You know what an intervention is, right? “An orchestrated attempt by one or many people – usually family and friends – to get someone to seek professional help with an addiction,” says Wikipedia. There’s even a T.V. show on interventions, called Intervention.
The concept started back in the hippie days, when parents would hire somebody to abduct a son or daughter who had dropped out of society to join a cult. Nowadays, it’s more about rescuing people who have a serious addiction to drugs, alcohol or both.
What does “addiction” mean? We throw that word around as though its meaning were transparent. My Webster’s dictionary defines “addiction” as “the condition of being addicted” [presumably, to something], so we have to look up the root word “addict.” There we find the word “addict” to be derived from the Latin; an addict is someone who “gives himself up to some strong habit” and, more specifically in the modern sense, “a person addicted to the use of a narcotic drug.”
Now we’re getting someplace. What is a “narcotic” drug? From a Middle English root-word that means stupor, from which the word “stupid” also derives– and we all know what that means! “Stupid is as stupid does,” in the immortal words of Forrest Gump’s mom. So we can connect the dots: addicted people do stupid things due to their addiction.
See what fun etymology can be?
What got me thinking about addiction and stupidity? I got my latest copy of “Bounty Hunter.” That’s the marketing publication of Bounty Hunter Rare Wines & Provisions, in downtown Napa. Now, Bounty Hunter carries a lot of rare and expensive Napa Valley wines. Its founder and CEO, Mark Steven Pope, explains on the inside of the cover how he and his store’s employees go the extra mile to make sure their customers get only the best wines. “We taste between five and six thousand wines every year,” he writes. “Our Wine Scouts, AKA your Personal Sommeliers and Wine Country Advisors,” is how he describes the staff, implying that you can trust their palates. Which is as it should be in a great wine store.
So I’m browsing through the issue and by page 4 I’d had enough Robert Parker, Wine Advocate and Wine Spectator mentions to make me hurl. On page 2 alone, of 12 wines listed, 7 cited their names. Perhaps, in the booklet’s 41 pages, one or another critic or publication was mentioned, but if so, after scrutiny, I missed it. So here’s my question: If your staff are so smart, dear Mr. Mark Steven Pope, then why do you have to lard your reviews with Parker and Spectator? Isn’t that an insult to “your Personal Sommeliers”? I don’t know a single sommelier with any self-respect who would cite Parker, Spectator, me or anyone else, other than herself. It’s total rubbish.
Mr. Pope’s addiction to Parker and Spectator is merely the symptom, however, of something larger and more insidious in Napa Valley. He’s hardly alone in his craving for a Parker-Spectator fix. The line of addicts is long, populated by people who really ought to know better. But then, they’re addicts — in a stupor — literally unable to see things clearly.
I feel sorry for these people, I really do, just as I feel pity for the poor schlubs on the Intervention TV program. You look at them and think, “It’s so easy, just stop with the pills and the booze and the needles, and get a life.” But, of course, from the point of view of the addict, it’s not easy. That’s why they’re addicts. They’re not able to stop themselves from stupid behavior even though they may realize, in some dim little corner of their minds, that it is stupid and self-defeating, and that they publicly embarrass themselves with their sorry dependency. Unfortunately, for these particular addicts, there is no intervention I can think of–unless it’s reading this blog and coming to their senses.
Brian cut to the heart of the issue with this statement: “A long-standing stalwart for Napa wineries have [sic] been baby boomers, and now we’re trying to jump on the Millennial bandwagon. It’s not easy.”
He can say that again. To be frank, there are many top Napa wineries (and a few elsewhere) who have done a lousy job marketing themselves to the future, which starts now. For most of them, the story is the same: they made it bigtime in the 70s, 80s or 90s, found themselves on allocation and in high demand, and thought that things would always be that way.
How wrong they were. Things are never “always that way.” Nothing stays the same; all, as Heraclitus observed, is flux, especially in a fashion market like the wine industry where, to quote Heidi Klum, “One day you’re in, and the next day you’re out.” And given the Great Recession, it couldn’t be more wrong-headed to assume that these expensive wines would just “sell themselves” the way they always did.
Whether this is an example of poor marketing, hubris or both, it’s hard to tell. Probably both. Pahlmeyer hit it big after their 1991 Chardonnay played a starring role in Disclosure, the 1994 blockbuster movie with Michael Douglas and Demi Moore. I’m not saying Pahlmeyer wasn’t making wines worthy of their fame; they were. But so were a lot of other people, at that time and now. That doesn’t mean they’ll still be around in 20 years.
I think these wineries made and still are making the fundamental mistake of looking at Bordeaux and figuring that, Hey, Chateau “X” has been around for 250 years and they’re doing just fine, so why can’t we do the same? The reason why not is simple: When Chateau “X” got famous and captured its audience (probably in Britain, the Low Countries and Scandinavia, as well as in France), there was no competition. Nobody else was making the kinds of wines Bordeaux was, and that’s what everyone was drinking.
