Saturday, August 6, 2011

Skinny Atlas Shrugged

It was my first full vacation in quite some time, and it was a welcomed respite from the Florida heat. My wife and I flew north to Syracuse, NY to visit her family. Many leisurely activities were planned, and we really only had a few days in which to experience them all. However, the most enjoyable outing was our trip to the Finger Lakes Wine Trail.

There are eleven lakes in all that make up the “fingers” in this area. Prodding me to make more than one Inigo Montoya reference during our journey that afternoon. In only a few hours, we visited an acceptable amount of wineries along the trail. Five in total. Each wine we tasted seemed to be better than the last. We eventually realized that was no coincidence. It had less to do with the quality of the wine, and more to do with the ever loosening standards of our palettes. There was indeed an inverse relationship between the amount of wine we drank and our affinity to enjoy the next sample we were presented.

From the back seat of the Honda SUV, I perused the map of the trail. I read each lake name and was frequently corrected on the pronunciations. Keuka was pronounced Kay-oo-ka. Cayuga was Cay-oo-ga (you can understand my confusion). I correctly articulated Canandaigua as Cannon-day-gwa, and was given my due praise from the front seat (albeit in a somewhat patronizing tone). However, there was one pronunciation that completely escaped me at first, and has since entertained me for hours. The lake name was spelled S-K-A-N-E-A-T-E-L-E-S. I fumbled through each syllable hoping to get approval again from the front seat. “Scan-ee-tel-eez... uh... er... no... Scan-ay-tell-ez... or... um.. Scun-eet-uh-lez.” I paused for the impending correction.

My wife's father calmly said, “No Wade, it is pronounced Skin-e-atlas.”

My mind quickly drew up a picture of a gaunt figure with the world resting on his shoulders. A Gandhi-esque figure taking the place of the Greek Titan, supporting the weight on frail shoulders and looking out for much needed assistance. I quickly turned to Ayn Rand's famous masterwork “Atlas Shrugged” and a tale of Upstate New York's struggle to maintain their pursuit of wine making happiness fell into place in my imagination.

Who is John Galt? Ask any proprietor of the wineries, and they would most certainly stare at you with a mouth agape and a bottle in hand. Ask them if their wine contains sulfites, and you would be met with dagger-like gazes and a monologue of epic proportions. You see, they believe that there is a governmental conspiracy about sulfites. In many circles, it is believed that wines that contain sulfites will cause the wine drinker to get what is called a “Red Wine Headache” (or RWH for short). Wineries that introduce sulfites to their wines do so to take control of the fermentation process and avoid toxic oxidation. Oxygen has its place in the process, but not until the wine is ready to be consumed. Any introduction prior to that time could cause the wine to go from a master-crafted concoction of grapes and yeast to a useless and unpalatable slosh of vinegar. The wine makers would wholeheartedly decree that sulfites should be commended and advertised as a savior in wine, not demonized as an evil additive with the sole aim to give you throbbing temples and general discomfort.

The wineries pointed to a government group known simply as the Wine Regulation Committee as the perpetrator of this heinous myth. There were many theories as to why this myth was created and spread through word-of-mouth and posted on such reputable sites as and Yahoo Answers. Most of those theories associated the committee's connection to federal and state taxation on wine. New York is 3rd in the nation in sales tax percentages on wine (only Tennessee and Washington State were higher). Therefore the federal agency just tried to get their piece of the pie, while the wineries and wine drinkers were forced to pay them their hard earned money. John Galt indeed. The happiness of the wine makers depends on the ongoing happiness of the wine consumers, and the RWH conspiracy has been planted in their minds for eternity.

Obviously, visiting five wineries in a day and consuming more than nine different variations of grapes in those wines, anyone would be left with a headache. Before, people just thought it was a hangover, but they were led to attribute it to those pesky sulfites.

Oregon was the only state in the union with no additional state sales tax on wine. I am quite sure the other wineries were aware of this as well. I imagined there to be a quietly inebriated commune in the woods of Oregon where the barons of the wine barrel met to ferment their wine with the finest sulfites in the country. Perhaps, there was even a genius wine maker living in a shack working tirelessly to create a new way to provide the timely arrest of oxidation and categorically claim no side effects whatsoever. I think his name is Buddy Peterson.

Who is Buddy Peterson? He is the man who worked the tasting counter at the Swedish Hill winery nestled between Highway 414 and Cayuga Lake. Those who approached his counter were taken on a tasteful tour of their many offerings, and he would keep pouring until they had their fill. The flight would run through sweet white wines, dry reds, and finish off with a couple of Brandies. Buddy's favorite was the Blanc de Franc. He described it as a white wine with the attitude of a red. That wasn't what drew him to the special release wine. No, Buddy knew that it went great with sandwiches. It was like he looked into his soul, then turned to his arsenal of wine barrels and created the one that would speak directly to the world's undying love of sandwiches. Well played, Buddy.

He went on to pour out offerings of Vital Blanc (citrusy with an herbal finish), Marechal Froch (a great picnic red), Viking Red (dry, with a touch of oak), Optimus (transforming vanilla and currants into a smooth finish), Valvina Muscat (a grape created at Cornell University), and Raspberry Infusion (exotic taste in a locally grown grape). All of them were worthy of their award-winning reputations. However, Buddy always saved the very best for last.

