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Wine Reviews: Lightpost


I’ve been asked to review several wines from Lightpost Winery, a new brand headquartered on the California Central Coast. The winemaker is Christian Roguenant, whom I knew and respected as the guiding light behind such brands as Baileyana and Tangent—Central Coast wineries that produced excellent cool-climate reds and whites.

Here are my reviews.

Lightpost 2018 Albarino (Edna Valley); $37. Just what you want in an Albariño: bone dry, crisp, and lightly fruity. This is the perfect palate cleanser: it scours everything in its path, like a waterfall of melted snow. Savory, subtle flavors: tropical fruits, Asian pear, white flowers, and a delicate, sea-shelly minerality. And no oak! It’s not needed. The Edna Valley, a cool, Pacific-influenced growing region in San Luis Obispo County, is perfect for these white wine varieties like Albarino. With modest alcohol and searing acidity (a good thing), it’s absolutely lovely, and so food-friendly. Drink now and over the next few years. Score: 92 points.

Lightpost 2018 Pinot Noir (San Luis Obispo County); $49. Here’s a delicious Pinot Noir for drinking now. It’s translucent, with a clear ruby color that you can actually read through, which suggests the lightness on the palate. The tannins are delicately silky, the acidity as fine as a coastal climate can give. But it’s the flavors that impress: the most succulent cherries and raspberries, along with a nice earthy, spicy, mushroomy quality, and a rich vein of smoky, vanilla-tinged oak. Some of the grapes come from the Laetitia Vineyard, in the Santa Maria Valley. The remainder are from Edna Valley. So gulpable, you might want to drain the whole bottle. Score: 91 points.

Lightpost 2018 Pinot Noir (Russian River Valley); $58. A blend of several vineyards in the cooler, western parts of the valley, the 2018 is made from classic Dijon clones: 667, 777 and 115. The wine shows the pure, clean fruitiness associated with these clones: raspberries, pomegranates, cherries and cola. The color is pale, suggesting a certain delicacy, and it does feel light and silky in the mouth. With official alcohol of 14.9%, there’s a trace of heat, but the right food will balance it. There’s also a lot of new oak, 50% new French, but it integrates nicely with the fruit. This is a vigorous, fresh, young wine. The acidity is perfect: stimulating and lively, while the silky tannins are what you expect from a Russian River Pinot. A lovely wine that drinks well now, but should gain a little more bottle complexity in three or four years. Score: 91 points.

Lightpost 2017 Chardonnay (Santa Cruz Mountains); $45. At the age of 2-1/2 years, this complex Chard is a little tired, but it’s fine to drink now. It’s smooth and mellow, with apricot, tropical fruit and citrus flavors. Burgundian technique adds complexities: one-quarter new French oak aging for nearly a year brings the usual butterscotch and smoke notes, complete malolactic fermentation gives a creamy texture, and there’s a lovely touch of yeasty lees. I doubt if this ’17 Chardonnay has a future, but it will provide pleasure over the next year or two. Score: 90 points.

Lightpost 2017 Classic Red Wine (Central Coast); $65. This dark, deeply flavored wine is a throwback to the lusty field blends of the past. With thick tannins and robust flavors, it’s a good complement to pasta with tomato sauce, barbecue, pizza. Savory black pepper spice is the dominant note. Below that, an array of stewed blackberries and plums, a pleasant floweriness, and the chewiness of beef jerky. The finish is thoroughly dry, and while the alcohol level is fairly high (15.65%), the wine is free of excessive heat. A Rhône-style blend based on Grenache, Syrah and Carignan, its grapes were grown throughout the Central Coast, from Contra Costa down to Paso Robles and the Edna Valley. Oak aging, in the form of 50% new wood for 29 months, provides balancing sweet vanilla and toast. This is a solid wine for drinking now, although the price seems high. Score: 88 points.

