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WINE AND FOOD WEDNESDAY
10/31/2012
Wednesday Warblings
A New Yorker Finally Discovers Napa Valley

By Stephen Eliot, with Charles Olken

“Young winemakers are carving out their own niches, overturning preconceptions about the region”. So begins an interesting, and some might say seminal, piece posted earlier this week on the Wine Spectator website by one Talia Baiocchi.* And, no, the place in question is not the Santa Cruz Mountains, the Santa Rita Hills or some small enclave tucked away in the Sierras, it is none other than Napa Valley.
                              
It seems that the place is undergoing a much-needed change…or not. I am not entirely sure just what Ms. Baiocchi is trying to tell us. She writes,

“Napa, in my eyes, hasn't always embodied the sort of raw enthusiasm and sense of possibility that's drawn me to other regions around the world. Part of that is my own prejudice, certainly. When I first got into wine, the thought of Napa Valley conjured images of middle-aged men and women wearing linen and sipping oaky Chardonnay on a veranda. It didn't carry with it the sort of edgy, counter-cultural allure of some of Europe's less-trodden regions. It was, to be frank, uncool.

But that's changed. I've changed. Napa has changed. I've never felt quite as inspired by this region as I am today. “

Now, I welcome new voices especially those with something to say. “New” is the very lifeblood of journalism regardless of topic, but what seems to be new here is far less about the realities of Napa Valley and far more about how Napa is now viewed by someone who sees through the lens of “the new Brooklyn aesthetic”, as fellow writer Blake Gray has dubbed the rising counter culture in that place somewhere near the reality that is Manhattan.

Napa is now cool, and I can breathe a big sigh of relief. Indeed, we all can. We are born again. We are saved from ourselves. Some self-absorbed teeny-bopper from the East has told us so. Thank goodness we have someone “hip” to help us define ourselves.

But wait. Isn’t this just another part of the non-stop condemnation of the “Napa style”, so much of which is coming from the East Coast and from those who look to Europe for their vinous inspiration? We hear that Napa’s wines are too ripe, too oaky, too expensive and indistinguishable one from the other. As anyone who has taken more than an ephemeral look at California wines over the years fully knows, this is an old and familiar refrain that has been heard on and off for decades. It is nothing new. What is new, however, and I think significant, is that one of New York’s hip young opinion makers has just jumped off the bandwagon of derision when it comes to Napa Valley. “Look ma, there’s more than one style there”.

As far as I am concerned, GenNext is not all that different than GenLast when it comes to winemaking passion, commitment and artistic conviction in Napa Valley. Those who would damn Napa with broad, sweeping strokes for the “excesses” of the last twenty years have lately been given to fantasizing about a “golden age” of the 1960s and 1970s whose legacy has been betrayed.

What utter poppycock. The notion that Napa has been asleep at the wheel since the pioneering days of Tchelistcheff, Mondavi, Heitz and Winiarski is as patently offensive as it is egregiously misinformed.

There is plenty of gray hair in Napa, always has been, but there is plenty of vitality and energy and no shortage of those who are willing to look ahead. Always has been. Baiocchi has heard and obviously been inspired by a few voices new to her, but anybody with more than a few weeks of knowledge well understands that they have been there all along. All that was required was to taste and to listen.

In the end, Baiocchi back peddles a bit and admits that the real problem may lie less with the Napa and more with “the image of Napa that was sold hard to the public during my formative years”. I applaud her candor in admitting that her too-narrow view of Napa Valley owed in part to her own prejudice. But even then, the question remains. Where did she get such obviously unknowing views? It was not from visiting the Napa Valley and tasting the continuing expansion of wines coming from there. No one from Napa sold her that image. She acquired it out of ignorance and the “conventional wisdom” that has always separated New York and its provincial, look down its nose attitude from the rest of the world. That her views are at least now growing and expanding is a good thing.

Who knows, it may be that in time she will discover that there are also some pretty good, and hip, wines in Sonoma, Mendocino, Monterey and Santa Barbara as well.

* http://www.winespectator.com/blogs/show/id/47517


 

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Comments

Hmmmmm....
by TomHill
Posted on:10/31/2012 12:22:21 PM

"It's a comment about the image of Napa that was sold hard to the public during my more formative years."

Hmmmmm.......And who, exactly,  was responsible for the selling of this image of the NapaVlly???  I don't think it was the NapaVlly CoC. I don't think it was CGCW. I don't think it was a lot of the winemakers. I think probably the biggest seller of her distorted image of the NapaVlly is the same guy that signs her paycheck...ole Marv and the WineSpec. When I look at their issues on the NapaVlly; with images of latest showcase wineries, of opulent homes up in the hills, of catered dinners at the NapaVllyAuction; I always think...man....that's not the NapaVlly that I know & love. Those are not the people I seek out when I venture into the NapaVlly. There are plenty of real-life people in the NapaVlly..people who have to worry about getting their kids to school in the morning, paying the mortgage, shopping for their groceries at someplace other than Dean&DeLuca...all that stuff us ordinary people have to deal with. Those are not the folks you usually see in the WineSpec.

End of rant.

Tom

 

No Subject
by Thomas Pellechia
Posted on:10/31/2012 2:04:39 PM

Relax guys. It's just another wannabe writer without an ounce of interest in history.

In America, all you ahve to do to "know" something is to say it.

Old Lady
by Samantha Dugan
Posted on:10/31/2012 11:22:06 PM

Well I have to get a bit of a chuckle out of the fact that young Talia has done a fine job in getting the...um, "settled in" group all a twitter and undies crunched. Good for her and not unlike someone I am guessing she admires, Ms. Alice? Just a little? Look, I'm like an old lady, in our little industry anyway, here long before the hipster, "tenny-bopper" set and I've been to New York once, like years ago and only for three days...Talia's comments could be mine. In fact, I've said a couple of the same things, and to customers, in the past couple months.

