Vol.4 No.1 are premium wines worth the premium?

Happy New Year to all! Have been thinking about this piece since the beginning of the year. I have found, personally, the sweet spot in wines is about $25-30…if I win the lottery tomorrow night that will likely change, but if I do, would I be buying $100-150 wines?

First, I find the best value in the $25-30 range…not that there aren’t a lot in the class below of a slightly expanded $18-20 range,  and of course some sleepers in the $12-15 range. Below that are some well made wines but not to my liking…or I haven’t found them yet. The $15-20 range for the third straight year is the fast growing sector, and represents a step up from the under $10 range that held for so long. As an aside, Rosé’s continue to increase in popularity but remain less than 5% of the market which begs the question: who is making money with what seems like hundreds of them out there and growing continually? Most are in the $12-15 range.

About those high priced wines. I have mentioned Wine Till Sold Out (www.wtso.com) previously and have had excellent experiences with them. To recap: they post wines perhaps one or two an hour or until they are ‘sold out’. Here is an example of what I am talking about:

Saint-Émilion Grand Cru 2014 La Croix Saint Christophe
91 rating and 71% off!

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Comparable Price*: $70.00
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$19.99 71% OFF!

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wine bottle Description
Appellation Saint-Émilion Grand Cru
Unit Size 750 ml
Varietal/Grapes Red Blend
Vintage 2014
Country France
Region Bordeaux
Alcohol Content 14.00
Peter Kwok has been breathing life into aging Saint-Emilion chateaux for a couple of decades, giving us new, delightful opportunities to enjoy the wines of this classic region in Bordeaux. Sourced from vineyards nestled among Cru Classe estates, this Merlot-driven bottling effuses a fruity and smoky intensity that speaks to its premier situation among the Right Bank hills. Try this wonderful Saint-Emilion with kebabs and shawarma!
91 Points – International Wine Report!
“The 2014 La Croix Saint Christophe Saint-Émilion Grand Cru delivers lovely aromas of ripe cherries, blackberries followed by violets, tobacco, wet stones and a touch spice. This medium-bodied red is wrapped in fine silky tannins, showing great structure and balance all the way through the long finish, which is laced with even more dark fruits and tobacco flavors.”
Pretty complete, no? So here are the salient points:
1. Good description and note that you can get free shipping (the number of bottles required varies inversely with the price but four is standard).
2. Note that they ship quickly from their N.J. warehouse so if you aren’t going to be home for a few days, want to avoid it being shipped in extreme weather etc.,you just let them know with your  order, which, once set up is just a click.
My experience is limited as I have only had a need for a specific wine twice but it was consistent. Also, if you have a problem they are prompt in getting back to you to fix it.
First time, I bought was Meyer Family Vineyards, 2011 Syrah. This is the late Justin Meyer’s winery after he sold out of Silver Oak.  I bought six bottles for, if I recall, $15 each – on a $35 wine. It was summer and the day it arrived it was over 100 degrees! I cringed when I thought of drinking it as my laser thermometer showed a bottle temperature of 90 degrees! That night I tried the first one and it was ‘raisainy’, not undrinkable mind you but not what I had bargained for. I notified them of the problem and they told me I should have told them to hold the delivery and then let them know when to deliver. Surprisingly, they offered to send me six more bottles and hold them until the weather cooled down. I did and when I received them they were in excellent condition…and I did, by the way finish the others. Not bad, eh?
But I was curious, what would the winery say about this? So, I called and spoke to Justin’s son, Matt (Justin’s wife Bonnie, for whom a Silver Oak vineyard was named, is still alive and active in the winery). He said that the 2011 vintage received poor reviews, but that they had harvested and bottled late and it was very good. The problem was stores had too much of the vintage so there was no market for it. That is when they went to WTSO. Matt sold two pallets, roughly 98 cases per pallet, to clear their inventory.
So what did Matt accomplish? He sold wine that he couldn’t do anything with at a price that was acceptable to him (don’t know what that was), the wine wasn’t sitting on shelves at a deep discount price (think Trader Joe’s or any large retailer). Instead it was up for perhaps 20 minutes and then disappeared. Remember they still had wine left which they would bring up at another time. That is why you will get lots of emails in a day, and it forces you, if interested, to act quickly. Gradually, they will sell all the wine in the lot. A win win for all concerned.
Contrast this to the other wine sites that show the price for long periods of time and it can be compared to other lots they are selling. The other alternative is selling to someone like Total Wine at an even steeper discount which they will advertise as “Winery Direct”, with a large markup. The cheerful staff will direct you to these sometimes in response to a ‘do you carry’ question, saying if you like that you can save a lot by buying this instead. Nothing wrong with that but is it really the same quality?
So there you have it and if we didn’t have the post-Prohibition, three-tiered market all would be better off. Most distributors are reputable, but some including the biggest ones don’t do a good job of marketing ALL the wines, especially from smaller wineries which is unfair because storage costs can quickly eat up profits or worse, turning them into losses.
As with all internet sellers WTSO is having a big impact on wine strategy for buyers. It becomes increasingly difficult to shell out $100 and then find it on line for significantly less. If you can find a good wine specialty shop, support their effort, not some liquor store with lighting that is hard on wine, improper storage, and a lack of knowledgeable help. Since moving to the Twin Cities seven years ago I have been pleased to find FIVE, and all but one with in five miles of my home (that is even more than when I lived in the San Francisco Bay Area. It is worth the search!
I will close with this quote from the great Andre Tschelistcheff, who knew of what he spoke: “We spend far too much time tasting wine and not enough time drinking it.”
TB’s kind of guy!
NEXT: Should you join a wine club?
(c) Traderbillonwine.com 2018

