Sea Smoke declares own vineyards “Grand Cru” on the label

New for the 2009 vintage: Sea Smoke of Santa Barbara is putting “California Grand Cru” on the label.

The term is pure marketing. Needless to say, there is no codified “cru” system of California. However, the term does not fall afoul of the protected terms negotiated in the EU-US accord on place names. The labels previously read “Santa Barbara County California.”

After eyeing it for some time, Bob Davids acquired an apparently gorgeous, 350-acre parcel in the Santa Rita Hills in 1999 for his label Sea Smoke. According to North American Pinot Noir, it was previously a bean field. He immediately developed about 100 acres into vineyards; the first vintage was 2001. The winery produces four pinot noirs and two chardonnays; all bear the term “California Grand Cru” for the 2009 vintage.

Queried about their decision to use their term, Director of Winemaking Victor Gallegos pointed me to this Wine Spectator article ($) in which James Laube called Sea Smoke “an important part of Santa Barbara’s wine scene and one of its ‘grand cru’ properties.”

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59 Responses to “Sea Smoke declares own vineyards “Grand Cru” on the label”

  1. Good wines, but this holds about as much weight as Taco Bell’s “Pacific Shrimp Tacos”.

  2. What were they sea smokin’?

  3. What is it with Californians?

    These are the same people who label a Sonoma County wine as claret – the “St Francis Claret” here:

    Or has California moved to Bordeaux?

  4. But James Laube says so…JAMES LAUBE Bitches!!!

  5. This is hilarious and I think Sea Smoke is going to end up regretting it bigtime.

    For once, I would support the French suing internationally to protect one of their labeling terms.

  6. Stupid, Silly, LAME! I want some of what they are “Smokin”

  7. I agree with all the comments.. Lame and stupid. I hope it comes back to get them and also hope this does not start something with other wines doing this too.

  8. I didn’t think a brand as prominent as Sea Smoke needed such smoke & mirrors? Wine drinkers who understand what Grand Cru are probably not swayed by this (in purchase behavior) and neither would those who don’t because they don’t know… confused by this move.

  9. I can understand wanting to capitalize on what Laube said, but seeing as there is no Cru in California it is too obvious a ploy. They would have been better served it they put out POS with Laubes quote on it along with whatever points the wine has earned in a tasting.

    Personally, I think it is stupid, and misleading and bad marketing.

  10. oi vey

  11. How about Wrecking Cru? The wines, at best, are mediocre.

  12. The arrogance of their pronouncement, based upon a compliment of just one wine critic, is so sycophantic and misdirected that, in my opinion, they just set that brand back about a decade.

  13. Their timing is good as France may be too busy with Domaine Olivier Cousin (DOC) to sue Sea Smoke.

  14. Hmmm…it seems to be pretentious and misplaced. Why use a French term on a New World wine label?

  15. Where to begin, where to begin?
    Well, someone had to be first to jump into the pool I guess.

    Confused in Burgundy

  16. So. James Laube = INAO.


  17. Okay, I’ll admit that I’m not the hippest cat in town (which is a good thing…less pressure trying to keep up!), but do enlighten me: what does “INAO” mean?

  18. You Americans are fast! From bean field to grand cru in 11 years…

    And so small at 141 hectares. Maybe there is some premier cru in there too?

  19. INAO are the initals for the French organization that manages AOC rules for Appellation controlled wines.

    Does anyone suppose that we will also see new “Grand Cru” level pricing increases this vintage as well?

  20. Tres pretentious… Where was their marketing firm to talk them out of this foolishness?

  21. What is it, indeed, with the pretentiousness of too many California producers? Some rich asshole finds some piece of perhaps good land and five or six years out thinks that his wines should be compared to those of Christophe Roumier or Dominique Lafon. No wonder the rest of the wine world laughs behind their backs. Grow the hell up, already.

  22. Well this sure did get everyone’s attention. Good press vs. bad press = you’re still talking about it!!!

  23. @PCC: Yeah, and people talk a lot about about Stalin and John Wayne Gacy. What’s your point?

  24. The days of good press/bad press being a good thing, just as long as one gets press, went by the wayside circa the BP oil spill, etc. Now, it’s quite possibly that when a company receives bad press, it’s just that: BAD.

    Consumers are getting smart, folks.

