The snobbery with which many Europeans view US wines is proving stubbornly resistant to change.
Despite monumental tastings, competitions, and positive changes in winemaking philosophy, Europeans still can’t seem to fully wrap their heads around American wine.
Even with the rise of high-quality producers in California, Oregon, Washington, and other American growing regions, the same negative stereotypes seem to prevail. So the question remains – in the mind of the European consumer, will American wines ever really be “as good” as those produced closer to home?
“American wines are still regarded as mass and huge production wines,” says Gregor Greber, owner of Zurich-based Napa Wine. Greber believes that although consumer awareness is starting to change, education on the subject is still needed. Earlier this year, Greber’s company hosted its own “Judgment of Zurich” tasting – and the results were surprisingly in favor of the States; five wines from Napa took the top slots amongst the group of tasters.
Greber’s importing business and restaurant, Napa Grill, focuses exclusively on wines from Napa. “The restaurant really gives the wines a true home. It’s a place for people to discover – and fall in love with – Napa Cabernet.”
Yet somehow, the stereotypes still remain. In Norway, Pal Dahle, owner of Tramontane Vinimport, notes that many people still regard American wines as “lower quality” than European wines.
“Part of this is due to history,” he explains. “The wines that drifted into Norway (and Europe as a whole) 15-20 years ago were indeed of inferior quality.” Dahle explains that while this is currently changing, regaining consumers’ interest takes time. “There is an enormous amount of American winemakers making wines in an Old-World style these days, that is, early harvest, low alcohol, high acid, etc. Quality is increasing steadily and the price is still fair.”
Dahle currently works with 12 different American wineries that he believes represents this style, including Kutch Wines, Black Sheep Finds, and Rhys Vineyards.
“Europeans actually view American wines as a luxury product – I’m saying this on behalf of the British market,” says Michael Sager, owner of London based wine bar Sager + Wilde. “This is because of the strong work done by IPOB and Jon Bonné in the past, as well as the work of Roberson Wines and Flint Wines as importers. They changed the perception of California wine post-Robert Parker.”
Sager explains, however, that many British consumers have come to compare the value (or lack thereof) of American wines to that of Burgundy, in that they are almost seen as “worse value” due to their rising prices. “This is why the third wave of natural and affordable US wine will be quintessential to the overall perception of US wines,” he states. Sager works with the wines of Domaine de la Côte and Sandhi (Rajat Parr & Sashi Moorman), Pax Mahle, Jaimee Motley, Steve Matthiasson, Abe Schoener, and more.
Keith Kirkpatrick, buyer at Roberson Wine, feels that Europeans’ inferior views of American wines isn’t just exclusive to America. “As a whole, I would say Europeans from winemaking countries view US wines as lower quality, but that would be the same for wines from anywhere else in the world, even other regions of their own country!”
He finds that, historically, there has been a view that US wine is either mass produced and low value or very expensive (100-pointers) and meant for collection, with nothing for the average consumer in between. “At Roberson, [we] show the huge variety of wines from small and medium-sized producers that sit in this middle ground and offer the best quality and value. Hopefully we have helped change this view at least in the UK.”
Kirkpatrick believes that there are certainly wines from the States that do indeed rival some of Europe’s best, both in terms of quality and value. However, it took some personal experience for him to form that opinion. “It was not until I started to spend time with the winemakers in California and explore the different terroirs for myself that I really understood the incredible potential of US wines.”
He also notes American producers are much more keen to work the market and sell their than Europeans producers, which is beginning to give them traction both on wine lists and online. Kirkpatrick finds that less-strict appellation laws also work in American winemakers’ favor. “[These producers] also have much more freedom to change quickly and react to market trends – so they have the opportunity to continue to grab the attention of the consumer and steal more market share,” he explains.
Totte Steneby, senior wine specialist at Zachys Wine Auctions, worked the floor as a sommelier in Stockholm as of 2007. In addition to running his own import company and sommelier education program, he also consults for a handful of California wineries. “I still think the average [European] consumer has a lot to learn about American wines,” Steneby says. “The stereotypical American styles seem to be what consumers gravitate towards, [which are also] the same styles that people who dislike American wine think is the norm.” Steneby feels that sommeliers in Sweden tend to be more confident in “classic” styles of American wines, which hinders them from tasting more progressive bottles. “There’s only a handful of sommeliers in Sweden who put in the effort of expanding their knowledge base and palate when it comes to American wines,” he says.
