The SOMM Journal

October / November 2015

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30 { THE SOMM JOURNAL } OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2015 { one woman's view } Karen MacNeil is the author of The Wine Bible and the forthcoming The Wine Bible 2nd Edition. Contact her at karen@ YES, IT HAS A "U" AND A "C" IN IT. The word is cult, as in "cult wines." And on this topic, Bill Harlan, Ann Colgin, Dan Kosta, Celia Welch, Doug Shafer and Sir Peter Michael are in agreement: The term is frustrating, incorrect, even insulting. "It makes me cringe," says Kosta, co-founder of Kosta Browne Winery. I first heard the words cult wine sometime in the 1990s, around the same time when emails started showing up in my inbox from friends of friends of friends asking me if I could get them a bottle of Screaming Eagle. At first, it seemed like a harmless term—a better-than-nothing way of clustering under one umbrella wines that were in huge demand, wines whose prices and rarity were esca - lating seemingly by the month. Wines that were taking on what California wines had never had before—mythic status. And truthfully, even wine writers were perplexed trying to describe them. "Super Napas" didn't work (though Super Tuscans had) because they weren't all Napa wines. There were no classification systems, so they couldn't be described as Growths, Crus, or some other historic ranking. They weren't even all the same varietal. But they were a marketing phenomenon. They still are, though now that the term has been stitched into common wine language, it has turned almost hurtful, especially for the people whose wines the word was coined to describe. "Cults don't have a rationale," says Bill Harlan, co-owner of Harlan Estates, BOND and The Napa Valley Reserve. "A cult implies blind followers who lack discernment. It has nothing to do with what we want to achieve. Great estates are based on time, respect, land and families—things that give depth, meaning and texture to our business." "It's a manufactured term and to this day, I don't really understand what it means except to say we've never been comfortable having our Hillside Select described that way," says Doug Shafer co-owner of Shafer Vineyards. Dan Kosta agrees. "I think it's a lazy term," he says. "[It's one of those] silly, over-arching phrases that sounds intellectual but in reality covers up a pedestrian knowledge of the wine world. More and more, there's almost a slight stigma attached to it—almost implying an artificial culture about a winery." Both consulting winemaker Celia Welch (maker of the "cult wine" Scarecrow) and Sir Peter Michael (owner of the "cult winery" Peter Michael) find that the term misses the point. "The so-called 'cult' status of a wine says more about the market demand than it does about the quality or character of the wine itself," says Michael. "Cult wines describe a hard-to-find status," says Welch, "But I think of my efforts as producing something with which to enjoy life, rather than something that simply has invest - ment value on the secondary market." And finally, Ann Colgin. "I was born in Waco, Texas," she says, "which is why I've always hated the term 'cult.' Colgin Cellars is now approaching its 25th anniversary. It's time to be known [not for being a cult wine] but for producing distinctive, alluring, outstanding, terroir-driven wines with a sense of place and personality." by Karen MacNeil PHOTO: FILIPFOTO VIA THINKSTOCK The Wine Industry's Four Letter Word C M Y CM MY CY CMY K

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