Wednesday, March 25, 2009

An Open Letter To Matt Kramer

First, a quick introduction to this post. Matt Kramer has written a number of wine books and is a columnist for The Wine Spectator and The Oregonian (Portland newspaper). He has over three decades of experience as a wine writer and wrote this article in early February.Snap up 2006 pinot noir soon; '07s will probably be thin
He commits what I believe to be among the most egregious sins/errors of wine writers by summarizing an entire vintage, across two continents, in less than 70 words. Simplification for most readers is a bonus, oversimplification for all readers, however, is a disservice.
Read on for my response which I attempted to get published in a local wine magazine. As they chose not to print it, I will publish it here. A link will be forwarded to Mr. Kramer.

I promise to have some reviews of 2007 Oregon Pinot Noir posted shortly and more will follow.

Dear Mr. Kramer,
This is in response to your article from The Oregonian on Sunday February 1st. Let me first say that I respect your knowledge, experience and palate. I have recommended your book ‘Making Sense of Wine’ to countless people interested in learning more about wine in an informative, but not intimidating, fashion and I will continue to do so. However, I must call you to task for the overly simplistic statements from the article.
A one paragraph summation is hardly sufficient to cover a vintage. It is these overly generalized announcements that incorrectly poison an entire vintage for many customers. While wearing your wine critic hat it is your job to strongly recommend a wine or two in your column in the Oregonian. As a leading journalist, and respected author, in the wine world it should also be your job to educate properly.
Instead of trying to tackle the world in my response, let’s focus on Oregon. I will quote you and then discuss the validity or usefulness of each line.
“The 2007 vintage was merely good in much of California and less than that in Oregon.” No mention here of red or white wine. I find the 2007 whites from Oregon to perhaps be a benchmark for future success. They are crisp, fresh, and intense, showing more of the minerality many hope to find. Granted, if tropical fruit and thick texture is your style, then you will likely be disappointed or, more accurately, underwhelmed. Preferring the snappier style of whites, I love the 2007s from Oregon, nearly across the board. By the way, they offer much easier matches on the table than the sometimes flabby 2006’s.
You continued, “You want to snap up the remaining 2006 pinot noirs from Oregon while they’re still around." I would be a bit more careful about that. I found many of the 2006 Pinot Noirs to be too reminiscent of the 2003 vintage, overly ripe, lacking acidity and often bearing more resemblance to Syrah than Pinot Noir. Many offer plush, juicy fruit and early access, but too often complexity and depth are lacking. If that’s the style you love, then 2007 Pinots may not be for you. However, ‘true’ Pinot fans will find plenty to like in the vintage.
The first one I tasted out of bottle, blew me away. Evesham Wood’s introductory level Pinot Noir was loaded with pretty red fruit, earth tones, and bright acidity. It proved to be a fantastic match with roast chicken and mushrooms and a true bargain at $17.99; it probably could have been mistaken for Bourgogne Rouge or perhaps even Savigny Les Beaune. I snapped up four bottles and wish I had gotten more. I do not believe there is any more of this wine available, but it was a great start for the vintage. Since then I have tasted a number of 2007 Pinot Noirs and while none are blockbusters, they are certainly worthy of consideration, consumption, and perhaps cellaring.
“Oregon’s 2007 pinot noirs are emerging as rather light, sometimes excessively thin wines that may prove to be overpriced for their quality. (Some producers are lowering their prices.)” Overpriced wines exist all over the world in every vintage. Oregon, despite huge improvements and advances in quality over the last decade or so, continues to produce a significant number of wines not worth their price. Good producers in 2007 did more aggressive sorting, therefore had higher expenses, and may not be in a position to lower prices. The wines will not be as generous or as big as either 2006 or 2003, but I find similarities to the exciting and engaging 2005 vintage which offered something for everyone.
You continue to be a hero to me for being an active proponent of finesse and elegance in wine, while lamenting the increasing ripeness and more generic style of Pinot Noir many producers appear to be pursuing. How disappointing that an elegant vintage like 2007 has been so thoroughly dismissed by you in this column.
Ironically, I recall you choosing Brick House ‘Ribbon Ridge’ 2007 as your sole Pinot Noir recommendation for Thanksgiving. For a less than "merely good" vintage in Oregon with bottlings perhaps "overpriced for their quality" how could you recommend this wine while so many 2006 Pinots were still around to "snap up." In fact, you nearly raved about Brick House's 2007, "this bottling is nothing less than delightful" (The Oregonian, November 23rd, 2008). You went on to call the wine, "[a]n exceptionally pure-tasting pinot noir...[t]he word 'exquisite' comes to mind." You even say, "[t]he price is lovely, too." Surely some mention of your excitement about this 2007 would have been appropriate at the same time you panned the 2007 vintage for Oregon Pinot Noir.
While writing of Brooks ‘Janus’ 2006 bottling in the February 1st column, you say, “you won’t get this depth or scale of pinot noir fruit in the 2007 vintage, you can be sure.” I’m willing to go along with that. I won’t get the depth or scale of BBQ ribs by roasting a chicken either but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t eat it.
Let’s sample a few quotes about the 2007 vintage from some esteemed producers. These quotes are taken from Oregon Wine Press articles (Stephany Boettner, Jan 2008; Hillary Berg, Dec 2007). From Harry Peterson-Nedry of Chehalem, “we have great physiological maturity at lower sugars, a condition that excites us.” Eric Hamacher of Hamacher Wines, “I am thrilled with the wines. It is a vintage about elegance…these may be my favorite wines in quite a few years.” While I admit that winemakers and owners, who need to sell the new vintage, may not always be the most objective people, there are enough ringing endorsements out there to get my attention.
As a journalist, you should not be a cheerleader for wines you find unappealing, but it is unfortunate that the 2007 vintage, with more delicate fruit, expression of terroir, and elegance would be panned by someone who advocates for exactly this style of wine. One last quote from the column, “As I said: you can’t be too careful.” I could not agree more; be careful about questionable producers (who surely will create uninspired wine in 2007), vintages that may not be your style, and especially ‘super-journalists’, claiming to be able to sum up entire vintages in a single paragraph.


  1. You have offer a very thoughtful and logical response to a level of criticism that I also took issue with in a post entitled, "Why Matt Kramer and other critics need to be more transparent", a few weeks back.

    I especially appreciate you calling out Kramer's high praise for the 2007 Brick House Ribbon Ridge, while then seeming to contradict himself by measuring everything against the Brooks 2006 Pinot Noir. It just doesn't add up, which is why more disclosure is required here on Kramer's part. What is prompting him to discount an entire vintage? Why the obvious disconnect with earlier praise for this vintage?

    I hope Kramer can expound on his position in a response to your open letter, as I have yet to hear him reply to my post.

  2. Well said, I quite enjoyed your take on his reviews. I am really enjoying most of the 2007 Oregon Pinots I have tasted and can't wait to explore more.
    So far no response from Mr. Kramer. I provided him with personal e-mail, blog address, and physical address for snail mail.