My Disappointing Review

          It was inevitable that there would be a less than glowing review of the book. In this instance, it came from Steve Heimoff, a generally fair-minded, certainly quite opinionated individual, and very much his own man.1 I won’t try to paraphrase Steve’s critique. You can look up the review yourself at www… But it did bring up a number of interesting points for me.2 He spoke a bit about my obsessive preoccupation with Robert Parker and The Wine Spectator, perhaps worthy of clinical interest, and I can’t say that I disagree with him on that. In retrospect, I probably should have cut more of this nonsense out of the book than I did,3 but were I to have done so, it would have been a rather different book, more gracious, to be sure, but somehow less honest. As Doctor Freud has pointed out, there is never simply one motivation for any behavior. Yes, I have real problems with point scores; I have real problems with the ubiquity of the “international style,” with wines that are so “great” and concentrated as to be undrinkable. Would my voice be as shrill had Mr. Parker and the Wine Speaker been more charitable to my wines?4 Most likely not, truth be told; who in their right mind bites the hand that feeds it? I suppose I am still more than a little embarrassed by such a patent strong need then (and likely still, who knows?) to be liked or loved. Certainly the force of my argument carries some valence of anger, or just perhaps hurt.

          But here’s the thing: Maybe in the book I didn’t make the point quite explicitly enough, or perhaps Steve didn’t quite pick up on it. While the book may be read as a settling of accounts with my various bêtes noirs, I am hoping that it might also be read as an account of my journey from my life as more marketer than winemaker to my life as a true and sincere seeker of terroir. The point is that if you are truly in the quest for terroir, the wine, quite simply, is no longer about you. It’s about the place, and in some sense, this is incredibly liberating. Winemakers, of course, still have egos, and are generally happy when other human beings like their wines rather than hate them. But for me at least, the opportunity to pursue a vin de terroir is the special gift that has been given to me as a practice to set aside (at least for a moment) my insatiable appetite for approval and focus on the business at hand of addressing terroir, one that leaves little time for the distraction of worry about whether one is understood/misunderstood, liked or loved. Yeah, it would be great if the important critics loved the wines – it would be quite helpful from a sales standpoint, but the fact remains that we’re going where we’re going. Whether we will ever get there remains to be seen, but I know that I am giving it a sincere effort. YouTube Preview Image

  1. Steve, I learned, also a student of existential philosophy in school, as was I. []
  2. You can certainly learn more about yourself when people are critical than when they are adulatory. []
  3. I certainly did my best to cut a fair bit; he should have seen all of the material that was left on the cutting room floor, as it were. []
  4. This is a bit of a logical conundrum, because my wines are emphatically not fruit bombs, nor aspire to be; maybe in this imaginary universe, I would be made an exception. []

9 Responses to “My Disappointing Review”

  1. Katie says:

    He lost me after the introductory paragraph to be quite honest. “Finnigan’s Wake” and the “The Divine Comedy” are, in fact, amazing pieces of literature, and though admittedly not everyone can get through them because they simply don’t “get” it, those that DO get it (much like getting and appreciating the value of terroir) are perpetually accused of being posers by those that DON’T get it.

    And yes, I triple-checked that to make sure that it made sense, just in case you were wondering.

  2. I guess my problem with your obsession with P&S is that you barely mention any other periodical in the world, and Lord knows there are plenty of worthy ones, including Wine Enthusiast. In 12-step parlance, you are in a co-dependency relationship with P&S. You need to understand that when people hear you going on and on about P&S, they subconsciously read that as an endorsement of those periodicals, regardless of what you say. This co-dependency exists throughout much of the wine industry, and has resulted in the current, unhealthy hegemony of P&S.

  3. Katie says:

    In no way do I read it as an endorsement of those periodicals. That’s the equivalent of reading Alice Feiring’s rants about Parker influences on winemaking as an endorsement of it.

