I should be drunk as I write this...infused with holiday spirits and lusciously buffered against the crisp Northern California air. After all, it's that special time of year when holiday excursions to Napa or Sonoma help reinforce to your out-of-town guests that yes, it's expensive, but you live in California for a reason, dammit!
But how to predict which tasting rooms will be over-run by tourists this season? How to determine which wine pairs best with that Niman Ranch Black Forest Ham?
You may be inclined to seek answers by listening to one of any number of locally-produced wine-related podcasts. If so, I must warn you that there are few things more sobering than listening to a podcast about wine. I sampled flights of episodes from three programs and was never entirely satisfied.
In the interest of fairness, it must be yada-yada'd that Podcasting is a very new way of distributing programming and one of its strengths is that would-be broadcasters can produce a show about their passion, whatever it may be. With that in mind, I'm not holding any of these shows to professional production standards. Still -- a show should be "listenable," otherwise, what's the point?
Host: Tim Elliot
Frequency: Once or twice per month
Avg. Length per Episode: 15 minutes
Format: A long-time wine enthusiast interviews experts, makes detailed recommendations, and shares wine and grape specifics with listeners.
Remember that Saturday Night Live skit "The Delicious Dish?" Then you know where I'm going with this. No, not thoughts of a Christmas suicide (!). But this show is very like an SNL parody of an NPR program -- accurate, highly informative, simple, and maybe, well, yes...a little dull.
Host Tim Elliot seems really, really nice. And smart. And informed. And I like the casual way he says, "Gamay Noir" without the slightest bit of pretension. But just a LITTLE bit of showmanship might help me retain something from this program which, unfortunately for all of us, just could not hold my attention.
This is the show for you if you're a committed or burgeoning wine enthusiast with enough knowledge already under your belt to keep you tuned in for the wisdom available here. If you're looking for entertainment, it's probably not the show for you.
Hosts: Brian Clark, Eric Anderson, Marlene Rossman, Leigh Older
Avg. Length per Episode: Varies
Format: Wine enthusiasts, collectors, and experts explore the world of wine and wine related events.
This program is the teeter-totter opposite of Winecast (read: comparatively huge production budget), and yet it's still missing something.
On occasion, the show can sound like an upscale Car Talk, and in those moments I like it. Everyone's laughing and it's informative. But Car Talk never suffers from self-serving comments and this show often does. It's not a surprise to hear these well-heeled, well-educated, well-traveled, and somewhat potty-mouthed connoisseurs subtly defending themselves and their guests against listener accusations of pretension.
Earlier this year, Grape Radio was selected by the Portable Media Expo as "Podcast of the Year." I find the personalities here distractingly irritating -- a characteristic that does tend to get in the way when I'm hoping to learn a thing or two about wine.
I say: Grape Radio is for you if you have a high tolerance for flashes of disingenuousness, or if you already know or are related to these folks.
A Guy A Girl and a Bottle
Hosts: Joe and Pam Carpenter
Frequency: Approx. every two weeks
Avg. Length per Episode: 20-40 minutes
Format: A husband and wife team travel to wineries and tasting rooms throughout the region including Silicon Valley, approaching wine from the amateur's perspective.
Great idea! A husband and wife team drinking their way across the region! Too bad it's so cluttered with blustery voice-over announcements, and takes forever to get to anything good -- like, oh, I dunno, information about wine?
I like the Girl (it took several episodes, but she grew on me). She's "game" in an atypical way, occasionally out of her element but capable of adjusting if she wanted to bother, and which she doesn't seem to mind. This is refreshing and even a little bit charming.
I also like the Guy (whom I know and am friendly with from around the podcast community). He sounds patient and open on mic, and generally not pressed.
These two admit they're amateurs -- just learning about wine and that's a strength. But this is the kind of hobbyist show that begs for just a little more professionalism. If these two wrote some notes and questions out ahead of time, this would keep the show from alternately slowing way down and then bouncing all over the place when they have a personable guest.
This show is for you if you are patient enough to let it grow on you and if you cherry pick the shows you tune-in for (look for good guests).
Whew. See how sobering that was? For us to have a reason to listen, a podcast, like a wine -- must offer us some form of pleasure, whether by presenting accessible, engaging information or by entertaining us.
Each of these shows has something to offer, but none provide the total package. And these are just three of the wine podcasts out there so keep exploring. Apparently (and I'm sure this will sound familiar), the best way to get a sense of what's available is to try a bit of everything and don't expect one podcast to supply all your wine and winery needs.
Having said that, I'm off to get a Mexican coke.