Gaming the Wine Biz

I just found a PC/MAC game — Winemaker Extraordinaire (Masque, $20) — that challenges players to build “a winemaking empire!” Now, it’s been frequently said that “the surest way to make a small fortune in the wine business is to start with a large fortun

At wine tastings I host, people often ask what they can do to learn more about wine. The obvious answer is, “Pop corks and pay attention to what you’re tasting.” Do this (in conjunction with a little focused reading) and you’ll be way ahead of most wine drinkers in no time.

But I just found a PC/MAC game — Winemaker Extraordinaire (Masque, $20) — that challenges players to build “a winemaking empire!” Now, it’s been frequently said that “the surest way to make a small fortune in the wine business is to start with a large fortune.” So, on its face, I didn’t figure this game would be too realistic. Still, I wondered if playing it could actually teach something about wine.

So I rolled my sleeves up and dived into the world of Maria Bellaventura, who recently inherited an Italian winery from her grandfather. Within seconds, I realized that playing this game would be as effective at improving one’s wine knowledge as hundreds of hours at Tiger Woods PGA Tour ‘09 has been at improving my golf game — which is, not at all.  

The first thing you’ll notice is that the Italian winery doesn’t start off by producing Italian wines. The first couple of blends you “produce” are Cabernet and Merlot, wines that have their natural home in France. Since your virtual winery doesn’t grow its own grapes, you’re constantly traveling the globe to procure supplies. In Germany, you (reasonably) buy Riesling and Gewurztraminer. In Italy, Sangiovese and Nebbiolo are available.

But you have to travel to Austria (where, as of 2000, Merlot accounted for less than one quarter of a percent of total production) to find a supplier that offers Merlot by the bushel. Even more strangely, Gamay grapes are available through the supplier in Greece, though these grapes are famous in Beaujolais, the southernmost region in Burgundy, France. And while I haven’t gotten there yet, I understand that Malbec is available only from South Africa, though the Argentines (right hemisphere, wrong continent) have made it their signature grape.

Far more confusingly, the “blends” required to make these wines, which the player travels the globe learning, include some ratio of a specific grape (e.g., merlot or gew

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