Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek.
Wine tends to ease people into conversation.
Sometimes, that conversation ends up being about the wine.
Which leads those who want to seem knowledgeable to gush forth with their fascinating insights.
The trouble is, some of those insights might be misguided.
So I sat down with Michael Honig, CEO of Honig Winery in Napa, and asked him about the biggest misconceptions about wine he encounters as he goes around the world.
Honig spends half his year traveling. He believes in meeting personally with distributors and customers.
Perhaps that's why his winery has grown a little.
In 1980, it started selling Sauvignon Blanc to a few restaurants in San Francisco. In 1987, it tried its hand at Cabernet Sauvignon.
Now it's sold in every U.S. state and 25 other countries, as well as amassing enormous respect for its consistency and the tasting experience it provides at the winery.
Yes, I'm an ambassador for the winery and I'm wearing my sash as I write, but please don't be influenced by that.
Instead, listen to Michael's favorite misconceptions about wine.
1. Guess what percentage of California's wine is produced in Napa.
"I ask this a lot," Michael told me. "And I hear replies ranging from 40 percent to 60 percent." He's an urbane sort, is Michael. I'm sure he doesn't giggle when he hears this. The correct answer is 4 percent. "The name Napa is synonymous with fine wine," he told me. "But you can't discount the way it's been marketed. We've made our image and brand feel much bigger than it actually is." Though Napa wines represent a mere 4 percent of California's production, they represent 33 percent of its monetary value. People believe that Napa is the center of the American wine world (sorry, Long Island). That's what it's become. But it's not some sprawling, domineering presence in terms of wine production.
2. People think Cabernet Sauvignon is a pure-bred red grape.
Many people believe that Cabernet Sauvignon is this perfect grape that's a natural red jewel, rising out of nowhere. They believe it's always been around. "In fact, Cabernet Sauvignon is what happened when Sauvignon Blanc got together with Cabernet Franc," Honig told me. They weren't an obvious match made on a heavenly vine. This was a chance meeting. From that one-night stand, Cabernet Sauvignon became what it is today.
3. No, wine isn't like Gatorade.
"Many people believe that wine is like soda pop," Honig told me. "They think it gets put in a bottle and that's all there is." But wine changes with time. It's still alive in the bottle and reacts to everything around it. Yes, this includes when you leave that bottle on the windowsill in the kitchen where the sun pours in and come back to it a week later and wonder why it tastes funny.
4. A grape is a piece of fruit.
Honig's Sauvignon Blanc is often described as having characteristics such as mango and grapefruit. People ask him how the winemaker "adds" those flavors. "I explain that it's like a banana," Honig said. "If you blindfold someone and give them a green banana to taste, they'll know it's a banana and it'll have that slightly chalky profile," he said. "But if you leave the banana on the windowsill for five or six days, you're going to get a very different tasting banana. We have a warmer climate, so we get a brighter, warmer taste profile. We don't add anything but nature."
5. Rotten grapes make some of the world's most expensive wine.
If you put "Made From the Finest Rotten Grapes" on a label, it doesn't feel like glorious marketing. In wine, though, there is such a thing as very fine rot. It's not the same rot spoken by supposed wine aficionados as they swirl and spit. We're talking here about the fungusy mold called botrytis. Or, as it's sometimes known, "noble rot." Yes, just to make it sound slightly more palatable. Its presence on rotting grapes leads to some of the world's finest dessert wines, such as Chateau d'Yquem's Sauternes. This can sell for $500 or more for a 375-milliliter bottle. Similarly, Honig's much-revered Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc has a nectarlike quality that you wouldn't associate with the sort of fruit you'd normally toss into the recycling.
6. The big corporations have swallowed Napa whole, right?
You hear of big deals happening all the time because big corporations employ big PR firms to spread big news that may not be all that big after all. "Of the Napa Valley Vintners association's 525 members, 95 percent are family owned," Honig revealed. Sixty-five percent make 5,000 cases or fewer. Eighty percent make 10,000 cases or fewer. What this means is that the owners grow the grapes, manufacture the wine, and sell it. This isn't quite your average cushy job. Honig describes it as a "lifestyle." Yes, these people actually work. Honig, for example, is a third-generation winery. Michael Honig and his wife, Stephanie, have four children. Well, that's a relief.