Lightpost 2018 Spanish Springs Chardonnay (San Luis Obispo County); $42. Oak, oak and more oak is the overwhelming impression here. Buried beneath all that toasted wood, butterscotch and vanilla is a perfectly decent wine: citrusy, tropically and crisp, with a fine streak of minerality and a nice touch of lees. But the oak is so dominant, it’s hard to hear the song the grapes want to sing. Score: 84 points

Here’s the marketing message that’s saving wine


My generation, the Baby Boomers, gets blamed for a lot of stuff, but one thing we got right was wine. We “made” the U.S. wine industry back in the 1970s and 1980s, when we were developing our esthetic and culinary tastes, and wine fit the bill quite nicely.

I speak of “esthetic” tastes, although I could have referred to “cultural” or “lifestyle” tastes. As a demographic—the largest in U.S. history–we Boomers understood by the late 1970s that we had changed the way America does things, and that anything we embraced en masse was likely to be a trend. Baby Boomers had been trendsetters since we were born, and embracing wine was simply another wave in the demographic tide we launched upon the country.

Wine suited our slightly outlaw sensibilities. It was alcohol, after all—a mind-altering drug, and Boomers knew a thing or two about mind-altering drugs. Alcohol, during the heyday of the Sixties, had a negative aura around it: Bowery bums, cheap bottles of Ripple, throwing up, that sort of impedimenta. No pot smoker or acid head with any self-respect would have been a drinker! But a new generation of vintner-entrepreneurs in California—not Baby Boomers, but older—was completely shifting wine’s rather tarnished image. Wine was no longer booze, but an upscale foodstuff, something you could talk about, study, appreciate intellectually as well as hedonistically, and it fitted in perfectly with our newfound appreciation of food. There was something authentic about wine—and Boomers prided ourselves especially for our authenticity.

It was always a question of whether we could bequeath that appreciation of wine on to the generations who came after us. The industry-wide conversation of the last twenty years, in fact, can in retrospect be viewed as trying to answer that question.

A new report by Silicon Valley Bank on the wine industry contains a mixed message. There’s good news: Yes, Baby Boomers continue to display “spending resilience,” which is a good thing for the industry, and “retiring baby boomers seem to have a long tail and fortunately aren’t quick to run to pasture,” which is also a good thing, especially if you’re a Boomer: it means we’re not all dying off!

But there’s also some bad news. Boomers’ “buying seems to be moderating, both on price and volume, as they age.” This makes sense to me: once we retire, most of us find ourselves on fixed incomes, meaning that we don’t drop $25 on a bottle as easily as we used to. (There’s also the reality that, for many of us, our doctors are telling us to moderate our alcohol consumption, if not eliminate it entirely.)

That means that the industry has “no choice except to market to them [i.e. a younger generation].” Unfortunately, “Millennials aren’t engaging with wine as hoped.” In fact, “millennials have made no move in taking share from boomers in several years.” This is really disappointing for producers. With crops continuing at record levels (meaning there’s plenty of wine in the supply chain), the industry is “at a position of oversupply…that extends through retail [outlets] and every growing region in California at every price point. For California,” the Bank’s forecasters warn, “this is the worst combination of market conditions for growers since at least 2001, and perhaps of all time.”

Scary words! But one of the benefits of advanced age is, perhaps, a more seasoned perspective on things, including disaster predictions. We’ve been here before! In the late 1980s and early 1990s, everyone was predicting the imminent demise of the California wine industry due to phylloxera. Didn’t happen. Similar dire prognostications were heard when lead wine capsules were implicated in human disease, when the dot-com collapse led to a recession, and certainly, when the Great Recession struck in 2008-2009. Then, too, the corporatization of wine signaled, to many analysts, the demise of the family winery. And even as recently as the 1990s, neo-prohibitionism still haunted the industry, as anti-alcohol forces, mainly in the Republican Party, threatened to bring back a [somewhat milder] form of Prohibition.

Happily, the wine industry survived all those threats. And here we are once again, facing another one: Baby Boomers eventually will die, Millennials will not take their place as wine drinkers in sufficient numbers to save the industry, and—the coup de grace?—these same Millennials are turning to craft beer and spirits, not wine, to satisfy their alcohol dreams.

