Our celebrity obsessed culture has fueled many trends in recent years, from reality television shows where people name their abdominals (how did “Snooki” make it into the NYT this past Sunday????) to chefs whose stain free jackets attest to careful preening rather than frenetic cooking. In the world of fine wine we have seen the incredible growth of winemakers whose names are seemingly more important than the wine they are producing. Some of this is justified, yet the readily recognizable names are only the beginning. Many of the best wines in the world are produced by winemakers you have never heard of – (even if their name is on the label)…
Here are 4 of my favorites;
I posted a first pass of this on facebook and twitter and thought it worth listing a number of others that I left off the “list”; Karen Culler, Celia Welsch, Kathy Corison, Wells Guthrie, Pam Starr, Amy Aiken, Ken Bernards.
From Diamond Mountain to Coombsville (and everything in between)
Bidding Live Now!
Since 1981, members of the Napa Valley Vintners and the Napa Valley community have rallied together to offer, each June, an experience unlike any other. What started as a small event has grown into one of the world’s most renowned wine auctions—with more than 350 wineries and 550 community volunteers now taking par—yet remains true to its goal of raising funds for healthcare, housing and youth services non-profits: Auction Napa Valley has given $90 million in proceeds to date.
For this years 30th Anniversary of Auction Napa Valley, Meteor Vineyard has joined forces with Winemaker/Partners Bill and Dawnine Dyer to put together this exclusive package.
Based on a personal interview, we will delve into the breadth of Napa Valley to create your perfect day, a unique experience different from anything else in the valley. What we DO know is that you will start your day at Dyer Vineyard on Diamond Mountain and end the day at Meteor Vineyard in Coombsville, touring the vineyards, tasting the recent releases (and some barrel samples) and experiencing some of the best food Napa has to offer.
In between, anything and everything is possible.
Love the outdoors? Start the morning with a hike along the ridgelines of Mount St. Helena peering south along one of the most exquisite valleys on earth. Prefer to explore the architectural diversity of the Napa Valley? We can arrange that as well (in fact, both properties are interested in alternative building materials and are composed of rammed earth). Gardens and native plantings more your speed? We’ve got you covered. Tell us what you most long to learn or experience about the Napa Valley and we will use our combined experience and expertise to show you the hidden secrets and best vantage points.
Note: Transportation and overnight accommodations not included. Time to be mutually agreed upon. Expires June 2011.
This lot is for 2 couples (or four people) and includes;
6 bottles of wine per couple as described below
Tour and Tasting at Meteor Vineyard And Dyer Vineyard
Lunch at Dyer Vineyard
Dinner “around town” in new culinary Napa
A Personalized Itinerary for the day
Wines from Meteor Vineyard (1 bottle each per couple)
2 bottles 2005 Meteor Vineyard Estate Etched 1.5L Cabernet Sauvignon
2 bottles 2006 Meteor Vineyard Estate Etched 1.5L Cabernet Sauvignon
2 bottles 2007 Meteor Vineyard Special Family Reserve 750ml
Wines from Dyer Vineyard (1 bottle each per couple)
2 bottles 1997 Dyer Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 750ml
2 bottles 2001 Dyer Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 1.5L
2 bottles 2006 Dyer Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 1.5L
There have been some heated exchanges recently between sommeliers in San Francisco and winemakers from the surrounding regions. Although nearly every chef in San Francisco embraces the concept of buying local products, wine buyers have shown little such interest, creating wine lists that are largely based on imported wines from both classic and emerging regions from the far corners of the globe while ignoring the innovations of myriad winemakers in California. A recent blog post from New York Times wine and spirits writer Eric Asimov ignited debate, with San Francisco Chronicle’s Jon Bonne following on his heals with an article of his own.
As a longtime sommelier and lover of wine from around the world who now manages a small winery in Napa Valley, I was approached repeatedly about weighing in – but thought it best to let the dust settle. Recent rains have settled that.
My first true wine trip took place nearly 15 years ago when I boarded a plane to Malpensa in November and made my way to the town of Alba. Anyone who has spent time in Alba in November knows that the streets are perfumed with the beguiling musk of white truffles. The streets are full of revelers and seekers, those who make the yearly pilgrimage to this famed northwestern region of Italy to secure and consume one of the worlds most beguiling products.
Aside from white truffles, the other defining product is wine. From the famed nebbiolo based wines of Barolo and Barbaresco, to the more approachable dolcetto and barbera (and cortese), the bars and restaurants of Alba, and Nieve and every other town in the region, are full of locals and visitors alike enjoying the fruits of the nearby land. Order a plate of tajarin with butter and white truffle along with a pristine bottle of 1978 Barbaresco (ok, there are probably very few left in the cellars) and you are in heaven.