Well, lots of countries are making Cabernet Sauvignon now, as well as a hundred other varieties. Hilliard hit the nail on the head when he said, “Millennials are the future for us, and we need to figure opportunities to penetrate that.” The question is, How? Hilliard played his cards close to his vest. “There are a number ways addressing Millennials [but] we can’t divulge information this point.” I can’t imagine why not. There are no proprietary secrets on getting through to Millennials or anyone else. Everybody knows, in principle, what to do. Hilliard mentioned “the blogosphere” as one path–not exactly breaking news–without elaborating. Jayson mentioned his daughter who is now communications director; she is “moving up through ranks and appeals to the newer generation.” Fine, but exactly how does that ensure that Millennials will buy Pahlmeyer wine?
Not to pick on Pahlmeyer; at least, Jayson and Hilliard are asking the right questions. Unfortunately, I don’t see a lot of “cult” Napa wineries even asking the right questions! They believe they’re on generational missions, but they just might find that this current Millennial generation (not to mention the one that comes after it) doesn’t give a hoot about their wines.
Dinner last Saturday with Maxine and Keith featured barbecued pork ribs for the main course. Spicy, sweet, fatty, smoky, meaty and succulent. What to drink them with?
Maxine thought a white, but I vetoed that. I’m sure there’s a white wine somewhere in the world to pair with pork ribs (maybe an oaky Grenache Blanc or even Sauternes?), but all we had at the time was Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and sparkling wine, and I didn’t think any of those would work. I had earlier tasted some miscellaneous reds, so we had a pretty good selection to try out: a delicious Merriam 2008 Windacre Merlot, a fine Courtney Benham 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon from Stags Leap, Krutz 2009 Krupp Vineyard Malbec, a spicy Kenwood 2010 Jack London Zinfandel, Krutz 2009 Stagecoach Vineyard Syrah, and another Merriam Windacre, this time the 2008 Cabernet Franc.
Which wine do you think paired best?
First, I should explain that the side dishes were Israeli cous cous with black beans, grilled zucchini squash and Brentwood butter and sugar corn grilled in the husk, so sweet it needed neither seasoning nor butter. But grillmeister Keith’s ribs dominated the room like Bill Clinton working a crowd.
I thought, intellectually, that the contenders were the Merriam Cab Franc and the Krutz Syrah. The Cab Franc struck me for its spiciness, and the way the fusion of cherries and oak had a jammy, brown sugary sweetness that would echo the sweet flavors of the ribs. As for the Syrah, well, it was so outstanding on its own, full-bodied and layered, and so smoky-sweet that it seemed like a no-brainer. When the actual taste test went down, the Merriam Cab Franc was okay, but the Krutz Syrah beat it by a mile. A brilliant pairing, really, in which the wine brought out the intensity of the ribs, and the ribs brought out the sweet depth of the wine, which had the volume to stand up to–but not be dominated by–the ribs’ fatty richness.
This Stagecoach Vineyard has entered my consciousness over the last several years as one of the most noteworthy in Napa Valley, which is to say in all of California. I’d long known the name from the many wineries that vineyard-designate it, but only visited the vineyard for the first time two years ago, when Dr. Jan Krupp, of the owning Krupp family, toured me for an article I was researching on the Atlas Peak appellation. I learned that the vineyard necessarily qualifies only for a Napa Valley AVA because just 30% of it is within the Atlas Peak boundary. The rest of it spills over a kind of canyon that leads to Pritchard Hill, on which another 30% lies. At that time, I had only an imprecise vision of Pritchard Hill (the October 2012 issue of Wine Enthusiast will have my big story on it) and the quality of its wines, but with my focus on it since last Spring, I’ve now realized what great real estate Pritchard Hill is, especially for Bordeaux varieties and Syrah.
There are differences between Atlas Peak, Pritchard Hill and the land inbetween, but the fundamentals still apply: mountain intensity, purity of focus, intense minerality from the rocks. Here’s something I hadn’t known: Dr. Krupp told me it in 2010, so I don’t know if it’s still true today, but “Atlas Peak has more vineyard acreage than all other Napa Valley mountain AVAs combined.”
The fact that Stagecoach qualifies “only” for the basic Napa Valley AVA is another proof that what counts in California is not the legal appellation on the label, but the vineyard name and, behind that, the quality of the viticulture and enology practiced by the producer. Years ago, I wrote an article on California’s greatest vineyards. Stagecoach wasn’t in it. Were I to write that article today, it certainly would be (and some of the vineyards I included would come off!). Cabernet is Stagecoach’s forté, as evidenced by wineries inlcluding Paul Hobbs, Krutz, Conn Creek, Sequoia Grove, Charles Creek, Krupp, Palmeri and Miner, but as we have seen Syrah can be spectacular. If all Syrah were that good, Syrah would have an honored place in the pantheon of California varietal wines, a place it does not current enjoy.
