Wente is the most important Livermore winery, in my opinion, by far. Here’s their second tier offering, likely providing what Livermore is capable of.
Hi guys. Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures. A quick video today. Over the past week or two I’ve started to do a little research into Livermore Valley. It’s an AVA that we haven’t traditionally covered very much and that’s not because it doesn’t have a long, rich and varied history of making good wine. It does. There was a time pre-prohibition when Livermore was actually thought of as Napa Valley’s superior when it came to Cabernet Sauvignon and just general fine wine production.
Prohibition wasn’t as kind to Livermore as it was to say, Napa, or even in the run up of the ’70s and ’80s Sonoma and the kind of prices that you see being produced by a lot of wineries in the region are still kind of reminiscent of that. Wente is … I don’t like having to compare everything to Napa because I don’t think it’s helpful but Wente is in large part the Mondavi of Livermore Valley. It is the oldest winery. It is also the best known winery. If you wanted to go down to your local grocery store, assuming that your state exists in the twenty-first century like us here in California, and grab a bottle of Livermore wine, it’s going to be Wente. I don’t think there’s any other kind of large names that are in circulation as it stands currently.
What’s happened in Livermore more recently is you have to know a little bit about the Bay Area to understand what’s happening and why. Everyone knows about the tech boom in San Francisco and they know about Silicon Valley. What most people don’t realize is that Berkeley and much of the East Bay has taken on most of the population influx that’s happened into the Bay Area. People always think of Sacramento as being an hour or two outside of San Francisco and that’s definitely true.
There’s this whole Contra Costa County region that runs between the two cities and they talk about having a million extra people in the state of California over the next twenty years. By most projections four or five hundred thousand of those, about half of the new folks that move into the State of California are going to move into Contra Costa County which is the kind of East Bay region of San Francisco/the western suburbs of Sacramento and kind of the regions in between.
That’s kind of where Livermore falls but in essence what’s happening is that you have a wine region who’s been well established for well over one hundred fifty years at this point and you have a massive influx of new residents and new people living around them that’s creating a larger natural market than they’ve had otherwise. As you might expect, San Francisco is an incredibly competitive market for everybody. It’s one of the few regions of the country where you have really first-rate wine makers who are happy to go into wine stores and restaurants and try to sell a couple cases of wine.
It’s something that you hear from the Washington folks happening in Seattle. Charles Smith from K Vintners and Charles Smith Wines tells the story about how he used to show up at a certain wine store in Seattle with ten cases of wine in the back and hopefully he sold half of them and then they could drink the other half kind of thing. That’s something that you’re going to hear more, a little more and having that local market is really something that’s a positive thing. Much of how Santa Barbara has been able to kind of [parlay 00:03:13] their success in Los Angeles to a bigger, national audience. I think you’re going to see Livermore Valley start to live off of having a solid amount of local sales and then you can kind of branch out and try to do more.
In essence you have this long and rich history in Livermore. It is a warmer growing region than many but it is not as warm as Paso is for the most part. I think it’s a region that you’re going to hear more about. It’s a region where this Wente Southern Hills Cabernet retails in the grocery store at fifteen or twenty bucks or so. I reviewed a Bonterra Organic Cabernet a few weeks ago and it has most of those same traits except for there’s just this little bit at the end on the finish that reminds you of a Napa Valley cab. It’s kind of this little bit of thickness and plum [jaminess 00:04:04] that I think most people expect when they drink California wine that you don’t necessarily get in some of the other lower kind of just mid-tier price growing region. By mid-tier I mean kind of making entry level wines at fifteen or twenty dollars as opposed to the forty that you see for more established regions.
I think Livermore is going to be really, really successful over the next coming years about pushing out this fifteen to twenty dollar Cabernet and other stuff in that price range. It’s a good quality product for that price. The big question as you might expect is, can they take customers who get to know their brands at that price point and then push them into hundred dollar Cabernet. To be quite honest with you, no region has been able to do that and take money away from Napa yet. I’m dubious about anyone’s ability to do that, at least domestically, in the coming years.
I think if you ask the average wine buyer across the United States, “Would you rather buy something from the Red Mountain AVA or Napa Valley?” I think ninety-nine percent of people would say, “What’s the Red Mountain AVA?” Even though from a quality to price standpoint I think that … Red Mountain’s in Washington by the way. Price to quality standpoint might be higher than Napa because it’s a half or a third of the price. That’s going to be the argument that Livermore is going to have to make. They have a larger kind of local market coming so they’re going to be able to do more. They’re going be able to produce more. They’re going to be able to sell more locally and there is definitely kind of a [inaudible 00:05:33] and a need for that in the U.S.
If you look how the Finger Lakes have been success in New York, I think that’s kind of a good approximation for what’s likely to happen here but the San Francisco market is incredibly competitive and it’s only going to get more so. You have even more things happening in Napa, Sonoma, Lake County, Mendocino. We talk and hear locally about both the dairy shed of the Bay Area but then there’s also the farming shed and areas that kind of circle it in a lot of ways and everybody’s trying to be in the same market. That’s a challenge but land prices are lower so they have a lower price point. Folks like Wente I think are going to continue to be successful and I think you’re going to see more and newer names come out of Livermore.
It’ll be interesting to see what happens. There’s also the pressure from where can a wine maker go if he wants to buy his own land? Napa has kind of moved themselves out of that ability these days based on prices. Livermore might be a logical option if somebody didn’t want to go up to Lake County. Once again, Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures. Hope you’re all doing well. I hope you enjoyed this short, even though it might be a slightly rambling introduction to Livermore and Wente. They make some good wine and if you could, try a bottle when you can find it. Thanks. Have a good one.