After seeing a reference on the Finger Lakes Weekend Wino's site, I was in a state of disbelief. Could this news be for real?
Last week, as I drove south on Route 14 on the west side of Seneca Lake, I kept my eyes peeled, and then I saw it for myself...yes, there is a winery opening on Seneca named Pompous Ass. The sign out front says the winery is opening this summer, although a lot of summer has already passed us by.
Is this name funny? Is it appropriate? More importantly, what role will this brand of humor play in the Finger Lakes?
It is obvious that the proprietor of this new winery wanted to create a stir, and whether to make a statement or simply to make money, the choice of name has certainly succeeded in grabbing the attention of the region.
My immediate thoughts are that this name picks up on the brands we have all seen in the wine stores with names like Old Fart and Fat Bastard, two wines made by French conglomerates for international distribution and consumption. I do not lament the existence of these wines at all and I'm sure they have resulted in some hilarious gift-giving (I myself purchased some Old Fart for an uncle's birthday).
What is important to consider, however, is that mass-produced and marketed wines do not leave the buyer with a distinct sense of place. No one buys Old Fart or Fat Bastard as a prime example of French wine, nor is the origin of these wines part of the marketing scheme in any significant sense. Basically, it is all about generic wine humor.
There will be nothing generic about Pompous Ass and the origin of its products will not be a mystery to consumers. The winery will have a tasting room right along the Seneca Wine Trail. In addition, one can assume that many of the bottles will be labeled as Finger Lakes sourced wines. Pompous Ass will become a Finger Lakes winery and represent the region to potential consumers and critics.
Let us now consider the Finger Lakes wine industry as embodied by a cartoon donkey.
There is so much fun to be had with wine and especially wine in the Finger Lakes. It is not a pretentious region and I hope it never becomes one, but there needs to be a degree of respect at play if the Finger Lakes is ever to be taken more seriously for the great wines it produces. Fun wines and labels have a place, but one can push the joke too far. While good wineries in regions throughout the world use playful imagery for their namesake (e.g. Frog's Leap in California), few of these names carry the significant connotations of a phrase like Pompous Ass.
It is possible that the proprietor of Pompous Ass is using the name to engage in commentary over the unfortunate tendency for wine and wine enjoyment to become the purview of snobs. That's fine, and I would not argue with the sentiment, but the example is so over the top that it pushes the issue in the other direction and leaves the impression that wine in general is frivolously conceived and easily made and proffered.
I hardly think so. Wine is not all it's made out to be by some, but there's something more to it than a big joke.
Of course, one could also look at the entire Pompous Ass concept as one giant marketing scheme intended to sell lots of wine regardless of quality. Admittedly, the name might make for a successful lone business, but at what expense to the region's reputation as a whole? Even if the wines are well-made, will the name overshadow the success of the winermaker? Frankly, there are simply too many competing values at play to ever take this winery seriously.
The name Pompous Ass and the cartoon donkey could have made an enjoyable line of wines within a winery's library or perhaps even a second label, but an entire establishment based on this concept alone seems like nothing more than a poor sense of humor run amuck. Maybe something like Pompous Ass would be funnier in Napa Valley, but in a region in which great wineries with stellar products are still struggling to make a solid profit, it just seems out of place and perhaps an affront to those winemakers and entrepreneurs who are trying to accomplish something grand with the Finger Lakes and its difficult cool climate terroir.
I like to laugh, but as I drove past Pompous Ass's soon-to-be winery I just shook my head.