The wine was called Blue Waters Chardonnay. He was not generally a fan of Chardonnay, nor were many of the wine snobs you would meet on the wine trail. It was the white wine equivalent of a standard Merlot. Buddy's Chardonnay was different, because it was fermented in a stainless steel barrel. Buddy always wanted to tell everyone more about it. At which point, he would lean in closely and asked if you could keep a secret. His patrons would slur out their promises, and he would began to tell the story.

He would ask, “What is Blue Waters Chardonnay?”

The patrons would attempt to answer him quickly and metaphorically, because they assumed that it was not a literal question.

He would interrupt their meager attempts to do so by paraphrasing a literary interpretation of John Galt's speech by Daryl J. Stroufe (1), “For twenty-eight minutes you've been asking 'Who is Buddy Peterson?' This is Buddy Peterson speaking. I'm the man who's taken away the harmful sulfites and thus destroyed your headaches. You've heard it said that this is an age of herbal spices and that wine's sins are destroying the wine itself. But our chief virtue has been sulfites, and you've demanded more sulfites in every barrel without the so-called side effects. You've sacrificed taste to mercy and happiness for fruity. So why should you be afraid of the grapes around you?

Your wine is only the product of your sulfites. While you were drinking the grapes who made your happiness possible to your sacrificial altars, I beat you to it. I fermented them first and told them about the game you were playing and where it would take them. I explained the consequences of your 'Merlot-love' morality, which they had been too innocently generous to understand. You won't find them now, when you need them more than ever.

We're on strike against your yeast of unearned rewards and oak-barreled duties. If you want to know how I made them quit, I told them exactly what I'm telling you tonight. I taught them the pourality of Stainless Steel - that it was right to ferment one's own happiness as one's principal goal in wine. I don't consider the headaches of others my goal in wine, nor do I consider my headaches the goal of anyone else's wine.

I am a wine maker. I earn what I get in grapes for lack of other produce. I ask for nothing more or nothing less than what I earn. That is Chardonnay. I don't force anyone to drink with me; I only pour two ounces for mutual benefit. Pours are the great evil that has no place in a rationed world. One may never pour for another human to drink against his/her judgment. If you deny a man's right to Riesling, you must also deny your right to your own Cabernet. Yet you have allowed your world to be run by means of pours, by men who claim that sweet and dry are equal incentives, but that sweet pour is more practical.

You've allowed such grapes to occupy wines of power in your glass by preaching that all wines are evil from the moment they're poured. When brains believe this, they feel nothing but aching in any way they please. The name of this absurdity is 'Red Wine Headache'. That's unpourable. That which is outside the possibility of grape choice is also outside the province of pourality. To call 'headache' is outside man's choice is a mockery of Chardonnay. To say that wines are born with a free will but with a tendency toward headache is ridiculous. If the tendency is one of choice, it doesn't come at fermentation. If it is not a tendency of sulfites, then wine's will is not free.

And then there's your 'Merlot-love' pourality. Why is it moral to serve Merlot, but not Chardonnay? If enjoyment is a value, why is a pour experienced by others, but not by you more palatable? Why is it unpourable to produce something of value and keep it for yourself, when it is pourable for others who haven't earned it to accept it? If it's virtuous to make, isn't it then selfish to drink?

Your acceptance of the code of sulfitelessness has made you fear the grape who has a sulfite less than you because it makes you feel that that sulfite is rightfully his. You hate the grape with a sulfite more than you, because the sulfite he's keeping is rightfully yours. Your code has made it unpourable to know when to pour and when to drink.

You know that you can't pour away everything and leave yourself thirsty. You've forced yourselves to live with undeserved, irrational thirst. Is it ever proper to pour for another man? No, if he demands it as his right or as a glass full that you owe him. Yes, if it's your own free choice based on your judgment of the value of that person and his thirst. This winery wasn't built by men who sought handouts. In its brilliant youth, this winery showed the rest of the country what greatness was possible to wine and what happiness is possible in a bottle.

Then it began apologizing for its tastefulness, and began giving away its cellar, feeling guilty for having produced more than its neighbors on the lake. Twenty-nine minutes ago, I saw what was wrong with the world and where your battle of thirst had to be fought. I saw that the enemy was a Merlot-pourality and that my acceptance of that pourality was its only power. I was the first of the men who refused to give up the pursuit of his own oak barrels in order to ferment in stainless steel.

To those wines who retain some remnant of controlled fermentation and the will to add your sulfites for yourselves, you have the chance to make the same choice. Examine your recipes and understand that you must choose one barrel or the other. Any compromise only hurts the wine and helps the evil.

If you've appreciated what I've poured, stop supporting your destroyers. Don't accept their conspiracy. Your destroyers hold you by means of your ignorance, your oxidation, your innocence, and your future vinegar. Don't exhaust yourself to help build the kind of wine that you see around you now. In the name of the grapes within you, don't sacrifice the wine to those who will take away your happiness for it.

The wine will change when you are ready to pronounce this oath:
'I swear by my wine and my love of it that I will never ferment in the oak of another barrel,
nor ferment another barrel to live for the sake of wine
Only then will I truly be one with the barrel and be free to quench my thirst.”

Wow Buddy, just shut up and pour the fucking wine.

1. Daryl J. Stroufe, “John Galt's Speech: Mini-Version”-

1 comment:

  1. Nice job, Wade. I don't know much about sulfates or wine regulation, but you drew quite a clever comparison. :)