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How many Pinot Noirs can one winemaker successfully make?

46 comments

 

I got a bunch of single vineyard Pinot Noirs for review yesterday from Sojourn Cellars, a fine producer whose Pinots, Cabernets and other wines I’ve liked over the years. I haven’t reviewed the new batch yet, so this post isn’t about them. It’s about the phenomenon of wineries producing multiple vineyard-designated Pinots (in Sojourn’s case, six).

Lots of wineries practice this business model. Among those who come to mind are Siduri, Testorossa, Williams Selyem, Loring, Failla, Merry Edwards, MacPhail. Some of these also produce estate wines from their own vineyards; others own no vineyards, but buy their grapes, usually under longterm contracts, from vineyards up and down the coast.

(Some Pinot houses–Marimar Torres, Flowers, Rochioli, Lynmar, Calera, Joseph Swan, among others–of course bottle multiple Pinots in every vintage, but they own their vineyards exclusively.)

It’s an odd model, bottling multiple Pinot Noirs from vineyards often scattered hundreds of miles apart, from Santa Rita Hills to Anderson Valley. I don’t think you’d find that in Pinot Noir’s natural home, Burgundy. There, producers make such a big deal about their terroir (mainly soils) that it would be scandalous for them to secure grapes from someone else’s vineyard. That would go against the whole grain of what it has historically meant to produce grand vin in France.

But California isn’t France. We’ve always been an entrepreneurial state, from the Gold Rush days to Silicon Valley, and there is indeed something entrepreneurial about a producer crafting multiple Pinot Noirs, from as many great vineyards as he can get his hands on. And certainly, we have no shortage of great Pinot vineyards: just as someone like Adam Lee’s business model is crafting a dozen or so Pinots, so too there are vineyard owners whose model is to grow and sell grapes, rather than make their own wine. That too is an unlikely scenario in Burgundy. Then there are vineyards that bottle their own wine and also sell some: Cargasacchi, Clos Pepe, Hirsch and Pisoni come to mind.

Here’s what I wonder about. It’s kind of an intellectual question, but I think it bears on wine quality. Is it possible for a vintner to produce great Pinot Noir from multiple, scattered vineyards? Logic tells you that the vintner’s attention must surely be divided: he’s having to maintain relationships with multiple growers, from up and down the state. He has to arrange delivery of the grapes to his crush place, which may be hundreds of miles away from the vineyards. Above all, he has to try and capture the essential personality of the vineyard (or, expressed another way, he has to do nothing that would impede the grapes from expressing that personality). And he has to do all of this during the busiest time of the year, crush, with a million other things competing for his attention, not the least of which often includes making wines other than Pinot Noir.

There’s another potential danger: The wines may lose something of their terroir when made as a part of multiple batches by a vintner who cannot be intimately familiar with the vineyards, and whose winemaking technique may be the exact same with all the wines.

A final challenge is that every vineyard, no matter how famous, has bad grapes–bad in the sense they may be too young, or a moldy lot that somehow escaped scrutiny, or was overcropped or otherwise compromised. So just because a wine bears an esteemed vineyard designation doesn’t mean anything.

I guess the lesson is, buyer beware. Not every famous Pinot Noir vineyard will compromise its reputation by selling crappy fruit, but some will. And not every winery will compromise its integrity by buying crappy fruit, but some will. The consumer has to learn to tell the difference.

That’s a tall order. You might think it can’t be done–but it can. I routinely give high scores to many of these multiple Pinot houses, vintage after vintage. In fact, combing through my reviews over the years, I can detect no preference on my part to wineries that own vineyards versus wineries that buy grapes. So this California model seems to be working, at least, in the case of Pinot Noir. It reflects technical progress, in transportation, fruit preservation and communications, of a type that didn’t exist not that long ago; it’s impossible to think that a vintner like Adam Lee could have made this work in the 1980s.

  1. “I don’t think you’d find that in Pinot Noir’s natural home, Burgundy. There, producers make such a big deal about their terroir (mainly soils) that it would be scandalous for them to secure grapes from someone else’s vineyard. That would go against the whole grain of what it has historically meant to produce grand vin in France.”

    Really?

    The négociant model doesn’t sound remotely French? Maison Louis Jadot (didn’t you just attend a tasting of Jadot wines?). Joseph Drouhin. George Duboeuf.

    Perhaps the distances aren’t as great from Dijon to Lyon, but the model existed in France before it existed in California.

  2. I love the idea of multiple winemakers drawing fruit from the same source.
    You can gather six people to taste 3 bottles from the same vintage (1 each) from winemakers Roar, Siduri, and Loring all sourcing fruit from Gary’s Vineyard and have 6 possible rankings depending on the taster’s preference(1,2,3 or 3,2,1, or 2,1,3 etc).

