Auction Napa Valley is less about wine these days than raising money for Napa area health services and other good causes. At that, it is a resounding success.
The top bid -- $1.05 million for a luxury tour of France’s great wine estates – helped vintners raise $8.4 million on Saturday.
But the real wine action was on Friday at the barrel tasting. Wineries showed off infant wines, and as I sampled some 30 cuvées, I was reminded how competitive this business is, and how the competition works for consumers.
As I walked down the aisles in the cellar at Trinchero Family/Sutter Home in St. Helena, you could see an industry in transition.
Several of the wineries – D. R. Stephens, Hartwell and Luna – had staggering barrel samples. Stephens is one of the hottest new wineries in Napa Valley. Both its Cabernet, from Moose Valley, and Chardonnay are brilliant wines.
Hartwell has long been a personal favorite, yet is an example of a winery that is no longer a new kid on the block, nor a rising star. It can hardly afford to rest on its laurels and is a company seeking to reaffirm its status as one of the valley’s best. Its 2005 Sweet Spot Cabernet was profoundly rich and flavorful.
Luna is a winery on the upswing. Its 2004 Cabernet is rich and plush, easily the best young Luna red wine I’ve tried. A new winemaking team, headed by Mike Drash, needed to clean up the winery’s cellar (which it has) after a bout with Brettanomyces. The new wines (some of which I tried earlier with Drash) showcase pure, ripe flavors.
Other wines I tasted, though, were far less appealing, and I can only wonder how long these wineries will be relevant, or in business.
At one table, a winery offered a young Cabernet that was practically undrinkable. A couple of other wines had serious issues with brettanomyces and volatile acidity. While these wine flaws can be cleaned up, it made me wonder who’s in charge of quality control and how they could possibly pour wines of this caliber.
As I left the event, it occurred to me that the barrel tasting -- a microcosm of the Napa wine business -- is a real-life game of survivor. Competition should force wineries to make better wines. Competition gives us choices.
Those who can’t keep pace with the pack are in danger of being lost in the dust.
Chris Lavin — Long Beach, CA — June 5, 2006 9:05pm ET
James Laube — Napa, CA — June 5, 2006 11:11pm ET
Matthew Miller — Hull, MA — June 6, 2006 6:40am ET
David Niederauer — June 6, 2006 12:49pm ET
Sao Anash — Santa Barbara — June 6, 2006 1:27pm ET
Tim Sylvester — Santa Monica, CA — June 6, 2006 1:44pm ET
James Laube — Napa, CA — June 6, 2006 2:17pm ET
James Laube — Napa, CA — June 6, 2006 2:21pm ET
James Laube — Napa, CA — June 6, 2006 2:23pm ET
James Laube — Napa, CA — June 6, 2006 2:26pm ET
Brian Loring — Lompoc, CA — June 6, 2006 3:40pm ET
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