If you want to fit into the trendy wine cliques today, insert the word, “balance” into your wine vocab. Talk balance and you’ll find yourself submerged in conversations about harmony and gracefulness. The conversation will morph itself into debates on alcohol levels, broad tannins, inky textures and probably Pinot Noir. The conversation is quite topical but the wine industry is failing to recognize why. Many of the top domestic Pinot Noir producers are entrenched in deep linear discussions at rectangular tables. There’s a reason these are set up like press conferences. It’s a one way conversation to deliver a message and carefully manage the right questions. Let’s not fool ourselves. These are not seminars. These are not symposiums. These are not conferences. These are simply well thought out marketing campaigns by those who have manufactured wines to please the palate of one singular person over the course of the last 15 years.
The February announcement from The Wine Advocate that Antonio Galloni is now assigned to California has those trying to sell us this notion of “balance” in panic mode. For years, the “iconic” Pinot Noirs from the west coast have been producing high octane fruit bombs and enjoying the rewards of cult status with high reviews. They rode on the coattails of a sensationalist movie and believed that with a formula, a little name dropping and a cocky attitude, they could take over the market. It worked. Pinot Noirs from Burgundy (with the exception of the usual suspects) wallowed in the shadows, refusing to craft wine with one singular palate in mind. But with Galloni at the helm, the producers from the west now fear a seismic shift in what their Pinot Noirs “should” be. The icons quickly huddled, worked out an idea and moved at breakneck speed to launch this new campaign that could be considered as one of top 5 marketing moves in the wine industry. Right up there with DuBeouf. We got sucked in so fast we never had a chance.
The geeks are talking about a different word - restraint. Because as Patrick Comiskey writes in his article titled "Pinot Noir Recalibrated" for ZesterDaily.com, “To borrow from Nigel Tufnel, Spinal Tap's volume specialist, why can't a wine with the treble and bass knobs pushed to 11 be in balance?” They certainly can be. Just don’t be fooled that they aren’t manufactured to be so. The goals need to be reset. Instead of manufacturing a wine that is “balanced”, the goal should be to craft a wine that is an expression of the time and place from which it came. The only way to accomplish this goal is to have the gift of restraint, patience and the natural ability to absorb the risk if something goes terribly wrong. These virtues will eventually, with time and experience, lend balanced wines. Of course, the west coast producers are now presented with a heavy decision to make. Do they change their wine making techniques to achieve “balance” by exhibiting restraint? Or do they continue to manufacture the styles the consumer has been groomed to recognize as “iconic” Pinot Noir? Changing techniques implies deceit. Not changing is a tremendous risk. I’m glad I don’t have to make that decision. And I’m damn sure glad I’m a geek.