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August 20, 2007

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Great insight, as usual. I would be thrilled to see a wine judging of Riesling with top German judges held in NYC, by the UN or a famous German restaurant, maybe as part of a larger Oktoberfest cultural celebration?
Kathleen

Lenn,
In your critique of the New York Wine and Grape Foundation’s 2007 contest, you write that “the foundation has always had a clear bias towards the Finger Lakes region over Long Island (that's where it's headquartered).”

In dealings for years with the foundation, I have not discerned “bias,” and I wonder what facts --- citable bedrock facts, not suspicions --- you can adduce to substantiate an allegation of a pattern of “clear bias.”

It is true that the foundation has always been based in the Finger Lakes, first in Penn Yan and now in Canandaigua. It is true that its president, James Trezise, lives in that region. Thus, it is probably true that most of his professional and personal connections and his day-to-day work lie there, too; doubtless the same is true of his staff.

But “bias,” an inner state of mind, can be readable and provable only in demonstrable outward expressions.

What have you seen that others may be missing?
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Howard G. Goldberg

Howard,

I was wondering if anyone caught that little nugget.

I can't come up with many "concrete" instances of bias off the top of my head, and frankly I stopped counting them as they came up because it's a widely accepted "suspicion" among many in the Long Island wine industry (they've told me so, but I can't mention names because its always off the record).

One clear example that I will point to is the NYWGF's weekly email newsletter "Wine Press" which very rarely includes any news/notes/information on Long Island wine, despite the fact that there is just as much going on here too. Actually, there's rarely information about the Hudson Valley, Niagara Escarpment and Western NY regions either.

Of course the last issue did mention both the Escarpment and Palmer Vineyards, so it's not like non-Finger Lake regions are being completely ignored.

Any thoughts on the rest of my critique, which I'm not sure is really a critique at all?

Lenn:
The "criticism" you offer of the NY judging seems to me to be more suspicion than anything else. As a judge on the dry Riesling panel (and others), I could go through the steps that led us to select the Governor's Cup winner, which is a brilliant example of NY Rielsing.
But I think my credentials and those of other judges are being sullied here, and I'd rather address that.
I first visited the Finger Lakes as well as Hudson Valley in 1977 and have been visiting and tasting New York wines regularly ever since. That's 30 years of experience with all sorts of New York wines, from Walter S. and Dr. F and Guy DeVaux and Charles Fournier, and on to Gene Pierce and Hermann Wiemer and many more. I have seen an evolution in styles, and I have established a credibility among east coast wineries as being extremnely sensitive to and appreciative of "cool-climate" wines.
As for the judging format, I teach a course on wine competitions at Santa Rosa Junior College (and coordinate two international wine competitions), and judge all around the world, and find that the system used at the New York judging is better than most other wine competitions.
As for bias on the part of the NYWGF, don't you think Dr. Dan Damianos or Mark Miller or someone would have hollered by now that they are being poorly represented? How about calling around to see if bias exists? I doubt you will find any at all. I've known Jim Trezise for decades, and can't think of a person who better exemplifies the personal integrity so necessary in such a position.
He was the recipient of the Wine Industry Integrity Award last year.
Finally, the phrase, "They have the palates they have," appears to me to be a slight to all the professional judges who gave up their own precious time to help the New York wine industry. I cut a trip to Australia short by a full week to do this judging, and I resent the implication that my palate is ill-trained.
Dan Berger

Dan,

I'm disappointed to hear you say that you think I've sullied your reputation as a judge and wine writer. As a fellow Appellation America writer, I admire you work and think you are one of the best going.

Perhaps I didn't provide enough context for this blog post. It was written in response to the dozens (literally) of emails I received from readers asking me questions that generally went like this:

"How can the judges give XYZ award to Wine A or MNO award to Wine B?"

That is an easy trap to fall into for any wine enthusiast (I've done it myself in the past) who has his or her own palate and doesn't think about their own individual tastes as just that, individual.

My point is that no one can say that the judges "got it wrong" because they are all respected wine industry professionals who just happen to have their OWN individual palates. I'm sure that you had fellow judges who had different views from your own on many wines. There were a relatively small number of Double Gold wines this year, so that has to be the case. Your quote of me saying "They have the palates they have" is merely me stating that the palates you have are what you have--not a judgment in the least. If you think it reads that way, I do sincerely apologize. I would never say that anyone's palate -- wine judge or housewife -- is "ill-equipped." Again, we all have the palates we have.

Your experience with NY wines is definitely not news to me, either. Your recent piece on Finger Lakes riesling was great. I hope that with me explaining the context for my post, you understand that there isn't any reason for you to feel slighted. You absolutely have credibility with me when it comes to cool-weather wines.

