Uncorked Ventures Blog

Mark Aselstine
 
November 13, 2014 | Mark Aselstine

The Future of Pinot Noir

My thoughts, for what they're worth, on the future of Pinot Noir in California and elsewhere.

Hey guys, Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures.

Over the past two months in our Special Selections Wine Club we've done two high-end Pinots. From the Wine of the Month Club level we strictly do California, Oregon, and Washington. The reality is you end up getting a lot of Pinot since that's probably the most widely planted grape among those three states in essence because as far as red wine goes Oregon does almost exclusively Pinot on the high-end.

I had a club customer named Jerry who asked me quite honestly what I saw as the future of Pinot, so I thought this would be a good way to give a response because I do have some thoughts and I've given it a lot of thought over the past few months actually. I have four example bottles for you and I think it helps to show exactly what we're talking about both over the short and long-term specifically within in California but also in the wider wine world, and especially on the west coast.

The first example is a winery called Sola. It's actually based up in Napa, but in essence they're going to Cameron Hughes model. Cameron Hughes, if you're not familiar, you can pick up a Cameron Hughes Cabernet down at your local grocery store for 10 to 15 bucks. He sources either grapes although most usually it's bulk wine. What happens is 2014 is going to be a great example because it's a big finisher in California, so wineries ... I can't name any of them, but if they produce a $40 Pinot and they just simply get too much wine from their estate vineyard, now they don't want to send that all to retailers frankly because they don't always trust us to keep retail price the way that we should. Instead they either work with a winery like Sola which then bottles the stuff and ships it out for $20 retail or if they're a price point lower than that, you sometimes see it in Trader Joe's. Trader Joe's quite famously had a $25 Napa Sauvignon Blanc two years ago that they sold for six bucks and then I know it was a really well known winery. When the whole information got out they weren't very happy about it. In essence, you're going to continue to see projects like that, wineries making good wine, but can't sell it. That's the first thing.

Second thing. This is, I think, the best bottle. If you can get a look at it, it's the really cool setup of the barrel being lifted by the crane. This is Bluxome Street Winery. It's based in San Francisco. The winemaker was formerly at Ant Hill Farm which is repeatedly only when we ask winemakers, "Hey, what do you drink? What do you drink?" The guys who make huge Napa Cav that garner big scores Mike Smith's one from Quivet and Myriad who you're lucky to even buy from at this point, Chris Maybach said the same thing that Ant Hill Farms was almost required drinking in his house. A cool climate expression of Pinot, dainty almost where you feel like you can see through it, so Ant Hill is really hard to get. The waiting list is in a couple years, same winemaker at Bluxome Street. Bluxome Street shows two things that I think are important in the wine industry. First, cool climate Pinot. The further west you can go in Sonoma people are liking it right now and I think you're going to continue to see that. Bluxome Street, I also think speaks to something else that's almost just as important if not more important and it's the rise of the urban winery. Bluxome Streets and San Francisco, downtown San Francisco before the earthquake in 1906, this is where the wineries were. Wineries setup shop there. They figured it was easier to truck grapes into the city than it was to truck to people up to the wine country. I don't think that's any less true today. I think that wineries that are willing to figure out the details of having an urban tasting room where they don't have to fight for every single customer I think are going to do really well. Bluxome Street makes incredible, incredible wine. This is a single vineyard from Hurst Vineyard which is really well thought of in Sonoma. This is something that we ship in one of our wine clubs, we're proud of, they're proud of, everybody who goes into Bluxome Street just loves the place and that's the winemakers history, Ant Hill, and I think you will continue to see this. I bet you five years now they have a waiting list for their wine club too.

Next, speaking on the cool climate urbane, this is Comptche Ridge. Quite frankly the wine bottle does not do well on video. I've tried, it just doesn't. It tells you a little bit about Sonoma and Sonoma is always going to be one of their preeminent destinations for Pinot Noir within California. However, if you wanted to buy a piece of property in Sonoma, you probably can't afford it. If you're a winemaker, you definitely can't afford it. What do you do? You move further north and in a lot of cases further west where the land is cheaper. Comptche Ridge is literally cut out from an old redwood grove. None of those things are highly protected, so in essence it's in the middle of current redwood groves. It's the expression of Pinot that you would expect from the coolest climate that you can find in the state of California. It's probably the most burgundian. They're really, really light both in flavor and in ... When you can put it in your glass you can almost feel like you can see through it. We got a really good response to this wine in our wine club last month. Some of our folks are getting it this month. It'll pair wonderfully with Thanksgiving turkey like a lot of Pinot will. You're going to continue to see that, cooler, cooler vintages, but then on the outskirts of what we consider the current wine regions.

