Monday, June 19, 2017

The Linoleum Project™--Philosophy First, Winemaking Second


The Linoleum Project™ originated as a spoof of Abe Schoener's The Scholium Project, and as a reaction to a particularly loathsome puff-piece about Abe in the New York Times Magazine written by Bruce Schoenfeld. I returned to The Linoleum Project™ in this piece, originally written in September 2014. We're still talking about natural wines in 2017, but rarely about Scholium Project or the New York Times (the original piece may have been the first example of FAKE NEWS). I hope this piece is funny the second time around. It wasn't the first time.

Harvest is in full swing here at Splooge Estate, and while our neighbors are bringing in their incredibly boring Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc—the so-called “workhorse” grapes (“workhouse” because their only worth is to get you plowed)—we’re harvesting more important varieties, varieties you haven’t heard of. The best and most obscure are earmarked for The Linoleum Project™. We thought we’d take a moment of your time to explain in a bit more detail the philosophy behind the wines of The Linoleum Project™. Unlike most wines produced, these are not wines aimed at pleasure. These are wines meant to express the ultimate meaninglessness of life, the charade of importance that is human existence—the very things that make you want to drink. Everyone pays lip service to a philosophy of winemaking, but they put the cart before the workhorse. At The Linoleum Project™ we put philosophy first, and winemaking a distant second. We believe in winemaking by philosophy. We are teachers first, winemakers second. We truly believe in the old saw that, “Those who can do, those who Kant philosophize.”

Perhaps the best way to understand our winemaking by philosophy is to understand how each individual wine is made, how philosophy and overthinking combine to make wines that reflect not only their terroir, but each person’s hopelessness in the face of a godless universe. Certainly one can enjoy wines that only express a sense of place, a minerally and precise Grand Cru Chablis, for example. But there is a price to be paid for living an unexamined life. Isn’t it far more rewarding and satisfying to murder an innocent oyster with a blunt knife and then wash it down with a crisp white wine that celebrates not only the oyster’s salinity, but your own feeling that life is worthless, nothing but a snotty slide down eternity’s esophagus? Of course. Welcome to our world.

2014 Gaglioppo
The vineyard that is the source of our Gaglioppo is in the Carneros region of Napa Valley. While many wineries have complained about the unfortunate earthquake that struck the region this year, at The Linoleum Project™ we celebrate it. In truth, our Gaglioppo perfectly reflects its tumultuous terroir. Put your nose in a glass of any vintage. What do you smell? Faults! You might be tempted to think that those faults are the result of poor winemaking. This reflects your usual simpleminded approach to wine, an approach that believes pleasure is wine’s chief goal. Don’t feel bad. Your limited intelligence is how you became one of our mailing list customers. In truth, it’s philosophy that defines our Gaglioppo.

When we reflect upon our own character, it’s our faults that plague us. As Kafka memorably put it, “Wir sind ein Haufen Scheisse.” (“We’re a pile of shit,” which considering his intestinal problems, is a loose translation.) So not only will our 2014 Gaglioppo reflect its origins in Calabria, it will also reflect man’s ultimate unworthiness. We are our faults, and our faults are us. We live our lives trying to embrace our faults. It’s this basic philosophy that informs the wines of The Linoleum Project™. If you love our wines, you must embrace faults. You cannot love yourself if you cannot love our faulty Gaglioppo. This is how wine can enrich your life—through following philosophy instead of cold, hard, unfeeling chemistry.

2014 Ebola Gialla
We very much like the look of our 2014 Ebola Gialla clusters. Ebola Gialla is a very rare variety, thought to be Ribolla Gialla crossed with a fruit bat. Over the past few vintages, our Ebola has done very poorly with the press. James Laube called it, “maybe the worst white wine I’ve ever had that wasn’t Grüner.” Robert Parker thought it “despicable, though it helped me lose some weight.” Jon Bonné says our Ebola is “maybe the finest white wine coming out of Napa Valley, though, in truth, I hate wine.” These quotes are exactly the point of our Ebola.