What’s a vintner to do?

The Silicon Valley Bank forecast answers this question in an interesting way, by pointing out the truism that Baby Boomers consumed food “if it wasn’t bad for you,” while “the current generation wants to consume things that ‘are good for you.’” As a Boomer, I can confirm the accuracy of that statement concerning people born between 1946 and 1964. As for “the current generation,” I don’t know how much “what’s good for you” drives their food-and-beverage consumption. But when I see the droves of people in their 20s and 30s in the many wine bars in my neighborhood (many of which tout themselves as “natural”), I am struck by the fact that they’re leaner and apparently healthier than many of their generational counterparts, who so often are sadly obese. This suggests to me that younger wine drinkers are concerned about their physical health. They perceive wine, perhaps a bit inchoately, as somehow “healthier” than beer or spirits (or teetotalism). I’ve been critical of the hyperbole that attaches to the promotion of “natural” wine (which there’s no actual definition of), but I will give the naturalistas credit for this: they came up with a damned good marketing message that may, in fact, get wine through this current uncomfortable phase!

Will there be witnesses? We don’t know


As I write this (Wednesday morning), we still don’t know if McConnell’s Repuglicans will let Bolton testify. The situation is vague. All we know for sure are (1) Trump doesn’t want any witnesses or documents, because any that come forward will hurt his case by exposing his lies, and (2) McConnell, his lackey, is doing everything he can to prevent a fair trial in the Senate.

Prediction: If the Repuglicans don’t allow witnesses and documents, there’s going to be an explosion of anger and disgust in this country, such as hasn’t been seen in a very long time. If these Repuglicans defy the will of three-quarters of all Americans, who are demanding witnesses, they will pay a severe price, beginning, but not ending, with losing the Senate.

One would hope that wavering Repuglicans know this. Senators like Susan Collins are getting besieged by emails and phone calls from their constituents telling them to heed the will of the voters! I certainly don’t feel sorry for Collins, Gardener, Murkowski or any of the other Repuglican Senators. They made a horrendous deal with the devil three years ago to stand by the perv in the White House, and now, I guess they figure, it’s “In for a dime, in for a dollar.”

Look: I don’t think that Bolton’s testimony will budge most of these Senate Repuglicans anyway. They’re beyond redemption, our American Nazis: “I was just obeying orders.” But I do believe that a Bolton testimony—at least, as we’re led to believe it would be—will change some minds, or at least embarrass some of these Trump enablers. Do they really want their grandchildren to ask why they lied to protect a lying, dangerous predator?

I’ve made something of a study about the children and grandchildren of the major Nazi war criminals. Their lives were effectively ruined by their association with their heinous parents. Sure, Hermann Goering, Rudolf Hess, Heinrich Himmler and their ilk enjoyed fabulous lifestyles during their lifetimes, due to their unflinching alliance with Hitler. But all of them died violently in service to that nightmare, and their progeny suffered immensely from the condemnation of a world that, perhaps unjustly but understandably, visited the sins of the father upon the children.

Do I wish suffering upon the children of Michael Pence, Michael Pompeo, Michael Mulvaney, Alan Dershowitz, Sean Hannity and all the others? Sometimes, the stakes are so high that you have to take sides. Someone has to answer for their ancestral sins. If these children publicly renounce their parents, I might wish them well. If they don’t…well, they deserve whatever comes their way, whether it’s career-wise, at their clubs, or from their friends and neighbors. We see, in the way Dershowitz has been shunned by his summer neighbors on Martha’s Vineyard, how these societal sanctions work.