Lastly, speaking of maybe not the outskirts of current wine regions, that's Bergstrom. Bergstrom's up in Oregon. You're going to continue to see that. I think as time continues to go by you're going to see the people, consumers, and importantly some LEAs and people within the industry who have responsibilities for buying wine, I think I probably fall into that category at this point, are more and more both accustomed and familiar with Oregon, and you're going to see Oregon grabbing a larger market share. I don't know that they'll necessarily take that away from California because the two are so stylistically differently, but I do think that you're going to see them grabbing some market share from France. I think there are some other countries that fall into that same category. New Zealand, I think, is going to be a great example with the move to more acidity driven wines and the less of the fruit forward on the Pinot taste that people are increasingly looking for these days. I think you're going to see a different set of winners than you did probably 10 or 15 years ago. Oregon is definitely going to be on that list.

Once again, the history of Pi- ... Not the history, but the future of Pinot it's anybody's best guess. It's such a dynamic and moving market, but I do think you're going to continue to see more urban wineries. You're going to continue to see cooler, cooler climate fruit and you're going to continue seeing if your smart about what you're buying, you can get a great deal like Sola. If you are willing to try new things from different states, different countries, you can get a really good deal with some of the Oregon juice as well. Once again, Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures. The future of Pinot, I hope you guys have enjoyed it. We're trying something different with a little bit longer videos every once in a while, so please let me know what you think. Thanks again.

Mark Aselstine
 
November 12, 2014 | Mark Aselstine

Corison Winery, A Napa Valley Gem Hiding in Plain Sight

I've taken the drive from San Francisco north up Highway 29 close to a hundred times over the past few years, I've never noticed Corison Winery sitting on the west side of the road though, just before you hit St Helena and the section of the 29 that the locals affectionately refer to as Napa Valley's main street, while all the while complaining about the continuously snarled traffic.

It might be that spot on the left hand side of the road that makes it slightly more difficult to reach for most people as they travel into wine country from San Francisco, or maybe people are already looking at the first views of non grape vines that they've had for ten miles as a string of restaurants and high end boutiques begins to appear in the quaint and charming St Helena, but Corison Winery is without a doubt, hiding in plain sight on one of the most famous stretches of road in the wine industry.

Here's an intro from the folks at Corison themselves, as a small word of warning, the sound is pretty low, but I thought it was important to let the people making the wine, talk about what makes them different and unique.

Video Transcription:

Welcome to Corison Winery. Cathy Corison is our founder, winemaker and [inaudible 00:00:06]. She’s one of the first female winemakers in the Napa Valley. She’s specializing in low alcohol, high acid Cabernet Sauvignon, 100% varietal. If you’re here, come give us a visit. Thanks! Cheers

I visited Wednesday September 17th and was greeted by what amounts to a beehive of activity.  Harvest in Napa Valley is well underway and Corison was in the middle of harvested their famed estate Kronos Vineyard. Owner and winemaker Cathy Corison is an important figure on a number of levels, as is the property itself.

Cathy Corison also represents something that I hope we can get back to over time (although with land prices sitting at around $500,000 per farmable acre in Napa, that's increasingly unlikely) which is a winemaker who owns the vineyard from which they produce their namesake wines. These are higher in acidity and more balances than almost anything else produced in Napa-more soon on Corison and why the property and winemaker is important in terms of both the history, but also the future of California wine.

Mark Aselstine
 
November 6, 2014 | Mark Aselstine

Proliferation of 100 Point Wines in Robert Parker's Wine

Robert Parker's Wine Advocate has gone from awarding a small handful of 100 point wines every year, to well more than 100 last year (and a pace this year, for well over 100 once again).  What's that mean for the industry? There's no perfect answer as of yet, but we're all trying to figure it out.  One thing I do know, selling based on scores alone, might get harder-

Hey guys, Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures.

