMMERCIALISM
[Two new tasting notes are up, Weingut Darting and Weingut Braunewell.]
My growers would tour from city to city throughout the States, showing their new vintage to buyers, to help them select for their pre-orders. Once, in the course of one of the tours, a (young) producer of “elite” status was heard to grumble about the inclusion of Weingut Darting in the fraternity. What are we upper castes doing sharing the stage with the lower-caste rabble, as though we were equals?
We set about explaining, and in so doing I started to codify a concept that I’d never really thought about discretely, because it seemed self-evident. That was my mistake, and it needed to be rectified.
Before going on, let me clarify what I mean by “commercialism.” I do not, emphatically not mean big-scale industrially produced wine “designed” to give an audie
nce what market research shows they crave. That community of beverages purporting to be “wine” is the same pile of dung it has always been.
What I do mean is a point of view that is easily compatible with small-batch estate bottled wines connected to Place. It need not entail estate-bottling categorically – the micro-negoçiant J & H Selbach does many merchant-bottlings. It’s a question of mentality, of taking the same care with the plebian wines as to the great and lofty patricians.
The estate Kurt Darting is a glowing example.
Many years ago Helmut Darting apprenticed with the great cellarmaster Hans-Günter Schwarz (then) at Müller-Catoir. The two remained friends after Darting returned to his winery. He applied the fundaments of Schwarz’s philosophy; careful grape growing, preservation of the maximum vitality of primary fruit by virtue of cold fermentations in stainless steel and bare-minimal handling prior to bottling. The difference was, most of Darting’s vineyards were flat, easily workable by machine, and though they won’t like my saying so – ordinary.
What began to emerge from the estate in young Helmut’s regime were wines best called “hale.” They were vital, clear, honest, charming, and most important, affordable. As they have remained. I was also attracted to the estate through the Schwarz pantheon of undervalued grapes like Scheurebe, Rieslaner, and Muscat. For me as a merchant/curator, every piece was in place.
Now let’s return to the explanation.
All of us importers are proud to be associated with the highest-level estates. We have exclusive rights to them, and bask in the implied endorsement that suggests. We shine in their reflected glory, and we also love the wines, deeply, as wine lovers do. And yet, if we design a portfolio consisting only of such wines, what are we saying? That’s a rhetorical question, but I’ll answer it anyway; I think we’re strutting, I think it’s less about the wines and more about our own egos, or at the very least about a reassuring self-image because we’ve been invited to affiliate with the very best. That we have earned the right is irrelevant. We get to be the hot-shots we aspire to be.
Where is the customer in all this? The trade customer comes to understand “If you want blah-de-blah, you have to get it from me.” (This is a key part of why gray-marketing is so irksome to us.) The final customer, that is you the drinker, is more or less invisible to us.
For whatever reason, I came into the business with a different point of view. I enjoyed playing a useful role in supplying supernal wines to the sorts of aficionados who cherished them – a group that includes, saliently, me. But even more than that, I really enjoyed finding kick-ass wines for drinkers who didn’t care about wine they way I did, didn’t need to care about wine the way I did, and didn’t get the ordinary respect they, too, deserved. I wanted to be someone who made excellent hand-crafted estate-bottled wine available to someone who wouldn’t spend more than $25 on a bottle, because wine wasn’t that important to them. Yet why should they settle for mundane industrial swill? Didn’t they deserve honest wines that over-delivered?
I explained as much to the producer in question (who, to his credit, understood and revised his POV), insisting that I earned the right to represent him and others in his echelon by not neglecting the “average” drinker. Indeed I derived the deepest satisfaction from knowing I was offering those drinkers truly, surprisingly, delightful wines.
Which returns us to Darting. They have developed over the years, of course, introducing an excellent range of red wines, improving the sparkling wines, growing more adept with the dry whites, and showing what they can do with their occasional bottlings from “Cru” sites – wines that are serious enough to warrant attention from aficionados not blocked by snobbery. I don’t think Dartings would be irritated by being called “commercial;” I rather think they’d be proud to represent the best possible face of commercialism.
And remember, this is far from a giant winery. They produce barely 21,000 cases! They apply craftsmanship and conscientiousness to the task of making wines that “regular” people will drink. Honestly I think this is angelic. It is also highly useful in helping to create aficionados, since at least a few people may well start to wonder, “If twenty dollars can buy me this, what might I get if I spent thirty?”
You know the proverb “The great is the enemy of the good,” I’m sure. I offer a corollary one: The good supports the great. I was very happy while tasting through the Dartings. Not every one of them – I’m slowly losing mojo for some of the sweet wines – but enough to feel a critical mass of happiness building, the way I feel if I experience a piece of intelligent and well crafted entertainment.
(None of this really applies to the wines of BRAUNEWELL. While they are considerably larger than Darting, they are more in the wine geek argot. My wine-guy mind is excited by a lot of the wines, but my helpless-animal mind is just wracked with joy at the simple Liter Scheurebe.)
A final and also unrelated note: I found the remains of a bottle of Künstler’s estate Riesling in the back of the fridge – around half full. Oops, that should have been dispatched couple weeks ago. My bad. I gave it a taste just to see if we could cook with it – and the damn wine was still delicious after being open at least four weeks, with no preservation devices. If anything it has improved. Good grief; was it fined with embalming fluid?
All kidding aside, this is skill, integrity and class. If even your “basic” wine has this kind of stamina, your cellar is a happy place.