Should there be a quid pro quo with respect to witnesses? John Bolton in exchange for Hunter Biden? Wouldn’t bother me, even though Hunter Biden (and Joe Biden) have absolutely nothing to do with Trump’s blackmail of Zelensky. It is a complicating factor, though, that Joe Biden has publicly stated he will not testify under any circumstance, and presumably, he speaks for his son as well. I’m not sure he can get away with it, if push comes to shove. The Repuglican talking point would overwhelm the politics: What are the Bidens afraid of? Why are they resisting the will of the American people, who want witnesses? Repuglicans could turn the whole John Bolton thing on its head—and Democrats would be hard-pressed to come up with a working reply. My own feeling, based on what we know, is that, with respect to the Bidens, “there’s no there there,” and so nothing to fear. Maybe Hunter finagled himself a cushy little sinecure with his father’s help. So what? At the very worst, it would tarnish Hunter Biden a little bit—but this fight isn’t about Hunter Biden, it’s about the worst president in American history. If we have to throw Hunter Biden under the bus to get rid of Trump, so be it.



President’s Daily Schedule

9:45 a.m. – meet with Director Secret Service

The President: Um, Phil, I need you to do me a favor, though.

Director SS: What’s that, Mister President?

The President: Well, this guy, John Bolton—a real bad one, trouble, if you know what I mean—I need for you to arrange for him to have an “accident.”

Director SS: Not sure what you’re driving at, Sir.

The President: You know, an accident: car crash, fall out of a window, something like that. I’m sure you’ve arranged for such things before.

Director SS: Mister President, the Secret Service isn’t in the assassination business.

* * *

10:15 a.m. – meet with Director, Central Intelligence Agency

The President: Um, Louis, we kill people, don’t we?

Director CIA: When we have to, yes, Mister President.

The President: I mean, like we killed Soleimani, right?

Director CIA: Indeed we did, Sir. On your orders.

The President: Right. Well, I’m ordering you to kill someone else.

Director CIA: Certainly, Mister President. Might I ask whom?

The President: This John Bolton. He’s trouble. Bigtime trouble. A threat to national security.

Director CIA: Actually, sir, that’s factually incorrect. He’s been a loyal American all of his life.

The President: Look, Louis, I know things about him you don’t.

Director CIA: I doubt that, Mister President.

The President: Anyhow, I need for you to kill him.

Director CIA: Sir, the CIA isn’t in the business of assassinating your political enemies. I respectfully decline, sir.

* * *

10:45 a.m. – Meet with top advisor, Jared Kushner

The President: Well, Jar, how’s it hanging?

JK: Good, sir. How are you?

The President: Look, lemme ask you something. You must have run into some mafia types when you were a developer in New York, right?

JK: Well, sir, there were people who were rumored to be associated with the mob. But I never really knew.

The President: Well, do you think you could find me a hit man?

JK: A hit man, sir?

The President: Yeah. There’s a little business I need taken care of.

JK: And that is–?

The President: Bolton. He’s out of control. Bad news. I can’t get any of my official government people to take care of him, so I want you to find me a mafia assassin. You know, a couple bullets right between his eyes—ka-pow! That would solve the problem.

JK: I dunno, sir. I’d have to talk that over with Ivanka.

The President: No, you don’t. Let’s leave her out of it, okay? Need to know! So, can you dig up, you know, someone who “paints houses”?

JK: Um, can we put that on hold for a while, sir? I have to bring peace to the Middle East first.

* * *

11:15 a.m. – meet with Vice President Mike Pence

The President: Mikey, Mikey, how’s my favorite evangelical today?

The Vice President: Very well, sir, glory be to God.

The President: Ah yes, God. My favorite deity. Say, Mike, you must know a lot of true believers.

The Vice President: Yes, sir, if by “true believers” you mean men and women who would do anything for Christ.

The President: Well, that’s what I’m driving at. I need someone who will do “anything.”

The Vice President: “He who would follow Me must be prepared to give up his own life, to become Mine.” That’s John, chapter 24, verse 12, sir—as you know.

The President: What I’m thinking is someone a little unstable. Someone who knows how to handle a gun.

The Vice President: I know many fine men who have been born again and who belong to the NRA, sir.