  25. Am I the only one that get’s this joke? It’s a Halloween costume, people. They are just dressing their wine up as a “Grand Cru”. Or maybe it’s a late April Fools Joke.

  26. I’m looking forward to their upcoming California Bordeaux.

  27. Maybe some 300 ha producer in the Languedoc should label his wine as See Smoke or Sea Smoke (East cru) and use the same shape bottle. To quote someone famous “What fools these mortals be”. What was that guys name? Hm. Not sure what he was referring to but I think it was winery marketing guys or rich winery owners.

    Can’t wait for someone here to label a wine as Chinon and put Jay Leno’s face on the bottle.

  28. The whole thing with Grand Cru designation is so… hmm… convoluted that I don’t think blanket statements on this are the way to go. I don’t believe that I would label my wine that way if I were to make wine and one at that level. I am fairly sure that the Foxen team don’t use that designation on their Sea Smoke Pinot Noir. Though given their relationship to it, I’m sure they’d be proud to see the term on somebody Sea Smokes label.

    Grand Cru, Premier Cru…even the INAO and producers in Loire, Burgundy, Alsace, Bordeaux aren’t clear on the use, see Trimbach Clos Ste Hune for an example, Grand Cru wine, Grand Cru never used on label or in marketing of that great wine.

  29. Some funny comments. I guess Davis calling Sea Smoke a Grand Cru is as appropriate as Robert Parker maintaining that he follows his written code of ethics.
    One can call themself anything they can lawfully choose, but reality may call for a smidge different moniker.

  30. I will be removing myself and 3 others from their mailing list. The wine is consistent and gets a B+ to a A- so it’s not because of the wine obviously. I don’t want to contribute to the financial success of some european wantabe. There is no place for wine snobs and certainly no place for winery acting like snobs in this new world. Best they keep quiet about it and have people think your snobs rather than shout it out and remove all doubt. Their going up in smoke fast!

  31. I have not ordered from them for the past two vintages. The wine is good but totally overhyped. Somehow it got a cult following. In fact, a perspective employer once told my husband that if he came to work for him, he proudly and loudly said that he would give him a bottle of Sea Smoke! What the guy did not know, is that I already had a batch in my cellar and I was underwhelmed.

    Maybe I shoulda tried to sell some of my bottles to the blowhard!

  32. […] you choose – here or here… […]

  33. I thought that the mantra out there was “please don’t compare us to Burgundy”, as best espoused on the wine boards by Adam Lee of Siduri. While I will, of course, continue to compare domestic Pinot to Bungundy (and find it wanting), Adam’s point at least makes sense from a marketing perspective. This move by Sea Smoke is, alas, a shameless American exhibition of Pinot envy. Andre Cold Duck has as strong a claim to grand cru status…

  34. […] Colman (aka Dr. Vino) reports that Sea Smoke — located in the western end of Santa Barbara’s Santa Rita Hills — […]

  35. Gran Cru from California – don’t be silly!

  36. You can clump the idiots at Sea Smoke with the idiots at Marcassin now.

  37. Thanks for the comments. The discussion here has sparked a parallel thread over on wineberserkers.

    There, some wonder if it will attract more newbies to the wine who don’t realize that the term is meaningless. Meanwhile, the wine enthusiasts who know better may not have been buying the wine anyway. What do you think about that?

    They also have started a discussion of which sites would be grand cru for pinot noir in California. An interesting discussion to be sure, but one that included all domestic pinot sites, including Oregon, would be even better.

    And then there’s this view from Rhys Vineyards, which tweeted yesterday: “Tasted some wine today that reinforced my belief that many of CAs best Pinot terroirs are still undiscovered. Can explain more in time…”

  38. Also, they found this label from Bronco Wine Co (maker of Two Buck Chuck, among other wines):

  39. California will produce great wine when its growers start making wines that are true expressions of the California land that produce them, and not emulations of something made in France or Italy. Trying to gain credibility with names like claret, meritage, rhone blends, and now grand cru, only invites comparison to the real thing, which is usually better!

  40. Considering the massive chip that Adam Lee carries around on his shoulder I’d discount any comments that he has on this subject.

  41. Thank you, Mr. Holod! Now I recall what it means. I’ll have to play the “…it’s the harvest and I’m knackered Card.”!!!

