With his black T-shirt, biker boots and tattoos, Craig Renaud looks more like a barbecue-and-brews man than a connoisseur of fine wine.
As partial to tattoos and Harley-Davidsons as he is to subtle tannins and new oak, Renaud possesses a wealth of knowledge and passion for a subject often associated with fancier folks. But that notion – that wine has to be sophisticated and complicated to be enjoyed – is exactly what the Santa Rosa, California, resident wants to dispel.
“I want to talk about real things that real people can understand,” he told the Press-Democrat newspaper.
That desire led him to write a book, “Great American Wine: The Wine Rebel’s Manual,” which was released last year.
“What put me over the edge is how intimidating it is to the average person in the world who just wants to drink wine, man,” he explained. “They don’t want to know that it tasted like burnt road tar or gravelly powdered stones.”
And that’s where things get interesting. Renaud places much of the blame for making wine inaccessible at the feet of one man: Robert M. Parker Jr., whose rating system for wine has long wielded tremendous power and influence.
It also has received its share of criticism. But Renaud’s ire is particularly daunting, his imposing physicality and bracing bluntness not far removed from a World Wrestling Federation smackdown.
“Anywhere in the country Robert Parker wants to sit down and blind taste with me,”Renaud said, “we can figure out some things.”
It’s Parker, for instance, whom Renaud blames for introducing words like “burnt road tar” into the wine lexicon in the first place.
For fun, Renaud includes within his book a full-page list of “Robert Parker Wine Descriptions That Will Baffle You,” highlighting the crazy things he found in Parker’s “Wine Advocate” publications.
Among them: “caramelized minerals,” “lead pencil shavings” and “camphor dried herbs.”
Renaud’s day job is as a wine broker for Grove Street Brokers in Healdsburg, representing and selling a variety of wines to restaurants and retailers. It’s in this capacity that he has learned to trust his own palate, no matter the ratings – something he wishes more people would do.
“I need people to know that no matter what you pick out, because of the label or the way the bottle looked or whatever it is, if you like it, drink it,” he advised.