The President: That’s great, Mike. Can you set me up with a meeting?

The Vice President: Well, I’d need a little more information. What sort of task did you have in mind?

The President: To be frank, I want someone who will kill John Bolton.

The Vice President: Really, sir? Your former National Security Advisor?

The President: Yup.

The Vice President: Hmmm. I’m sure it could be arranged. But would it be right?

The President: Yes, it would be right, because I say so. And I’m entitled to do anything I want.

The Vice President: Yes you are, sir. All right, I’ll put in a call to Rev. Graham and see what we can do. Thank you sir.

The President: Thank you, Mike. And God bless!

The Vice President: And God bless you, sir. [extends hand for handshake, leaves]

The President [to his secretary]: Mary, bring in a bottle of hand sanitizer, will you? Oh, and tell Melania I’ll be coming back for lunch. A bucket of McDonald’s, 2 Carl’s Junior Cheeseburgers, and a Giant Gulp.

Monday Melange: Republicans’ fake defense, homophobia and climate denial


Here’s what’s bogus about Republican claims that Impeachment is an attempt to “overturn” the 2016 election.

It’s built into the Constitution, stupid! Impeachment is an entirely Constitutional device; it was planned and provided for by the Framers. Far from being an attempt to overthrow an election, the Framers devised Impeachment as a means of preserving the integrity of our elections.

Article 1, Section 2, Clause 5 gives “The House of Representatives…the sole power of Impeachment.”

Article 2, Section 4 guarantees that “The President, Vice President and all Civil Officers of the United States” shall be liable to Impeachment.

So there it is: Impeachment is lawful, indeed is required in certain cases; and the president himself is explicitly named as being impeachable. So how can Impeachment be, as Trump’s crooked lawyer, Cipollone says, a “massive interference in an election”?

It isn’t, of course; but Cipollone, a Bill Barr protégé and, like Barr, an extremist Catholic, isn’t interested in the law or the facts. No, he’s interested in playing to Trump’s base, which is infamously ignorant of law or facts.

That’s the key to Trump’s success with his base: their ignorance. Many, perhaps most of them get their “knowledge” of the world from the Bible. To the extent they listen to media, it’s the propaganda of Hannity, Limbaugh and Tucker Carlson—all avowed Christians, all white males, all haters, all deranged. They’re driven by one overwhelming desire: to end abortion. And for that, Trump is their guy: they don’t care how amoral or indecent he is, or how much he lies and endangers national security. All they care about is getting anti-abortion judges appointed.

Last Saturday, you might recall, was Walk for Life Day—the nation’s leading anti-abortion demonstration. In San Francisco, thousands of people participated. One of the speakers, a Catholic priest, put the Republican case succinctly: “We could have in a very short time a Supreme Court with a 7-2 pro-life majority,” he told the cheering crowd. (Of course, these God-fearing Republicans who claim to be pro-life are on their knees every day, praying for Ruth Bader Ginsburg to die. But nobody expects intellectual or spiritual consistency from Republicans.)

We Americans could have a civil conversation about abortion, if the other side was serious. I’m not 100% comfortable with abortion. I don’t know any pro-choice person who is. I wouldn’t mind making abortion, as President Clinton put it, increasingly “safe, legal and rare.” But I don’t want to see it outlawed, because I’m old enough to remember the time before Roe v. Wade when young women stuck knitting needles or twisted coat hangers inside themselves to abort a fetus, or, if they had the money, went to Mexico, Haiti or someplace else for an abortion. Lots of those young women never came home; many more killed or maimed themselves when they tried to do it alone. The answer to this dilemma is, of course, for young women not to get pregnant if they don’t want to have a baby. But young women will have sex and young women will get pregnant.  Republicans aren’t just anti-abortion; they’re also against sex education and against providing contraceptives to women. This, too, is mainly due to their fixation, as Christians, with certain phrases in the Bible—phrases that are as outdated as the Biblical admonition to sacrifice a lamb every Saturday. And, of course, every time an anti-abortion “Christian”’s daughter gets knocked up, you know what happens: They get her a secret abortion.

