Rumpole of the Bailey and Wine-Writing

Basically, there are three types of “legal” writers; judges who make the law by writing opinions; lawyers, professors and others who write non-fiction about the law and writers of fiction. From time to time this blog will travel into the realms of fictional lawyers. One of those lawyers is Horace Rumpole. “Rumpole of the Bailey” loves his wine. Rumpole, if you haven’t met him, is an English barrister who spends his days trying criminal cases to juries at the Old Bailey in London. After a hard day in a trial over which his nemesis Judge Bullingham has presided, he especially likes the “plonk” from Pommeroy’s wine bar. Rumpole doesn’t bother reading the labels on the bottles.

I do though. I love wine writing. The people who do it well are capable of completely meaningless sentences. Real writers wouldn’t touch the stuff. Imagine Raymond Chandler trying his hand at it, “But down these mean streets a Chardonnay must slosh which is not itself mean.” Or Mark Twain, “I was in a sweat to find out all about Viognier; but by and by she let it out that Viognier was a grape and had been dead a considerable long time; so then I didn’t care no more about it, because I don’t take no stock in dead grapes.” On the other hand, one expects that John Mortimer, the author of the Rumpole series, would enjoy writing satirical blurbs for fictional wineries.

My hometown is nowhere near any real wine regions but that didn’t stop the early Catholic missionaries who came here from growing a few grapes and making them into wine. They needed the wine; things were pretty boring here in those days. Some say they still are. I doubt that the wine was much good. This is a desert, after all. Nevertheless our local wineries are always braying about what an old and historic grape growing region this is. Old, yes; historic, yes; decent wine, not really. But that doesn’t stop our wine writers.

Here is an example, “. . . I feel that there is a great deal of room for improvement in contemplating this year’s vintage.” Will there be classes where everyone sits around and thinks about the vintage? I’ve been to this particular winery and even tasted the wines. I don’t know who to feel sorriest for; the architect who designed the building, the contractor who built it, the winemaker or the wine-writer. All are uniformly awful. But never mind. This winery is “very excited for the [State] about the Viognier.” The writer does not make clear how an abstraction like a state can get worked up over a grape. But, never mind; the winery has a “growing Wine Club.” It isn’t clear whether the club grows wine, is increasing in number or is full of youngsters still growing. The Club is getting ready to have an “event.” The “event” will be open to “all Wine Club Members plus one guest.” It is not clear who the guest will be. Nor is it clear why all those Members got themselves capitalized.

Wineries are always trumpeting the recent medals they won in a wine contest somewhere interesting like East Indianapolis. Wine competitions are like kindergarten, everyone always gets a prize. I recently saw an article in a California newspaper about a recent competition where 640 wines won medals in the competition. Out of 700 entrants. Such kindergarten wine competitions are the only hope for most of our local wineries. They are always winning gold medals. I suspect the color of the medals won is directly related to the level of fees paid for admission. I’ve had some local “gold medal winners.” Even Rumpole would not touch such swill.

As for the writing on the labels of the bottles, don’t get me started. Unless you have a bottle of real wine to share. Something from France or California or Germany or Italy or even Australia. I’ll be happy to go through your cellar with you pointing out examples of the awful writing on the labels. We’ll do it a bottle at a time. First we’ll drink the bottle, then we’ll discuss the writing. Let’s start with your Lafite Rothchilds. You pick the vintage. My contemplation of vintages needs improving.


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