 

Vol 3 No 17 Ring in the New Year with Red!

Okay, so it should be champagne but at the prices for the good bubbly TB will pass. IF he was to buy one it would be Billecart-Salmon Brut Rosé , but at $100 plus I’ll wait to be a guest at someone with taste and money’s home. I first had the B-S when Kermit Lynch brought it to California if not the U.S. It is a stunning wine but not at a bargain price anymore.

So, what will TB be drinking New Year’s Eve whilst watching that big ball descend on Times Square? Could be a Cava, yep same methode traditionelle that the Spaniards from Penedes learned and brought back from Champagne when they realized their wine was no good. Note also they brought back the equipment so it is closer than one thinks. It was founded in 1541 My personal favorite is Codorniu, especially the Anna (named after the last living descendant) in opaque bottles, either the Brut or Rosé, and for around $15 – a steal. Last night, after posting this, I tried of all things a Prosecco Spumante Rosé  from Veneto (not Asti!) by Desiderio JEIO, that was an incredible bargain at $15 and in a beautiful bottle as well. The winery, which I had never heard of goes back to 1542 so it is one of the originals. A best buy!

My fav house in Champagne is Roederer, producer of Cristal, which while very good, isn’t worth the hefty price tag to me, but that is personal. I can say this because I had a friend who would only drink Cristal. One night he called and asked us over because he felt like drinking some bubbly. I agreed on one condition: I bring a bottle and we do a blind tasting. Reluctantly he agreed. When we finished tasting the two bottles and removed the bags, he was dumbfounded: he had picked mine…also a Roederer BUT it was Roederer Estate from – sacre bleu! – Anderson Valley, California. I finally consoled him saying he could now buy a dozen or more bottles for the price of one. Not much as far as he was concerned. What is remarkable about Roederer is there is a flintiness that is unmistakable, similar to Chablis. How they did that in their California ‘sparkler’ is beyond TB’s comprehension.