For many who travel to the worlds great wine growing regions, one of primary reasons for the trip is to taste the wines of the area. When I am traveling around the Willamette Valley, I am not likely to order a bottle of Angelus. If there is Coche-Dury on the menu at a reasonable price, I may HAVE to buy it, otherwise I, and most everyone else traveling in the region, is going to order pinot gris, chardonnay or pinot noir grown in the surrounding vineyards. Wine lists are full of the new as well as the established, the iconic and the eccentric. This is as true in Champagne as it is Bordeaux, in Rioja as it is in Mendoza.
Lovers of wine in all of these regions (simply living in a famed wine region doesn’t immediately qualify you as a true lover of wine) seek out compelling examples from around the world and well chosen restaurant lists highlight the local while looking outside the immediate evirons for compelling expressions of far flung varieties. THERE IS GREAT WINE MADE IN NEARLY EVERY WINE GROWING REGION IN THE WORLD. As a lover of fine wine you would be doing yourself and your customers a disservice NOT finding the best examples. Coercing the Burgundians to pull the cork on a bottle of Bordeaux is no small feat, and yet if you are truly compelled by the potential for myriad expressions of grapes, you seek them out, ask around. At Cyrus, in the heart of the Sonoma wine country, I was DEDICATED to finding the best examples of wines from throughout the region while paying homage to the greats from around the world. The local wine lovers asked after Burgundy and Piedmont, the visitors after Ceritas and Copain.
So why the allegations that the Bay Area, long home to one of the worlds most progressive and locally sourced food scenes, takes a dim view of its winemaking neighbors to the north and south?
The reasons raised are predictable, if more complex than understandable by a cursory glance.
Buyers are accused of romanticizing the foreign, of coercing their customers into trying wines that fit their preferences and not those of their guests, of simply being too busy or lazy to fully understand the wines and winemakers that work diligently in their own backyards. There is an aura of eccentricity for the sake of eccentricity, with Gruner Veltliner posing as the poster child for a whole era of copycat consumption where suddenly every restaurant in the larger Bay Area was pouring it by the glass (I include myself in this criticism, at Gary Danko I had 2 full pages of Gruner Veltliner…).
Winemakers, also predictably, are accused of making wines that taste the same whether pinot noir or cabernet, of slanting production methods towards the palate of reviewer, or worse, of planting grapes in places that should have remained apple orchards or grazing land. Most damning is the accusation that the local wines simply don’t go with food – all of the ripe rich fruit and wood morphing into some indistinguishable reduction of sweetness and cooking spice.
There is truth to all of these accusations; however, to delve so superficially into the debate is ludicrous. Are there overripe wines that declare themselves the primary point of the meal? Yes. Are buyers wary of preparing lists that are identical to the restaurant down the street? Absolutely. But if we in the Bay Area are devoted to the idea of localization, then buyers need to work harder finding the unheralded gems and innovative winemakers and winemakers need to continue to evolve their approach beyond one that is purely score based and more soul based.
Wines like Lioco are embracing old school methods of non intervention (including un-oaked chardonnays) and seeking out compelling sites that produce wines of balance and individuality. Parr selections is picking fruit early to preserve freshness and balance and demonstrating that wines from California and Oregon can have a sense of place. There is Peay and Corison, Dyer and Melville, Hirsch and Von Strasser – there is Meteor making distinctive site specific wines with structure, balance and elegance that rival (and often transcend) any of the worlds greatest wines!
Asimov and Bonne are right to question and buyers are not wrong to question, but to make grandious statements about an entire industry and declare yourself a supporter of “local” agriculture is hypocritical at best and naive and lazy at worst.
One of the most incredible things to watch over the last decade has been the growth of wine knowledge and consumption across the globe. It doesn’t matter if you are in Hong Kong, Moscow or Hawaii – people around the world are compelled by the worlds greatest wines.
In fact, Hawaii was one of the first places in the world to actively embrace the inaugural release of Meteor Vineyards. Warren Shon, one of the most savvy people in the wine trade the world over, has carefully culled some of the finest cabernets from Napa Valley (and Pinot Noir, Riesling, Gruner-Veltliner, grower Champagne et al.) to introduce to wine lists and retail shops throughout the islands.
On Maui, a thriving food and wine scene exists on both the West and South shores. On the West coast, the ever popular Lahaina Grill continues to offer one of the most interesting wine lists in Hawaii and the Kapalua Resort and it’s enclave of excellent restaurants continues to offer compelling food and wine destinations at the Pineapple Grill, Sansei and Merriman’s. The South shore is home to the ultra deluxe Four Season’s resort and Wolfgang Puck’s Spago and the incredibly excellent Duo. The other place that never disappoints is Capische! in the newly refurbished Hotel Wailea (one of the great deals in all of Hawaii).
