A few years ago, a holiday weekend drive to Palm Springs from my native San Diego delivered me to the doorstep of Chardonnay Hills, an upscale homeowners association in Temecula.
In this day and age, it's not surprising that a community would name itself after a grape. After all, ampelonyms (that's Greek for grape names) evoke much more than just the humble berry of the vine. In today's popular culture, grapes are widely (and wildly) associated with lifestyle, fashion, tastes and personal expression.
No one would be surprised if a power lawyer described her/himself as a "Napa Cab kinda gal/guy." Nor would anyone be taken aback by a person who described her/his wine tastes by saying, "I'm a California Chardonnay drinker."
That's because grape names and their affiliated winemaking styles have transcended their purely descriptive and technical functions in contemporary discourse.
A "Napa Cab" person is likely to be aggressive, forceful, decisive and muscular. A "California Chardonnay" person is likely to be soft, a little bit oaky and maybe even buttery.
When I sat down with wine blogger extraordinaire Lisa Mattson the other day to taste the Jordan 2009 Russian River Valley Chardonnay, I was impressed by how little it resembled the "California Chardonnay" paradigm. Where others can be flabby, this wine had healthy acidity. Where others can be overly oaky, I found the wood to be well balanced in the wine. And where many expressions of California Chardonnay (not in quotes) can attain a creamy mouthfeel and buttery flavor (due mostly to extended and/or chemically induced malolactic fermentation whereby tart acidity -- malic acid -- is trumped by softer-tasting acid -- lactic acid), this wine showed genuine fruit and minerality. An elegant and earnest wine that will pair well with unctuous fish like salmon or grouper or even fresh goat's cheese.
Honestly, Jordan isn't a wine that I regularly reach for at the wine shop or out for dinner. But I was geeked to sit down with my blogging colleague Mattson and talk to her about the cutting-edge social media program she's developed for the Jordan winery (the estate's blog won "best winery blog" in the 2012 Wine Blogger Awards competition).
"We're always looking at Google trends and we create an editorial calendar around what we see," she told me, revealing a trade secret.
She pointed me to her "Gangnam Style parody video" that she posted late last year, now with more than 20,000 views. Not too shabby.
Anyone who's ever worked in or around the wine trade will tell you that "it's all about relationships." And in my view of the world, Mattson has done more to create relationships for her brand through social media than anyone else in the field (she's also writing a book about her "ex-relationships," Exes In My iPod).
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I think that Mattson would agree that I'm not exactly what you would call a "California Chardonnay" person. But our connection through social media prompted me to sit down and taste her brand's wine with her. And to my surprise, it wasn't half bad.