    I have had all three and all are wonderful in their own way. I have neither the time nor fortune to sample all wines by all winemakers from all vineyards (a boy can dream, right?). I do find that the more I expand my drinking horizons to New Zealand, Willamette, and Germany, the more I come back to my beloved Sonoma Coast. To cover the vineyards of that small corner of the world is a monumental, yet worthy pursuit

  3. Chris Kajani says:

    As someone who is in the car long before sunrise, making the loop from Carneros to Anderson Valley to RRV to Sonoma Coast and back – I can tell you that hitting the road is the *only* way to maintain a relationship with your vineyards. Vineyards can be over cropped, show uneven ripening, display yellowing canopies, get hit with botrytis blooms, have water put on the day before a pick, and the list goes on. Quality growers have put procedures in place to mitigate these issues. But you are correct in noting that a relationship with the grower and the site are key (along with intimate knowledge of what NOAA is saying). As far as ‘recipe’ winemaking goes, I think most winemakers who pay what they pay for high end Pinot are tasting their tanks and making lot by lot decisions more than you give them credit for. No one wants to spend $5K/ton and make a ‘meh’ wine. This is why people make the time scout out growers and sites that are compelling. You are correct in saying relationships are key!

  4. John Condy says:

    Actually some winemakers in Burgundy make more different Pinot Noirs than any of their counterparts in the US. Frédéric Magnien for example makes as many as 65 different cuvees in a vintage. Go to the following website for info on Frederic.
    http://www.wineterroirs.com/2008/11/magnien.html

  5. “…it’s impossible to think that a vintner like Adam Lee could have made this work in the 1980s.”

    Really? I recall Acacia made at least six Pinots from vineyards they didn’t own at one point, and each was distinct and perhaps representative of the place it came from. I think I still have some Acacia Iund Vineyard from the late ’70s in my cellar that is still drinking well. And off the top of my head I recall Kathy Joseph was also doing this a long time ago.

    But you’re right – the model was not encountered as frequently then as now (just from here in my little corner of paradise, I would add Anaba and WALT to the list).

  6. I believe pinot noir is the best way to express the land (assuming there’s no heavy handed winemaking involved). If that’s true, then the key to pinot noir is the site, not the winemaker, and nearly every site will yield a different wine. Still, its always great to taste wines from the same vineyard and vintage but different wineries. I have a Bucher Vineyard Pinot Noir. So do Williams-Selyem, Siduri, Holdredge, Thralls, and Arista. Each one is different, but there is undoubtedly a common thread. Maybe it’s the vineyard, maybe it’s the Middle Reach. Whatever it is, there’s nothing worse than tasting 6 or 8 pinots from a producer that all taste the same.

  7. Bill Haydon says:

    Kyle, I agree with you that the model existed among the Burgundian negociants first, though even the most die-hard Burghound would readily admit that the best bottlings from these producers are from vineyards that they own. And that does not consider the true greatness of the region, which is domaine grown and bottled wines from a small grower often working within a sole Burgundian commune. Even at its largest scale, however, the negociant model doesn’t begin to approximate the geographic scale of what is happening in California.

    The entire Cote d’Or is 30 miles in length and 1 1/2 miles at its widest point. In comparison, it is 30 miles from Napa to Calistoga and 5 miles at its widest point. So even a winemaker making Burgundy from one end of the Cote d’Or to the other, would be approximate (smaller actually given the 3x greater width) to a winemaker working solely with fruit from the heart of Napa Valley (i.e. no Carneros; no Knight’s Valley etc.).

    That is far different than a winemaker attempting to make wine from and understand the varied terroirs from Napa, Carneros, Sonoma Coast, RRV, St. Lucia, Santa Barbara, et al and also (in some cases) even Oregon. Now if that winemaker’s style is to make over-the-top, high alcohol, heavily oaked Pinot, then he might be successful (in a rather perverse way IMO) since his goal is not really to highlight the regional and terroir differences of his vineyard sources but rather to pump out a monolithic Parker/Rolland “style.” Conversely, if his goal is to actually make distinctive Pinot Noir evocative of where they were grown, I’m not sure that it can be done…..at least not well.

  8. John Kelly, if I’m not mistaken all of Acacia’s early pinots were from Carneros. That is very different from making wines over a 500 mile stretch.