  42. Mr. Wino, please take a deep, cleansing breath. I mean, damn!

  43. […] […]

  44. Dear Doc V,
    Smoking Loon is to Sea Smoke as Sea Smoke is to Grand Cru.

    Surprisingly, some youthful Grand Cru White Bugrundies I have tasted were big with oak and full with sweet fruit flavors as is often the case with many of the higher end California Chardonnay offerings. I recall the first time I tasted Sea Smoke Chardonnay alongside a bottle of Vincent Girardin Grand Cru. They both started out as fine examples of Chardonnay and served to highlight general differences that may be present between ultra-premium old and new world styles. On one hand, a powerful, smoky demonstration of what is possible in CA with big fruit extraction and vintification. On the other hand, a refined example of a rich textured wine produced with restraint and offering purity of varietal expression. Indeed, both wines were delicious and had different food implications. However, we were surprised when we went back four hours later and revisited these previously opened, unrefrigerated wines. The Vincent Girardin Grand Cru offering was exactly as it had previously tasted, but we were surprised to find the structure of the Sea Smoke Chardonnay did more than open up it fell apart like “Sea Smoke”.

  45. This represents possibly the lamest marketing move by a high-end California artisanal producer that I have ever seen. Tapping a term that is inherently French and earnestly regulated for a U.S. wine… just because a single wine critic used the term when praising the winery? Really? It is a huge step backwards. I think sommeliers are going to reject the concept, avoiding the awkward position of having to explain/defend it.

  46. I think they are ridiculous. I won’t buy it.

  47. […] Vino unearthed a terrific nugget the other day: Sea Smoke Cellars, which is located in Santa Barbara County, has put the words […]

  48. Something about the sound of “sea smoke” doesn’t work for me in the first place- like a seaweed flavored cigar. Yuck. But they do apparently know how to blow smoke. What do you expect from the state that gave us Disneyland and Hollywood?

  49. […] response to the news that Sea Smoke has decided to put “California Grand Cru” on its labels for its 2009 […]

  50. I put big dick on my label:

    Maritime Smog
    South Bay
    Appelation LA Cty
    California Big Dick
    1.5L 17.2% alc/vol

    Grand Cru Marine Layer only 14.5% alcohol they are old time vagasil.

  51. Let me guess Anchor, you have consummed a mag of that 17.2 yourself tonight eh?

  52. Anchor Steam – strikes me as the confident beer drinking type. Mr. Bulkin my guess is he has been drinking Bud Lite and at least the better part of a 12 pack. This was no doubt followed ever more confidently by some Belgin Strong Pale Ale 7.20% ALC. and certainly the brand was Flying Fish-Grand Cru Winter Reserve.

  53. Seems to me the smart thing to do is simply ignore this “issue” — but geez, you wine geeks can get so bent out of shape over inconsequential issues. Bottom line, there’s nothing that says they can’t put “Grand Cru” on their label, same as any winery who wishes to plop “Proprietor’s Reserve” on their two-buck-chuck level red. Power to the people… which means, you buy it if you like it, and don’t if you don’t…

  54. […] […]

  55. […] bloggosphere was all a-twitter (per se) over Sea Smoke’s new wine label, purporting its wine a “California Grand Cru.” The outrage swelled over at Tom Wark’s Fermentationblog in the comments section, where many […]

  56. […] This screechy pattern of exposés is getting so frequent, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a headline like CULT WINEMAKER LINKED TO SECRET LOVE CHILD or FAMOUS WINE ACTUALLY MADE BY SPACE ALIENS! One current example is the brouhaha stirred up when Sea Smoke put the words “grand cru” on their label, as reported by Dr. Vino. […]

  57. Sea Smoke is delicious. I’ve had some when I’ve visited SB for a wine tasting event and I had a great time! I tried some other pinots as well and they were also just as delicious. Cannot wait to to back and enjoy some more. Hopefully take home a bottle or two. Glad my favorite hotel is really close by the vineyards-South Coast Inn ( The most elegant place to stay when wine tasting in Santa Barbara!

  58. […] a nice sparkling wine.” Those raw materials come from Sea Smoke’s estate vineyard, which is a self-declared “grand cru” consisting of about 100 acres of south-facing hillside land ranging from 300 to 700 feet in […]

  59. […] reported by Dr. Vino, California’s Sea Smoke Cellars out of Santa Rita Hills has placed the following wording on […]


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