Wine Enthusiast this morning announced the nominees for the 2012 Wine Star Awards. Here in the Golden State, California, they include Francis Ford Coppola, David B. Kent of The Wine Group and Joseph E. Gallo, of E&J Gallo, for Person of the Year [that’s 3 separate nominations], Philippe Melka as winemaker of the year, Raymond Vineyards, Yao Family Wines and Rodney Strong Vineyards as American Winery of the Year [in 3 nominations], Kermit Lynch as Importer of the Year, K&L Wine Merchants as Retailer of the Year, Dennis Kelly of The French Laundry and Shelley Lindgren of A16 (San Francisco) for Sommelier of the Year, Leslie Rudd, Cameron Hughes and Michael Mondavi, in 3 nominations, for Innovator of the Year, and Napa Valley as Wine Region of the Year.
That’s quite an impressive list. Winners will be announced later this year, so stay tuned.
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Muchos gracias to Ovid Winery and particularly to GM Janet Pagano and winemaker Austin Peterson for the lovely tour, tasting and luncheon yesterday. It was fun to run into Jeff Nead, of the great San Francisco-based P.R. firm, Glowdow Nead, with whom I laughed over memories of a very crazy visit to Telluride, years ago.
I wanted to visit Ovid because during my blind tasting of Pritchard Hill wines earlier this year theirs had done so well. Austin Peterson is a young, talented guy, part of a youthful contingent of Napa Valley winemakers that includes Cory Empting at Harlan Estate, Andy Erickson at Dalla Valle and Nick Gislason, at Screaming Eagle, who all look young enough to be freshmen in the Lit 101 class at City College. Or maybe it’s because everyone looks young nowadays, to me!
Here’s the lunch menu. Eat your heart out.
Grilled Flat Iron Steak with Plum Relish [hand made by Janet]
Romano Beans with Mint
Fresh Creamed Sweet Corn [Janet’s special ingredient is lime juice and lime zest.]
Heirloom Tomatoes with Ricotta Salsa [dressed with Ovid’s olive oil]
Gravenstein Apple Crisp [from Ovid’s orchard] with homemade Vanilla Bean Ice Cream
Ovid is making hella good wines. The main red, a Bordeaux blend of 4 varieties, is simply outstanding, at the top of the Napa heap. Austin also makes a second wine, Experiment, that can vary in blend in any given year. The 2009 is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. It was, in a word, stunning.
Have a great, safe weekend and I’ll be back here on Monday morning!
A reader griped the other day that I was writing too much about social media and not enough about wine. So here goes!
These are my 5 top-scoring wines from three popular varieties over the past several months. (All reviews and scores have been published, either in Wine Enthusiast’s print Buying Guide, online, or both. I’ve scored other wines higher, but they haven’t been published yet.) Within each variety, I consider the commonalities that made the wines so great, to me.
98 Goldschmidt 2006 PLUS Game Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon (Oakville); $150
97 Shafer 2007 Hillside Select Cabernet Sauvignon (Stags Leap); $225
97 Cardinale 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley); $250
97 Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars 2008 Cask 23 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley); $195
97 Yao Ming 2009 Family Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley); $625
2. from Napa Valley or its sub-appellations
3. relatively high in alcohol [minimum: 14.5%]
4. relatively low production
6. quality factors: richness, full-bodied, ripe, oaky, dense, appearance of sweetness, complexity
98 Merry Edwards 2009 Klopp Ranch Pinot Noir (Russian River Valley); $57
97 Donum Estate 2009 West Slope Estate Pinot Noir (Carneros); $100
96 Rochioli 2010 West Block Pinot Noir (Russian River Valley); $100
96 Marimar Estate 2008 La Masia Don Miguel Vinyard Pinot Noir (Russian River Valley); $39
96 De Loach 2009 Pennacchio Vineyard Pinot Noir (Russian River Valley); $45
1. All from Russian River Valley except Donum, which is on the Sonoma side of Carneros
2. alcohols within a narrow range [14.4-14.7]
3. production relatively low [maximum: Marimar Estate, 3,300 cases]
4. all show oak, but balanced
5. quality factors: juicy in acidity, medium-bodied [not too light or too heavy], rich in fruits [generally red stone and berry], dry, spicy, silky, elegant, approachable
99 Failla 2010 Estate Chardonnay (Sonoma Coast); $44
96 Lynmar 2010 Susanna’s Vineyard Chardonnay (Russian River Valley); $50
96 Roar 2010 Sierra Mar Vineyard (Snta Lucia Highlands); $45
94 Sandhi 2010 Rita’s Crown Chardonnay (Sta. Rita HIlls); $55
94 Matanzas Creek 2010 Journey Chardonnay (Sonoma County); $75
1. Geographically diverse, so no common origin
2. alcohol levels diverse, ranging from Sandhi (13.0%) to Matanzas Creek (14.6%)
3. all show well-integrated oak
4 quality factors: all made in the popular style: oaky, creamy, rich, flashy fruit, spicy, good balancing acidity
In Cabernet Sauvignon the address remains Napa Valley, most often the hills but not necessarily. And you get what you pay for. Also, great Cabernet can come from any vintage, regardless of its challenges.
