Berger on wine: A look back over the past 40 years

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Sutter Home White Zinfandel was a relatively unknown dry wine that people began to call “blush.”

Charles Krug chenin blanc was the country’s most famous domestic white wine; cabernet sauvignon was all but unknown; French pouilly-fuisse was the bestselling chardonnay in the country, and the dairy industry was king of Sonoma County’s economy.

It was March 1979, and I had just begun writing a syndicated wine column for Copley News Service, along with two other wine columns each week for the San Diego Union, where I was a sports writer and columnist.

My first wine column for the syndicate was published in The Press Democrat, and except for some medical hiatus periods, this column’s wine industry viewpoint has been published in The Press Democrat longer than anywhere else.

And although I eventually ended up in dozens of newspapers, from Lehigh Valley, Pennysylvania, to Honolulu, my most loyal and responsive readership has been in Sonoma County, where I moved in 1986, and which I still treasure calling home.

In my first two years here, I was business editor of The Press Democrat, and later went on to become the full-time wine columnist for the Los Angeles Times.

Wine has changed radically in the last 40 years, and I reported on almost every aspect of it, from interstate shipping to neo-Prohibition movements, from campaigns to demonize it (“A Drink is a Drink”) to the most important legal decisions affecting wine sales and how we all purchase wine.

Consumers had much to do with many of these changes, including the impact on wine styles attributed to 100-point scoring, the demands of baby boomers and millennials, the impact of screwcaps, the growth of the master sommelier, the scourge of fraudulent wines, the development of the super- snob, changes in European wine regulations, the impact of internet sales, the increase and then decline of home wine cellars, restaurant corkage charges and at least a dozen issues related to the technical aspects of wine (such as plant pathology) and how vital they are to consumers.

One of these was the creation and wide use of wine concentrates to darken red wines so they would appeal to people who thought dense colors made a better wine.

It has been a joy to be at the forefront of national interest in dry Riesling, dry rosé and the rise in great pinot noir as well as to report on the dramatic quality gains in the wines of New York, Virginia, and even Michigan, Ohio and Idaho.

Clearly, wine is a remarkably complex subject that calls for at least a basic understanding of science, including botany and microbiology, which meant attending international technical conferences and trying to understand some of the most complex and esoteric details that in their original vernaculars are soporific.

I became a simplifier of such documents.

Through the years, I realized that daily newspaper readers might be bored with such microdata, so in 1996, my wife and I began publishing Vintage Experiences, a private newsletter, which continues to investigate some of the more arcane aspects of wine that appeal to collectors.

I’m still dedicated to writing about wine regularly, but times change, and I have to alter some aspects of my writerly life.

I hate the term swan song. Readers are always welcome to contact me at winenut@gmail.com. I’ll reply to all who do.

Thanks for your indulgences over the last 40 years.

Sonoma County resident Dan Berger publishes “Vintage Experiences,” a subscription-only wine newsletter. He’s also co-host of California Wine Country on Wednesdays wtih Steve Jaxon on KSRO Radio, 1350 AM.

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