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Napa Wine Too Pricey? Then Cast A Wider Net

By Stephen Eliot

Napa Valley has for years had its share of detractors whose sour-grapes attitudes regularly find voice in the social media forum, but there recently seems to be building resentment of the very successful and, yes, very expensive, Napa wine culture in the world of professional journalism as well. It may be that the seasonal pheromones of politics can be blamed for the impassioned claims that Napa Valley and its wines are now the exclusive realm of the one-percent, but the weekend line of traffic on Highway 29 is not made up of Ferraris and Bentleys as much as it is of Toyotas and Fords.

When it comes to taking positions on the political playing field, I confess that I am comfortable making the short throw to third base. Despite my progressive predilections on most every issue, however, I find myself more than a little uneasy with the social and philosophical bricks increasingly being thrown in the direction of Napa Valley winemakers of late.

I suppose that my defense of the free market and belief that there is nothing wrong with a winemaker pricing his or her wines at whatever that market will bear may lessen my left-leaning credentials, but I do not begrudge those who have managed to find extraordinary success and can charge so much for their wines that their purchase is not something that my pay grade can support.

I understand the disappointment of the many who feel that the most collectable Napa Valley wines are no longer within their reach. Napa is hardly unique in that regard. One need only look at the top names of Burgundy, Bordeaux, Piedmont and the Rhône to realize that the world at large has come to recognize what we wine geeks have always known. I sometimes think that those of us who sell and write about wines must take at least a bit of responsibility for rising prices as our years of proselytizing have helped to create an ever larger and increasingly aware base of consumers for fine wines, and the simple dictates of supply and demand compel rising prices as more and more folks join in the fun. Maybe we have done our jobs a little too well.

That said, the notion that very good wine, whether from Napa or elsewhere, is necessarily prohibitively expensive is simply untrue. “Trophy” wines will command what seem to many of us vulgar prices; they always have and always will, but there has never been as much high-quality wine to be had as there is today, and it is being made all over the world. The fact that wines sales are increasing is proof enough that people are not forgoing vinous pleasures, and to those who decry the decline of affordable wine I would say that it is time to pay attention, open your eyes and cast a wider net.


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