Ran into an old friend yesterday at my favorite wine bar (aka Wine Spectator's Napa tasting room).
I immediately recognized the face. But then I noticed he had a new outfit, and he’d put on a little weight. Actually a lot of weight.
My old friend, Chalone Vineyard, had undergone a complete makeover. The once-proud estate-bottled wine – a trendsetter with Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Noir – had bulked up, big time.
This winery once produced some 50,000 cases a year from those grapes, and despite a few bumps here and there, seemed to be back on track with some of its recent bottlings.
But this Chalone Vineyard Chardonnay isn’t from the estate property in the Gavilan Mountains, in Monterey County. It’s the new Chalone, a 60,000-case Monterey County Chardonnay that sells for $11.
The wine is pretty good and so is the price.
It’s just the bait-and-switch use of the name Chalone Vineyard that troubles me.
But I’m beginning to think I may be in a shrinking minority when it comes to being offended by wine companies trading off the name of a once-great brand. (See my blog post on A by Acacia.)
For those of us old enough to remember the real Chalone, and its founder, the late Richard Graff, it’s hard to overstate his and the wines’ influence on the California wine industry, dating to the 1960s. (And, by the way, I never liked it when Chalone went public and used Chalone Wine Group as its corporate name as the umbrella for its other wineries and brands.)
The people behind Chalone’s new owner, Diageo, no doubt believe their new lines of wines--the Chalone Monterey Chardonnay and A by Acacia, a California appellation Chardonnay and Pinot Noir--are good values. I don’t dispute that.
I just don’t like the dilution of the names, and I’m afraid that too many people will see these wines on restaurant lists or in wine stores and assume they are the old Chalone.
Just as sad is that the real Chalone Vineyard has improved significantly under winemaker Dan Karlsen. He’s a no-nonsense guy who understands quality and value.
Privately, many of the folks who work for corporations who bleed their brands are disgusted with this trend. It undermines the pride and dedication these employees have committed to the original brands, and they know the new lines of wines are simply trading off those names in an effort to boost sales.
Younger wine drinkers will no doubt run across other people, in addition to me, who remember the good old days, when Chalone stood for excellence.
The wines were incredible.
I drank dozens of them, many with Mr. Graff.
Trust us. We're not imagining things.
Tom Fiorillo — Denver, CO — September 13, 2006 6:13pm ET
Thomas A Mobley Iii — Tallahassee, FL — September 13, 2006 9:01pm ET
Lyle Kumasaka — Arlington, VA — September 13, 2006 9:17pm ET
William Newell — Buffalo, NY — September 14, 2006 11:16am ET
Apj Powers — Dallas, TX — September 15, 2006 1:42am ET
Richard Hirth — Michigan — September 15, 2006 9:07am ET
Michael Mintz — Washington DC — September 18, 2006 11:34pm ET
Sips & Tips | Wine & Healthy Living
Video Theater | Collecting & Auctions