Tag Archives: Esther Mobley

Wine & Politics — Strange Bedfellows or Drinking Buddies?

A few days after Christmas, the South African Twitter account @WineMag decided to resurrect the ghost of controversies past by revisiting Jon Bonné’s provocative article Why Is the Wine World So Un-Woke?.

By Neeta Lind - IMG_0416, CC BY 2.0,

Written in the aftermath of Anthony Bourdain’s suicide last summer, Bonné wondered why we didn’t have more writers who embraced Bourdain’s willingness to “tear down the false romanticism” around wine. Instead, wine writers seem to actively avoid covering sensitive topics or the industry’s unsavory elements.

Food, and food writing, may be guilty of its share of glossing-over, of preening and celebrity and the lionizing of malcontent, egoist chefs—not even at the Batali-Friedman-Besh level, but more subtly. It’s no different with tech, where Steve Jobs’ iconic status could overshadow the fact he wasn’t a terribly nice person. But when it comes to whistling past its problems, wine asks those other industries to hold its beer. Jon Bonné, PUNCH magazine, July 18th, 2018

Bonné certainly garnered a lot of attention (and interesting comments) when his post was originally published. But then, like many things in our ADD-driven culture, it faded from the conversation. At least it did until the December 27th tweet from @WineMag. That piqued the interest of Master of Wine Tim Atkins who retweeted it on his feed.

Then Whoa Nelly!

While I’ll comment on a few things below, I can’t possibly do justice summarizing all the many excellent points and divergent opinions in the thread, as well as the many side threads, that sprung up from Atkins tweet. Instead, I’ll encourage you to take a trip down the rabbit hole to read the insightful comments from Atkins, Artisan Swiss, Felicity Carter (the Editor-in-Chief of Meininger’s Wine Business International), Master of Wines John Atkinson and Elizabeth Gabay, Petri Pellinen as well as Bonné himself.

While Bonné’s original post wasn’t explicitly about wine & politics, several of the threads converged on the question about how “political” should we expect wine writers to be. Things took a particularly charged turn when Maureen Downey, probably the wine world’s foremost expert on wine fraud, shared her stark disagreement that politics and wine should ever mix.

This set off another cascade of replies and threads–including one where I finally poked my head. My tweet came in response to Felicity Carter’s comment that wondered if American and European folks were looking at Bonné’s article from different angles.

Why Go Red or Blue When You Can Go Rosé?

As I learned later, through a series of tweets by Jon Bonné, my political views and Maureen Downey’s are very different. I’m a moderate who disdains tribalism that puts people into red/blue, liberal/conservative camps. I personally don’t believe that any ideology has a monopoly on good ideas (or bad ones) which is why we should listen to each other and compromise.

While the vitriol of Downey’s political posts disheartened me, they still don’t sway my overall respect for her work. I feel it would be foolish to shun her expertize or boycott her company just because our beliefs outside of wine are so different.

But I fear that such a public outing of personal politics (even if they’re made in a public forum) would cause others to rethink their esteem of Downey. And that disheartens me just as much as Downey’s politics.

Simply put, I don’t want to lose the “safe space” of a wine community. I love that people from diverse backgrounds and beliefs can set aside their differences and share a common joy. Losing this sense of community is exactly what we’re risking when wine writers dive too much into politics.

Exceptions not Expectations

However, I don’t believe that the world of wine needs to avoid politics completely. I do somewhat agree with Bonné yearning for a Bourdain-type figure in wine. We do need writers who aren’t afraid of poking sacred cows or exposing the ugly side of the industry.

But I think those people, like Bourdain, are rare breeds. I shared this sentiment in a further reply on Carter’s thread.

It would benefit no one if wine writers were judged by how “woke” they were and how actively they covered political topics. Not everyone has the skills set (or tact) to tackle those issues in ways that move the conversation forward instead of disintegrating into pontification and invectives.

Those that have those skills should be valued and encouraged to write when they’re inspired. But for the vast many who don’t, their dabbling into political tussles is more apt to produce a landscape of replacing facts with opinions and emotionally charged slurs of SJW, liberals, right-wingers or conservatives slung about.

And where does that help? It certainly doesn’t help enhance the appreciation of wine. Nor would it edify anyone’s understanding of sensitive political issues.

Maybe We Need More Esther Mobleys Rather Than Anthony Bourdains?

If you want an example of a wine writer that has the skills and tact to write effectively about politically charged issues go check out Esther Mobley of the San Francisco Chronicle. Over the years, she has tackled some thorny subjects like the role of immigrant labor in sustaining the California wine industry and gender issues.

While you might be able to infer Mobley’s politics by her topic choices, you would be hard-pressed to peg her exact personal views down. That is because her work rarely speaks to her opinion. Instead, the scalpel she uses to cut deep into her topics speaks loudly enough for her. Sure, she’s not as blunt as Bourdain was in calling out perceived ills. But her thoughtful approach moves these delicate conversations forward.

That makes her far more effective as a wine writer than a wannabe Bourdain being a bull in the china shop.

If there were more Esther Mobleys writing about wine, I wouldn’t feel as cringey about the thought of wine writers being political. But just like Anthony Bourdain, Esther Mobley is a rare breed as well.

Not many can fill those shoes. I know I can’t. Which is why I’ll continue to keep my two Twitter accounts separate.