  9. Bill Haydon says:

    John, I had a case of ’86 Acacia St. Clair Pinot Noir that evolved (and improved!) beautifully in bottle through the early 2000s. Sadly, Pinot Noir was rarely made in that style (exceptions like Clendenon duly noted) in California throughout the 90s and 00s as that WA score became all that mattered. I doubt many 2006 Pinot Noirs will age even a fraction as well as those old Acacia wines did (are!), which is why I–as a I dyed in the wool Anything But California guy–am rather excited to see how the wines from young producers like Chanin, who have expressly stated their goal of rejecting the recent paradigm in California winemaking, pan out.

  10. Bill, I never said that producers wouldn’t favor their estate vineyards (if they owned any). Many négociants do own many of their vineyards, but the idea of maison and domaine is at home in Burgundy.

    I completely agree with Steve that sourcing fruit (pinot or otherwise) from multiple scattered vineyards can be a challenge for both the producer and the consumer.

    I was just confused that Steve would say that the négociant model would be “scandalous” in Burgundy. I mean, even exalted producers such as DRC and Leroy buy fruit from other growers! Surely he meant something else, but I’ll leave it to Steve to explain…

  11. Bill,

    I’m not sure that I agree with your sentiments on how successful a winemaker can be making wines from geographically spread out vineyards in a way that reflects what each vineyard has to offer. It’s been done again and again and will continue to be – whether it’s the likes of Adam Lee or Brian Loring, or Bill Brousseau at Testarossa or Joe Davis at Arcadian or a plethora of others. And no, not all of these wines are jacked up on new oak.

    The proof, ultimately, is what’s INSIDE the bottle, not what what the label states or where the winemaker’s production facility lies. So what really needs to happen is to have these wines opened, most likely blind to start with, and compare and contrast them with others made by producers who are closer to that specific vineyard. Otherwise, there is too much ‘reading into’ other things than what’s inside the bottle.

    And yep, Gavin is doing some great stuff – following the path of what Jim Clendenen as been doing for over three decades down here. And the concept of ‘recent paradigm’ I feel is too simplistic a statement and too limiting – I don’t think there’s been a more exciting time in California winemaking with the diverse winemaking styles and philosophies currently being employed – some based on practice, some seemingly dogmatic, and others somewhere in between.

    Cheers!

  12. doug wilder says:

    Steve,

    First, I agree with John Kelly about Acacia. Having said that, I would add Patz & Hall, Kosta Browne, Drew, Easkoot and Couloir.

    The way I read this is winemakers have too much going on at crush to worry about delivery of Pinot Noir. When do you think is the best time for them to receive those grapes? I think that winemakers who want to produce vineyard-designated Pinot Noir understand and embrace best practices already, using the sites with proven vineyard management protocols that if not eliminate, greatly reduce the amount of under-ripe, or moldy fruit. Those who don’t are pushed aside by market preferences. Having said that, there are sorting tables to catch what remains.

  13. Bill Haydon says:

    [[[And the concept of ‘recent paradigm’ I feel is too simplistic a statement and too limiting – I don’t think there’s been a more exciting time in California winemaking with the diverse winemaking styles and philosophies currently being employed – some based on practice, some seemingly dogmatic, and others somewhere in between.]]]

    Larry, I agree that there seems to be an exciting age dawning in California wine. While there are many winemakers (Clendenon, Steve Edmunds and others) who resisted the dominant paradigm that arose in the 90s, they swam against the dominant zeitgeist of California winemaking and many of them paid a price for their apostasy in the market.

    The dominant paradigm that I reference would roughly bookends in my mind as 1994 (Parker’s first big ejaculation over Napa cult Cabernet) and 2008 (recession, waning of Parker’s influence, millenials, inevitable backlash to ever more grotesque winemaking styles and though none may dare speak its name in certain Cali circles market rejection in the most important urban markets.) I believe that with each passing year those twenty-two years (however profitable they may have been for some in the short term) will come to be viewed as “lost decades” when California wine followed the Pied Piper of Monkton down a path that almost led to its irrelevance rather than building upon the admirable strides in California winemaking that were made in the 70s and 80s.

    That young winemakers like Gavin Chanin seem to be picking up the torch dropped of the 86 Acacia St. Clair dropped in the early 90s while ignoring the Kongsgaard model of both winemaking and marketing is a great and exciting thing and may bring California wine back to relevance.

  14. As pointed out by Kyle above I would say most Burgundy is not bottled by the owner of the vines and the grapes for something like Jadot’s Beaune Premier Cru come from many of the 36 vineyards of the AOP most not owned by Jadot although all Premier Crus.

  15. Interesting read. I do take exception with two things. In Burgundy, there is a long history of the negociant model. Of course, there were and in some cases continue to be issues wherein wines are tossed in with other wines or vineyards are co-fermented. This is something not dissimilar to appellation blends in the US, but I believe that in Burgundy with the level of complexity present in such a small area that there is no building or compliment to a wine’s quality, any lack of distinction.

