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james laube's wine flights

Not Just Another Anderson Valley Roadside Attraction

Navarro winery has been selling Pinot Noir, Gewürztraminer and everything in between to loyal customers for decades
Photo by: Greg Gorman

Posted: May 13, 2013 2:40pm ET

When Ted Bennett began scouting quiet Philo, Calif., for a vineyard site in the early 1970s, he took note of the fruit stand on Hwy. 128, Anderson Valley's only thoroughfare.

"One of the things I marveled at when I got here was Gowan's [Oak Tree]," he recalled in an interview for the June 15 issue cover story on Anderson Valley. It never closed. "There were always cars there. It didn't matter which time of year," he said. When fresh fruit wasn't available, they sold preserves.

It didn't take long for Bennett to decide to copy Gowan's business model for Navarro winery. It's now a can't-miss winery along the highway for those heading to or from the coast. "As soon as that thought dawned on me, that's how we proceeded," he recalled. "At some point I realized that wine is sold bottle by bottle, not case by case, whether it's selling to a retailer or repeat customers." That and you needed to have something to sell year-round. Navarro made a little of everything, from Cabernet and Chardonnay to Zinfandel and Sauvignon Blanc. Its Rieslings and Gewürztraminers helped define the winery, and Pinot Noir came along steadily.

Most traffic at Navarro comes from tourists. That prompted Bennett to start what might have been one of California's first wine clubs. "The problem with having repeat customers," he laughed, "is you can't change your product much and you can't change your prices much. You're locked in. The advantage is you can make wines that please you and know they'll like them too."

Navarro has been a model of consistency. Its wines have always been excellent. The tasting room is charming. The label has never changed. The mailing list is the envy of any vintner.

One customer in particular remained paramount in Bennett's mind, a woman named Alice, now in her 90s. Her favorite wine is Gewürztraminer and, over the years, Bennett said she's spent $86,000 on Gewürz alone. "I never wanted to raise prices because I wanted Alice to keep buying my wine, and she still is," said Bennett.

Navarro's wine also appeals to academics, Bennett said: "They have an intellectual interest in wine, but don't have much money," he said. And that's kept the wines smartly priced as well.

Andrew J Walter
Sacramento, CA —  May 13, 2013 4:26pm ET
Back when I was a poor resident (in 1991)...Navarro, the original Lucky Creek Winery and the Booneville Inn were my introductions to the world of fine wine and food. While the old French guy, the pinic table and fresh cheese of Lucky Creek are now sadly gone...I still love going to AV to enjoy great food and wine. I always stop at narvarro to stock up on the "ancient method" pinot, the cool climate whites and the fresh grape juice (great treat for the desingated driver and the kids!)
Michael Haley
Eugene, OR —  May 13, 2013 7:49pm ET
I too was introduced to Navarro back in fall 1991 on an excursion with the soon-to-be ex-girlfriend. We stayed at the Philo Pottery Inn and hit Navarro the next day. I have been a pre-release customer of theirs for more than 2 decades now!

Andrew - do you mean the old Lazy Creek Winery with Hans and Theresa? I vividly recall the "tasting room" being the picnic table in the backyard and their Rottweiler cracking walnuts in her mouth while we sampled the wines and cheese. The red table wine was 100% pinot noir and a screaming deal back in the day....
Andrew J Walter
Sacramento, CA —  May 13, 2013 11:42pm ET
yes...Lazy creek....wow I am getting old! I do recall Hans railing about how Americans did not know how to make Gewürztraminers. And while I had no idea exactly what he was talking about...his were quite good thats for sure (as was the Pinot). And I too was with a soon to be ex-girlfriend at the time.....although I fell in love with AV so much that I've brought all subsequent girlfriends including the one who became my wife for stays at the Booneville Inn (just don't tell her that!)
David Rossi
Napa, CA —  May 14, 2013 8:02am ET
Love Navarro Gewurtz. Anderson Valley Pinot Festival is this coming weekend and I will definitely pick some up.
Michael Haley
Eugene, OR —  May 14, 2013 4:49pm ET
Andrew - don't say old! We're both in our 40s still, so let's age gracefully like wine... I moved to Oregon in 1993 after finishing my postdoc at Berkeley, so it is difficult to get back to AV as much as I would like. Fortunately though, Oregon does a darn good job with many of the AV style wines (all things pinot - noir, blanc, gris), though a good OR Gewürz is difficult to find.

Jerry Rosenblatt
Montreal, Canada —  August 1, 2013 2:43pm ET
James, not only are ratings inflated, but sometimes very confusing. Here's your rating of the 2008 Verite La Joie (88pts) - "Very dry and earthy, with a strong leathery edge to the crushed rock and dried berry flavors, maintaining a rugged personality on the finish." Not so good... A very respected competitor writes, "How much fun collectors will have comparing the 2007 and 2008 La Joies over the next three decades... Wonderful notes of roasted herbs, asphalt, black truffles, blackberries, cassis, camphor and subtle oak are present in the majestic aromatics. In the mouth, the wine is extraordinarily concentrated, pure and dense with amazing length" (99 pts). What's a consumer to believe ??

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