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Napa's domination by lifestyle vintners

by Jenise » Wed Mar 07, 2018 3:30 pm

Good article in The Atlantic. (I hope no one else has posted this, I didn't see any but then I was away last week and not reading daily.)

https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2018/03/napa-wine-rich/554945/
My wine shopping and I have never had a problem. Just a perpetual race between the bankruptcy court and Hell.--Rogov
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Re: Napa's domination by lifestyle vintners

by Robin Garr » Wed Mar 07, 2018 5:46 pm

Nope, first time! Mary actually saw the headline and asked if I had seen it, but I was too busy to follow up then, so thanks! :)
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Re: Napa's domination by lifestyle vintners

by Jenise » Wed Mar 07, 2018 5:56 pm

I, or any one of us, could have titled this: Why we rarely buy or drink Napa Valley wines any more.
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Harumph....

by TomHill » Wed Mar 07, 2018 8:22 pm

Jenise wrote:I, or any one of us, could have titled this: Why we rarely buy or drink Napa Valley wines any more.

There are a lot of delicious/interesting NapaVlly wines coming out these days. Matthiasson/Massican/Lagier-Meredith/Turley..you just have to look around.
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Re: Napa's domination by lifestyle vintners

by Jenise » Wed Mar 07, 2018 8:57 pm

You mentioned some good names, Tom. But you have to admit the good, reasonably-priced (whatever that means) independent guys are harder and harder to find.
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Re: Napa's domination by lifestyle vintners

by Brian K Miller » Wed Mar 07, 2018 10:44 pm

Jenise: Not sure I completely agree.

With the growth in specialty production facilities, the capital costs for starting a "winery" are if anything falling to some extent????? Plus, there are many new wineries continuing to spring up in the cracks of the wine industry ecosystem.

Of course, we have to be careful about how we define, ultimately what a "lifestyle vintner" is. If someone with a passion for wine who was successful in another field (such as spreadsheet diddling), can we automatically dismiss them? Were old school wineries in Napa all pure farmer-driven projects? The "glamour" of wine may be increasing, but there have always been people entering the business, especially since the 70s????

Interesting question...and I am not an expert by any means. :roll: :oops:

I will note that as a lover of architecture, I am conflicted by the Hall project in St Helena. It's really, really glitzy and definitely not rustic or agricultural. But it is kinda cool. :oops: And I like the rabbit. :P

Chopping down thousands of trees....that is indeed a crime. The problem is American (capitalist) culture cannot acknowledge limits. "Enough" is not a term "we" (especially the sociopathic 1/2%) are willing to even accept.
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Re: Napa's domination by lifestyle vintners

by wnissen » Thu Mar 08, 2018 3:34 pm

It's hard to believe this was over 15 years ago, but I can remember going to Napa and visiting even some of the bigger wineries, like Beringer and Franciscan, and it not being a problem. Appointments? $75 tasting fees? What? I don't know if it's the broader culture embracing high-end wine, or just wineries deciding to charge as much as people will pay, but it does seem to be a totally different world today. I guess the main change has really been the proliferation of $100+ bottles. In 2001, there were a few cult wines charging more than that, but $100 was kind of the typical ceiling for a high-end bottle. I wasn't a buyer even then, but that's roughly what I recall the larger distribution "reserve" wines, like Georges de Latour Reserve and Opus One, and smaller, well-reviewed places like Chappellet or Fife, charging for their top Cabernet. The "regular" bottlings of the "lesser" varieties were around $15-20. So even at minimum wage ($6.25 in California) you could get a bottle of good Napa wine from a flagship producer for a few hours labor, and more importantly you could taste affordably to get one you really liked. I know I am willing to spend more on a wine if it's one I have tasted and enjoyed, rather than taking a flyer on something unknown, so it was really a win-win proposition. Now, with inflation running roughly at 50% since 2000, it seems like every place, regardless of reviews, is charging $150 or more for their top wines, and often only have single-vineyard wines on the "bottom end" at $50 or even more. Combined with the new tasting fees, the value just isn't there.
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Re: Napa's domination by lifestyle vintners

by Brian K Miller » Thu Mar 08, 2018 9:20 pm

Livermore is a little less crazy, at least. :?

Have you ever tried Retzlaff, Walt?

I like their style of wine. Definitely leaner, very focused on a few Bordeaux varietals.
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Re: Napa's domination by lifestyle vintners

by Jenise » Fri Mar 09, 2018 1:04 pm

Walt, you really nailed the problem I was referring to--the proliferation of $100+ wines and wineries appearing to charge "as much as people will pay" wherein, in many cases, price is about status/bragging rights and not quality.