    This leads me to my other point. A wine producer having his or her hands on x amount of wines does nothing to distort the terroir of a vineyard. The direct point is that changing the details of vinification between cuvees causes much more dilution of what makes individual terroirs unique.

  16. Steve – yes I think you are right – all Carneros from Acacia if I recall correctly, but it was still a new paradigm. A lot of the other producers you mention are pretty much regional specialists as well.

    I can’t recall exactly when I found out Kathy Joseph was trucking grapes from Oregon (late ’80s – early ’90s certainly) but my reaction was just that: “How can you sample and control quality? How do you manage all the driving?” By the time I met Adam Lee and discovered he was doing it, the practice didn’t seem so shocking to me.

    Oh and Bill Haydon – “may bring California wine back to relevance”? Please. How do you define “relevance” and to what tiny demographic has it ever been NOT relevant?

  17. Steve, you make a great point about the logistics of sourcing, visiting, testing and transporting fruit from locations up and down the northern regions of California and probably the biggest challenge of the ones you mention. However, diligent winemakers who put the miles on our vehicles, maintain the relationships with growers, and ensure what they receive at pick is of the utmost quality reap the rewards… as do the consumers who enjoy those wines.

    I don’t agree with this statement:

    “The wines may lose something of their terroir when made as a part of multiple batches by a vintner who cannot be intimately familiar with the vineyards, and whose winemaking technique may be the exact same with all the wines”

    Shame on the winemaker who does not become intimately familiar with the vineyards they are working with, and in my opinion winemaking technique terroir expression. With light-handed efforts in the winery comes the best chance at expression of terroir when I’ve made the right decision in source, farming and pick.

  18. Bill Haydon says:

    John, it (and by California wine, I mean small production $25+ a bottle wines) is all but dead in the major metropolitan markets of the NE (NYC, DC, Boston), Chicago and even to a degree in SF (where a person intimately involved in the national marketing of boutique Napa Valley wine admitted to me in a moment of candor that he couldn’t give high end Napa Cabernet away anymore). Just try taking a $500 case of Napa Cabernet around these markets and see the response compared to a $500 case of Barbaresco or Burgundy.

    And what domestic wine is trending upwards currently is Oregon, Washington and “regional.” I had an industry friend in town for a weekend, and we visited three Michelin one star restaurants–all of whom have domestic wine sections on their lists. Of their wines by the glass (and all pour high end glasses in the 20-30 dollar range), we counted 54 total pours of which 39 were European, 9 were Southern Hemisphere and only 6 were Domestic–the majority Oregon or regional. That’s reality, and that’s irrelevance.

    Here’s a pic indicative of the current state of Napa cult wine. Forget the “on-premise only” myth. This wasn’t even taken at a boutique fine wine merchant in Williamsburg or Lincoln Park. This was taken at a large liquor store twenty miles outside the city limits. And don’t think for a moment that the distributor isn’t unloading most of this in corporate steakhouses, country clubs and suburban liquor barns. This is reality, and this is irrelevance.

    http://i14.photobucket.com/albums/a323/JT_Production/IMG_20140218_134011_zpsim445xnn.jpg

    And what’s happened in the trend setting markets over the last several years is now filtering out to secondary markets such as Ohio and Colorado. I was in the warehouse of an excellently run small distributor in Ohio recently, and I couldn’t help but notice that his inventory skewed about 3:1 imports over domestics. That would not have been the case a decade ago.

    I witnessed it from the inside when I consulted for a small group of boutique Napa Valley wines. They may lie to each other about how well things are going, but they couldn’t to me because I knew the dirty reality that doesn’t get brought up in the restaurants of Yountville, the reality of getting dumped by wholesalers and the reality of back vintages of 95 point Parker Cabs sitting unsold in American Canyon and the reality of desperately groveling around Shanghai in the hopes that the Chinese will get a taste for it.

    There’s a saying going around the industry: “Having a portfolio full of California Cult Wine is like having a closet full of leisure suits.” So I hope that guys like Gavin Chanin are the wave of the future for high end California wine. Otherwise, it risks being increasingly viewed as something precisely akin to a leisure suit–a passing wave of bad taste from an era of excess that’s looked back upon with a mixture of amusement and embarrassment.

  19. Thanks to all those who commented about negociants in Burgundy. Your insights and capacity for sharing never fail to amaze me.