One of the interesting thing that's come up over the last few days, the Wine Advocate has now awarded over 500 bottles of wine over the course of their history at 100 points or a perfect score. Interesting thing is that there's a real proliferation of 100 point wines coming right now. 5 years ago, I think that the stats were that less than 50 wines had ever been awarded 100 points in the history of the magazine, and last year alone, there was 102 and there's been 68 already this year. That's kind of before the Bordeaux scores come out. We're looking at another kind of year with well over 100 100 point wines, and so it's just a note of when people get really into, "Well, this wine critic says it's 92 points versus 94 points," if you find somebody who has a similar palate to yours, that's probably a better way of going about it than looking just at the scores as you walk down the aisle. Frankly, I do it too, but it's something that I hope the industry in general can start to move away from (that's also coming from a wine club that talks about shipping wines only 90 points or better in quality, as opposed to scored at 90 points or above like our competitors), especially as kind of this score inflation thing goes out of control, which is what seems to be happening. Yeah, if there used to be a handful of 100 point wines every year, I think that makes sense. There's only so many perfect wines being made and now there's 100 or so a year. That just seems like a big number to me.

Anyway, Mark Aselstine, Uncorked Ventures, and this is the Proliferation of 100 Point Wines in the Wine Advocate.

Mark Aselstine
 
November 6, 2014 | Mark Aselstine

2014 Midterm Election Aftermath

I've been told by some people that these slice of life's within the wine industry are interesting, others find them dull.  Either way, I'll keep talking about stuff that affects the wider wine industry because I think it's an insight that helps people to buy better value wine. Be it a 90 point wine club from a company like my own, or a cheap bottle from Trader Joe's....knowing some of the back story does lead to better wine.

Hey guys. Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures.

Yesterday was election day, as I'm sure everybody's aware at this point, given the steady stream of both tv ads and junk mail that comes in. Here locally, San Francisco and Berkeley both voted on sales tax increases for soda and other sugary drinks. It actually includes juice, too. I have a little kid in the house, so that kind of stuff is something that we notice. It passed in Berkeley not surprisingly, 3/4 of the folks voted for it. It's a 1 cent per ounce tax.

In San Francisco the thing failed. 55% of folks voted for it, but they needed 2/3 because it was going to go in a special fund. That's one interesting thing, at least locally. Second of all, around the elections there's always some changes in the way alcohol is sold, what's legal and what's not.

The state of Tennessee probably had the most movement yesterday. Voters unanimously approved the right for grocery stores to sell wine and beer. Frankly, that's not surprising. I don't think Tennessee and the folks that live there are asking too much at all.

Then the other one is in Oregon, they've had a constant churn of initiatives and ballot measures to try to label GMO products and different GMO products within wine or food. The wine industry was watching them pretty closely. It affects beer much more. There's some residual corn syrup often that's used in beer that would have to be labeled. Many wineries don't use anything that would need to be, but it's just something that on the labeling front, the industry itself is watching pretty closely just because as wine makers use sulfur and other stuff after fermentation, or refine wine before it's bottled, they're not sure exactly how much of that process they want to share, even no matter how clean it appears to most of us.

Anyway, election day came and went. Hope you're doing well.

Mark Aselstine
 
November 4, 2014 | Mark Aselstine

500 Wineries for Sale in America?

The sale of wineries is more of a real estate transcation than it is a sale of a business (that's one spot where my wine of the month club and the wineries I speak with every day tend to differ dramatically).  It's interesting because it's one of the few spots where the average consumer can get some idea about why the price of wine, is as high as it happens to be.

Hi, guys. Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures.

Wines & Vines had a interesting article today that 10% of all the winery owners that they've surveyed over the last few months - about 5,000 in total which is a huge number in the United States, at least two-thirds of all active commercial wineries were surveyed - 10% of those guys said that they would consider selling their winery in the next five years.

As you might expect, it's a huge number. We'd expect about 1 to 2% to sell over the same term. The one thing that I did want to caution everybody because this is going to be something that gets a little bit of play in the mainstream press, most winery sales aren't sales of a winery asset or brand asset. They're actually sales of real estate, so you can look at it as far as real estate prices. A good example is real estate in Napa Valley. A vineyard in Napa Valley will run you about $500,000 per acre because there's a few things going on. First, the Ag Preserve says that you have to have ten acres to be able to build a working winery on site so anything under ten is worth not nothing but approaching nothing in comparison. Over ten there's a limited number of spots available. Anyway, you'll see that in the press. I think CNN's starting to cover some of this kind of stuff. The business of wine, it's an trying one, but when you see that 10% of all wineries are for sale, the short answer is kind of, not really. It's also something to remember the next time we all complain about why the wine gift we wanted to give from Napa, costs so darn much.