Decades ago my wife and I had been over at Mendocino and driving back stopped at Korbel, which is pretty good for the price but instead of the bottles being hand-turned as in Champagne, they devised a system of huge racks which ‘flip’ from one side to the other trying to reproduce the effect of the riddling method of Champagne, sort of. Korbel fell by the wayside however when the big champagne houses Mumm, Chandon, and a couple more, such as Deutz, with Burgundian winemaker Christian Roguenant who was brought over as winemaker for Maison Deutz (later sold and became Laetitia), and now is winemaker at Baillyana, both of which are in Edna Valley, just east of San Luis Obispo. Through a friend I got to know Christian who is not only a great winemaker but a chef.

After leaving Korbel we went to Napa Valley and visited Schramsberg, made famous by Nixon who served it at a state dinner (and decreed that all wine served at the White House be from California). Nixon being Nixon however, he kept a bottle of Chateau Margaux by his seat at the table and that is what he drank when wine served was red!

Very near to Schramsberg, we stumbled on Hans Kornell, and despite being nobody’s, gave us a personal tour…there was nothing pretentious about Hans. We loved his champagne…oops, can’t call it that today, can we? Especially his Sehr Trocken, or driest of the dry and I still have a bottle of it, long past time to drink but a remembrance of a very nice man. Poor Hans though, he had had to replace his vines to disease and built up a lot of debt doing so, then the economy took a downturn and the bank foreclosed, and he lost everything. There is one bright spot here though: Robert Mondavi. Beloved by some, despised by some, but he died an amazing thing: at auction he bought Hans’ home, and allowed Hans and his family to live in it rent free until he died!

Hans Kornell makes a great segue into TB’s book project. If you haven’t heard it’s a book on wine that isn’t about wine but rather the people who make it. It is their passion that drives them and whether their wine costs $25 or $100 or more they all exhibit the same passion for what they are doing. I had to scale it back from all the countries I have visited and all the people I have met to just the U.S. and Canada. If it is well received, a second book for the rest of the planet will be published. Hopefully the first one will be out by Spring 2018 and the second by yearend.

The book is dedicated to Andre Tschelistcheff and Dr. Konstantin Frank, who made incredible contributions to making California…and New York wines great. These two Russians had incredible passion and influenced so many great winemakers.

Andre had the easier job as vitis vinifera was the vine of choice in California. Dr. Frank had too issues to deal with. First, the cold weather in the Finger Lakes region which the ‘experts’ said was too cold for vinifera vines…he knew they were wrong, having come from a cold climate. Secondly, he had to fight those who relied on the French-American hybrids and if you ever tasted early New York wines you will know why. The key adjective was ‘foxy’ and not in a nice way. Even today, more land is planted to Concord grapes than the rest combined. Hint: Welch’s is located there!

Andre was responsible for training Joseph Heitz, Mike Grgich, and mentored Richard Peterson who was introduced to him by his son, Dimitri, when both worked at Gallo. He also advised Warren Winiarski on when to pick the grapes for the Stags Leap Cabernet that was used in the Judgment of Paris. Note also that Grgich was the winemaker for Chateau Montelena at the time which won the chardonnay class.

It is important to note that the purpose of the Judgment was not to prove American wines better than French but to show they could compete with top French labels. However most of the wines bested the French and in subsequent tastings that gap grew wider.

Others in the book include: Randall Grahm, Jim Clendenon, Bob Lindquist, George Hendry, Dave Rafanelli, the Unti family, Justin Meyer, Vince and Lise Ciolino of Montemaggiore, Bob and Mike Lamborn who had great influence on me and opened so many doors to me.  Lane Tanner, who was discovered and mentored by Andre is a great story in herself.

Anyway, hope you find the book of interest and I will keep you posted on release.

Best Wishes for the New Year a votre sante

TB

(c) Traderbillonwine 2017

 

 

Vol 3 No 16 The Judgment of Paris Tasting Revisited: and what it means for ratings

Steven Spurrier, a British graduate of the London School of Economics moved to Paris in 1964 with 14 years of experience at Christopher and purchased a wine shop of the Rue Royale from an elderly woman. The shop, Les Caves de la Madeleine, became widely respected and he pioneered allowing clients to taste before buying. In 1973, he founded L’Academie  du Vin, the first wine school in France. As California wines were becoming talked about and quality was improving he decided to hold a tasting comparing both French and American Cabernets and Chardonnays to see if the American wines could hold up to the French Bordeaux’s and Burgundies.

