Uncorked Ventures Blog
I don’t think we’re likely to ever see another generation of California winery owners, winemaker and vineyard owners to achieve the level of success, progress and influence as we did in the 1960’s as the Golden State went from a region producing fortified, cheap and sweet wines to one of the preeminent fine wine producing regions in the world.
Robert Mondavi’s story has certainly been told enough times in more definitive terms than I could ever in this space, but he truly was at the forefront of moving California into its role at the forefront of innovation, research and of course, quality wine production.
Today would have been his 98th birthday and I can applaud the winery which still carries his name for celebrating today. There are still many lessons which anyone within the wine business can learn from Mondavi’s passion and ability to take appropriate risk.
I don’t usually drink anything made at the Mondavi winery (and it certainly isn’t a good fit for any of our wine clubs) but today I’ll open a bottle of his Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and toast to one of the people who helped create a market which made Uncorked Ventures possible.
During the past two weeks I had a chance to visit family in South America, the trip allowed me to catch up and interestingly brought me back to some of the restaurants and sites which Matt and I originally discussed opening Uncorked Ventures almost two years ago.
While being back made me reminisce somewhat, it also helped open my eyes once again to wine choices in the developing world.
The South American wine market is largely dominated by regional producers Chile and Argentina. As many wine drinkers already know, Argentina has made a name for themselves as the pre-imminent grower and producer of Malbec. No where in the world does the grape fare as well as it does in the Mendoza including its ancestral home of France, a fact we’re planning on exploring in a future blog entry.
Chile is a more diverse wine producing region, largely known in the United States for its production of Cabernet Sauvignon, the country is among the most developed in South America and its growing regions resemble California’s perhaps more than any other. Much of the Chilean exports to other South American countries still center around their Cabernet Sauvignon which in the export market is cheap, fruit forward and easy to drink. During my trip, I also saw a range of white wines from Chile which are not normally found within the United States, including wide selections of Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.
One of the things that surprised me while visiting was the complete lack of lighter styled red wines in the market place. Pinot Noir, a staple in my home state of California is completely absent as is Merlot and other lesser known varietals such as Grenache and Tempranillo. It is nice to see though that a market is still able to be largely regionally focused on wines from nearby wine regions. Frankly, when traveling I don’t want to see the same wine lists that I see back home, where’s the fun in that?
A discussion over the weekend brought up the history of Zinfandel and Primitivo and how similar the grapes were and how different their perceptions tend to be based on where you live.
Most wine drinkers are aware that the two grapes are genetically almost identical. Both are clones of a Croation grape called Crljenak. It makes sense to note here that clones in grapes aren’t exactly the same as clones in humans or sheep. Grape clones aren’t genetic matches, more easily they’re the same grape which has undergone some small change. Those small genetic changes happen easily in the vineyard, with many growers often reporting dramatically different ripening dates from one side of a pathway to another, without any other explanation. I should also point out that reports from the lab are that Zinfandel is closer to Crljenak, meaning that despite protests from Italian vintners, Primitivo may in fact be a clone of Zinfandel itself.
Since both Zinfandel and Primitivo are clones of Crljenak, they in effect share a common ancestor. Reports are that Primitivo ripens earlier and carries less sugar in an average vintage.
The big issue here are the dollars at play. Zin makes up 10% of total production in the United States and many California vintners make their living with the grape. Primitivo hardly enjoys the same type of attention in Italy, where it has largely been forgotten by history and the average wine drinker. California vintners are rightly concerned that cheap Italian versions of the wine will flood the market and undercut prices by being marked as Zinfandel. It’s a very real concern given the difficulties in explaining the situation to a grocery store or drug store wine buyer.
What do I think? Pretty simply, let’s let the French wine industry be our guide. For years we’ve been told that California wine lacks a sense of terrior, or a sense of place. It seems Zinfandel stands to gain from that argument and help to disprove it at the same time. California wine has a style and allowing wines being made from genetic cousins to be marked the same, isn’t doing any favors to small family owned wineries without the resources to educate consumers about the unique flavors and textures afforded to Zinfandel in California.
There are a few things we pride ourselves about at Uncorked Ventures, one is our willingness to communicate with customers and potential customers, but we also think being realistic about wine purchases is really important as well.
We realize, even our best customers are going to buy wine from sources other than Uncorked Ventures. We hope our customers find wineries they enjoy and join their wine clubs, but additionally we hope they continue to expand their palate’s over time by trying wine at a variety price points, from a variety of producers and learning and talking about wine in a variety of places.
On this Wine Blog Wednesday Thursday, we’re featuring Jason’s Wine Blog. (Hey, sometimes your business partner ends up on the front page of the paper and you have to rearrange your blogging schedule)
The focus of Jason’s wine blog is helping people navigate the expansive and ever changing wine aisle at Trader Joe’s. Both Matt and I grew up in Southern California, so Trader Joe’s has been part of the grocery scene for some time, although the chain has only now started to grow across the country, currently operating in 9 states. The theme is interesting, sometimes described as more of a bodega than a big chain grocery store because of it’s smaller size, the employees wear Hawaiian shirts which harkens to it’s roots in Pasadena. Interestingly, the store has been known for wine almost since the beginning, although they’re known for less expensive wine these days than they were in the 60’s and 70’s before wine stores started opening throughout the state of California.
These days, Trader Joe’s receives most of it’s wine press due to carrying Charles Shaw wine, better known as 2 Buck Chuck. Of course, there are plenty of value wines being sold every day at Trader Joe’s and with selections often radically different from store to store, it’s hard to keep track of it all.
That’s where Jason’s Wine Blog comes in. Personally, I enjoy his top 10 lists and can readily admit to enjoying the Trentarte Rosso blend from Italy in past years off of his suggestion. He has even gone so far as to create a hot map tracker for certain wines, showing which stores still have supplies available. It’s a fun blog and one of the few review oriented blogs which we read regularly. All the wines he talks about are readily available and usually priced at around $10 or under. You’ll also find his rating system to be among the most unconventional and easy to understand anywhere. He simply rates wines if you should buy them, or not and some of those in between.
Look, we’ve all bought really, really terrible $10 wine before at the grocery store no matter the size of our cellars. It doesn’t have to continue happening and we can thank Jason for at least part of that.
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