  20. KC in Texas says:

    I seem to have read many of Bill H’s posts about how Napa can’t sell any wine and all his knowledge and inside info about how California wine is irrelevant. I don’t run in those culinary or wine industry circles, but the lawyers, bond traders and other execs I know seem to buy and drink a lot of very high end Cali wine. I guess since they aren’t in Boston or Chicago they are backwoods hicks and their dollars are only good for pigs and new overalls.

    I am not personally a Napa fan, but I do enjoy many Sonoma Coast wines along with Washington and Oregon, so I’m not trying to defend Napa quality. Just saying this layman doesn’t see the reality Bill keeps telling us is happening.

  21. Ned Clark says:

    I would have to agree with the previous commenters when they say a.) proof is in the bottle and b.) it can be done. To say a wine maker cannot learn the distinct nature of different appellations and how to coax the nuances of that appellation of vineyard would be to say that a wine expert such as a somm could also not learn to distinguish them.

    I believe a wine maker has a job that is a bit like an artist to interpret the terroir and in a region free of the DOC and DOCG rules and regulations that prevail in other parts of the world , a wine maker ultimately can make a wine that speaks to them. Gaja did that in Piedmont and look at him now.

  22. I agree with Steve in “buyer beware”. It’s often prudent to purchase vineyard designated Pinot’s that a winemaker has produced for several vintages and allow new vineyards sources some time to prove themselves. It takes a bit of trial and error to glean the most from a specific site. Knowledge of a vineyard and how it’s farmed is critical when producing wines from multiple sites. Most of the Pinot growers I’m met (myself included) take considerable pride in delivering only quality fruit. That said some opt for quantity over quality but the astute winemaker can usually see the warnings signs right at the site.

  23. Some random thoughts:

    1) I love Pinot Noir — in all its forms, from Burgundy to Oregon to California to New Zealand. The reason we make such a wide range (geographically and stylistically) is that we love the areas, the wines, and the expressions of the site in the wines. It is far easier to do if you love it.

    2) I love to visit the vineyards. I went to World of Pinot Noir and while I was there I checked all of our SRH vineyards. I was in Oregon two weeks before that, looking at pruning. During harvest, I leave at 330am every morning from Windsor, drive to the Santa Lucia Highlands, sample and taste juice with Gary Franscioni and Mark Pisoni. I then drive to the Sta. Rita Hills, spend the night, and sample the next morning there….then drive home. Oftentimes I toss an Oregon trip on there as well as I am driving past SFO/Oakland. I do that most every weekend as harvest approaches and during harvest. it is tiring, but completely doable.

    3) Arranging for trucking is hard the first few times, but once you have it down it really isn’t that bad.

    4) IMO, the hardest part isn’t making that many Pinots….it is selling that many Pinots.

    Adam Lee
    Siduri Wines

  24. Bill,

    Do you have any numbers to back up your statements? You mention that CA wine is all but dead in major metropolitan markets of NE plus Chicago, etc. do you have any statistics that show this? I have not seen any nor can I find any….would love for you to share those.

    Adam Lee
    Siduri Wines

  25. Jonathan O'Bergin says:

    Steve,

    After the well reasoned and informed comments that have preceded me in this thread I am hard pressed to find much to add. Nonetheless, I am compelled to question the authenticity of the question you posed. Possibly it is rhetorical or engineered to create a buzz of comment, but I find it very difficult to believe you could believe what you wrote. Are you kidding?

  26. A few points:

    1) No one starts off making 10+ Pinots. The normal pattern is to start with one or two vineyards and grow from there. Often because you can’t get an additional fruit from your original sources. So you get a chance to figure things out (like logistics) before you start making lots of wine.

    2) Adding extra vineyards is often like adding new sections from an existing vineyard. Most winemakers process fruit in blocks, that correspond to different clones, rootstock, or physical sections of the vineyard. Whether it’s 6 blocks from one vineyard, or 1 block each from 6 vineyards, it’s not that different in the winery. Sure, there can be physical distances that add to logistics – but that’s totally workable.

    3) Working with different sites often exposes you to issues such as mold sooner and potentially more often. While no one likes dealing with probelms, learning how to deal with them early and before you make larger quantities of wine can help in the long run.

  27. Bill Haydon says:

    Well, Adam. Aside from the macro number that import market share has grown from 18% of the US wine market in 1999 to 35% last year, I would say the best numbers that I can throw at you are 100+ and 0.

    There are over 100 licensed wholesalers in the Chicago market currently, and you have zero representation (according to your website). That’s right; nobody is willing to pick up your wines. Why is that? Is it a “speeeeracy” to keep a brother down? No, those scores of wholesalers are simply reacting to the market and what their customers want, and given the demands of their market, they need more high alcohol “smell the VA” Cali juice like a frickin’ hole in the head. And yet that market is overflowing with wines from Patagonia to Puglia. I can’t remember the last time that I was in a wine store there where domestic wine was even close to half the inventory. I can’t remember the last time that I was in a restaurant there where domestic wine was even a quarter of the wine list. That’s why so called cult wines like Kongsgaard are being unloaded on deal at retailers outside the city limits.

