New York Riesling Diary: Day 44 – Dear NSA, Dear GCHQ (Part 5 – Where are We Heading, Farther in the Direction of Global Cyber-Fascism or Back Towards Liberty?)

Dear General Keith Alexander (Director of NSA),

Dear James Clapper (National Director of Intelligence),

Dear Sir Lain Lobban (Director of GCHQ),

Today is the most important day for Liberty, Freedom and Democracy since the wave of revelations about your activities unleashed by Edward Snowden six months ago. Today 560 authors from 83 countries belonging to the initiative “Writers Against Mass Surveillance” published their appeal in defense of civil liberties in the digital age. They demanded that “all states and corporations” – that includes you! – respect the right “for all people as democratic citizens, to determine to what extent their personal data may be collected, stores and processed.” This dovetails neatly with the INVITATION that I made to the three of you back on November 2nd in the first part of this series to intercept all my communications and my promise not to prosecute you for this in any court; a free decision on my part that applies only to me. The 560 authors also called for the United Nations “to create an International Bill of Digital Rights” and it is hard for me to believe any progress in the directions of Liberty, Freedom and Democracy can be made without that. You can sign the petition at the following address:

I just became signatory No. 35,904. If you write or blog, or if you publish video material or use any other media I strongly suggest that you study the text of this petition and at least seriously consider signing, because only concerted action stands any chance of reversing the inexorable drift of the West in the direction of Cyber-Fascism since 9/11. My hope is that we have a chnce to move back in the directions of Liberty, Freedom and Democracy, all principals which the leaders of the US, the UK and other Western nations pay lip service to. Only the other day in China US Vice President Joseph R. Biden said in  speech to a group of  American business people there, “Innovation thrives where people breathe freely, speak freely, dare able to challenge orthodoxy, where newspapers can report the truth without fear of the consequences.” That was either disingenuous and hypocritical, or it must be taken as a question about the degree of seriousness with which the current US administration takes the nation’s constitution. The same could be said about the democratic principals which underlie the unwritten constitution of the UK.

Those of you who can speak German are strongly recommended Sascha Lobo’s column published today on Spiegel Online (see the link below). Let me translate a few of the most important points for non-German speakers, beginning with the title, “They Hate Our Freedom,” a quote from George W. Busch describing the attitude of terrorists to the West. It dates back to just after 9/11. The problem for Sascha Lobo is that this now perfectly describes your attitude to our Freedom. He reports that the Pentagon has begun describing peaceful demonstrations as “low level terrorism”, and this is exactly the danger in the present situation, that your definition of terrorism becomes so elastic that we all qualify, because you regard us all as potential threats. He calls this a “system of madness” and although he doesn’t specifically mention paranoia it is that which he is describing. It seems to be so deep seated that you are not even aware of it.

As today’s statement by the 560 authors says, “A person under surveillance is no longer free; a society under surveillance is no longer a democracy,” and it is these things which you are systematically eroding through your actions, regardless whether that is your conscious goal or not.  Your paranoia is driving both the unconscious and conscious parts of that process, and you are urgently in need treatment for that condition before it drives you to declare us all to be engaged in at least “low level terrorism” and therefore all legitimate targets of unlimited surveillance. Your willingness, even eagerness, to move in this direction reminds me of how during the Cold War the Western military regarded global destruction as an acceptable price to pay for defeating the Soviet Union. Today the enemy has a different name and different weapons are being deployed, but once again paranoia is in the driving seat and entire populations are the actual targets. I suggest you think long and hard about that, for it will be the subject of my next letter to you.

PS This comment by John Cifelli was so good I have to give it space here:

Bravo! Stuart, once in a while I make a recurring post on my Facebook page. It simply states “I refuse to be afraid.” I refuse to accept the notion that there is a terrorist at every subway station, airport, elementary school, etc. Statism crosses borders, and the surveillance state is trying to turn one man against another. I am certain that I am on watch lists of various overlapping bureaucratic institutions of the US government, and that is not acceptable. I read a recent report that 1 in 4 journalists are self-censoring this publications in fear of retribution from their governments. I will sign, thank you.