The competition was held on May 24, 1976 and were it not for a slow news days might have gone unnoticed had it not been for George M. Tabor it might have gone unnoticed for a long time, which the French would have likely preferred. Tabor heard of the tasting comparing wines of the two countries at the Intercontinental Hotel and as it turned out was the only reporter to cover it.

While the story is a remarkable one, the movie, Bottle Shock had nothing to do with the tasting and everything to do with Hollywood’s perception of it. Tabor had even threatened to sue and probably should have as its inconsistencies, as with the later film Sideways, made both irrelevant, although the former increased demand both at home and abroad for California wines, and the latter, uplifted Pinot Noir (driving prices to the moon, Alice, the moon!), and decimating demand for Merlot (this despite the fact that there were some excellent Merlot’s but much of it was plonk). Suddenly Pinot was at eye level and Merlot relegated to the bottom shelf.

Some misconceptions about the tasting: first, Spurrier, a lover of French wines, never intended it to be a competition but merely to see if California wines were similar in quality to the French. In order to lessen the competition over which was better, no official rating scale was used, merely 20 points per wine to awarded as the tasters chose. All the tasters came with strong credentials and were French, except for Spurrier, and an American, Patirica Gallagher, who was with Spurrier’s l’Acadamie du Vin. Neither of their scores were counted but that is a moot point because as a rule they were never the best or the worst scores but at least impartiality was achieved.

One French judge, Odette Kahn, editor of La Revue of France was so embarrassed by how she ranked two of the California Cabs above three top Bordeaux that she demanded her scores be removed and called the tasting a charade… nevertheless her scores were published and computed in the results.

Here are the combined results of the wines highlighting best and worst of each country (Individual ratings for white wines were not provided in the book or in the article:

Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars ’73 Cab 1 16.5//10 16.5//10
Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello ’71 Cab 5 17//7 17//7
Heitz Martha’s Vineyard Cab ’70 7 17//2 15//7
Clos Du Val Winery ’72 Cab 8 14//2 14//2
Mayacamas ’71 Cab 9 14//3 14//3
Freemark Abbey ’69 Cab 10 15×2//5 15//5
Ch. Mouton-Rothschild ’70 2nd Gr Pauillac* 2 16×2//11 16//11
Ch. Montrose ’70 2nd growth St. Estèphe 3 17//11×2 17//11×2
Ch. Haut-Brion ’70 1st Gr Pessac-Graves 4 17×2//8 17×2//14
Ch. Leoville-Las Cases ’71 1er Growth St. Julien 6 14//8 12×4//8

 

Ch. Montelena -’73 Chard (Grgich) Napa 1
Chalone ’74 Chard Pinnicales 3
Spring Mtn ’73 Chard Napa 4
Freemark Abbey ’72 Chard Napa 6
Veedercrest ’72 Chard Napa 9
David Bruce ’73 Chard Santa Cruz 10
Meursault Charmes Roulot ’73 2
Beaune Clos de Mouches J. Drouhin ’73 5
Batard-Montrachet Ramonet-Prudhon 7
Puligny-Montrachet Les Pucelles Dom Leflaive ’72 8
 

Individual ratings for white wines were not provided  in the book or in the article

 

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steven_Spurrier_(wine_merchant)

(Spurrier made every effort to keep the tasting unbiased by excusing himself and his employee Patricia Gallagher from the ranking but they would not have influenced the results as only  with one wine did they outscore the French and by only one position (1 vs 2), and in no case did they post the lowest.)

The French had complained that Bordeaux wines take longer to age than California and that is why the red wines from California are 1970 and the French, 1970, and excellent year and only one 1970 while the California wines were all 1970, also an excellent year. Oddly, subsequent tastings using the 20-point UC Davis scoring system, including the 30th Anniversary tasting in 2006, showed the California wines all improving in quality while the French either held but most deteriorated.

