Wine labels occasionally vanish. But many live on through vinous reincarnations—that is they are sold and new owners revive them if they think the name has merit or recognition. Usually the labels reappear positioned as value brands.
I came across one of those labels the other day in a regular blind tasting. The brand name is Lyeth (rhymes with teeth), and it first appeared in the early 1980s.
Chip Lyeth, the original proprietor, had a novel idea. He bottled red and white table wines from Alexander Valley, modeled after Bordeaux blends, with no varietal identification and used simply the name “Lyeth.” The reds were a mix of Cabernet and Merlot, and perhaps Cabernet Franc. The whites were Sauvignon and Sémillon (though it was hard to find out the exact mixes since Lyeth wanted people to focus on the wine and not the varietals, as with Bordeaux wines). The prices were in the $20-plus range, which was expensive then. The packaging was classy.
The wines were a qualitative success yet never took hold. Mr. Lyeth died tragicly in a plane crash, just as people began to understand what he was attempting to do. We’ll never know if he would have succeeded in establishing the brand and the concept, but what he envisioned evolved into the Meritage category of wines. After his death, the label languished and some vintages were sold at huge discounts. Eventually the winery and the vineyards were sold; Gallo, I believe, bought the vineyards and Silver Oak the winery. Eventually Boisset ended up owning the label and currently makes the wines.
I’ve reviewed the Lyeth wines from time to time. They’re usually good, but nothing special and certainly nothing along the lines of what its founder intended. They are now mostly labeled by varietal, most under the L de Lyeth name, and include Chardonnay, Merlot, Zinfandel and others. Most sell in the $11 range. But the latest Sonoma County Pinot Noir 2006 Heritage Reserve is impressive, and at $19, a very attractive buy.
Peter Vangsness — Springfield, MA — January 16, 2009 11:39am ET
Boisset Wines — Sausalito, CA — January 16, 2009 1:10pm ET
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