PPS 24 hours after posting this story 104,873 people had signed the ‘Writers Against Mass Surveillance’ petition! That’s three times as many as when I signed. This says everything.


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New York Riesling Diary: Day 42 – Over the Mountains and Far Away in Georgia (in Williamsburg/Brooklyn!)

Seldom have I experienced a tasting like that of Georgian wines which Lisa Granik MW presented this afternoon at Hotel Delmano in Williamsburg/Brooklyn. Even in New York Wine City (NYWC) where the culture of excellence and plain old hot competition drives standards up, sometimes with bizarre results, I never before experienced a tasting where the winemaking background and the cultural background to the wines were presented in such fullness and with such a clear feeling for what is decisive or essential. What I mean is that Lisa didn’t just dump an avalanche of detail on us and leave us to try and find the connections. The fact that she lived in Georgia for a year at the beginning of the 1990s obviously helped, but I promise you I’ve been to tastings of French wines by people who’d lived in France for a year that were rubbish compared to this tasting! Although I’d been to Georgia in the Caucasus in June 2008 just weeks before that ugly little war with Russia erupted and been given a crash course in Georgian wine and culture, but this afternoon I still learnt a lot of vital stuff.

For most of the other participants it was like being thrown in the deep end of an olympic diving pool, because all the comparisons with Western Europe and most of the paradigms and metaphors we derive from the wine cultures of those nations don’t help you make sense of Georgian wines, rather they make it way more difficult to piece the information your palate is telling your brain into something resembling a coherent picture reflecting the reality on the ground. For me it was not only the chance to refresh my memory, but also to catch up on what several major producers have done during the last few years. The most important of those was Vinoterra in Kakheti (in the east of the country where the majority of the vineyards are).

During my June 2008 tour of Georgia the most exciting wines were those being made by Dr. Giorgi Dakishvili at Vinoterra in Qvevri, that is fermenting them in Georgian “amphora”, were the most striking and exciting of all. That was also the case at today’s tasting, but the best wines were even better than those I experienced there five years ago. The most remarkable of the whites for me, and for many of the other young somms present, were the white 2011 Rkatiseli (the nation’s most important white grape) with its dense apricot aroma, rich body and full, but harmonious, tannins. The two 2009 Saperavi (the nation’s most important red grape) reds, regular and Selection, were both delicious with the aromas Lisa regards as classic fro this grape, “blackberry, blueberry, pomegranate, licorice, smoke and graphite.” The Selection is still very young, but even it has well-integrated tannins, and for wines that taste this big and imposing 13% is really moderate. There’s also nothing sweet about them, but this is logical for these wines all spent their first months of life on the skins in Qvevri and anything that could be extracted from the skins was extracted from them during that time. The remarkable thing given this hardcore method is the wines harmony and feeling of proportion.

Thank you again Lisa, not just for the wines and all the information, but also creating an atmosphere where everybody felt free to say whatever they thought and there was an open, friendly, but entirely professional discussion of all that was said. That is the Riesling Spirit, even if there wasn’t one drop of Riesling in this great tasting!

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New York Riesling Diary: Day 40 – “Florian, what the Hell are You doing Here in NYWC?”

Suddenly, yesterday afternoon I got a text message from a French number telling me that Florain Busch of the Clemens Busch estate in Pünderich/Mosel was in town and would like to meet up for lunch today. Luckily I didn’t have a road trip to New Jersey or any other up and coming Riesling destination planned for today, so we met up at Shanghai Asian Manor, 21 Mott Street in Chinatown/Manhattan for soup dumplings and a couple of Rieslings I brought along.

Florian explained that for some months he’s been working at Domaine d’Aupilhac in Montpeyroux,  just over 20 miles northwest of Montpellier. It’s quite a close neighbor to the famous Domaines Daumas Gassac and Grand des Pères, although to be honest I prefer the Montpeyroux wines to them. Florian was very excited by the d’Aupilhac’s Les Cocalières red from a vineyard with more than a thousand feet elevation and northwesterly exposure. I really have to taste it. For more information see:

I poured the dry 2012 Navrarro Riesling for Florian and he was very surprised when I revealed that it was from Mendocino/California. He’d just said, “it could be from Rheinhessen”. He thought the lusciously sweet 2013 ‘F Series’ Riesling Auslese form Framingham in Marlborough/New Zealand might be a 2010, but was unsure where on Planet Riesling it came from. I felt very reassured by his excitement about these wines, because these were some of the hottest discoveries from my research trips for BEST WHITE WINE ON EARTH – The Riesling Story.