Speaking of which I did taste some wines yesterday (the cab is $129) from a new winery (to me) Rudius. Good stuff. I bought their mourvedre ($38).
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Esther Reviews

by TomHill » Fri Mar 09, 2018 1:09 pm

Esther reviews Conway's book in the SFChron:
https://www.sfchronicle.com/news/article/Napa-at-Last-Light-by-James-Conaway-12736622.php

and pretty much rakes him over the coals.
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Re: Napa's domination by lifestyle vintners

by wnissen » Sat Mar 17, 2018 8:53 pm

What I'm not seeing in the discussion is the role that Napa Valley's existing development restrictions have played in filling the place with extravagantly expensive dilettantes. When Napa became a worldwide destination in the 90s, demand for vineyard land and wineries quickly outstripped supply. Napa could have allowed unrestricted development, turning into Disney's Northern California Adventure. Honestly, I think it would have been fine, I know a lot of people would have hated it. But hey, some areas are great for grapes, others are great for high-density feed lots, and and still others aren't great for anything. I know which one I'd pick. In any case, Napa County and the cities made it hard to plant new vineyards and basically impossible to start a tasting room open to the public. I understand that you can't even open by appointment without getting a zoning variance. That decision cast the die, because only the very rich could afford to own vineyards, and they couldn't make affordable wine because they wouldn't have any traffic coming in the cellar door. And you get follow-on effects that are downright bizarre, like startup wineries in Santa Rosa selling Napa wines, because they can't do so in the region of production. Again, I don't think there was a "right" choice to make, but the choices in setting development rules made the current situation inevitable.

Ironically, my wife decided to take me to the French Laundry for my birthday, so I'm trying to find a hotel within a reasonable distance of Yountville charging less than $500 a night on the weekend. It's not easy...
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Re: Napa's domination by lifestyle vintners

by Victorwine » Sun Mar 18, 2018 3:41 pm

Here's some Napa Valley wine region "FAST FACTS"

https://napavintners.com/press/docs/nap ... _facts.pdf

Salute
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Re: Napa's domination by lifestyle vintners

by Brian K Miller » Mon Mar 19, 2018 12:51 pm

Victor:

I only partly agree. A laissez faire approach completely ignores factors such as traffic congestion (already a problem) and the serious environmental impacts of the wine industry (and tourism and second home development). While not a fan of NIMBYism in general, one can at least understand why the Napa County electorate began efforts to rein in unrestricted growth.

While the restricted approach has narrowed the availability of vineyard land to new wineries, there are plenty of other regions, also suitable for wine grapes (albeit maybe not $100 per bottle cabernet) and the "wealth" should be spread out a bit. To claim that Napa restrictions prevent the growth of the wine industry is rather short sighted, given these other wine regions.

That is not to deny that some of the regulations can be arcane and silly. I work in permitting, and I fully understand this. But unrestricted growth is cancerous growth.
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Re: Napa's domination by lifestyle vintners

by Victorwine » Mon Mar 19, 2018 9:29 pm

I just brought the facts to attention to try to illustrate why I think the region is attracted
what James S Conaway refers to as "lifestyle vitners". This region which only produces 4% of all
the winegrapes crushed in California is responsible for almost 30% of the economic imact of the
wine industry at a state level, and almost 34% of the economic imact at a national level..
(Yes this is because (people are willing to pay the asking price) they can get $100 plus for a bottle of wine).
Does the region need more wineries and tourists?

Salute
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Re: Napa's domination by lifestyle vintners

by Brian K Miller » Tue Mar 20, 2018 12:29 pm

No worries.

I think the answer, increasingly for many Napa residents, may be "no". The electorate tends to be the more privileged side of the socioeconomic spectrum, but they do vote. :mrgreen:

One could argue that this question is a far more general one. In "desirable" areas of the country, only a few can take full benefit. When a beige stucco tract home in a wind tunnel area sells for $600,000+, only a few can buy in. No easy answers.
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Re: Napa's domination by lifestyle vintners

by wnissen » Tue Mar 20, 2018 12:42 pm

Didn't realize you were in permitting, Brian, hopefully if I've made errors in describing the situation you can correct me. My main point was not that the development restrictions are good or bad, but rather that they are certainly an important factor, perhaps the most important one, in the rise of the "lifestyle" vintner. And yet I don't seem them treated as such. If the situation were reversed, such as in Anaheim, I guarantee you that every article would be mentioning them.

Pretty amazing the economic impact of a county with just 142K residents, though!
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Re: Napa's domination by lifestyle vintners

by Brian K Miller » Tue Mar 20, 2018 2:39 pm

Not disagreeing fundamentally, Walt.

My only caveat is that the wine restrictions might help "preserve" an attractive environment that gathers wealth. Without restrictions, would the land be preserved for old school Napa famers, or would it have been converted into subdivisions and industrial agriculture that devastates the landscape? That was the original fear from what I read. The real local old timers like Hoke and Lou might have further insight?

Even down your way, the land use planning, conservation easements, and development patterns favor the wealthy. One difference is Livermore still remains more "rustic" overall????? Livermore would probably have seen even more devastating suburbanization without the South Livermore Specific Plan and the Ruby Hill-associated land conservation efforts. And, these beautiful settings are also available only to the wealthy?

Napa is being "sold" as a luxury bohemian-elegant rural place for those who can afford it. And wine has become a lifestyle accessory that also attracts wealth.

In some ways, one might argue, this has always been the case. I think of the country estates outside London, the chateaux of France, or heck, ancient Pompeii and its luxury villas!
...(Humans) are unique in our capacity to construct realities at utter odds with reality. Dogs dream and dolphins imagine, but only humans are deluded. –Jacob Bacharach

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