    Of course, I’m sure you tell all your buddies that you “don’t want to be in the Chicago market” that you “have no wine for it.” I’m sure that it’s also much more important to be represented in the trend setting markets of Indiana and Iowa than Chicago. Yep. That’s it I’m sure.

    http://i14.photobucket.com/albums/a323/JT_Production/AdiosAmigo_Adios_Amigo_30483c14c27a3f68cc7b30273326d387_zpscdc57164.gif

  28. Rama Roberts says:

    I could see initially using grapes from new locations as being challenging. But the winemakers mentioned have long term relationships with growers they can trust, as well as the experience of multiple vintages from the same vineyard to understand the fruit and how best to handle it. So where’s the disadvantage?

  29. Bill,

    Wow, what is the issue with the animosity? I asked a question about numbers. The import market share is a good number– one that certainly needs to be studied. For example, you would want to take into account the growth of the overall wine market in the United States (versus the stagnation of wine consumption in Europe), the small growth of United States wine production (up 2%) and the inability of that growth to fulfill a demand that is growing faster than that. None of which tell you much about style.

    As far as Illinois goes, we have a distributor there….have for a long time (and sales were up 12.3% last year there). But we also have a new website and have seemingly left about half our distributors off the site (we are in 46 states, plus exports). Thank you for pointing that out. — Though you might denigrate those citizens, I do think it is very important for our wine to be in Indiana and Iowa. The United States, despite the growth of the wine market compared to Europe, remains 52nd per capita in wine consumption. I want more people to drink more good wine, whatever wine that is (mine or someone else’s). I think that benefits everyone.

    Regarding Kongsgaard being unloaded. Check out Wine Searcher. You can find Chanin on discount in Pennsylvania state stores. You can find Harlan on discount You can find Au Bon Climat on discount. You can find Siduri on discount. It is out there….without regard to style.

    Adam Lee
    Siduri Wines

  30. Here’s an interesting article from last year about wine imports into the US looking at where the business is going. I would be interested to see a break down of imports & market share by price point. I see a huge influx of imported wine at low ($12 & under) price points

    http://wineeconomist.com/2013/02/19/wine-2025/

  31. Bill sez: ” No, those scores of wholesalers are simply reacting to the market and what their customers want, and given the demands of their market, they need more high alcohol “smell the VA” Cali juice like a frickin’ hole in the head.”

    I’ve got no idea what the wholesalers in IL are like, but the distributors here in NM are pretty clueless as to what their market wants. The people who make those decisions on what wineries to bring in, by & large, have very little contact w/ the NM consumers. They make those decisions, sitting in their offices, based on what they read in the WA and the WS, primarily, as best I can tell and wouldn’t deign to talk to a consumer or a retail shop owner.
    Tom

  32. Bill Haydon says:

    Chris, there are two ways of measuring imports: by volume and by value. Generally, import market share by value is usually two to three points higher than its share by volume leading to the conclusion that the average price of imported wine in the US is slightly higher than the average price of domestic wine.

    Yes, there is a lot of cheap imported wine. There’s also an ocean of cheap domestic wine from Gallo to Two Buck Chuck to Barefoot. California’s true Achilles’ Heel is in the $12 to $18 range. One can find a multitude of interesting, estate bottled and artisanally produced wines from Europe in that range. In California, one is confined almost solely to plonk, mass market factory wine and “bulk projects” in the under $20 range. One of my clients in the annus horribilus sells a bulk project Napa Cabernet that retails for $25-$30. $25 for an assemblage of bulk wines oaked up with chips and staves! Is it any wonder that older and more sophisticated markets that were major markets for Bordeaux and Burgundy before the Paris tasting was a gleam in Steve Spurrier’s eye are reverting back to historical consumption patterns. As for Indiana and Iowa, I agree with Lee that their continued development is a great thing for the American wine scene. I would just caution him that what happens in New York and Chicago is bound to filter out to those markets as they continue to develop.

  33. Bill Haydon says:

    Tom, then those wholesalers are pretty horrible businessmen, and I would expect that sooner or later the market will deal with them harshly.

    One of the great frustrations of my consulting gig was this blind belief that, “it’s all the fault of the distributors.” That they are ignoring Napa wine not out of any rational business analysis and reaction to demand trends but out of stupidity if not outright “speeeracy.” Funny, how I never heard that back in Napa’s salad days a decade ago when the wines were on the right end of the demand curve.