Of course, I asked Florian the obvious question that is also the title of this posting. The answer was that he and his French girlfriend are here for just a week on their down to Argentina for nine months to work on organic farms there. When they return to Languedoc they plan to start their own farm growing wine and raising various kinds of animals. The great wheel of time is turning and the trend of the last decades towards farms devoted to wine called wine estates/Weingüter/Domaines/Fincas/Quintas is turning back in the direction of mixed agriculture. That fits with the Riesling spirit, which always admitted other grape varieties alongside my favorite grape.

PS Florian’s girlfriend insisted I got in the picture too.


New York Riesling Diary: Day 39 – NJWRT2, the World (i.e. NYWC) may not want to believe it, but Northern New Jersey is making some Great Wines including Riesling!)

Yes, the world (i.e. New York Wine City, or NYWC) may not want to believe it, but Northern New Jersey is making some great wines including Riesling! That’s where I was yesterday, on my second New Jersey Wine Road Trip (NJWRT) with wine economist Karl Storchmann of NYU and documentary filmmaker Marcarthur Baralla of Defendshee Productions in Brooklyn. We found a great winemakers and also a future Riesling star, but first let me explain the reason I’ve been hunting and gathering in Jersey.

New Jersey wines need champions and in Cameron Stark of Unionville Vineyards in Ringoes the state has one of America’s great winemakers, not that you could even guess this from reading the mainstream wine press. For most of them there seems to be a hierarchy of East Coast wine regions with the North Fork of Long Island at the top, then Finger Lakes, followed a long way behind by everywhere else that wine is grown in New England. The very idea that someone in Northern New Jersey could be a great winemaker must seem absurd to anyone trapped inside this rear view mirror mindset.

What makes Cameron so important for Jersey and in the national context is his mastery of a wide range of wine styles. I need to tell you about his most important wines to make this clear. They begin with a style which the mainstream wine press consistently underestimates: medium-dry aromatic whites. Unionville’s 2012 ‘Eureka’, a blend of Riesling, Pinot Gris and Albarino is a delicious wine in this style with a cocktail of fresh fruit aromas, the discrete sweetness accentuating the juicy fruit and crisp acidity beautifully. I hate Viognier, but the 2012 Amwell Ridge Viognier from Unionville manages to marry the over-ripe peach character of the grape with moderate richness of texture and a liveliness rare for this grape. The Pheasant Hill Chardonnay is surely one of the best wines from this grape anywhere in America. I tasted the 2013 from barrel and am convinced this is a great wine in the making! Cameron poured the 2012 alongside the other single vineyard Chardonnays of this vintage from Unionville. Back at Marcarthur’s New Jersey tasting in Brooklyn on November 10th I found a tropical fruit character in that wine over-ripe. In fact, the 2012 Bell Well is the only Chardonnay from Unionville with this kind of aroma. Cameron is convinced that several cases of this wine were wrongly labelled Pheasant Hill by an employee and that our samples were drawn from one of those cases. Certainly the 2012 Pheasant Hill Chardonnay  is cool and more herbal than fruity in aroma with the same sleek silhouette as the great 2010 and just a hint of funk from long lees contact. OK it costs just over $50, but this is a great wine. Let me say it straight, forget Kistler!

