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September 10, 2006


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F***ing editors be damned. What sommelier in their right mind would suggest a Long Island wine over another (if the establishment even had any to offer) - Zraly, perhaps, but for most, sommelier = hotelier.

"I am here to sell you a room (er, bottle) to make money for my employer".

Do you not have eyes, a nose, a mouth, a tongue, taste buds, an extensive olfactory factory? Genetic ability to taste wines and appreciate their delicateness is what you possess.

Your tasting experience is irreplaceable. TASTING IS KEY. KNOWLEDGE OF TERROIR IS YOUR EXPERTISE!!!!!!!

Remember, those with degrees and years of scientific knowledge (from Cornell) told Dr. Frank he couldn't grow European vinifera in NY. The same Cornell types told the Hargraves and other LI pioneers they couldn't successfully grow European vinifera.

So when they insisted, the Cornellians told them to spread out the vines. WRONG AGAIN!

Now a f***ing journalism schooled editor in charge of a publication with financing, I know, doesn't give a sh*t about what some unaccredited blog-based self-described expert claims...dey wants da WINETASTIN'GUILD (ya spent mucho dinero to get a certificate!!!!!!!) paperwork to back up your knowledge.
An aside: Do food and/or restaurant editors in traditional media have to get a diploma from Johnson & Wales or the CIA before they can write about how food tastes?

Well, check out my former software director (google: uncorked & Greenwich Time). No sommelier credentials whatsoever. Just an experienced, well-educated wine consumer working with an editorial board that doesn't have hang-ups.

And remember the columnist from your hometown paper...

I like your style, Dan. And Lenn, old buddy, I'll second what he wrote: fuck em. You have been in the trenches, tasting, talking with real honest-to-God wine people and acquired your knowledge in the laboratory known as, ahem, the Real World. Keep doing what you've been doing, it's working.

I've had some training in the world of wine, and while informative, I still believe I've learned tenfold what I was taught in class by tasting, "geeking it up" with friends, reading and generaly emersing myself in the world of wine. For the prestigeous WSET you can self study the whole thing and then take the test. I had a friend do this, and she passed. So in a way she is "formally" self educated. I've had half the training she has had and so far we seem to have a similar level of understanding on wine. Not to mention we both respect each others opinions.
Don't sweat it, those that challenge this probably don't understand wine. It's a personl thing, where some people opinions mean more to me than others.

Gentlemen...thanks for chiming in here. That's about what I expected...

Ryan..what did you friend think of the WSET? I'm thinking of doing the much less prestigious CSW one of these days.

I’m a self-taught engineer and once upon a time suffered similar resistance because of it. My work stands alone so it’s not usually an issue, but I have been there—I know the feeling.

One of the reasons I respect and enjoy you so much *is* that lack of education. When I read Lenn Thompson not only do I know I’m getting truth, but I feel like I’m hanging out with a regular guy. Someone with a job and a family just like me that just happens to love food & wine to an extraordinary degree.

I’ve watched you grow in both knowledge and success and thoroughly enjoyed the ride. I think it would different in some way if you were writing as a formally educated expert rather than a devotee.

If you want to earn a degree somewhere along the way, that’s fine. Your loyal following of friends will feel like they earned it with you. Just don’t do it under pressure from the stupid so they’ll “let” you write tasting notes. And remember, some things just can’t be taught in school. Imagine only looking at paintings by artists that went to college.

Keep up the good work!

Lenn, obviously a self-educated person can succeed in the wine industry, witness the number of successful winemakers and vineyard managers here on LI who don't have a formal education. Just do what you want and trust yourself, you'll be happiest in the long run.

As for Dan's comments-I am tired of this myth of Cornell's supposed decree that you couldn't grow vinifera on LI. (or upstate in the case of Dr. Frank) The educated (and experienced) viticulturists never said it was impossible, they said it was improbable. And for the most part they were RIGHT! Ask any vineyard manager if it is a simple matter to grow high quality vinifera in the East. There are tremendous obstacles to overcome before the issue of quality fruit (and wines) even comes up. In the West vineyard mangement involves finetuning, not overcoming winter injury,an everchanging water supply and a complex of diseases they can only imagine in Napa. Certainly many have succeeded here, but many have failed as well, and it is a constant struggle in the vineyards here (and upstate).

Off my soapbox now!, carry on.

Lenn - Just wondering what books you recommend for folks wanting o learn more. I'd appreciate a short list of recommendations.

I'm late chiming in, but if you need a certification to write intelligently about wine, things are in a sad state. All reviews are just a surrogate for actually tasting the wine. And even then, we all have different physiologies (for example, the number of taste buds per square cm. on our tongues). I think your editors are way off base. The point of a wine review is to help readers understand if they would like a wine or not. The best thing for a reviewer is to have a broad range of experience, some understanding of the technical underpinnings, and (perhaps most important) a desire to learn more. You score three for three, Lenn.

(I review winery Web sites - where do I go for my certification?)

In response to Bill's comment on my rant:

With no personal agenda against Cornell or its personnel, I apologize and accept your admonishment.

I will tailor my tales accordingly; my use of exaggeration comes back to chomp my hind quarters yet again.

So the myth of balky Cornell advice is busted....

Nonetheless, I am grateful that Louisa and Alex decided to try grow European vinifera wines in Cutchogue. Some day the cabernet sauvignon will come (sigh).

Finally, I must admit that the few NY wines I've tasted, made from euro-american hybrids, have not tickled my tastebuds as much as I would hope.

Hmm, let's see. Robert Parker? Nope, not an MW. Most (all?) of the Wine Spectator staff? Not many MWs there, if I remember. Wine & Spirits -- a few, probably.

I suppose it wouldn't work to ask your editor why they want the same old boring tasting notes that everyone else writes. Maybe a more interesting style would actually get people to read the notes (I read David Schildknecht's notes just for the sake of reading them).

As far as I know neither Frank Prial, Eric Asimov, nor Howard Goldberg (all of the New York Times) have either a MW or is a trained sommelier. In fact if you look at the wine intelligentsia writing in NYC, those credentials are hard to find. Not to mention that many of the sommeliers I've spoken to don't know their ass from their elbow when it comes to Long Island wine. So you're devloping your own niche.

Dan, as a Cornell grad, I accept your apology regarding your mistatements concerning my alma mata. Fact is Dr. John Tompkins - who was an old plant science professor of mine - was quoted as far back as 1968 that "Long Island might indeed be good place to grow vinifera grapes."

BTW Bush has an MBA - need I say anymore?

It was John Tompkins of Cornell who identified LI as a good place to grow Vinifera. He was working with John Wickham (a Cornell grad with a fruit farm in Cutchogue) on developing vinifera table grapes on LI, and send me and Alex (Hargrave) to check them out (in 1972). Wickham was a teetotaler; hence, no wine grapes were grown on his farm.
It was also Tomkins who told me that Nelson Shaulis was afraid to see vinifera succeed here, since he had spent his career working on the assumption that it was impossible in NY, and had a book about native grapes and hybrids written that he couldn't get published. Shaulis did a 5 year experiment on our farm, then refused to publish the results, which proved that good, ripe vinifera could be produced on LI regardless of training or pruning method. Shaulis made life miserable for Dr. Frank, who also gave us some of his secrets for getting vinifera vines through a cold winter.

You can read the story in my book, The Vineyard: a memoir (a Penguin paperback). So much for history.

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