TB’s take: This is just one more example of why YOU, dear reader, are your own best wine taster. Imagine for a moment having one of those judges for dinner and trying to impress them with a wine that Parker or some other bloke gave a 90, and they didn’t like it! You just blew a lot of money and got embarrassed to boot. Why not serve a wine that YOU like and simply say “this is one of my favorite wines, I hope you enjoy it.” Hey, if they don’t like it they aren’t out any money…nor are you!

I will close with this:
“People spend too much time tasting wine; not enough time drinking it.” Andre Tschelistheff

Copyright© 2017 traderbillonwine.com

Vol 3 No 15 Fire post mortem and $3,000 for a bottle of champagne???

I was surprised and glad that so many tasting rooms have opened in Napa Valley this soon after the fire. Most if not all, are donating the fees to relief agencies. That is encouraging. I wasn’t sure at first about the re-openings but speaking with friends in the wine business there, they are encouraged to see the wineries coming together along with local support. They realize they need to boost the economy by bringing the tourist back, especially for those who work in the valley. Note also that the wineries are a soft touch for charities and are hit up all the time for donations, which they freely give.

It isn’t pretty like last Spring when I was there, and Sonoma County is in much worse shape. I am not in touch with any of the wineries in the Sonoma/Santa Rosa area, but everyone is saddened at the loss of life and homes in this multi-county tragedy. Let’s not forget Mendocino County where in the north they had destructive fires too.

One thing you might not have considered is marijuana growers, who are very active in Mendocino County…this time legally as they prepare for the arrival of the date of legalization of recreational marijuana in California. Due to the conflict with federal law, they have no insurance and are a cash basis as they can’t get credit either. They had harvested some the marijuana, much of which was destroyed by the fires along with warehouses. Also, about 50% remains in the fields which may be affected like wines with smoke taint. I mention the pot growers only as another victim of the fires, not as an endorsement…you decide.

If you watched finish of the United States Grand Prix from Austin, Texas, Sunday, you may have noticed the traditional champagne ‘brawl’ with the winner and other two top finishers. When I saw the three drivers shaking and spraying the bottles I noticed that all the jeroboams were lavender in collar and looked metallic. I freeze-framed it to see the name on the bottle but instead of the usual prestige house there was only one word on the bottle: CARBON, written in bold letters lengthwise on the bottle…huh???

Have any of you ever heard of CARBON?  Most likely not, but at $3,000 a bottle perhaps you should! Furthermore if you want to buy one (suit yourself, not me), you probably have to go to St. Tropez as it isn’t sold in the U.S. and is very limited production.

Is it that good? Uh…in a word: no. Not saying it isn’t ‘good’, just that it isn’t that good. So how do they get $3,000 for a bottle of it? Hey, how do lots of luxury goods go for what they do? Because the wealthy can afford them and that, folks, is status.

How did the custom of spraying the crowd come about. After winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1996, driver Jo Siffert accidentally sprayed the crowd with his magnum bottle of Moët Chandon Brut. The following year, American Dan Gurney did the same and a tradition was born, a waste of good champagne if you ask TB, and messy too! Sacre Bleu!

In 2000, G.H. Mumm replaced Moët and the magnum was upgraded to a jeroboam so more people could be sprayed. They remained a Formula I sponsor until 2015 when Chandon – yes, the California ‘sparkler’ replaced them. Then in July of this year, CARBON replaced them as an official sponsor.

Now you know, but why a $3,000 bottle of champagne? Well, here’s the thing, you can buy Cuvée Carbon 2002 vintage champagne (same as used in the Ultra bottle), in a 1.5 litre bottle (jeroboam) for $990 from Amazon Wine Store* but that is in a standard champagne bottle that holds six bottles ($165 each). Actually, a 750 ml bottle will cost you about $80, the difference due to the cost of the bottle which in large format sizes has enormous pressure.