The 2011 Pheasant Hill Syrah is a great example of this grape and a stunning achievement for that very difficult vintage. It has the smoky bacon, pepper, blackberry and leather aromas of a top Northern Rhône wine and very elegant dry tannins. Equally impressive is the 2011 ‘The Big O’, Unionville’s Bordeaux-type blend although this vintage it is 85% Cabernet Sauvignon and 15% Petit Verdot, and I never tasted a red Bordeaux with those vital stats. The black cherry and cranberry aromas are supported by less smoky oak than the more muscular 2010, and once again Cameron has judge the tannins perfectly. From barrel we also tasted the 2013 and 2012 vintages of a Syrah-Grenache-Viognier that is another stunning Unionville red in the making. Then there’s the ‘Vat 19′ Port, a multi-vintage wine made entirely from the hybrid Chambourcin, which can stand next to the best LBV ports.

Just like Jersey the Chambourcin grape has an image problem, because it is way down another hierarchy, that of grape varieties. If you were to stick ‘Merlot’ and ‘North Fork’ on the label of the 2011 Silver Decoy Chambourcin red from Working Dog winery in East Windsor then you could easily sell it for several times the $16.99 they charge in the tasting room, a corner of which is pictured above. Mark Carduner is rightly proud of this wine with its forest berry aromas, its rich tannins and fresh finish. We also tasted several lots of his 2013 Chambourcin and that vintage is at least going to match the 2011. At Marcarthur’s Brooklyn tasting my top wine was the 2010 Silver Decoy Cabernet Franc from Working Dog and once again this really impressed. This winery’s high-end reds always have some obvious oak aromas, but also great fruit and there was only a hint of the bell pepper type aromas and sappy character of this grape. By the way, this winery was previously know as Silver Decoy, but a law suit recently forced them to change name. Because the new label doesn’t yet have official approval it will be the Silver Decoy label you’ll encounter.

Peter Leitner of Mount Salem Vineyards in Pittstown is not only a talented home baker, as the baguette pictured above shows, but is also the man who proved that Blaufränkisch (the Austrian name for the grape the Germans call Lemberger and the Hungarians know as Kéfrankos) is a vital part of New Jersey’s wine future. Asked about that he said, “I’d rather be lucky than smart”, but frankly it now looks pretty smart! He showed us two 2012 Blaufränkisch which we’d tasted from cask during NJWRT1 on December 20th last year as bottled wines. Together they prove that there’s such a thing as terroir in Jersey. Of them the 2012 Leitner is clearly the superior wine with a wonderful fragrance and silkiness in spite of generous supple tannins, the oak aromas discreet. This is the best red wine Peter’s made to date, but you’re probably going to have to wait a full year to enjoy it, then pay more than $50 for the privilege. Anyone who wants to taste an example of Peter’s hand-crafted reds for a more modest price is recommended the delicious 2012 Zweigelt, which is brimming with cherry aromas, but also has the tannic power he strives for and costs $25. These healthy prices for the top Jersey wines is something else almost nobody in NYWC or the mainstream American wine media have picked up on yet. And now on to Riesling!

Mike Beneduce of Beneduce Vineyards also in Pittstown/NJ has just put his first wines on the market, although the best of them – the rather oaky, but fresh and peppery 2012 Blueprint Blaufränkisch – isn’t quite out there yet. However, it will be the 2013 whites, which we tasted from tank and barrel, that are going to make his reputation. Of these the most important for me is the dry 2013 Estate Riesling, the first wine of this kind from Jersey which completely convinced me. It is quite a powerful and complex with a certain amount of spice, and that’s perhaps why Mike compares it with Alsace. Frankly, though I think its closer to the Riesling GGs from Germany. The medium-dry 2012 Three Windows Riesling made part from estate fruit and part from Finger Lakes fruit is a juicy and polished wine with pear and citrus aromas for just $16. Jersey has a Riesling star in the making and the only question is if anyone in NYWC or America’s mainstream wine media really cares about that.



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New York Riesling Diary: Day 36 – BEST WHITE WINE ON EARTH The Riesling Story is On Course for Planet Earth!