    In my fifteen years of working with distributors on the supply side, I have never seen them drive the market. They react to it. They–and their sales forces–will almost always take the path of least resistance. And if that means investing more inventory dollars in high end California wine and putting it into their bags every week, that is what they will do. If, however, that wine suddenly becomes the uphill sell, they will very quickly reallocate those inventory dollars elsewhere while those salesmen’s bags will suddenly be full of Bierzo or Muscadet.

  34. Hi Steve,

    Great thought provoking question. I believe Adam Lee, Brian Loring, Chris Donatello and Chris Kajani all say it best, and have great points to your question which I share as well.

    In addition, to use an age-old cliché, I believe whole-heartedly that great wines are made in the vineyard. I believe that a great winemakers job is 75% complete once the fruit is harvested. It is then our job to ‘coax’ that great fruit into memorable wine – either with a heavy hand, or a light one – which is where the separation of style begins.

    So relationships, and ‘knowing’ your vineyards is the key point. Taking that great fruit and coaxing it into great wine, as Adam says, is what we all love to do – from as many great Pinot regions as possible. It is my favorite time of the year. I believe I can speak for these guys too, when I say that logistics, technological advances, ease of communication, etc. all play important roles now during the final days and hours of ‘calling a pick.’ It wasn’t so easy just 10, 20 years ago. And to Ed and Chris D.’s point of being light-handed, if you learn of the winemakers who are crafting honest and balanced wines, through a more non-interventionist approach, alas, there in lies the beauty of Pinot Noir. Terroir and a sense of place will shine through – in each and every vineyard.

    So yes, I believe the great vintners can produce exceptional ‘sense of place’ Pinots from multiple vineyard sources (Interestingly, I see this more among the smaller, higher end Pinot Noir producers). It is not only an intellectual question, but a philosophical one as well – which is where it then becomes challenging for the consumer.

    James MacPhail
    MacPhail Pinot Noir

  35. Steve: Interesting post and (mostly) interesting comments.

    As a buyer of California Pinot from multiple producers who produce single-vineyard wines from up and down the coast (including some who have commented above), I can attest that it is being done very successfully by multiple wineries. And these wineries are not making wines that all taste the same regardless of where the grapes came from. They are, in my opinion, succeeding capturing the regional and vineyard characteristics as Pinot is so great for doing. I bet technical progress is a huge assistance as you note. Also, although Burgundy is much smaller than the California coast, as you have pointed out in the past, the state’s unique geography simply creates an extraordinarily large area that is well suited for growing Pinot Noir. While I’m sure there are regional differences that challenge winemakers, there probably also are similarities that make possible in California what would be almost unimagineable across such a large area elsewhere. France simply doesn’t have a 500 mile stretch that is conducive to Pinot.

    Where I thought this post might be going on when I first started reading was the question of how wineries who do this think it works from a marketing standpoint. I buy from several wineries that do this but confess that it is sometimes very intimidating and confusing. If I have a limited budget, which wines do I buy? What if I buy only one of several single vineyard wines and later regret that I didn’t buy more of the one I learned a couple of years later I liked best when I finally popped the cork? Lately this is caused me to focus more on wineries with a simpler portfolio of wines I know I like year after year. Or, with the multi-wine wineries, to focus on buying just certain of their wines, likely wines from vineyards in the region of the winery. Do others have this issue? Do wineries struggle to sell certain labels that seem disconnected from the winery itself like a Central Coast wine from an RRV winery or an RRV wine from a SRH winery?

  36. Bill — “I’m sure that it’s also much more important to be represented in the trend setting markets of Indiana and Iowa than Chicago. Yep. That’s it I’m sure.” and “As for Indiana and Iowa, I agree with Lee that their continued development is a great thing for the American wine scene. I would just caution him that what happens in New York and Chicago is bound to filter out to those markets as they continue to develop.”

    And I would caution you that those wine lovers in Indiana and Iowa prefer that someone such as yourself not demean them one second, and then try to curry their favor by backing off your comments the next. They, like most people, value authenticity and honesty. If I ever get to far ahead in my skis (so to speak) I try re-reading James Agee’s seminal work, “Let Us Now Praise Famous Men”, which celebrates the spirit of those that don’t live in the major metropolitan areas and survived the depression. It is grounding. I’d be happy to get you a copy if you need one.