The difference? The company has created a process that covers the entire bottle in carbon creating the metallic look and it is expensive and very labor intensive. So if you, my friends, want to pay 3 times the price of a regular jeroboam, be my guest. That is also six time the cost of a standard bottle of CARBON. TB wonders if the drivers get to  keep the bottle? Most likely, yes. After all it only costs $9,000 to give them the bottles each race.

To TB, this is the same as the way people pay outrageous prices for Cognac in Baccarat crystal, and other prestige bottlings of alcohol products. If you have the money and you want it…go for it, but TB will take the normal bottling of the same product every time (he won’t however be buying any of the ‘gimmicky’ CARBON. C’est la vie!

That’s it for now…TB with the champagne love but cava budget is done for today.

TB

(c) Copyright, traderbillonwine.com 2017

*Note: Amazon is going out of the wine business at the end of the year due to their ownership of Whole Foods Markets. Reportedly, there are also licensing problems. Ouch!

 

 

Vol 3 No 14 what to do with your best wines?

(Note: TB is not being insensitive writing this during the horrible conflagration in Northern California’s wine country, but needed to get his mind off it for a little while.)

When one starts collecting wine it soon becomes apparent that the $30 bottle of wine you purchased is now a $60 or $80 bottle is too good to drink for just any dinner, so what do you do as the other bottles you bought start accumulating.

One thing you can do of course is sell them at auction. I did this with some wines years ago that had become simply too valuable to drink. Like my ’82 Bordeaux’s I bought as futures…the vintage that destroyed William Finnegan’s reputation among his subscribers and built Robert Parker’s. Parker being the only wine writer to praise the vintage. So I bought a mixed case…average price $30. I tried a few over the years but wasn’t that impressed, nor was a friend who had the same feeling.

I held them along with many other wines, including some I had purchased at auction. Then, following the millennial, anything with a 19xx vintage shot to the moon, Alice, the moon. So I made a list and took it to Butterfields in San Francisco which had recently merged with Christy’s. They eagerly accepted the wines and I attended the auction with a friend. It was live and telephonic and we were blown away at the prices – especially for ones we could find at a local wine merchant for much less. While I walked away with over $6,000, and a huge profit, I decided there would never be an opportunity like that again for me, and altered my buying habits to what TB liked, not what Parker or anyone else liked that I was supposed to love.

Here are some things I have tried…some successful, some not so much:

  1. Bring out a bottle at a dinner you are hosting. The problem with this is that if you didn’t plan it for the main wine, it will go largely unnoticed. I wasted a lot of bottles that way until I figured it out: ideas pop up after drinking and when followed through seem to fizzle. What did that wine taste like anyway?
  2. Donate it to a charity auction. Not such a good idea with pricey wines as frequently they will be underbid (once I bought back my own wine because the bid price was so low and it was a good wine). Make charitable donations of wines currently available.
  3. Say what the hell and sometime when you are in a really good mood, simply bring one up…but be sure to not make the mistakes in number one above.
  4. Keep them for show…dazzle people with your cellar. Yawn! I have found people are more impressed with the size of the cellar than what it actually contains.
  5. Find a special occasion and make it about the wine…not literally, but you can use it to enhance the event.

Focusing on that last suggestion, we recently visited two couples in Chicago. One lived there part time and we were old friends and the other couple flew out from California. The event was the 70th birthday of one of the friends. A perfect chance to showcase some wines, since they were coming from out of state by air and we were driving.

So…what did I bring for this four day event? First, we had other wines so I didn’t want to overdo it…just be able to have some great wines together.

Day 1: Quinta do Bonfim, Portugal, Dao. This company makes all the great Ports and is located up the Douro in Pinhao. This was not an expensive wine but like most Portuguese wines hard to find in the States. Everyone loved it

Day 2: For our traditional ‘picnique’ dinner I brought a bottle of Clos de l’Obac’s 2006 Miserere. A beautiful Priorat red that is really complex. This is from the same winery that I attended the 25 year vertical in Chicago last March See Vol. 3, No 3.