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, its the corrected copyedited manuscript of BEST WHITE WINE ON EARTH – The Riesling Story and it is now on course for Planet Earth. I can’t give you an exact ETA yet because of it’s eccentric flight path, but at the latest it will land in New York Wine City (NYWC) on June 21st for the beginning of the Summer of Riesling 2014. Even the foreword by Paul Grieco (also known as Mr. Terroir and The Overlord) in on board! The publisher is Stewart, Tabori & Chang, an imprint of Abrams Books here in NYWC. You can already pre-order with a discount:

For me this is a great relief, because I’ve been working like a lunatic for the last four months to make sure that we launched (delivery of manuscript) on time, then managed the crucial burn today (delivery of corrected copyedited manuscript) that set us on course across the solar system in order to make that reentry window at the very end of spring next year. I never wrote and corrected a manuscript at anything like this speed before. However, the months before I started work I had sorted through nearly all the material very thoroughly and published first drafts of some of the material here. My last research trip was to Northern Michigan and Niagara Ontario late in September, immediately before the Riesling harvest there in order to be as up to date as possible. I was tasting the last wines until just a couple of days ago. Research began when I arrived in Adelaide, South Australia on February 1st, 2012. Given my goal of covering the Riesling wines of thee entire world from a global perspective faster than 22 months would only have been possible if I had abandoned all other work, which simply wasn’t realistic. I carried the great majority of the research expenses myself and I’d really prefer not to add up what I spent. In the end it doesn’t matter. What matters is if the result connects with you and expands your Riesling experience. May the Riesling Force be with You!




New York Riesling Diary: Day 32 – You’re not There

This enigmatic picture reminds me of the 2007 Todd Haynes movie ‘I’m not There’ staring a handful of actors including Cate Blanchett as Bob Dylan. That fits, because the person pictured, Rienne Martinez, has just become the ex-manager of the Terroir wine bar in Murray Hill/New York Wine City (NYWC) and today also left the city. Writing that reminds me of how at the end of Led Zeppelin concerts someone would portentously announce over the PA that, “Led Zeppelin have left the building”. Although she’ll be back for a few weeks in December after that Rienne heads off to the Carl Erhard winery in Rüdesheim am Rhein (Rheingau) to live and work in the town I spent just under a year living in when I attended the nearby Geisenheim wine school in 2008/9. She already test drove this position and the town so she knows that she won’t hate it and figured out that Star Market on the Geisenheimer Strasse is the place to shop for food, which is more than I did before moving into my rented room there on October 3rd 2008!

For those of you who’ve never met Rienne I add the picture left in which her features are more easily recognizable and she looks less like a Francis Bacon painting. I hope that you can get a good idea from this of how Rienne combines an enormous enthusiasm for wine with considerable knowledge and experience, yet has retained a drinker’s perspective rather than drifting off into the geekosphere as so many somms do after a while. Given this, it fits that she should want to deeply immerse herself in wine for a longer period and somewhere like the Erhards’ small winery is ideal, not only because they are very friendly and open people, but also because the wine culture of Germany has hardly been bastardized at all by the bean counters and marketing spin doctors who have got their claws so deeply into so many regions around Planet Wine. This is something I recommend all readers to do if you can find a way to make it work: Live the Riesling Story!

Happy Holidays!



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New York Riesling Diary: Day 30 – The Art of Transformation in New York Wine City (NYWC)

It was exactly one year ago that I arrived for my first long visit to NYWC, so why is there a photograph of artist and graphic designer Steven Solomon at the top of this anniversary posting on STUART PIGOTT RIESLING GLOBAL? Well, it was a meeting with Steven just a couple of weeks after my arrival in NYWC which persuaded me to abandon my irrational rejection of social media and certain forms of non-virtual social interaction. That was the beginning of the sea change which turned me into the person I am now and made my new book BBWOE – The Riesling Story possible. The other reason is that yesterday I got a sneak preview of Steven’s latest work, some of which is seen behind him.

There are several thing which makes it so interesting, beginning with the fact that it manages the very rare balancing act of being readable, i.e. literature in some sense, yet it also has a fully developed optical aesthetic, i.e. it is definitely visual art. The second is that as different as their content is – e.g. SWEAT / PONDER / FREAK OUT – these new images grow out of the graphic design work that Steven has done for the Terroir wine bars and the Summer of Riesling over the last years. Normally it’s the other way around and graphic design parasitic upon visual art. I think this can only work in the case of someone like Steven who has been continually pushing the limits of what graphic design can be over an extended period. Now the writing is literally on the wall (at Foliage, 547 West 27th Street, # 600, between 10th and 11th Avenues – opening times to be announced soon).