There’s another reason I reflexively recoil from anti-abortion types: abortion isn’t their only issue. It’s almost always conjoined with other social sicknesses, like homophobia. The anti-gay rage of many so-called “Christians” is horrible to behold, and results in the deaths of many LGBTQ people every year. I just watched the incredible Netflix documentary on Aaron Hernandez, “Killer Inside.” That poor guy: yes, he was a brutal murderer, but you couldn’t help but feel sorry for him. As a closeted gay man working in the machismo straight culture of the National Football League, he suffered from brutal stress. If he came out, he was anathema to his fellow players. If he stayed closeted, the pressure built up inside him until it became so intolerable, he felt he had no alternative but to hang himself.

Yes, those same NFL guys who take a knee to thank Jesus when they score a touchdown are the ones who would have tortured Aaron Hernandez had they know his awful secret. There’s nothing “Christian” about that.

Nor is homophobia the only other social sickness that anti-abortion Republicans suffer from. Another is their anti-science attitude. They don’t like science, you see, because science explodes their religious myths (virgin birth, intelligent design, creationism, resurrection after death). Nobody likes having their foundational myths destroyed. So these “Christians” deny the reality of science, in order to preserve their superstitions. Paging Torquemada! The fact that religion and science don’t have to always be in competition escapes them; in their binary world, you’re either a believer, with all that implies, or you’re a heretic.

So it’s hard to even have a conversation with these anti-abortion types. They’re completely irrational; unwilling to compromise on anything, they want America run their way: the evangelical way, in which homosexuals are punished, young women die in back alleys, and climate change is allowed to grow unimpeded. Oh, and they also don’t give a damn about the Constitution. After all, it’s not in the Bible, so why should they?

Here’s why Republicans stand by Trump even though they know he’s dangerous and repugnant


Because he’s giving them every wet dream they’ve had for decades.

Make no mistake: Trump is in the process of making this country more conservative and reactionary than it’s ever been. He is scheming to:

  • ban all forms of abortion
  • reverse gay rights, including the rights to serve in the military and to get married
  • end legal immigration of dark-skinned people
  • eliminate, as much as possible, all corporate taxes
  • allow companies to maximize their use of fossil fuels
  • rescue the coal industry
  • crush the burgeoning alternative-energy industry
  • intimidate a free, inquiring media
  • muzzle government employees from whistle-blowing
  • delegitimize the Congress, which is a co-equal branch of government
  • pack the courts with reactionary judges
  • end workers’ unions
  • form alliances with dictatorships and end America’s partnerships with Western democracies
  • prevent the Palestinians from ever having their own nation
  • promote his family in order to increase their wealth and power
  • cause Americans to doubt the truth and reality of science
  • elevate rightwing evangelical Christianity to become the equivalent of a State religion
  • end public schools and replace them with private, for-profit schools
  • suppress millions of dark-skinned and poor people from voting in U.S. elections
  • destroy the Democratic Party and all other competing political parties
  • make his presidency a dictatorship and extend it beyond a second term—health permitting

This explains everything. There are no longer any mysteries. Trump, aided by Republicans (or maybe it’s the other way around), have decided to go for the gold: after years of beating around the bush, of talking about what they want but not getting it, of incremental approaches, they’ve made the ultimate decision: Grab all the chips.

Because this is the right moment. If they’d waited any longer, the mood of the country might have shifted leftward. Trump’s Teflon might have become scarred enough for even Republicans to sicken of him and his greedy family of grifters. The Courts might have blocked further progress toward the right. Growing evidence of global warming might have caused even Texans and South Carolinians to worry. More and more kids and young adults coming out of the closet might have prompted even evangelicals to love, rather than hate, these members of their own families.