Steneby reveals that he has spent at least one month in California every year since 2015, which has greatly helped him to understand the versatility in styles/grape varieties in the United States. “These wines should be held to a high regard,” he firmly states. “For the curious-minded, there’s a lot of exciting [bottles] to be found.” He feels that, at the end of the day, the cost of American wine is their downfall. “Unfortunately, the domestic US market is strong on American wine and prices reflect that. A wine from Europe is, in most cases, cheaper for us here then the ‘same’ wine from US. That said, there are bargains to be had at every price level and of course very exciting wines. You just have to read and listen to know what’s going on.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the French as a whole don’t seem to be nearly as progressive in their opinions towards American wine. “For us buyers, American wines are too powerful and extracted. Finding quality often means expensive,” says Jan Bussière, owner Vins Urbains wine bar in Bordeaux. “[Certain] selections have a different approach (finesse, delicacy, etc.) but only on micro-cuvées.”
Victor Vautier of Early June restaurant in Paris agrees. “[In France], American wines have a high price and little visibility on the quality,” he says. Vautier notes that consumers’ perceptions of American wines have been slightly degraded by the classic stereotypes (noting “super oaky, only classic grape varieties used, etc.” as a few.) However, he recalls a unique experience with Lewandowski wines that personally changed his mind. “The wine was very good, but I imagine that it’s not representative of the American wine scene.”
Jules Deloffre, an off-premise buyer at Saint-Germain-en-Laye’s Cémiyon (located just outside of Paris) actually finds American wines to be very good New World selections. However, their image isn’t always viewed that way by his customers. “American wines aren’t ‘foreign’ enough to be considered exotic in a French wine store,” he says.
Deloffre also notes that France’s negative view of American gastronomy is additionally unhelpful in changing consumers’ minds about the perception of the country’s wines. “When my customers come back from Argentina or Chile, they talk to me about wines. When they come back from the United States, very rarely, do they talk about the wine.”
Fabien Suquet, chief sommelier at Experimental Group, also has a good perception of American wines, though he credits this to living in the States for three years. He finds that the French are now more interested in learning about American wines than ever, though price and “psychological barriers’ ” remain problematic.
“The French will order a bottle between €30 and €60 [$33-65] without advice, generally based on a grape that they already know but, beyond a recommendation, guidance is definitely necessary,” he explains. Suquet suggests that French wine bars offer American wines by the glass, as this creates a gateway for consumers to learn about new vineyards they may not have tried. “American wines are progressing enormously, leaving the notion of grape behind and putting more emphasis on the place of origin and terroir,” he says.
However, Mathilde Goujat, buyer at Paris’ famed Cherche-Midi sums it up best, and perhaps represents the most stereotypical image of French consumers’ relationship with American wines – he doesn’t work with them at all.
“They’re oaky, very concentrated, and lack acidity,” he says. “Not very good.”
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Everyone talks about ending the stigma attached to mental illness, but almost no one does anything meaningful about it. Recurring anti-stigma campaigns rely on empty rhetoric and never have any lasting impact.
It takes decisive action, not words, to really end stigma. I have seen this happen only three times in my career—45 years ago at the Tremont Crisis Center in Bronx, New York, and currently in Trieste, Italy, and Ainancho, Japan. In each case, the entire community embraced mentally ill persons as useful citizens integrated into every aspect of work and play and valued for their contributions to the society.
The key is using the money saved from closing psychiatric beds to fund community treatment, day centers, home visits, social clubs, group homes, housing, and (most creatively) business start-ups that offer patients productive, paying jobs.
In Ainancho, patients staff a hotel, spa, restaurants, a catering service, convenience stores, a landscaping company, a nursery, a fish farm, a cemetery, a camping site, and extensive groves of profitable avocado and orange trees. People living in the United States with equivalent severity of illness might well be homeless or in jail. In Ainancho, they are instead fully incorporated into the social life of the city and vital to its economic functioning.