Day 3: For cocktail hour we had Castello del Volpaia, Chianti Classico, 2012. If you haven’t had this beautiful Chianti, look for it…years ago I stayed at the Castello in one of their beautiful rooms overlooking the vineyards.

Day 4: Also for cocktails, Verdad Tempranillo 2013. This wine is made by Luisa Sawyer Lindquist, wife of Bob Lindquist of Qupe wines. It is an extraordinary example of a tempranillo and shows that it can be made in the Central Coast…elegantly.

Day 5: For the birthday dinner we went to The Barn in Evanston, where we were staying. They have an excellent wine list but I knew this wine would not be on it and was dying to see how it held up over the years. It was a Leonetti Merlot 2000, and when the somme saw it he was dazzled. I told him to save a glass for himself and he was so thrilled he waived the corkage fee. We also had a Black Slate Priorat for a second wine and it was very good. Note that before I had commented on the etiquette of bringing your own wine. First, make sure you can and, second, make sure it is not on their wine list of of such an early vintage that even if they have the label they won’t have it. Make the somme part of the group by letting him/her enjoy and comment on the wine. See also Vol 2 No 25 for TB’s Ten Commandments of Wine.

There you have it, TB’s best suggestion for what to do with your best wines…enjoy them with good friends!

Best,

TB

(c) Copyright 2017, traderbillonwine.com

Vol 3 No 13…an American tragedy…

(It has been over a month since the last post…mea culpa…partly this was due to the hurricanes and the destruction they brought that put TB in a funk. Will try to be more prompt and get back to the ‘every other week’ pace. TB)

TB doesn’t want to overemphasize the disaster in Napa and Sonoma counties, but it is a big deal, perhaps second only to Houston in damage, much of which cannot be measured.

First, having lived in the Bay Area for 29 years before moving to Minnesota seven years ago, I have visited scores of wineries and gotten to know many in the wine industry. My book project on the passion these people have for what they do, brings to light their hard work…and let’s not romanticize it: it’s farming (don’t take TB’s word for it, Joe Heitz was the one who said it to TB thirty years ago)!

Many of them came from the Midwest and were farmers, others, as my friend Lane Tanner puts it: “were bitten by the bug and when that happens you’re done.”

As much damage was done to the vines, wineries, and their homes, the growth in population, fueled by both the tourist industry where many are employed, and a place where retirees see an Eden to spend their twilight years was a key factor in the loss of homes and lives, especially in Sonoma County in and around Santa Rosa.

There is much confusion due to the massive size of these fires. For instance, they refer to the one with the huge perimeter that has destroyed much of Santa Rosa as the ‘Tubbs Fire”…huh? Aren’t they talking about the wrong fire? Actually, no. The Tubbs fire stretches from Tubbs Lane just to the north of Calistoga, over the Napa range along the Petrified Forest Highway and then down to Santa Rosa. That fire is bigger in area than all other fires in the state, which includes the Orange County fire combined!

I am grateful that none of the properties owned by friends were affected, but then, it isn’t over yet. Nearly 30 are known dead, and over 60 still missing (owing to the destruction of landmark hotels in Santa Rosa and since those were tourists, likely most, if not all scattered but there are still those who were trapped in their homes.

The last fire in the Santa Rosa area was in 1964, and note that there were no fatalities…zero! So you can see the impact of growth. Of course the high winds, with gusts to 70 mph were a major cause of dissemination. Firefighters say that embers were blown ahead of the fire for one to three miles…making it impossible to control or predict where it would strike.

Consider California coming off a 500 year drought! Then the rains of early this year caused the valleys and hillsides (I drove from Orange County to Seattle in mid-February), to be the most beautiful I have ever seen them…and now this.