In Pinot Noir, quality is considerably less tied to price: put another way, there are more bargains and also more overpriced ripoffs. Nor is geography as simple as with Cabernet: any of the coastal appellations can shine.
In Chardonnay, the same is true: great Chardonnay comes from the same areas as great Pinot Noir, with the single exception of Napa Valley, where very little reliably good Pinot Noir is produced. But then, I can remember a time when Napa Valley did produce interesting Pinot Noirs. The vines have all since been ripped out or budded over, victims of a critical mindset that determined Napa Valley cannot produce good Pinot Noir.
I’m amazed by how many Cabernets that cost triple digits I’m seeing lately. Once upon a time, a $300 Cab would have been an older one, with a decade of bottle age to justify its price. Or it might have been a currant release listed on the pages of an expensive restaurant’s wine list, marked up four times its retail price.
But in the last year, I’ve reviewed 156 Cabs and Bordeaux blends that cost $100 or more. That’s more than twice the total number of classified growth Bordeaux (not all of which retail for more than $100 US). And, as you’d expect, nearly all of these costly Cabs come from Napa Valley.
How are we to account for this breathtaking inflation in the price of Cabernet? One possible reason is that proprietors, with their fingers endlessly probing the retail winds, sense a new inclination on the part of the wealthy to spend money. This could be a canary-in-the-coal mine sign of the end of the recession–at least, at the upper end of the income bracket.
However, another theory is far simpler: proprietors have no more clue where the economy’s headed than you or I do, but they do have enough hubris to charge these prices. There’s a herd mentality at the upper end of the boutique winery class that mirrors that of the lower and middle classes of wine. If Fred Franzia establishes a benchmark price for Cabernet (or Pinot Grigio, or whatever), the brands that compete with him are forced to match it, or concede defeat. This is what goes on everyday in the wholesale wars. If Clos du Bois sets a price on a mid-tier Chardonnay, everybody who competes with Clos du Bois has to decide whether or not to meet it or even better it by a buck.
You might think this take-no-prisoners battle doesn’t occur in the rarified, dignified ranks of high-end wineries, but it does. When Screaming Eagle raised their price to $750 a few years ago, all those wineries who feel they compete with Screaming Eagle had to raise their prices. If they didn’t, they believed (correctly or not) that the market would perceive them as inferior to Screaming Eagle–or not caring enough to compete hard with them. In professional sports, the worst reputation an athlete can get is as a guy who doesn’t fight. That’s why Kobe Bryant is such a superstar. No matter what’s happening on the court, the guy is battling it out.
I called this pricing behavior “hubris” just now, but that may be a little unfair. No one would accuse Kobe of having hubris. Pride, yes. Competitiveness, yes. An utter belief in his ability, yes–that’s confidence. And the belief that, as a leader, he’s got to set an example for his teammates, and for his fans. Looked at that way, the behavior of the high-end Caberent houses in raising prices may be more a function of their belief in themselves and in the quality of their wines, than of any egotistical attention getting.
And let there be no mistake, the great majority of these $100-plus wines are very great in quality. A few outliers scored in the mediocre range, but mostly, these are wines that deserve their scores. Of course, the anti-Napa crowd will carp and complain that they’re all the same, a bunch of overripe, overoaked, high alcohol wines that “pall” after the first sip. That’s the standard gripe: the first sip is delicious, but you can’t finish a second glass, because the wines “tire the palate.”
Which is nonsense, of course. Most people I know would happily drain entire cases of these wines, if they could, which they can’t, because they can’t afford them. Anyhow, I think the reason prices are arching upward is a combination of my two theories: proprietors do sense an easing of tight money among the one (or two, or three) percent, who never were as hurt by the recession as the rest of us. And they do believe in the quality of their product. (I should also mention that these high-end Cabs are extraordinarily expensive to produce, when you consider the vineyard work, the price of new French oak, employee costs and the prices they have to pay to the new class of traveling consultants. Every high-end Cabernet seems to require a retinue of associated famous-name consulting viticulturalists and winemakers.)
Where these prices go in the future, though, is anyone’s guess. A year from now, will there be more or fewer $100-plus Cabs than the 156 I’ve reviewed in the last 365 days? I’ll let you know.