In Trieste and Ainancho, ex-patients work side by side with the other townspeople and soon seem indistinguishable from them. They participate actively in town holidays, festivals, sports, and religious functions. As Harry Stack Sullivan (1894 – 1949) put it, “We are all much more simply human than otherwise.”1 This is by far the best way to kill stigma. In contrast, our neglectful dehumanization and exclusion of the severely ill makes them much sicker than they need be. Social inclusion is by itself a powerful healing force.
The Trieste/Ainancho model is not only big-hearted, it is also cost effective. The US wastes tens of billions of dollars yearly on many easily avoidable indirect costs of severe mental illness. One third of our enormous prison and police budgets are wasted because the mentally ill are inappropriately mishandled in the expensive correctional system.
It is not just more humane but also far cheaper to promote recovery in the community than to isolate people in costly institutions. Better emotionally, but also economically, for patients to earn a paycheck than to receive a disability check. The modest budget of the Ainancho program comes from a combination of public insurance and its business revenues.
Trieste has inspired many dozens of programs around the world, including Ainancho, but it is unique in Italy. Ainancho is also unique in Japan. Sadly, the great success of their shared model at its point of origin has not inspired even the nearby cities to follow suit. The model has obvious appeal but is very difficult to initiate and also triggers considerable skepticism and opposition.
Some of this arises from understandable fear. Persons with untreated serious mental illness sometimes do bizarre and embarrassing things—and occasionally even become violent. Mental health and community leaders worry that closing beds will lead to bedlam. It requires seeing to believe this does not happen. Most people never have the opportunity to experience the model first hand and tend to disbelieve glowing second-hand stories of its success.
I was among this quite skeptical group until I got to visit Trieste multiple times, talked to staff members and program beneficiaries, and got a real feel for its approach. I was inspired again recently when I saw the model perform so brilliantly also in Ainancho. When high-quality community treatment, support, and housing are provided, patients become much less sick and blend in well as ordinary people. Before long, coworkers and neighbors forget that they were once so ill.
Most people working in mental health fear the unfamiliar and have come to rely far too heavily on medication. Focusing too much on the biological component of mental illness has reduced attention to the psychological, social, and environmental forces that are crucial to healing. Clinical practices and habits developed over a long career must be dramatically revised if staff is to work well within a new model that is much less medical, coercive, and hierarchical.
It is not just more humane but also far cheaper to promote recovery in the community than to isolate people in costly institutions.
And there are conflicts of interest that block acceptance, both financial and intellectual. The Trieste/Ainancho model cuts into the funding and prestige of clinicians and researchers who have fashioned their careers within a narrow bio-reductionistic model. People who are not enthusiastic supporters of the model fear it as a threat to their professional identities and livelihoods.
Getting the Trieste/Ainancho model started is a heroic endeavor that requires brave, charismatic leadership; deep community commitment; unwavering determination in the face of opposition; great diplomatic skill; and street-smart business savvy. The community and politicians must be convinced. The staff must be retrained. Housing must be identified. Community facilities must be built, bought, or rented. Business start-ups must be created. Preserving the model requires institutionalizing and decentralizing the community programs and business ventures so that they are resilient and self-sustaining over generations of successive leadership transitions.
This sounds daunting and it is. But far from impossible. Trieste has worked extremely hard, in close collaboration, with the World Health Organization, to provide training on its values and practices to thousands of diverse mental health professionals. Parts of its model are already in place in dozens of communities all around the world. The invigorated, international recovery movement has a similar set of values and practices that provide patient empowerment and reduce stigma. And the city of Gheel in Belgium provides wonderful historical and ongoing proof that the Trieste model can endure and thrive for centuries.
Can the model be scaled up in the US?>
1. Sullivan HS. Conceptions of Modern Psychiatry. New York: W.W. Norton & Co.; 1940.
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The Michigan Wolverines host Notre Dame and Army, and end the season at home looking for Jim Harbaugh’s first win vs. Ohio State.
Ryan Ford, Detroit Free Press
Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh spent plenty of time Friday in Chicago discussing his belief that all NCAA transfers be given one pass to leave a school with immediate eligibility, which wound up with him on the radio talking about the role of depression in the process.
Harbaugh, during an interview with SiriusXM/ESPNU Radio, stated his stance on transfer reform before questioning whether some players are using depression/mental health as a reason to gain eligibility. He later said he cared very deeply about mental health.
Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh speaks during the Big Ten media days on Friday, July 19, 2019, in Chicago. (Photo: Jim Young USA TODAY Sports)
Over the weekend, some former U-M players and current offensive coordinator Josh Gattis tweeted support with regard to Harbaugh’s respect for mental health in general.
“The media’s narrative of coach Harbaugh’s quotes have been taken out of context to build a story. Mental health is a disturbing disease that has effected myself and my immediate family twice with suicide (and) another suicide by a close friend. Mental health is something that is often overlooked with very few noticeable symptoms. It was something my family never saw coming,” Gattis wrote on Twitter. “However, respect for mental health is not about how fast you can rush an individual back to the school, sport, or whatever caused this mental trauma. The right protocol is to get anyone dealing with any mental issues the right therapy/support needed over TIME to suppress this disease for the long term well-being of the person. This topic is bigger than football, it’s bigger than a game, it’s bigger than immediate eligibility! It’s about LISTENING, LOVE & LIFE!”
More from Windsor: Jim Harbaugh has talked up his team, but not like this
During his radio interview in Chicago, Harbaugh was asked about his transfer philosophy again. He eventually brought up the topic of mental health and depression as it relates to the transfer process.
His full comments are below:
“It’s something that’s really evolved in my mind,” Harbaugh said. “Where we’re at right now is in a limbo period, in my opinion. The NCAA decides who is eligible immediately. Who has to sit out a year in residence. It used to be you could sit out a year (and then) be eligible. Now we see guys get eligible immediately. It’s not really clear on what makes someone eligible immediately and what doesn’t. I don’t like the gray area of that. I think it cleans it up of saying ‘everyone has one year where they could be immediately eligible.’ If you do it a second time, that’s getting a little hippity-hoppity. … It’s a litigious society we live in right now as you know. This whole process has already gotten lawyers involved. Lawyers who are specializing in this right now.
[ How Big Ten coaches would change the transfer portal rule ]
“And the other piece that bothers me about it is, the youngster that says ‘this is a mental health issue, I’m suffering from depression.’ Or that’s a reason to get eligible. And once that’s known that ‘hey, say this or say that’ to get eligible. The problem I see in that is you’re going to have guys that are ‘OK, yeah, I’m depressed.’
“Say what they’ve got to say. But down the road I don’t see that helping them if it’s not a legitimate thing. But nobody would know. But what are you going to say? Ten years down the road ‘I just had to say what I had to say?’ And I think you’re putting them in a position that’s unfair, not right. And, as you said, you’re saying it just to say it. And that’s not truthful. That’s not necessarily truthful. It’s not something we should be promoting at the college level. Telling the truth matters. Especially at a college.
“You can’t have experiments that aren’t truthful. You can’t lie about equations. Shouldn’t be lying in football. That’s a message that we should be teaching. I got a little long-winded there. But I think that would help all concerned.
“And can I add, please don’t write a bunch of letters. I care very deeply about mental health. I’m not saying everybody’s lying about that. Just saying ‘OK, this is America. You started at this school, you didn’t like it and for whatever the reason is, you’re freely allowed to transfer to any other school like any other human being would have a right to do.’ That’s really the bottom line.”
Last season, former Michigan offensive lineman James Hudson transferred to Cincinnati and petitioned for an immediate eligibility waiver. Hudson later said his reason for leaving U-M was mental health-based. He has since said his waiver was denied by the NCAA because he never told Michigan officials about his depression during his time with the program.
Harbaugh never mentioned Hudson by name in any of his comments Friday. He was asked earlier in the day if he had any role in helping grant the eligibility appeals of both Hudson and former Michigan receiver Oliver Martin (who transferred to Iowa). He said he does not, and that those issues are compliance-related. He followed up the Martin question by once again stating that he believes all transfers should be allowed a one-time transfer without having to sit out. On Saturday, he tweeted another statement on the matter, reiterating his stance again.
Also this weekend, former Michigan players Henry Poggi and Jared Wangler expressed their support for Harbaugh in this matter.
Contact Nick Baumgardner at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickbaumgardner. Read more on the Michigan Wolverines and sign up for our Wolverines newsletter.
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