There is more to all this though, for Steven has also transformed himself through producing this work, that is has turned himself from the great Stickermeister of old into the brand new Speedpasterobot. What exactly this new identity means for Steven I’m not entirely sure, though I feel sure that I will find out bit by bit as I delve into this pool of joyful angst that needs the daylight to bring out its outrageous humor, just as Franz Kafka’s stories need to be read as comedy in order that the contrast and color saturation are adjusted to the right levels. Further information can be found at:

PS Now I must return to solitary confinement in writers’ prison to continue work on the copyedited manuscript of BWWOE – The Riesling Story in order to keep my book on schedule for publication very late May/very early June by Stewart, Tabori & Chang (a division of Abrams Books here in NYWC).


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New York Riesling Diary: Day 25 – Good News/Bad News, or if Pigs could fly in Bordeaux

First the Good News: Why do I always give Bordeaux another chance, although so many of my favorite wines have gone so far up the price scale that they’re no longer even visible? Is it that the first red wine that lit my fire was 1981 Château Cheval Blanc from St.-Émilion? Or is it the memory of so many wonderful bottles over the years, that is until people started treating red Bordeaux as something to be traded like any other commodity, then it descended even further with commodity traders inflating price bubbles to gain even more outrageous profits than the producers of the high-end Grand Cru Classé and comparable wines. Those profit margins put these wines in the same league as designer hand bags (which typically sell for 1,000% – 1,250% of the production costs), and mean that these “wine products” have almost nothing whatsoever to with the wines that people buy to drink any more. I have a serious problem with that situation.

It was therefore something of a revelation to bump into the wines of Saint Glinglin, a joint venture between New York based sommelier Richard Betts and the Bordeaux négociant Francois Thienpont, today at the’Bordeaux under One Roof’ tasting on the 54th floor of 4 World Trade Center. That’s where I took the picture of Midtown Manhattan above. Only minutes later I was looking at the Saint Glinglin labels which depict flying pigs (see below), and tasting red Bordeauxs of a kind I’s never encountered before. For that reason I’m christening them Anti-Bordeaux.

I found the 2010 ‘Carte Vert’ a Francs Côte de Bordeaux the more astonishing of the two, because what do I expect from a 100% Merlot from Bordeaux that retails for $20 – $23? The answer is really not much, or maybe even nothing. However, this wine (available from Crush in Manhattan and Zachy’s in Scarsdale) which was only aged in cement tanks ad an incredibly lively black berry nose, tasted juicy rather than jammy with a crisp aftertaste that just delightful. It was like being struck by lightning! Why? Because the wine made zero attempt to impress, much less did it try to pander to the critics, somms and other supposed wine VIPs. 0% oak works for me! What about you?

Now the Bad News: This morning the publisher of ‘BWWOE – The Riesling Book’ effectively imposed a 10 day sentence in solitary confinement in Writer’s Prison upon me in order to get the first round of corrections on the manuscript through by December 1st. I probably won’t be able to post the next story here until then. My apologies in advance!


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New York Riesling Diary: Day 24 – Dear NSA, Dear GCHQ, (Part 4 – does your vocabulary still contain the words “amoral” or “immoral”?)

Dear General Keith Alexander (Director of NSA),

Dear James Clapper (National Director of Intelligence),

Dear Sir Lain Lobban (Director of GCHQ),

Back on November 2nd when I INVITED YOU to read and listen in to all my correspondence and promised you immunity from prosecution for doing so I felt I was taking one of very few paths left open to me (that of generosity). The more I dig into the implications of the recent revelations of Edward Snowden and others about your activities the more convinced I become of the rightness of that step. Recently I stumbled upon the following comments from Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, from July 12th.

While concerns about national security and criminal activity may justify the exceptional and narrowly-tailored use of surveillance programs, surveillance without adequate safeguards to protect privacy actually risk impacting negatively on the enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms.