 

I get what you guys are saying but are seriously you going to try and have us believe that there is not a movement to more restrained, lower alcohol wines with less oak in Napa Valley right now? I think being dimissive of that, pretending that it isn't happening is just as inflamatory as the "tenny-bopper" comments and is frankly, just as raw skin rubbing. Have there always been restrained and balanced wines being made in Napa, of course there have. Have all the wineries in Napa stayed true to themselves and not played and whored themselves out for publication scores, (Um, Caymus, I'm looking at your tired and sweet ass) you know just as well, far better in fact, than I....they have not. A flavor got big scores, got big prices and not only priced out the people that helped keep those winery doors open, turned off a lot of us seeking purity and freshness. I too see changes and as someone that deals with a customer base that is less and less inclined to pop for that $30 Cabernet from Napa when they can get a sexy Cab Franc from the Loire or tasty ass Malbec for far less? As a retailer and forever student of this busines of ours, I am thrilled at what I've been tasting and hearing coming out of Napa the past couple years....sorry Charlie. Not on any bandwagon, not a teeny-bopper and not a New Yorker, but I have a palate too and I'm not alone.

Old Lady
by Charles E. Olken
Posted on:11/1/2012 1:23:46 AM

Sam--

The bitch with the piece by Ms. B. is not an argument for or against the Napa style and its continuing evolution, but rather the "eyes wide open" discovery of the place in such a naive way.

People can like or not like whatever it is that moves or fails to move them. But the notion that Napa was moribund and now is not is an insult to too many wineries and the product of far too limited knowledge.

Poke
by Samantha Dugan
Posted on:11/1/2012 10:05:21 AM

Charlie my love, I was just poking you with my big schtick....been quiet too long and needed to rattle a cage or two. xoxoxox

Only 65-80 Dollars!
by Lenny
Posted on:11/1/2012 11:47:12 AM

So an unknown, first time winemaker is going to release his inaugural vintage for "only" 65-80 dollars.  Where do I sign up!

Let me give you guys a little contrast and a lesson in why imports have gone from 18% of the US wine market in 1999 to 31% in 2010 (estimated based on the first three quarters of Customs data to hit close to 35% this year).

A client and I were having dinner at one of Chicago's BYOB restaurants (seriously, anyone who isn't aware of the range of BYOB restaurants in the Windy City up to and including a couple of Michelin one stars should check it out, but that's another discussion).  We stopped at a small, fine wine merchant in the Gold Coast, and I asked him to pick out (no regional preferances stated whatsoever) one white and one red and keep the the pre-tax total to $40 or under.  I researched both wines back at the hotel later that evening.

 

First choice was a gorgeous Muscadet.  It came from a small, family proprietor, 90 year old vines and 30Hl/HA yields.  Maybe a thousand cases made.  Probably a hundred to the US.  It was an impeccable wine, food friendly, balanced, interesting.  $12

 

His second choice was a Crianza from Bierzo.  80 to 110 year old hillside vines that have been in the winery's family since planting, and the winery in existence for over 80 years.  Aged for a year in a mix of new and used French oak and held in bottle for another 18 months before release.  Again, a beautiful, complex, nuanced and food friendly wine with a sense of history and place.  $22

Napa New?
by Holly Evans-White
Posted on:11/1/2012 12:35:08 PM

The thing we love about little kids is their sense of excitement and entitlement to every new thing they experience.  Takes us back to our first trip to the zoo, first remembered Christmas, first kiss, first sip of wine...  Twenty years pass and, god-willing we grow up, get better, wiser, we smile watching the youngsters take their first steps and think they invented walking.  To Italy, Napa is new.  To a neophyte, Napa is old, just like Mom and Dad, in need of refreshing.  Twenty years pass and suddenly The kid is grown, looking back at their young self and blushing at past arrogance or, let's just call it youthful enthusiasm.  It's cute.  Talia is gonna grow up and blush and we will pat her on the back and say, it's okay honey, been there, done it.

 

Lenny, Lenny, Lenny X 2
by Charlie Olken
Posted on:11/1/2012 1:16:51 PM

Hi Lenny--

You will find a longer response to your comments over on the next blog topic (MYTHS).

in the almost four decades that I have been covering the CA wine scene, it has been true that there are who swaths of Europe that produce scads of inexpensive wine whereas CA tends to produce wines of those prices either from inexpensive lands or by exception from places like Napa and Sonoma, Santa Barbara and the Edna Valley.

BUT, Lenny, every month, in every edition of Connoisseurs' Guide, we have been publsihing a column called Best Buys. And, that column always contains the names of fifteen to twenty wines we have recently discovered that offer the kind of value that you have said does not exist.

I have no intention of knokcing Muscadet and unheard of Spanish lands. I just visited western France this Sprng and Spain a couple of years ago. Tasted some very fine wines.

BUT, Lenny, to suggest that such wines do not exist in CA is simply not correct.

Lenny, Lenny, Lenny X 2
by Charlie Olken
Posted on:11/1/2012 1:20:20 PM

Holly--

You have to love the enthusiasm of discovery. Unfortunately, when a column like that is published in the Wine Spectator, it passes for wisdeom when it is, as you have suggested, only the product of naivete'.

My sentiments...
by Thomas Pellechia
Posted on:11/1/2012 1:30:35 PM

"Unfortunately, when a column like that is published in the Wine Spectator, it passes for wisdeom when it is, as you have suggested, only the product of naivete'."

...exactly.

Has anyone seen what venerable magazines want to pay established professional writers?

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