    Adam Lee
    Siduri Wines

  37. Bill Haydon thrives off of his manufactured schadenfreude. It is his food. If he can’t deride his target of choice, he shrinks into he cave and attempts his next fantasy world

  38. Bill Haydon says:

    DR, the only fantasy world that I know of is Napa Valley. Where all of the naked Emperors admire each others clothes, and nobody dare speak truth to power. Where everyone is selling out, and their distribution footprint only shrinks because they can’t keep up with DTC sales.

    And yes, after having dealt with a bunch of the most pretentious and delusional people in my professional career, there is a great deal of schadenfreude in observing and commenting on that pretentious little hell hole’s struggles. Popping holes in the bubble of Napatude makes my morning coffee taste that much sweeter. I make no bones about it; I’m enjoyin’ the ride.

    I’m certainly cynical, maybe even bitter, but that, in and of itself, doesn’t make my market observations wrong. Leisure suits, Dude.

  39. CL Sales says:

    What DR said…

  40. Bill must be a blast at parties.

  41. Bob Henry says:

    Steve, et. al.:

    Spent the day at the Family Winemakers of California trsde/consumer tasting in Pasadena.

    In my humble opinion, the Siduri Pinots were the most pleasurable on exhibit.

    And Malia van der Kamp (of the eponymous vineyard) was a gracious “good will ambassador” for the wines.

    ~~ Bob

  42. Bob Henry says:

    Steve,

    “Here’s what I wonder about. It’s kind of an intellectual question, but I think it bears on wine quality. Is it possible for a vintner to produce great Pinot Noir from multiple, scattered vineyards?”

    The question is self-answered by your experience (and the experiences of others).

    If I recrafted the question to read, “Is it possible for a vintner to produce great CABERNET SAUVIGNON/CAB-BLENDS from multiple, scattered vineyards?”

  43. Bob Henry says:

    Sorry — due to a computer glitch, my comment posted before I was done typing it out.

    Once again . . . with clarity.

    If I recrafted the question to read, “Is it possible for a vintner to produce great RED BORDEAUX STYLE BLENDS from multiple, scattered vineyards?”

    Two answers come to mind: “flying winemakers” Michel Rolland and Paul Hobbs.

    As for this Wine Searcher website article . . .

    http://www.wine-searcher.com/m/2014/02/how-long-before-napa-cabs-top-1000-a-bottle

    . . . note this excerpt:

    “The headline-getting $4333 a bottle paid for 60 bottles of 2012 Scarecrow Toto’s Opium Dream: Scene III Cabernet Sauvignon makes it probably the most expensive current-release wine ever sold in the U.S. And while Glen Knight, domestic wine buyer for The Wine House in Los Angeles, acknowledge that some of it might end up in his father’s cellar, he also said: ‘I’ll sell it to my customers.’”

    60 bottles is the tail wagging the dog. Purchased by a wine retailer on speculation — not the “proof of concept” affirmed by actual winery mailing list sales, or pre-orders taken by the wine store.

    Think the other hundreds or thousands of bottles of Scarecrow made in 2012 will also command anywhere close to that nose bleed price?

    To the producers crowing about these kinds of locker room braggadocio bids, I say: “Hey buddy, good luck with that!”

    The bigger fool theory in play . . .

  44. Bob Henry says:

    In closing . . .

    It’s one thing to “ask” for $100+ retail per bottle.

    It’s another thing to get it.

    Excerpt from the Los Angeles Times “Food” Section
    (February 4, 2010):

    “Dark days for Cult Cabs;
    Makers of high-end Napa Valley Cabernets are feeling the pain
    of the economy as demand for their wine plummets.”

    Link: http://articles.latimes.com/2010/feb/04/food/la-fo-cultcab4-2010feb04

    By Patrick Comiskey
    Special to The Times

    Is the Cult Cab dead?

    The current economy has created ominous rumblings in the market for Napa Valley wine. Demand for high-end super-premium Cabs, even so-called cult wines, has weakened considerably with the recession. Sales are stagnant, inventories are high, and direct-mail customers — a vital piece of the high-end model — are abandoning once-coveted positions on mailing lists, while those who have waited years for the opportunity to buy in are overwhelmed with offers.

    . . .

    Excerpts from the Los Angeles Times “Food” Section
    (April 14, 2011, Page E1ff):

    “$15 Wine the New Normal”

    Link: http://articles.latimes.com/2011/apr/14/food/la-fo-economical-wines-20110414

    By Patrick Comiskey
    Times Staff Writer

    There are signs the American economy is improving, at least as far as wine shops are concerned. But if you think that means a return to the glory days of $150 cult Cabernets . . . well, not so fast.

    Instead, most wine store owners . . . are describing a new normal, one in which the high-margin sales of wines in the $50 to $150 range are difficult — indeed, some would say they’re almost a thing of the past.

    . . .

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