Well, it sure is easy to write that down, but an industry based on inexpensive and bulk wine production can hardly afford to make these kinds of sweeping changes. So, how does it happen? In two stages, at least. Two very different stages. In Puglia, as in any region, there were larger producers prepared to make the investment in new products. For them it was easy enough to do.
Drop yields in a certain vineyard, hire a fancy consultant winemaker, add some international varieties to help “improve” the wine, let the grapes get super-ripe (after all, the wine can always be corrected in the winery), then age it all in toasty new barrels and wait for the great scores to roll in. Those early scores are very important, so you can be sure that the first vintage was a selection of all the lots made. Perhaps 20 barrels were produced, and 10% or 20% actually made it into the finale blend. It’s the mythical critic’s cuvee on mass scale, and a worthwhile investment in that wine’s future.
These early-to-market wines are important on many levels, even if they turn out to be internationalized crap. The most important is as media fodder. Like every area of the media, writers are constantly on the lookout for new material, and wine writers tend to want to set themselves apart. And there is no better way than to be the first to recognize greatness. Add in a nice junket, great meals and some V.I.P. treatment, and it’s easy to see how a new wine or region can gain a perhaps unfair portion of media attention.
So, it’s easy to get the media to pay attention to your new wine, but it does take resources and the follow-through requires even more resources. If you really want to make a splash you’ll need to have good distribution, so various wine writers can become early adopters and their thirsty audiences can slurp up this newfound treasure. True success, after all, requires broad adoption, but all that’s required for broad adoption is availability and those big scores. So, those early-to-market wines play a vital role in establishing an emerging market, but what about the wines?
Well, those wines were early to market for several reasons, but they aren’t necessarily the best wines a region, or even a producer, can bottle. They are wines that are made in the cellar. We’ve seen that before and, more often than not, those wines that wowed on release and seemed so promising simply fell apart after a few years in the cellar. Is that the fate of these wines? I don’t know, but I would say that it is certainly possible.