Eric Asimov writes his column today (though it was posted online last week) about the tiny amount of Trousseau production in California focusing on Arnot-Roberts and a few others. I tried the wine last summer when I visited the winery and tweeted about it. Bryan Garcia raised the question of price, wondering if it was worth it when it cost more than the wines of the “Jura masters.”
A post here from last year generated interesting discussion around the question of relative value and whether if you’re a Trousseau lover, you feel obliged to support domestic efforts. Sam Herron commented then, “no I do not think I have any obligation to buy domestic wines, well priced or not…I wanted to jump on the Arnot-Roberts bandwagon after your posts because they excited me, but their prices are just too much.” Bob said, “I agree wholeheartedly with Sam. That being said, today I bought a Dolcetto from Bonny Doon for $20. I don’t even pay that much for an Italian Dolcetto.”
Uff the fluff opined: “For American wines one has to simply ignore QPR – sad, but true.” Evan Dawson said “No obligation. As a consumer, though, you’re limiting yourself if you don’t acquire a strong knowledge of what is available locally.”
Since Asimov didn’t address the question of value or who is buying it beyond a handful of winemakers, consider this a corollary and a chance to join the discussion from last year. What do you think–who’s buying domestic Trousseau? Would (relative) price drive your decision to do so, or your desire to support something domestic that’s different?
California banned the sale and production of foie grasas of July 1. Now, a politician in the heart of a foie gras-producing region of France is hitting back: by calling for a boycott of California wine…Ooh, that will bring the industry to its knees!!
As silly as it is to boycott foreign coal in Newcastle, as it were, this is the first time that I recall American wine as the object of a foreign boycott. Sure, whenever diplomatic feathers are ruffled between France and the US, such as the 2003 showdown in the UN, French wine gets dumped down drains in protest. But when foreigners object to US policies, they usually boycott our larger consumer brands, such as Coca Cola or McDonald’s. So this ignominy is a historic first even if it has no economic impact.
Good thing the politician didn’t call to action another California industry that his constituents might have, er, found a little more difficult to swallow: boycotting Hollywood movies.
Screaming Eagle, the Napa winery known for its cabernet sauvignon that fetches high prices, has released six hundred bottles of sauvignon blanc. Offered to “active members” on its mailing list for $250 a bottle, the offer came with the condition that they not resell it. In 2006, Stan Kroenke, owner of Arsenal and the Denver Nuggets and spouse of Ann Walton Kroenke, purchased Screaming Eagle and replanted some of the vineyards, including some sauvignon blanc.
Six of the bottles have found their way to auction, where the lot closed with a winning bid of $13,000. To whomever paid over $2,500 a bottle (including the 19.5% buyer’s premium), I say…well, YOU finish the sentence in the comments!
Alice Feiring has a piece on thedailybeast.com entitled “Big? Jammy? Not Anymore!” about the much-discussed turn in California winemaking toward lower-alcohol, higher-acidity wines. While she rightfully highlights a merry band of winemakers daring to be different, including Nathan Roberts (above) of Arnot-Roberts, she neglects to mention just how hard that alternate path is from a sales perspective. For decades, the basic sales model of California wine has been to make a wine, get a high score, then use that score to sell the wine through a distributor or a mailing list.
These nouvelle vague producers in the Sierra foothills and the outer reaches of Sonoma are not point chasers, by and large. Instead, they have emphasized the food-friendliness of this style of wine, cultivating relationships with sommeliers and using plum placements on restaurant wine lists to serve as a proxy for quality. They have gotten into key wine shops too and have a lot of buzz on them there Internets. Forging a new sales model is both risky and hard work. But it could be an even more important development for the American wine industry than the stylistic change.
Oh, and it turns out that it’s hard to get distribution and selling wine can be a lot harder than making it. And constructing a wine to get a 100-point score is risky. But if you hold one for a generation or two, you could make $50 million or even $500 million. These are some items in a “Wealth Matters” column in the NYT over the holiday weekend.