Sometimes, when you’re playing for high stakes, you just have a feeling it’s time to put all your chips on the table. The risk is enormous—but so is the potential reward. With Trump in the White House starting in 2017, and both Houses of Congress under Republican control, Republican overlords realized this was it: no more dithering, no more playing games with Democrats, no more kicking the can down the road. The time had come: Crush everything in their path, using every extra-Constitutional means. The media be damned; the public be damned; elections be damned.

This is what revolutions look like, and that is what Trump is doing. The only difference between a revolution and a civil war is that in the latter case large segments of the population take up arms against each other. We have not reached that point…yet. Nor, in the Republican master plan, will we. Their strategy is to make the opposition party so exhausted, so feeble in its attempts to fight back, so demoralized, that effective opposition will evaporate. Democrats and anti-Trump independents may whine, complain and scream bloody murder, but to no avail. Republicans will march through and over them.

This is what’s happening at this very moment in the United States Senate. While Democrats lay out, with articulate precision, the crimes and evil of Trump, Republicans play with them, like cats with mice. Let the mice have their precious moments of illusory freedom. The cats know they can strike and destroy at any moment. The game is pleasant, which is why they allow it to continue. When it becomes tiresome, the claws will rend.

Is there no way of stopping it, of rescuing America? Or are we doomed? The entire world seems to be backsliding into authoritarian regimes, presidencies-for-life, absolute dictatorships. Two centuries of Enlightenment seem to be slipping away. Reason, democracy, freedom, equality—all the great foundation-stones of Western political thought—seem to be crumbling; Donald Trump is only the outward manifestation in one country of this worldwide phenomenon.

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has just moved its Doomsday Clock to “100 Seconds to Midnight,” closer to midnight than ever before in its 73-year history. The group cites three mounting threats to the continued survival of humankind:

  1. the worsening nuclear threat
  2. lack of meaningful action on climate change
  3. rise of cyber-enabled disinformation campaigns

Any one of these threats could bring the world “closer to catastrophe in seconds.” Any two of them, in combination, could cause “an absolutely unacceptable state of world affairs.” All three of them, together, have resulted in the gravest threat to the continuation of the world in history.

And what of Donald Trump? With his bungling of foreign policy and dangerous “Space Force,” he has increased the likelihood of nuclear war. With his absolute denial of the science behind climate change—forced upon him by the fossil fuel industry and his ignorant backers in the evangelical community—he is single-handedly preventing meaningful action to slow down global warming. And with his embrace and encouragement of disinformation, he is undermining the public’s capacity to formulate rational responses to any of the challenges facing us. For all these reasons, therefore, Donald Trump constitutes the single gravest threat to Earth.

Napa Valley Cabernet: an endangered species?

1 comment

For many years I’ve watched as the price of Napa Valley wine has gone up—and up—and up—until it reached the stratosphere. And then it continued to go up.

Even twenty years ago, I wondered who was buying all that expensive Cabernet Sauvignon. I can’t remember when prices first hit triple digits—I think it was in the 1980s. But once they did, no respectable Napa winery wanted to be the last to retail for at least $100.

At the height of my working career as a critic, when I was paid to keep track of such things, I’d note every new, expensive brand that came on the market. I soon concluded that most were vanity projects: their owners were very rich, and they wanted “in” on the Napa Valley lifestyle that was so highly touted by aspirational magazines. You, too, could have the big mansion, set in a picturesque vineyard, surrounded by blooming gardens, with an azure-blue swimming pool, a grand deck complete with gigantic outdoor grilling station, and Napa’s beautiful mountains soaring in the distance. And all you needed was maybe $10 million to get started.