Regardless, I'm really coming to the defense of the tasting panel. I've had readers, winemakers and winery owners (the last two off the record) complain about the results and I tell them that they don't have much of an argument to make. The Foundation put together a group of wine professionals, not random people off the street. If they (wineries) aren't happy with the results, maybe their wines aren't as good as they thought.

I do still have my doubts about these types of tastings, but I have little first-hand experience with them, admittedly. I merely suggested some way that the process could be improved. Everyone has ideas, including me. I still find the choice of California as a venue odd, mostly because I care passionately about the wines of New York and think the state's makers need to do a better job of marketing to the people in their backyard before worrying about California.

As to the "bias" I mention, both you and Howard have made good points. Perhaps I shouldn't have used "bias" because it very well may be a "suspicion". But, I assure you that have "called around" and have talked about the NYWGF with several winemakers and winery owners myself, in person, and several of them feel that Long Island isn't given the due it deserves within the organization. Perhaps "clear bias" was too strong. I can admit a mistake.

I have not met Jim, but I have emailed with him recently, and I have absolutely no reason to question his integrity, and thus, would never do so. And while he has clearly been great for the Foundation and New York wines, the Foundation is more than just Jim, right? Maybe people in the Long Island industry aren't as vocal as the wineries right in his immediate area. Maybe they don't tell Jim about all of the great things going on. I can't know that. But, I'd like to see Long Island featured more prominently in programs and promotional materials.

I do know that the tasting room at the Center has a nice selection of Long Island wines, which is great to see.

Thanks for the comment. I'm always more than willing to discuss anything that I've written.

Lenn,
We have issues of Journalism 101 here.

One day, when blogs go beyond functioning as personal diaries and mature as a responsible editorial form, the same issues will be perceived as the core of Responsible Blogmanship 101.

So far as I can see, you have adduced no instances of whatever of bias by James Trezise or the New York Wine and Grape foundation.

The quotation marks around the word “suspicion” befogs the meaning of the phrase. The phrase “widely held ‘suspicion’” translates as “hearsay,” which has no standing in responsible reporting unless it is identified as such. (It was once commonly held that the Earth was flat.) As for “off the record,” that seemingly high-minded resort to protected silence is no more believeable than politicians’ departure from office “to spend more time with my family.”

Nor is the Wine Press a “clear example” at all. The Finger Lakes region has 95 producers, Long Island 43, the foundation told me yesterday. That gulf naturally points toward weightier coverage toward the majority.

Minimally, before leveling a near-slander at Trezise you should have phoned him, asked questions, reported those questions and then interpreted them as you wish. Considering that this blog was not exactly born yesterday, there is something wrong about your not having met Trezise at your own initiative long ago. If you had, 'bias' might not have come to your mind.

If, as seems to be the case, you aspire to have your worthy Lenndevours treated as a serious, thoughtful vehicle focus primarily Long Islands wines, you might consider putting in some time in the newsroom of a local paper.

The so-called new media --- blogs --- now seem to be here to stay. But the obituary for “old media” isn’t being written yet. It has lessons to teach and learn. And practice.

I'll stick my two cents in here, because this has gone off an a random tangent. I know I come here for Lenn's *thoughts* on NY/LI wines, because he knows what he's talking about (well, he knows more than most of us that frequent the site). His articles at other forums are different - maybe more researched, fact-checked, etc. This is clearly a blog - which by definition is an outlet for random thoughts & musings. Lenn has always stated when things are researched/etc. Anytime he doesn't, I think it's pretty clear that they are just his own thoughts/ramblings?

Howard,

Always appreciate your comments. Point taken on "bias" vs. "suspicion."

Until recently, emails sent to Mr. Trezise have gone un-returned (by his own admission) and, unfortunately, I often don't have the benefit of time to make phone calls. LENNDEVOURS is something that I do when I'm not at my day job in high-tech marketing.

Now that Mr. Trezise and I are in touch, as of earlier this week, I am planning to interview him about the Classic and plan to publish the piece here on LENNDEVOURS.

And I certainly don't think that I've in any way slandered Mr. Trezise. But, just in case, I have, I've decided to edit the words "clear bias" out of the post. You are correct that I cannot prove it 100% (I don't buy the 'more wineries in the Finger Lakes' argument though.

I shouldn't have presented something as an absolute truth if I can't prove it to be so. Point taken and lesson learned.

Jeff,

Thanks for your point of view as well, but it seems clear to me--given this line of discussion--that LENNDEVOURS has grown far beyond a personal blog/forum for my opinion into something more. This is good news, but also means that there probably should be fewer of my rants published :)

but the rants are half the fun ;) In all seriousness, whatever direction the site pushes you in the future, it's your site, nobody's paying for a subscription, post what you want ;)

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