At The Linoleum Project™ we take a nihilistic approach to our Ebola. Nietzche is our guiding light, and it was his assertion that all values are baseless, that absolutely nothing can be communicated, that nothing is known. This is the precise basis for all scoring systems and wine reviews—indeed the 100 point scale is baseless, and wine descriptions communicate nothing. “Nothing is known” is pretty much the resumé for Neal Martin.  So it seems appropriate as a philosophy of winemaking as well.  We even take it a step further, utilizing the truth of existential nihilism (not just Nihilism Lite)—the certainty that life itself is meaningless. Then isn’t winemaking itself meaningless? Isn’t trying to assign meaning to wine futile and ignorant? Isn’t this apparent when you read wine blogs? Our Ebola reflects the words of Nietzche, “Nihilism is . . . not only the belief that everything deserves to perish; but one actually puts one’s shoulder to the plough; one destroys” Starting with your liver.

We encourage you to share a glass of our Ebola at your next meaningless meal with someone you don’t particularly care lives or dies. This is more than likely yourself.

2014 Tannat
Tannat is a variety that has gained some popularity in recent years, perhaps because, like life itself, it’s the same thing backwards or forwards. In France, Tannat is the primary grape in Madiran, and an important component of many wines from Cahors. In terms of philosophy, it may have been tempting to place Descartes before Cahors, or maybe mullah over how mad Iran is. But, fundamentally, at The Linoleum Project™ we hate Tannat. Which is why each vintage we seek it out. We don’t believe in working with varieties we actually enjoy. That would give us pleasure, and pleasure leads to complacency, a quality prevalent in winemaking today. No, we make our Tannat with a focus on anhedonia, and we think that makes it taste better because it is incapable of delivering taste.

In our view, too often we expect pleasure from wine. We reach for a bottle with an expectation of joy and sensual pleasure. Only to be routinely disappointed. We want you to know that our Tannat is made with the philosophy that life is better when you are unable to experience happiness, and that our wine is designed to make sure you do not. In this respect, our Tannat shares much with rating wines on a numerical scale, for isn’t that very scale about anhedonia? Can you consume a wine rated 89 and enjoy it knowing that somewhere someone richer than you, smarter than you, and better looking than you is drinking a wine rated 100? When you drink 89 point wine aren’t you denying yourself pleasure, illustrating your basic self-contempt, but, more importantly, not caring. Not caring because you cannot feel joy anyway? This is our Tannat in a nutshell.

Enjoy it alone, in the darkness of your soul, with a nice venison stew.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Sam Euthanasia, World's Oldest Wine Critic, on the Napa Valley Auction


When I think of June, I think of weddings, Father’s Day, and the Napa Valley Wine Auction, none of which has any importance to me. I’m rarely invited to weddings, my father died in 1980, and if I want to see rich people pretend to be charitable I can watch Congress on CSPAN. This year’s auction raised $15.7 million for charity, a bargain compared to what the folks bidding should actually pay in income tax. I didn’t attend the auction (yes, I know, that’s a surprise), but I thought I would check in with Sam Euthanasia, the World’s Oldest Wine Critic, and ask him what he thought about the whole thing.

“I only went because Francis Ford Coppola was the honorary chair,” Sam told me. “I went up to  him and said, ‘Smell that? You smell that? Napa, son. I love the smell of Napa in the morning.’ That’s a quote from one of his movies. I think the actor who said it was Clos Duvall. I could be wrong. I’m old. But, anyway, I thought an ‘Apocalypse Now’ reference suited the occasion. War is hell, and so is the goddam Auction.”

Sam Euthanasia, a spry and incontinent 95, has been covering the Napa Valley Auction since its inception in 1981. “Back then, I think they raised a 100K. That’s chump change now. Jean-Charles Boisset spends that on sequined Depends. All I remember about that first auction is that it was hotter than tasting-room-only dessert wine, and stickier. I was sweating like a Treasury shareholder. Jesus. But it was fun. Mostly just normal people there. I think the highest bidder was a drifter who thought the paddle was for swatting the flies. It was pretty casual.”

“It’s perfect that Coppola was the honorary chair. Overstuffed chair, for sure,” Sam went on. “The Napa Auction is turning into the Oscars of the wine world, may as well honor Francis. It’s about wine about as much as the Oscars are about movies, which is to say, not hardly at all. The wine is basically the equivalent of the designer gowns and borrowed jewelry—just there to make the players seem like they have taste. If you’ve been a wine writer as long as I have, and I covered the wine by-the-glass choices at the Last Supper, Jesus White and Jesus Red, the Auction is the worst weekend of your year by far. It’s even more fake than en primeur week in Bordeaux. Just so much wine business baloney.”

