By S. Elaine Lyttleton
Who is Patrick Comiskey and why did more than 90 people swarm to the vineyard home of Bill and Kathy aSchweitzer to hear him speak?
The attendance at monthly meetings of the Ramona Valley Vineyard Association (RVVA) is usually between 40 and 60 people, both members and guests. The June meeting had nearly double the average, all bringing their own chairs, wine and an appetizer to share. The attraction was Patrick Comiskey.
Comiskey is a senior contributor for Wine & Spirits magazine. He is chief critic for non-California domestic wines and contributes articles on the wines of California, Oregon and Washington. He is also a sommelier and a regular contributor to the Los Angeles Times, Bon Appetit and Wine Review Online.
Several RVVA members had gone to Grape Day in Temecula a couple of months ago and heard Patrick speak. They were so impressed wilth his message, which expressed passion and insight about emerging wine regions, that they invited him to Ramona.
In 2006, Ramona was designated an American Viticultural Area (AVA) by the federal government,
“You can’t get much more emerging than the Ramona Valley AVA,” said John York, RVVA president.
Apparently the growers and vintners of the Ramona Valley were thirsty for an outsider’s expert opinion on how the Ramona wine region could and should evolve, creating its own identity in the huge world of wine. Ramona has proved it can grow premium grapes, and the number of Best of Show, Double Gold, Gold and other awards being hauled home from state and national competitions is an indication that the area is nurturing some fine wine makers.
But as a region — a little valley in a big county, just a few miles from the Mexican border, in a state renowned for wine — the question seemed to be: “How can we create a unique and wonderful name for ourselves?”
Producing the finest wines possible comes in at the top of the list, but does Ramona Valley want to be the new Temecula Valley, or a Paso Robles or something else?
Comiskey pointed out that there is more U.S. wine by volume than ever before and more opportunities to enjoy it. In spite of the recession, more wine is being sold in the U.S. than ever before, there are more books written and movies made about wines, and, he said, “Wine has become a daily ritual, getting more powerful by the day.”
Wines and beers are becoming indispensable to the dining experience, he added, as well as being chosen simply on the basis of “Am I thirsty?”
The days of $150 a bottle wine are over, and with the retirement of the all-powerful Robert Parker, the influence of the single wine critic is waning, said Comiskey.
“The younger wine drinking population doesn’t even know who Robert Parker is,” he said.
People are thinking for themselves, and Comiskey thinks this is a benefit for Ramona.
He stressed the importance of creating a regional identity. If the words “Ramona Valley” and “wine” are used in the same sentence, it should mean something unique, wonderful and special, he said. Like Paso Robles, where world-class wines are produced, there is also a feeling that they are homegrown and very drinkable without pretension or costing an arm and a leg.
Comiskey stressed a concept he called “Fidelity to Place.” This means honing in on the strengths of the area in terms of varietals, and recognizing limitations. There should be a constant focus on quality control and improvement. Quality drives good public relations and good stories of challenges and triumphs.
Writers of articles want to write on how great balance was achieved in a wine, or about the positive winery experience, not how corrective measures needed to be taken, he said. “Authenticity is the key to success in the post-Parker era.”
Crafting fine wine, being true to self and balancing the wine with the experience of wine for the visitor and consumer will direct the future of the Ramona Valley wine industry.
For information about the RVVA meetings, what member wineries have tasting rooms open, and other information on the Ramona Valley wine industry, go to www.ramonavalleyvineyards.org.