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Amador County Barbera and Some Stuff I Like About the Wine Industry

Fiddletown Cellars and Amador County Barbera

I’ve been told that perhaps I ought to actually share some of what I like about the wine industry from time to time.  So here’s some of it.  Logical step ups in price points by wineries.  Wine regions like the Sierra Foothills working to market grapes that can be planted and sold within a reasonable time frame as opposed to Zinfandel which might take 30 years for new wineries to join the party.  There’s a lot to like going on. Here’s some more!

Video Transcription:

Fiddletown Cellars and Amador County BarberaHi, guys. Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures. I’m joined today by two bottles of Amador County Barbera. I spent a couple of days up in the Sierra foothills about a month or so ago at this point, and while I’ve talked a little bit about it over the last few days, about stuff that I didn’t like in the wine industry, I thought maybe a good day to talk about something that I do like, or at least two things.

First, I think one of the exciting things about, as the industry kind of goes and expands, and wine consumption in the United States has gone up dramatically, while kind of international wine consumption has remained flat for a number of years now, in essence, what we’re seeing is, we’re seeing the distribution change slightly. As consumption in France goes down, consumption in the United States has gone up to make up the difference, and that quite honestly changes the way that the market works quite a bit. You’re starting to see that American wines can exist at different price points because that’s, kind of, people’s first experience.

Added consumption in America has meant that sites like Napa and Sonoma haven’t been able to produce everything that we’ve needed, and the more traditional kind of Napa, Sonoma. You’ve seen rises of other vineyard areas that you wouldn’t have seen necessarily if consumption rates hadn’t changed at all. The Sierra Foothills is definitely kind of commiserate with that. One thing that I really liked in the Sierra Foothills is that they have this focus on zinfandel, but zinfandel kind of comes with an inherent problem. While it takes about five years or so for a normal grapevine to start producing quality fruit that you can make good wine with, zinfandel, really, you’re talking about old vine zinfandel being the kind of class act kind of thing, so you’re talking waiting 30 to 35 years before you’re at an old vine status.

If you have access to this old vine zin that’s already been planted and been growing for 100 years, great. You have a kind of ready made wine operation, but what if you don’t? Is it really realistic to expect people to pay thousands of dollars every year to farm the stuff and then have just fair quality wine, but not be able to make anything really good and really kind of memorable for 30 years? I don’t think that’s a great setup for an industry.

The Sierra Foothills has come into Barbera as maybe the best varietal that grows out in the region, and so these were kind of a couple of good bottles that I came across. The wine maker is Joe Shebl, and my apologies if I kind of butcher the last name. Mine is Aselstine, so I can appreciate that happening. Joe makes the wine at Renwood, which is I believe the largest producer out there. They make about 100,000 cases or so. When you visit Renwood, if you go in the back near the production facility, you see these huge tanks. There’s definitely kind of larger production happening out there than there is at many of the Sierra Foothills wineries.

Fiddletown is one of his other projects. Joe makes the wine at a number of places. He’s one of the most easily highly thought of wine makers in the region, and he has both a light touch, but I think he understands where people are coming from when they’re trying to look for zinfandel or for Barbera from the Sierra Foothills. They don’t want something that’s too light that you can see through. They’re looking for the kind of jammy, fruit forward kind of stuff that made California famous, originally.

What I really liked about Fiddletown, and one of the things they do, is that they have this kind of generic Barbera that is Amidor County. Then, they do a reserve version too, which is about $20 more expensive. To be clear, you’re talking about $20 and $40 per bottle, as opposed to, you know, if we were talking about Sonoma, then we’d probably be talking $45 and $65. I really like this, where there’s not necessarily a single vineyard thing going on, but there is a kind of wine maker’s choice going into a reserve blend. These end up thicker, kind of denser wines than the kind of more entry level version, and these are both stuff that could show up in an upcoming Wine Club shipment for us. This is a good fit in our Explorations Wine Club, which is our cheapest option. The Reserve Barbera could fit in either one of our higher end Red Wine Clubs.

Those are two things that I like. I like when wine regions make reasonable choices to help themselves grow. It’s nice that the wine market in the United States has gotten to a point where it can support growth from lesser known regions, and I also like when wineries make reasonable choices about both price points and creating these logical step-ups. It’s one thing to get consumers in your front door with a cheaper price, or with a entry level bottle, but do you produce something that’s a high enough quality as the next step up in price point that you can keep them? That’s really the goal, and that’s why I like Joe, who makes the wine at Renwood, and they have stuff starting in the $20 range, going up all the way past $100, which is the most expensive stuff produced in the Sierra Foothills.

Once again, Mark Aselstine, Uncorked Ventures, hope everybody’s having a nice Friday so far.


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