Oahu, home to the bulk of permanent residents, has long been known for it’s cuisine and the wine programs have followed pace. From the original Roy’s in Waikiki to Alan Wong’s eponymous destination, from the ultra deluxe Halekulani to the adventurous retailers like Tamuro’s and HASR – the food and wine scene is HOT. Check out the wine bar Amuse in the Honolulu Design Center for some incredible wines by the glass!
One year after the economic meltdown or the “Great Deep-cession” business sectors are taking stock of where things are. With all of the focus on the bail-outs of the financial industry, and the desperate circumstances of US Auto manufacturing, it comes as no surprise that there aren’t many tears being spilled over the current state of the Wine biz. While there has been solid coverage by Sonoma’s Press Democrat of the local businesses, here in Napa Valley, there is much more of a stiff upper lip.
The fact is, there is quite a bit of turmoil around America’s (perhaps the world’s) leading wine region and considering the state of the economy, this should come as no surprise.
Before delving in, it’s worth a bit of a sidebar to note that the domestic wine industry is quite stratified into distinct market segments. The high volume, $20 and under category represents the big dollars and is really part of the broader beverage industry selling beer, soda, and other various bottled/canned consumables. As we venture up the chain above $25 we enter the premium wine category and a broad variation of products. Circa 2008 well crafted wines up to $75 might have been considered value wines. Over the last decade, the above $100 “A-list” of Napa fine wines has become increasingly populated . This list ranges from worldwide brands such as Duckhorn and Stags Leap to the boutique micro wineries. From there we go into pricing stratosphere. Everything from very select bottlings of names like Dominus, and Staglin to the highly inaccessible Shafer Hillside Select, Harlan Estate and Screaming Eagle. These, along with others have (prior to last year’s meltdown) have been rapidly pushing into the price zone of Bordeaux’s venerable first growths. $400- $800 and beyond on release. Note these very same brands were hovering around $250 per bottle about five years ago, so we have clearly experienced accelerated pricing expansion in the short period between the busts (post 2001-pre 2009) in the ultra-premium or so called cult wines.
But here we are in October of 2009 harvesting another crop while Napa is in the middle of real bottle shock. While the dust is settling and the economic fog starts to clear, there are two schools of thought about the lasting impact of this current meltdown:
1. Glass Half Empty: This is a forever re-calibration of the fine wine business. It will be a long long time, maybe never before we see high volumes of California wine selling at $100-200 price points.
2. Glass Half Full: This is a normal part of the boom bust cycle, once the bust is over, the survivors (note those who survive) will pick up right where they left off.
Know one knows which theory is correct but there are a few clues and certainly historical patterns to follow. We have seen a great expansion of the wine drinking population in the last 20 years. This has been great for the industry. The very highly priced wines’ success is always closely associated with wealth and particularly the creation of new wealth. Our current financial crisis has hit people’s net worths very hard. It has smashed the Wall Street crowd and all but eliminated the NY power lunches replete with $1000 bottles of something Napa-licious. Yes there is still plenty of wealth around and love of great wine but ostentatious displays of excessive lifestyle are definitely not vogue at the moment. So I guess the bottles of Harlan are being opened in the pantry at Per Se.
The positive effect in the midst of all of this is that wine fans have turned their attention down-market and are discovering that there are indeed many many wonderful wines for $50 (and less) and there can be great joy in their discovery. After all, it doesn’t take much skill to buy the most expensive bottle on a wine list. Industry numbers are reflecting that the economic downturn has indeed been a boon to producers of lower priced wines. Two Buck Chuck a visionary indeed.
So how does all of this shake out? My own point of view is this crisis has always been a cyclic downturn. A deep and bad one, but a necessary release of hyper-growth. I am old enough to have lived through three of these and in each one the naysayers were predicting apocalypse and citing all the reasons why this particular crisis was different than all of the others. When you have a deep recession like this, Darwinian theory holds true: the strong survive. How do you define strong? Companies with products and services that have loyal customers who value them (no matter what the price). And Companies that have a solid enough financial foundation to tough it out. Those who were rapidly expanding and growing their expenses with the expectation of ever growing sales and those who are highly leveraged or require credit to sustain cash flow are having hard times. Newer brands that have not yet established a customer base and also are highly leveraged are the most vulnerable. There is plenty of inventory around and that will lead to lower production. Lower production and the growers get hammered.
And what of California wines rising to $200 and $400 and in some cases $700/bottle and beyond? Was that a simple blip, a short aberration or will they find a lasting sustainable customer base. If you turn to France and the history of the fabled First Growths you would conclude that if the wine is spectacular and gets even better over time, there will be an audience appreciates it and is willing to pay the price. Yes there will be ups and downs, but the great wines of France have survived world wars, recessions, depressions and phylloxera for centuries and have proven to be wines for the ages. Now we’ll see if Napa can as well. There clearly is plenty of pain going around, but long term my money is where my palate is, right here in Napa.