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Only the Educated Can Make Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon?

education and the wine industry

Perhaps a bit of a negative look at the increasing prices, as well as, the lack of space in Napa Valley as well as other high end wine regions.  Here’s what happens when only the fundamentally rich, or historic?

Video Transcription:

Hi, guys. Mark Aselstine, with Uncorked Ventures. So I’ll hold this up. This is a Singer Cellars, and I’m gonna flip it around for you. Hopefully, you don’t get too dizzy. One I think this interesting thing is, is you’re seeing this more and more now for these days. 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. So right about there. I don’t think Singer … Well Singer is important. And we’ll talk about Singer in a few kind of upcoming minutes here, but there are a few other things that we should talk about in terms of Napa. I wrote a little about it yesterday.

And kind of … One of the interesting things happening in Napa is that Napa is becoming a monoculture. And not a monoculture as in there is only grapes being planted, because that’s been happening since kind of “the mid ’80s.” But only Cabernet Sauvignon is being planted. And most of it is due to price.

And it’s both price that people will pay, but also price that winemakers will then pay based on what they can sell bottles of wine for. So if you’re a grower, and you can sell Cabernet Sauvignon grapes for $7,000 per ton, you’re going to do that instead of say Cabernet Franc; which might get 25,000 at the high end. So there is a huge kind of difference. And so increasingly we’re seeing almost entire vineyards either grafted over to Cabernet. Or kind of stuffed, pulled out, and then planted the Cabernet. Or in essence you know everybody is migrating as quickly as they can to have only Cabernet in their vineyard.

Napa for a long time was much like Bordeaux, it was blends. It was always Carbernet based ed, and it wasn’t Merlot based. Kind of as much. And there wasn’t that much of this side of the river versus that side like they do in Bordeaux. But you know you would see 75% Cabernet, 20% Merlot; and 5% Petite Verdot, or something along those lines. You’re seeing less and less of that. And that’s both winemaker choice. That’s both what the vintages are giving them, but then there’s also you know kind of just a factual statement of, this is what is available. And so this is what we can make wine out of. As an industry, we don’t know what that means.

Personally, I get a little trepidation from it. Because I don’t feel like it’s necessarily a safe or a good growth mechanism for Napa, which is an area that I really do like. So it is kind of one of those things were it feels almost a little bit like an inflection point. And I think it feels a little bit like an inflection point for a couple of reasons.

First and foremost, I think the main inflection point is will people continue to buy 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. Or at some point is this going to turn into Merlot where people are like, “Well I like it, but not like this other thing.” And then you’re stuck. I don’t think that’s going to happen, but I think there is a more interesting aspect to this too.

And the more interesting aspect to me is that … So Napa is so damn expensive, that to get grapes or land in Napa you’d have to have a lot of cash. And if you’re somebody whose made a lot of cash, you go through an entire hiring process when you hire your winemaker. And most of the time you end up with somebody who … If you think about how resumes are set up, the wine industry is no different. Unless if you’ve had a lot of experience as winemaker, and multiple high scoring ventures, etc., etc. If you’re looking to get your first job.

And your first job is really what’s important here. ‘Cause you move up. You’re you know assistant winemaker, or barrel master, or you know cellar master. And you kind of ding, ding, ding, ding up smaller winery. Medium sized winery. And then you know either exclusive winery, or a kind of larger production with folks. But the easiest way to get that first wine making job is with something on your resume being education. That’s like anything in life. Right?

So that first job … Almost all these folks come from UC Davis. Fresno State has a very nice viticultural program. Increasingly Cal Poly San Luis Obispo being thought of as Davis’s equal, perhaps down on the central coast. And you know there is a certainly quite a … There is a handful of other ones. In New York they have programs. Washington State has a handful of them themselves. Oregon as well. But you know you’re really talking about maybe 15 wine making programs, of which Davis is thought of as the Ivy League. And everybody else is probably a step down. And that’s just the God’s honest truth. At least what perception is.

So increasingly in Napa what you’re having is, you’re having only people educated at Davis are able to make Carbernet Sauvignon. Because if you’re a start up winery with some winemaker making your own label, you can’t make Cabernet because you can’t afford it. So that’s an interesting thing to me; is do we want the only takes on Cabernet to come from people that went through the most formalized wine education process. Or do we want it more open? And do we want people that have come into this as a second or third career?

Quite honestly those are the people that I usually work with the most. It’s how I got into the wine trade. It’s a second career for me. And so it’s people that I probably function better with, ’cause they remind me more of my own story like all of us. So in any case, so that’s the question. And I don’t think there is an answer. So once again, the Singer Cellar is something that’ll show up in a wine club shipment soon. Hope everyone is having a good one.

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