Of course, if you really want to make money from year one in the wine biz, do as Warren Buffett did and buy a wine and spirits distributor.
The story does provide some color to our previous discussions about how high costs, a search for ROI, and an aspirational product/lifestyle explain in part why there are so few tasty domestic wines under $15. Also, it was fun to learn that Jim Laube got a wine from a vintner via their mutual golf pro and then gave that wine 97 points. Fore!
The wines of Tyler winery get a thumbs up from me for the brilliance of the name alone–but also for what’s inside the bottle. I tasted a few of them recently at a trade tasting and was impressed with the lean, taut wines from a land known all too often for buxom chardonnay and pinot noir. (Check out this SF Chron article on some recent goings on in Sta. (!) Rita Hills.) Tasted blind, the balanced 2010 Tyler Chardonnay “Dierberg” would be difficult to place, with minerality not often associated with the Golden State, and a mouthfeel more Meursault than Marcassin. The 2010 Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir exhibits a toothsome quality with red fruit and good acidity. The 2009 Pinot Noir “Dierberg” sees some whole cluster and has tingly tannins with appealing red fruit and a snap of acidity. I’ll be keeping an eye out for Justin Tyler Willett’s wines.
I joked with someone at the tasting that I was probably predisposed to like the wines because of the name since it’s also mine. He told me that he worked at a wine shop way back when. They made a private label wine to sell in the store and to find the name, they looked in the phone book and found that Clark was the most popular name in the city after Jones and Smith. So they named their wine Chateau Clark and if flew off the shelves. But I think that’s what Willy van Shakespeare said: a wine named after you, will smell even sweeter.
We were reminded that Fred Franzia’s Bronco Wine Co. owns 40,000 acres of vines in the San Joaquin Valley, debt-free, which helps keep the wine price so low.
How big is a 40,000 acre vineyard? It’s about 50 times the size of Central Park, and, in fact, about three times the land area of Manhattan. So it must suck if you forget something at one end since there’s not even a subway in the Bronco vineyard.
The other day, I was speaking with someone who relayed a conversation that he had with a vintner in Temecula, an area with over 1,000 acres vineyards about an hour and a half from LA and San Diego. The guy asked the vintner why he didn’t try to make better wines. The vintner replied that he had a busload of bachelorettes coming through this weekend and one the weekend after that, implying he was already selling all his wine to locals more interested in quantity rather than quality.
It’s a problem that a lot of American wine regions confront: Long Island’s vineyards, Napa and Sonoma, the Willamette Valley, to name a few, are among all within a bachelorette bus ride from metropolitan areas. As a result, many wineries have policies banning buses and limos; free wine tastings are the rare exception, rather than the norm, in an attempt to push tourism away from quantity.
How to break out of the chug-a-lug trap and focus on quality? It’s a bit of a chicken and the egg problem: if there’s little local quality, then there’s mot much to support with your purchases; if there’s little financial reward, then there’s not going to be much quality. Locavorism may break the cycle though as foodies in a given area pay a premium for quality local foods, wine included. The Times today mentions one sommelier, Thomas Pastuszak at NoMad in NYC, who has 17 Rieslings from the Finger Lakes on his list. Clearly he is voting for quality from the Finger Lakes region with his checkbook.
But for many wine enthusiasts, the wine regions in close proximity don’t offer the kind of quality that they could order from 17 different local(ish) wineries. As my research from a few years ago showed, while local wine is almost always the best option from a greenhouse gas perspective, the carbon footprint of wine is greatly reduced by a boat journey as opposed to truck, sometimes to a surprising degree, and lighter packaging also offsets sheer distance. Thus many wine enthusiasts I’ve spoken with about the issue over the years would rather support a grower with a similar mindset to theirs, be it organic or stylistic, rather than a strictly local one and hope for GHG efficiencies en route or perform offsets elsewhere in their lives.
I’m interested to hear from you: which do you think represents the greater opportunity for improving quality particularly in far-flung or emerging domestic wine regions, tourism or locavorism?