Wine globalization datapoint of the day
Please don’t anyone tell Jonathan Nossiter about Vines of Mendoza, I fear he might never recover. Vines of Mendoza is the epitome of everything Nossiter hates about the new world of wine: it’s all about globalization, homogenization, and money, rather than love and memory and terroir.
Vines of Mendoza was set up by a chap called Mike Evans, who bought a 920-acre plot of wine land in Argentina in 2006, and immediately started selling it off in chunks as small as three acres, at upwards of $50,000 per acre. The whole thing is done by remote control: you sign on for say three acres, and then get sent
28 8 different numbered-but-unlabeled bottles of wine from the region. You drink them all blind (after all, you don’t have a clue what they are), and after telling the company which wines you liked the most, they will pick a plot for you which is best able to produce that kind of wine.
As anybody who knows anything about blind tasting will tell you, this is a recipe for ending up with highly alcoholic, oaky, sweet, fruity reds. Any halfways-serious would-be winemaker would go to the region in question, find out about its history and the varietals growing there, drink various wines — not blind — from various vintages, talking to the different winemakers who made them, and slowly try to work out how to take local grapes and transform them into something with character and maybe a little bit of one’s own personality.
What Evans is offering is the exact opposite: a “turnkey opportunity” (yes, they really say that) where the ostensible winemaker never needs to see or smell or touch the grapes or the land they grow on. It’s a new expensive hobby for billionaires: grow wine right next door to a vineyard overseen by Nossiter nemesis Michel Rolland! And kid yourself, while doing so, that it’s an investment:
An acre of land in the Uco Valley presently costs one-fifth of the amount of land in the Napa Valley. This provides a good opportunity for those seeking investment in a quality wine production.
It’s pretty silly to think that anybody with a three-acre plot of land in Mendoza will ever be able to sell it at a profit — certainly not before Evans has sold out his inventory, at any rate. Insofar as there will be any secondary market at all for these things, it will be controlled by Evans. And any real would-be winemaker is going to want a lot more than three acres. This is vanity winemaking, as seen all over Napa, but at lower prices and without even the superficial veneer of being a commercial enterprise. What’s more, Evans is happy to explain to anybody who’ll listen that there’s a strong inverse correlation between wine production and wine quality: the fewer bottles you produce, the higher the quality of the wine in them. Which is probably true, if you judge wines on the degree to which they resemble a jar of high-alcohol blackberry jam.
There is one good thing going on here, though. If you’re the kind of person who believes that small, low-production winemakers nearly always make better wines, then Vines of Mendoza might finally be the entity to disabuse you of that fallacy. And if you’ve got $150,000 to spend on a wine adventure, I can think of many better uses for that money than buying three acres of land in Argentina to produce a few thousand bottles of wine functionally indistinguishable from all the other Malbecs out there.
Update: Evans responds, both in a comment on this blog, and on his own blog. Also, Vines of Mendoza tells me that the information they gave me originally is incorrect: they supply 8 bottles to drink blind, not 28. What’s more, you don’t have to drink them blind if you don’t want to, although Vines of Mendoza recommends that you do: they do supply you with separate information on the wine in each bottle.