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In Defense of Evil Empires


Recently Esther Mobley of The San Francisco Chronicle wrote of the blockbuster Pinot noir producer Kosta Browne’s new direction away from their super-lush and highly extracted style to something less “over-the-top, opulent, blow-your-lid-off wines.” The catalyst for this change, according to Kosta Browne’s president Scott Becker, is changing consumer demand, particularly among Millennials.

“We were at the risk of becoming victims of our own success…To be relevant and successful for the next 20 years, we have to recognize that the consumer is changing.” –Scott Becker as quoted by SF Chronicle 11/7/17

A sharp motivation also seems to be a bit of ego bruising that Kosta Browne has taken over the years for being a poster child of the high alcohol, super-ripe and hedonistic wines that flooded the market in the last few decades. Mobley quotes founder Dan Kosta concerns over his namesake winery being used by winemakers in Oregon and by organizations like In Pursuit of Balance as an example of what not to do with Pinot noir. The Chronicle article also includes an amusing anecdote about a sommelier at the NYC restaurant Breslin being ignorant that a winery named Kosta Browne even exist.

I find your lack of faith disturbing.

Quick look–is this Pinot noir or Syrah? Sometimes it’s hard to tell with wines as well.

Let’s set aside how poorly that story reflects on the quality of the wine knowledge for a restaurant’s program. As an owner/wine director, I would expect my sommeliers not to be ignorant of a winery that has won Wine Spectator’s Wine of the Year (and been featured in their Top 100 list numerous times) and is regularly in the top half of most collectible wines from California according to Vinfolio’s Collectibility Index. Love them or hate them, Kosta Browne is, for all practical purposes, part of the pantheon of “cult producers” of Pinot noir in California with a 2 to 5-year long waiting list.

Even if you don’t like Kosta Browne and don’t feature them on your wine list, it’s beyond pale to shrug your shoulders at the name as if you’ve never heard of them.

I say that as someone who really doesn’t like Kosta Browne’s wines. Like many somms, I roll my eyes at seeing them on restaurant wine lists with their exorbitantly marked up prices just waiting for an expense account ego to order them.

Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger; anger leads to hate; hate leads to suffering

Particularly a big-fish whose name rhymes with “Stiancarlo Ganton”

Even if Kosta Browne is not my style, I’m a bit saddened to read about this “change in direction.”  It’s not that I don’t think pursuing more balanced wines isn’t a worthwhile goal. But seeing Kosta Browne trying to become “more restrained” in style is a bit like following the Hot Stove League in Baseball in the post-Steinbrenner years as the New York Yankees aim to be more “fiscally restrained.” Yeah, you’ve got the LA Dodgers and Boston Red Sox’s trying to fill in the gap with their best Belle Glos and Sea Smoke like efforts. But as a fan of an old school small market Joseph Swan-like team (the St. Louis Cardinals), the excitement of potentially landing a big fish is not quite a thrilling when one of the Goliaths of the game are sitting on the sideline. David isn’t David if the slingshot is never used.

Likewise, how exciting would the Star Wars movies be if the Galactic Empire changed philosophies all of a sudden and started espousing Kofi Annan style diplomacy?

There’s always a bigger fish.

“Good is a point of view…. Wine Advocate and Wine Spectator are similar in almost every way, including their quest for greater power. ” — Chancellor Kofi Parker, Jr.

The world needs Evil Empires like the New York Yankees and Kosta Browne. Because the little guys, the outsiders, the rebels, the hipster snobs need something to target. The world needs a balance between good and evil and you can’t have one without the other. So why should we root for Kosta Browne to shed its evil ways and try to become something….else? Do we think that people will suddenly stop wanting to drink lush, full-bodied and highly extracted Pinot noirs? Of course not! Just like matter can be neither created nor destroyed, so too, is evil and the taste for residual sugar in wines is constant.

And as we’ve seen from history, when a vacuum of evil is created, there can be consequences when a new force tries steps in.

You can argue that a lot of the world’s recent problems can be traced to the Chicago Cubs winning the 2016 World Series by trying to out-Yankee the Yankees.

If I could photoshop him twerking on the Camaro, I would.

They went from being the lovable, lowkey Eraths of the Pinot noir world to the big budget and crass-commercialized Meiomi. They changed their style, trying to become the “New Evil Empire” and it messed up the cosmic order. Now we have women twerking on top of cars, folks dropping turkeys from planes and idiots launching home-made rockets trying to prove the world is flat. Yes, the world is out of whack. I place the blame squarely on Ben Zobrist.

You can’t stop the change, any more than you can stop the suns from setting.

Sure, big over-the-top wines can be tedious and lack “character”. Likewise, big, cash-rich organizations that can buy or trade for any stud player can be infuriating and soulless. But doesn’t having Evil Empires exist make it more satisfying when you find a gem? A wine that tells a story to your palate. Or when your plucky rag-tag team of no-names finally scale the summit?

Sure, we want to root for the underdogs. But we also need those Big Dogs to be still casting their long shadow of evil like the Death Star. The world works better this way. It has balance even if that balance is dripping with sugar, extract and alcohol.

A New Hope.
AKA winemakers of the Eola-Amity Hills.

There is a place in the world for the Kosta Browne Yankees just like there is a place for my Joseph Swan Cardinals, the Merry Edwards Twins, the Beaux Freres Giants, the Argyle Mariners and the Williams Selyem Braves.

There is even a place, begrudgingly, for the Meiomi Cubs. Well, once they’ve been dethroned and relegated to the bottom of the shelf.

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