  4. Paul Mabray says:

    I had trouble with Steve’s review at first. I have a lot of respect for Steve, but sometimes find his blog to be rather “point, shoot, aim” in its execution. Perhaps a lack of an editor in the blogging process? I struggled with the review, trying to understand Steve’s magnified attention to Randall’s psychic struggles and his (Randall’s) personal obsession with Parker and Spectator. But when Steve commented on the latter, I felt that he finally “jumped the shark (http://bit.ly/3cT8XX).” Essentially his comments made me believe that his review may have been as much a reflection of Steve’s own personal battles with Parker and Spectator and of his periodical being #3 in the mind of the some consumers. What Steve is essentially saying is “because you didn’t mention us or fight with the Enthusiast, your personal battle with Spectator/Parker represents a deficiency in the book and in yourself as a winermaker.” It is as if Randall choice of nemeses (owing to his pathology) created an echoic pathology in Steve that muddied his ability to review the book fairly. Steve’s emotional overlay of his own personal obsessions and battles with the same publications oddly mirrors Randall’s demons discussed in the book. You can almost take Steve’s words and turn them into a review of his review (note my change of names):
    “The repeated references (I stopped counting after a while), both direct and indirect in the form of satire, to Wine Spectator and Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate gave me pause. Heimoff puts them down so thoroughly and savagely, you have to wonder why he’s so obsessed with them. He’s like a crime victim who can’t stop thinking about his tormentor. Or perhaps the Stockholm Syndrome explains this curious fetish.”

    The rest of his review shows Steve to be someone who does not quite precisely align with the intellectual/parody/cultural psychographics of the archetypal Randall Grahm fan. (Perfectly acceptable if a critic doesn’t like the work). Not everyone will be delighted with the literary shenanigans or puns or prodigious footnotes. But those of us who do will find them delicious morsels to savor over and over. I found this book to be a great insight into a very complex man and a lens to view his trials and tribulations in creating the wine brand and culture that is Bonny Doon. To me it was the story of a man who struggles with the persona he has adopted compared to the person he aspires to be. It is the journey of an artist, complete with plaguing demons but also relieved by parody and wit, the weapons Randall chooses to fight his own personal Grendel. This becomes the inspiration for the entire culture that permeates his winery. Maybe not so ironically, throughout this journey the demon Randall seems to actually be battling is himself, with all of his ambivalence towards “success.” The heart of the book is an interesting view into an artist and visionary. It is almost as if he has (at least partially) unzipped his ego and brain and shown you a magical portal into his thoughts, fears, hopes, and demons, heavily footnoted, lest you miss you on any detail. Although at is at times, the book can be slightly self-serving (rather expected in an autobiographical work that uses elements of his past marketing collateral), the book made me laugh many, many times, owing to his insider’s understanding of our very particular industry, as well as to his odd humor in general). Randall is also an incredible wordsmith and uses a plethora of literary devices to create additional layers of depth to the humor and the story. What I ultimately derived from Been Doon So Long it is that when you attempt to create a dream, the road is not direct and the greatest impediment to success is often yourself.
    Disclosure – I’ve been lucky enough to do some work with Randall (because of Alina being one of the VinTank 8 lately and have gotten to know him on a personal and professional level.

  5. 1WineDude says:

    Well, my interest in the book has certainly been piqued by this discussion!

    I suppose we shouldn’t expect all reviews to be positive – that’s the nature of criticism, after all.

  6. Jo Diaz says:

    One person’s poison is another person’s pleasure. I look forward to the read…

  7. I should mention, and am happy to, that I’ve been a fan of Randall’s newsletter since just about the beginning. And of Randall, too, whom I’ve know for a long time. And of his wines, to which I give consistently good reviews. I just had some problems with the book, is all. And as to Paul’s psychographics, hell yes I am defensive about Parker and Spectator hegemony. Hell yes I want Enthusiast to be mentioned in the same context. I have fought against the hegemony for years now, because it’s wrong for those 2 to be so dominant and because I want to promote Enthusiast right up there beside them. Nothing wrong with a little pride in your business!

  8. Paul Mabray says:

    Steve – Just a note to say again, I have tremendous respect for you and the Enthusiast. The review was fine (even if it is not all positive) I just found it ironic that the same Grendel you both are fighting is the reason you found flaws in the book. In fact, Randall is one of the best knights to take on both of them even at the expense of his own brand and should be praised for his bravery.

    You should be proud of the Enthusiast as well as your battle against the two giants but attacking one of the bravest allies in the battle for it is probably less effective than just creating a better value proposition and marketing effort to defeat the hegemony that you so dislike.

  9. johng says:

    Is the Enthusiast #3? I have no idea what the circulation numbers are but I would think that in terms of how desirable and influential a good review is, Tanzer and Wine & Spirits both rank above it.

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