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FRIDAY GETAWAY DAY
02/22/2013
Friday Fishwrap
A Few People Diss Napa—The Wines Answer Back This Weekend

By Stephen Eliot

There is excitement in the air hereabouts. The 2013 version of Premiere Napa has begun. Things kick into high gear today and culminate in Saturday’s barrel-tasting and auction of wines from 200 or so of Napa Valley’s top producers. There are countless tasting events scheduled for today, and, once our morning coffee has cooled, we will be on our ways north to visit more than a few.

Now, there are those who would have us believe that Napa Valley has somehow lost its way and has broken its cultural convenant with wine lovers. We are told that it is the wasteland of big business and celebrity money and that its wines, according to one critic, have become swollen caricatures of themselves.

All of the wines taste the same, we are instructed; over-ripe, over-oaked and over-priced, and the noble concerns of true terroir and place have been wholly abandoned in pursuit of the really big bucks that 100-point scores guarantee. Napa is Rome in decline, and only a small cadre, a very small fringe of talented, iconoclastic winemakers can save California wine and resurrect true winemaking art.

Are there formulaic, over-the-top wines to be found? Yes. Has Napa Valley attracted a good many folks with very deep pockets? Sure, and anyone who has spent even a few hours there will understand why. It is, after all, a fairly gorgeous place. But, notions that Napa Valley is now wholly governed by soulless corporations and bored investment bankers whose bottom-line ethos has killed the winemaking dream are complete and utter nonsense. Such broadsides might be useful in stirring the disloyal opposition and rallying those who have their own odd axes to grind, but they, not the wines they seek to condemn, are what have become predictably formulaic and tiresome.

Now please do not consider my morning musings as a starry-eyed love note to Napa Valley. Not every wine of its provenance is great, and plenty of them fail to excite. But, I still hold that, as an appellation, it is unsurpassed in consistently producing fine California Cabernet Sauvignon of the first order, and that it offers up dozens and dozens of remarkably good bottlings of everything from Chardonnay to Zinfandel to Sauvignon Blanc to Merlot every year.

I am no more a cheerleader for Napa than for the Russian River Valley, Dry Creek, the Santa Cruz Mountains, Santa Barbara or the Sonoma Coast and regularly revel in the wonderful quality and variety to be found in one and all. I do find it hard to remain silent, however, when faced with silly, reductionist, downright ignorant ramblings about the decline and fall of Napa Valley.

I confess to at least a bit of home-team pride, and Napa Valley may be as close to home as it is to my heart, but it needs no defense from me or everyone else. At the end of the day, it is all about what is in the glass, and I suspect I will raise mine with real pleasure more than once over the next two days.


 

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