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Thursday Thorns
A Surprising Mistake By Kermit Lynch

By Stephen Eliot

I have always found wine videos to be god-awful boring. Sitting and actually watching someone talk about wine may be a good remedy for acute insomnia, but, with respect to things vinous, the monotony of the talking-head video format is generally about as exciting as watching paint dry. Rules, however, are made by exception, and a new series of video interviews hosted by Rajat Parr of Sandhi wines is well worth a look. *

Each of the first five episodes runs a very manageable ten to fifteen minutes in length and features smart and articulate people who have something to say. Brief visits with Ted Lemon of Littorai, Jim Clendenen of Au Bon Climat, Domaine Drouhin’s Veronique Drouhin and co-founder of Williams Selyem, Burt Willams have been recently augmented with a short interview with Kermit Lynch, and each provides the informed and interested viewer with real food for thought.

It is the latter that has set me to thinking over this morning’s coffee, specifically Kermit’s observation that Burgundy was a relative bargain these days when measured against the wines of Bordeaux and California. It was one of those comments with which I was quick to agree, but then on reflection began to wonder and felt the need for a little empirical support.

I helped pay the bills for graduate school by working at a remarkable wine shop called The Village Corner in Ann Arbor, Michigan back in the late 1970s, and I pulled out a copy of an old catalog and a few early copies of CGCW to get a feel for just how steep the rise in prices has been over the last 35 years.

It turns out the Kermit’s inklings were right as far as Bordeaux and Burgundy were concerned, and, excepting the likes of a handful of trophy wines such as those of Domaine Romanee Conti that are now out of the reach of all but the exceptionally wealthy, the prices for good Burgundy are far less inflationary than those of Bordeaux. A quick comparative look at California prices, however, brought a real and very much unexpected surprise.

Most sources indicate a basic cost-of-living increase in the United States of roughly four-hundred percent over the last 35 years. During that time, a brief look at Bordeaux prices found increases of twenty to seventy fold, and Burgundy increased on average some six to ten times. In the same span, however, a representative sample of premium California bottlings showed a comparatively modest average increase of five- to six-hundred percent and only a few rising as much as ten times.

Now, my cursory look at prices based on a small handful of samples is hardly scientific or conclusive, but if we can agree to ignore the largely unattainable “cult” efforts such as Screaming Eagle, Harlan and the like, it is hard not to come away with the feeling that fine California wine still comes out a winner as far as bang for the buck is concerned.



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