At one point (I think it was in the early 2000s) I did a count of all the $100-plus wines in Napa Valley, and the total was well into the hundreds. I began to wonder, “Who’s buying all that Cab?” It was easy to understand that the critically-acclaimed cult Cabs (Screaming Eagle, Harlan, Bryant, Colgin, Dalla Valle, and so on) were desired by many wealthy collectors, but what about the hundreds of lesser-known brands? Every week seemed to bring a new family winery with a fill-in-the-blank back story:

Pete, together with his lovely wife Maggie, made a fortune in (computers, engineering, construction, oil, stocks) but there was something missing in their comfortable life. In (date), they bought a small property in (Rutherford, Pritchard Hill, Oakville, Spring Mountain, Atlas Peak) and planted some Cabernet. Now, they produce some of Napa Valley’s most coveted wines, assisted by their consulting winemaker (Michel Rolland, Heidi Barrett, Andy Erickson, Mark Aubert, Phillippe Melka)…

The stories all ran together; so did the wines. They were functionally interchangeable, 95-pointers that all tasted the same. It was impossible to answer the question, “Who’s buying all that wine?” just as it was impossible to answer the question, “Is the winery actually making money?” I suspected, even by 2000, that many, if not most, of these vanity wineries were not profitable, but were kept alive by their owners’ personal fortunes.

The other day, a friend emailed asking my opinion about reports that sales of California wines are weak, with a troubling future. Was it tariffs? Younger consumers wanting something “natural” and eccentric? The greater popularity of craft beer and spirits? I replied, “All the above—plus the fact that California wine, driven by Napa prices, is just too damned expensive!”

And now comes this report, via Wine-Searcher, that “California’s top producers might be pricing themselves out of the market,” with the top culprit being Napa Valley wine.

The article was based on a new report whose startling conclusion was this: “The demand for Napa Valley wines is flat and heading toward a decline. Last year, this report speculated that price increases at Napa wineries may have finally priced out enough buyers to curtail growth. It now seems this is likely the case.”

Will 2020 be the year that Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon experiences a price crash? It’s in the self-interest of the producers to prevent this, so I expect they’ll do everything in their power to hold on. But if this represents a permanent trend, how long can they keep on? Will their heirs be content to underwrite a losing proposition, just so they can sit around the pool watching the sun set over the Mayacamas?

One interesting development was the purchase earlier this week of Flora Springs by the Bordeaux winery, Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte. Flora Springs was, back in the day, a highly respected winery. (One of the first articles I ever wrote for Wine Spectator was a profile of them.) They had exquisite vineyards on the Rutherford Bench, and produced various Cabernets and Bordeaux blends that were very good. But Flora Springs, like so many other wineries, gradually saw competition arising all around them: no longer a darling boutique winery, but one of hundreds to choose from. The ownership was quite wealthy (of course), but Flora Springs was precisely the kind of winery I wondered about. “How are they doing? How long can they hold on?”

Well, now they’ve sold. The question isn’t whether the ownership was or wasn’t making money, it’s “Why does Smith Haut Lafitte think Flora Springs is a good investment?” (Their purchase doesn’t include the brand or “Napa Valley vineyard sources,” according to the article.) One thinks of the Bordelais as very astute businessmen—after all, they’ve managed to stay at the top of the heap for multiple centuries. So there must be something Smith Haut Lafitte sees in Napa Valley.

At the same time, I remember when the Woltner family, heirs of Chateau La Mission Haut-Brion, started a winery back in the late 1980s. Chateau Woltner was in the Vacas, on the east side of the Silverado Trail, on lower Howell Mountain. They put out a Chardonnay that was then the most expensive ever in California. It was pretty impressive: Bordeaux Second Growth invests in Napa Valley! What could go wrong?

Well, everything. The brand didn’t last for very long. It was sold for $20 million in 2000.

I don’t know what eventually happened to the Chardonnay vineyards, nor do I care. The point is, just because a French Bordeaux family buys a Napa Valley winery doesn’t guarantee its success. The eventual outcome of Flora Springs will depend on the continuing popularity of Napa Valley Cabernet and Bordeaux blends; and if this category is pricing itself out of existence, there’s little anyone can do to save it. Of course, as we know from Eddie Penning-Rowsell’s classic The Wines of Bordeaux, prices of Bordeaux have been a roller-coaster ride for centuries: sometimes way up, sometimes way down. But Bordeaux persists. Maybe Napa’s future will be as tumultuous.

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