Both Article 12 of the Universal declaration of Human Rights and Article 17 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights state that no one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with one’s privacy, family, home or correspondence, and that everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.

People need to be confident that their private communications are not being unduly scrutinized by the state.”

Unfortunately, there isn’t space here for everything he said. However, I think those lines make plain that he considers that both the NSA and GCHQ have overstepped what international law allows government organizations to do, even if your co-operation has enabled you to stay the right side of the laws of your own respective nations. The problem is that both the USA and UK continue to portray themselves as champions of human rights, most recently British Prime Minister David Cameron challenging the Sri Lanka government about possible massive infringements on the human rights of the Tamil minority – or was it genocide? – at the end of the nation’s recent civil war. One reason the Sri Lanka government didn’t take much notice of Mr. Cameronthat challenge is the knowledge that the governments of the US and UK have also infringed the human of their own citizens and those of third countries. The scale of these infringements has resulted in the US and UK losing the moral high ground in world affairs they claimed since WWII completely, and perhaps permanently.


This is the logical conclusion of a process that has been running since at least 9/11, but who’s roots go back much further. The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche talked about a coming “Umwertung aller Werte” or re-evaluation of all values, and he meant that in a positive sense as a liberating process. However, the re-evaluation of all values which occurred since the end of the Cold War has been a collapse of all the moral values which the West always claimed to uphold, leaving just one abstract value remaining; money (which is only real as long as we believe in it – something the Financial Crisis made clear to all but the most stupid). We are now in a situation where everything is allowed as long as you are successful and don’t get caught. Everything is now a matter of profit and loss without encumbering questions of right or wrong. Of course, you guys were successful and got away with it…until Edward Snowden came along.

The media, even the most serious section of the critical press, has basically gone along with this profit/loss way of judging everything. In its coverage of the NSA/GCHQ affair even the New York Times has often descended to this level, for example in Mark Mazzetti and David E. Sanger’s article, ‘Tap on Merkel Provides Peek at Vast Spy Net’ of October 30th, in which no moral questions are even hinted at. Instead the authors acknowledge that the surveillance of Merkel and others, “is all part of a comprehensive effort to gain an advantage over other nations, both friend and foe.” They continue by rightly asserting that, “the Merkel episode has raised in a very public way the question of whether the benefits of spying on friends outweigh the damage.” However, they don’t hint at there being a moral aspect to this, implying that it is all fine as long as this works (profit) and as long as those responsible don’t get caught (loss). In this they simply reflect and give a nod of agreement to the amoral mode of action and thought of Mr. Obama. As they conclude with regard to Mrs. Merkel, “at least in her case, he now believes that the United States got its benefit-cost analysis wrong.”

Of course, this is much the same thing which happened to certain banks, e.g. J.P. Morgan who seem to suddenly be about $13 billion out of pocket as a result of a fine for their erstwhile practices relating to mortgage derivatives. Here too moral questions are hardly even raised by the media, making it clear that those banks real crime was getting caught. It was that stupid mistake that which screwed up their benefit-cost analysis. It makes me wonder not only if your vocabulary still contains the words “amoral” and “immoral”, but how many people can still think in those terms at all.  If they’re now gone and we can no longer believe the prime ministers and presidents who utter them for one second what happens when the next massive infringement of human rights or genocide takes place?

Please don’t get me wrong. I’m by no means perfect, not anywhere near, but I have a set of morals which I try to live up to, also in my job as a journalist. But why am I bothering to tell you that? You’ve already found that out from reading and listening to my stuff!



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New York Riesling Diary: Day 22 – How Randall Grahm will Doon it Until the Day He Dies

The picture shows Randall Grahm, the guiding spirit of Bonny Doon Vineyard of Santa Cruz, CA, USA, Earth at lunch today in The Breslin on West 29th Street, Manhattan, NY, USA, Earth. However, what it actually records is a moment of serendipity and revelation for me. It was near the end of the tasting of the latest hits from Bonny Doon and he announced to the table that he wouldn’t be retiring until he dies. That seems to make eminent sense to me, but landed with thermonuclear force on the table, perhaps because the other people there all have jobs with salaries (something I haven’t had since September 1981, I think). I immediately sensed that something important was going to happen, as if I’d caught sight of the shadow of someone about to enter the room.