While it was green and beautiful, it came at the expense of mudslides, especially in the Santa Cruz area where you had to zigzag on surface streets to get from US 101 to Santa Cruz since the main (and only) highway connecting the two was inundated in a mudslide that took more than a month to recover from. Also, there are some great vineyards and wineries stretching from Santa Barbara to Paso Robles. North of there, in the flat between the coastal range and the Carrizo plain to the east, the vineyards are flat and looked like a swamp. While this concerned me, Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon noted that before budbreak it isn’t problematic. Still, I can’t help but think the wines from the area north of Paso to Greenfield, which is solid vineyards, would not be producing very good wine. For 2017,wines you are going to have to be very careful, and might want to pay attention to ratings before you buy (can’t believe I just wrote that!). Besides the rains, many areas suffered early frosts, then came the record-breaking heat, most notably in Napa Valley.

Twelve days above 100 degrees with no cooling at night, as Napa Valley traps in the heat, normally a good thing, while to the west and atop Howell Mountain there was some relief. Look for wines from there this vintage. Smoke taint is certainly a risk but over 90% of the grapes had been picked…the holdouts being some of the big cabs and zins, so you will have to be careful with these. In addition, to the record number of days, the highest temperature recorded was 115 degrees! Not good for wine…especially whites, pinot noir and merlot which are cooler climate grapes.

The combination of rain making the valley lush, then frosts, then the searing heat which dried out all that new greenery as well as the accumulated dead brush from the drought, was a prescription for disaster.

Here is another thing I bet you didn’t think of: with a lot of grapes in fermentation, they need to be tended to daily. Judd Finkelstein, whose father was a widely respected winemaker at Whitehall Lane, and owner of Judd’s Hill Winery, just off the Silverado Trail to the west of the Atlas Peak burn, had no damage but his winemaker had to be escorted in to tend to the fermenting wine, called my attention to this in an email to friends of the winery. How much wine that is in inaccessible areas will be lost? A pity.

While California took the brunt of it, Oregon and Washington were also impacted with fires. Note that all these fires are occurring at a time that fire crews are usually disbanding. This was particularly true in Washington where the largest burn was caused by a teenager setting off fireworks in the forest! It is likely that some of the California fires were due to human negligence, however the high winds toppled trees causing power lines to collapse setting off several fires.

Hopefully, while you are sipping your wine you will think of the wine people and also of those who lived nearby and are now homeless.

Lastly, a political statement, but one that shouldn’t be: there can be no doubt about climate change. First, we had 95% or more of the scientific community signing off on it, with most (all?) of the dissenters being shills for the energy industry and others. This is not from me but a friend with the National Academy of Sciences and of Engineering. Nothing new here…he told me this a few years ago.

Meanwhile, Trump and Co., including Secretary of State Tillerson (who, by the way was made a member of the National Academy of Engineering about five years ago for his work on fossil fuels), who while CEO of EXXON denounced climate change along with the rest of his company, despite funding many scientific studies which proved just the opposite. When challenged on this the company released all internal communications (what the hell were they thinking?), and the proof was shown that while they were denouncing it, the very studies they funded showed it to be real.

TB doesn’t know whether you believe in climate change, but if you don’t, and with the leadership (sic) of Trump, we do nothing, what will you tell your grandchildren when they bear the consequences of our inaction? Good luck on that one! I would like to add the climate change in Europe where Burgundy and Bordeaux had a huge disaster of a harvest. One winemaker in St. Estephe has predicted that in ten years there will be no more merlot!

A friend told me he was going to the wine country next week! I said, “still?” He said he was and going to both Napa and Sonoma. I tried to talk him out of it, and may have, saying they don’t need tourists there now. I added that IF he is still going he should focus on the Dry Creek and the Alexander Valley, both just out of Healdsburg and north of the fires, and further north the Anderson Valley, all of which produce some great wines.

Condolences to those who have lost their homes, or have friends or relatives that have had their lives torn apart by this catastrophe…also to the hurricane victims who continue to suffer.

Trader Bill

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