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james laube's wine flights

A Merlot Star Returns To Syrah

Photo by: Greg Gorman

Posted: Sep 8, 2006 12:23pm ET

Right idea. Right wine.

The owners of Paloma have started a second label, and it’s a move that makes sense.

The producers of what is arguably California’s preeminent Merlot realized that putting all their eggs in the Merlot basket had its risks.

Tonnage off Jim and Barbara’s Richards’ 16-acre Spring Mountain Vineyard is highly variable. One year they might make 2,500 cases, as they did with the 2001 vintage, but the next year the output might be only 1,400 cases.

Those kinds of production swings make it challenging to run a business, so in 2005 they decided to add a new line of wines.

“It was a business decision,” said Jim Richards.

The couple chose to buy Syrah from Hamilton Vineyard, a steep, well-manicured property in Healdsburg, in Sonoma’s Dry Creek Valley area.

It will be bottled under the Palomita (little dove) label. No price yet.

Syrah is a natural for the Richards, since they used to grow and produce a small amount of Syrah from their estate vineyard.

So they know the grape and the wine, and it’s something they're excited about.

In 2005, they produced about 10 barrels, which might yield 250 to 300 cases, and they’re making more this year.

Moreover, if this works the way they hope it will, the Richards will continue to explore other possibilities with other grapes.

“I’d like to make something interesting in the 250- to 300-case range,” said Jim. Their winery isn’t big enough to do more.

Here’s hoping there’s more good wine to come.

Steven Haught
Oklahoma City, OK USA —  September 8, 2006 1:19pm ET
My wife and I had the pleasure of meeting Barbara Richards a few years ago in her home and tasted the outstanding merlot. She was absolutely delightful. I look forward to trying their new products.
Dave Joyce
Winston-Salem, NC —  September 9, 2006 4:33pm ET
James, In your conversation with the Paloma owners did they give any indication if their business was down? With their small production and excellent track record it would be interesting to know if they are experiencing some of the slowdown that we are seeing in our shop with other over $20 retail Merlot. You certainly would have to think that if one of the best of the best Merlot producers is slowing down, or even concerned about all "eggs in one basket", what is happening with other Merlot producers. We have even seen a slowdown in sales this year in great upper priced Merlot like Pride and Plumpjack. What have you heard and seen from other mid to upper priced Merlot producers?
James Laube
Napa, CA —  September 9, 2006 5:13pm ET
Dave, I think their explanation tells it all; business is good, but volume is highly variable, making it hard to plan from one year to the next. As you know, the wine business needs lots of cash flow and one can never have enough money. BTW, at $54, the 2004 Paloma Merlot is one of -- if not the -- best great red wine value in Napa Valley. A rarity indeed. I expect the part of the reason for the Merlot slowdown is the 2003 vintage. A real tough year for this wine.
Dave Joyce
Winston-Salem, NC —  September 10, 2006 12:53pm ET
James, I agree with you completely on the value of Paloma, but there are a bunch of $30 to $60 Merlot's on the market that certainly are not up to Paloma's standards. How much do you attribute, if any, the notion that Merlot sales have been hurt substantially by one great line in the movie "Sideways"? Do you think this notion has merit or is it just a conspiracy theory that is covering up a normal evolution in customer's tastes?
Paul Anderson
Longview, TX —  September 10, 2006 3:55pm ET
I'm glad to see them branch out into Syrah. It has been a favorite of mine for a long time but I've just begun to enjoy what California wineries have to offer. BTW, "Sideways" influenced me to take more interest in Pinot rather than lose interest in Merlot. The result is I've spent more Pinot than I used to and therefore less Merlot but I still like it and still keep it well stocked in my collection.
Apj Powers
Dallas, TX —  September 12, 2006 3:03am ET
I would love to try Paloma Merlot. Can't seem to find it around DFW. Can anyone offer suggestions. As for Merlot in general, I've narrowed the section down and added more Pinot (along the lines of Paul's comment) but feel there are some excellent Merlots out there but also so many unispired efforts. Similar to one of the earlier blogs about the decline in quality of Rosemount and other inexpensive Shiraz. Alas, you have to pay more for most of the better ones (pride, duckhorn, pepper bridge)
James Clary
United States —  September 15, 2006 11:06pm ET
Jim - in 2001, The Richards also made an outstanding (to my palate) cabernet. Any idea why they haven't made more of this wine?

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