As much as for anything else we had gathered to taste Randall’s his newest creation, the 2012 “A Proper Claret” pictured above. At first glance this seems like Randall contradicting himself, because as he himself said, “officially I hate Cabernet”, and Cabernet is the basis of any proper Claret in the very English sense of that term. As the wine was poured Randall explained how he’d discovered a weird Cabernet vineyard that was box-pruned (imagine the foliage of each vine in the row having a box-like shape, so that the row looks like one long green box). The tiny clusters with tiny berries instantly fascinated him and there was only one way to find out if this might be the key to making a red wine with lowish alcoholic content, but lacking the green aromas (technical term: pyrazines) that afflict most low alcohol Cabs. That was to test his hunch by trying it out. The result is a great success, even if the blend of 62% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Petit Verdot, 8% Tannat, 7% Syrah and 1% Petit Sirah hardly resembles the recipe of any actual Claret from Bordeaux. However, it taste convincingly Claret-like with red berry aromas, a nice freshness and gentle tannins that scream drink me! “Blending is the only thing I can do,” Grahm explained, “I’m not a technically good winemaker.” For more info see:

Then came the last wine, a tank sample of 2013 white wine which  we suddenly realized he expected us to guess. First, there was a moment of silence and brain-wracking

“Moscato?” someone threw in and Randall just shook his head.

“Spätlese?” I suggested on the basis of the peach aroma, the low alcohol and juicy interplay of fruit and acidity.

“Kabinett,” he replied, which confirmed that it was indeed a California Riesling. “We’ll be bottling it in three or four weeks.”

“Back to your roots!” someone else at the table commented, referring to the ‘Pacific Rim’ Riesling brand Randall launched with the 1991 vintage, which is when I first met him, roughly twenty years ago. I still have my notes from that day and the sample labels he gave me! (Pacific Rim subsequently turned into a self-contained winery, now owned by Banfi of New York, that today makes some of America’s best Rieslings).

“I’m just trying to make some dough!” Randall threw back, which also landed on the table with thermonuclear force. A winemaker admitting that he wants to make money; sacre bleu! You won’t hear anyone from Brugundy (just to take one example of a pricey and holy wine) say that, because it could undermine all the breathtaking Terroir Talk and maybe even raise the delicate question of how many hundred percent profit margin there is on some of those Grand Crus. I could sense that special moment was approaching fast.

People then drifted off to their next appointments and I decided to scrub mine (sorry Gigondas, that I didn’t your tasting today at Rouge Tomate!) In a rather confused way I blathered to Randall some of the ideas for a new book (not BWWOE – The Riesling Book due out in May/June 2014) and something seemed to click for him. Then he poured out all the stuff that follows and it clicked with me big time.

“Nobody’s written about the sea change in the wine industry. 20 years ago it was much more idealistic. People in the wine industry wanted meaning and now they want money. OK, I’m interested in both. Now there’s a cynicism and self-consciousness, and a sense of randomness…The weird thing is 20 years ago your job as a winemaker was to a really great wine. If you did, then you sold it. Now you don’t know if you can sell it! Then you’ve got all the new shock labels. Is that how you sell wine now?” Finally, he rather sheepishly acknowledged that, of course, he was responsible for some of the first eccentric wine labels. Some of them were sitting on the table in front of us. That only made what he said all the more fascinating.

PS I’m sorry that this story is already so long that I’m not going to be able to comment in detail on all the wines we tasted. Suffice to say that these were the best wines I ever tasted from Randall and I advise you all to catch up on what he’s been doing lately by picking up a bottle or six at the first opportunity. They’re all strikingly original California wines. I mean, when did I ever write about a California rosé that if I’d tasted it blind I would have placed it in Southern France and that it had a mineraly finish? The answer is, of course, is that I never wrote anything like that before. I feel sure that these are going to be game changing wines for California and will inspire many young and young at heart winemakers there and beyond. Randall certainly inspired me too!

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