Sam can be a bit cantankerous. I told him that at least all the money raised goes to charity. He stared at me for a minute, chewed on his ever-present cigar, and said sarcastically, “Yeah, the money goes to charity, and that’s why people attend. Like the reason there are beauty pageants is because of the scholarship money. Don’t be a putz. It’s another kind of beauty pageant. People competing to look more beautiful and giving than others. They sell overpriced wines to other rich people, auction off trips and dinners like a Silicon Valley ‘Price is Right,’ give the money to charity, and take a big tax write-off. They’re just tossing crumbs to the poor unfortunates the guy they voted for wants to send back where they came from. All the folks who tend their vineyards and pick their grapes. It’s modern day Marie Antoinette saying, ‘Let ‘em eat Cakebread.’”

“Listen,” Sam continued, “I’m all for charity. The money from the Auction has probably done a lot of good. How can you be against that? But how sanctimonious can it get? Isn’t there a way to do it with some dignity? Don’t these clowns see how the rest of the world perceives their annual wine debauchery? The Auction intends to help Napa Valley’s image. It intends to show how compassionate the wineries are, how much they want to do good in the world, how they want to help those less fortunate than themselves. By opening hundreds of large bottles worth unimaginable sums, getting lavishly shitfaced, eating meals that would shame the Roman emperors, and dancing to recording stars? By auctioning off trips around the world on private jets? Hey, why don’t you use those jets to bring in more people to pick Cabernet? Easier to get through security, and you’re going to need them. Is auctioning off priceless overpriced wine in huge bottles accompanied by dream vacations with other wealthy people the image that sells Napa Valley as a caring and compassionate community? It’s a public relations nightmare, only they don’t see it. They only see how wonderful they are, how caring, how generous. I had no idea Narcissus could see his reflection in a lake of Chardonnay.”

“You want respect for your charity, Napa, tone it down,” Sam continues. I’m beginning to wish I hadn’t brought up the subject. Sam looks like he’s going to have a heart attack. He’s chomping at his cigar like it’s an aspen and he’s one pissed-off beaver. “Have some dignity. Make it about wine, not consumer excess. Make it about heart, not about wallets. Then regular people might see it as beautiful and heartfelt. Yeah, you’re the big boys in the wine auction world, your wines cost the most, your Auction makes the most money for charity, take your bows. Just stop waving your dicks around like size matters, and waiting for the admiration to begin.”

Sam Euthanasia probably won’t get invited to the Auction next year. I don’t think he cares.

“Frankly,” Sam tells me, clearly exhausted from his tirade, “I’m too old for all this. I mean, there I am in Napa Valley, once this beautiful and humble agricultural Eden, looking at a huge hot air balloon in the shape of Marvin Shanken. I was so depressed. How much more self-indulgent and self-congratulatory can a charity auction get? Really, it was horrifying to me.

“And then a ray of hope! Turns out, it wasn’t a hot air balloon.”

Thursday, June 8, 2017

News From the Court of Natural Sommeliers


The Court of Natural Sommeliers is pleased to announce that it is now accepting applications from qualified people in the wine trade who wish to pursue their N.S. There are currently 256 Natural Sommeliers in the world—220 are women, 30 are men, and the other six are wine writers, about whom no one is certain. Candidates who are accepted into the program are expected to pass three exams. There is the Practical Exam, where candidates blind taste six wines in front of a panel and then carefully wash the feet of their N.S. proctors. There is an oral exam that guarantees the candidate has the correct amount of teeth. And, finally, there is the service exam—a rigorous testing of the candidate’s ability to properly open a bottle of natural wine tableside, as well as demonstrate utter contempt for a customer who brings his own bottle of unnatural wine to the table. Candidates must pass all three exams within three years and never once smirk.

I'm about to stand for my oral exam for the N.S. degree, but, dammit, I'm missing a couple of teeth. I bit my wife yesterday, and it turns out I'm Gummo Marks. Nevertheless, I still receive the Court's occasional newsletter, which I've posted over at Tim Atkin's site. (I recently met Tim Atkin MW for the first time--a story for another time.) You'll have to cyberleap over there to read the rest of the news from the Court of Natural Sommeliers. Oh, it's fascinating!

TIM ATKIN MW