Today I’m the guest speaker at the Napa Valley Vintners annual meeting in St Helena. This is an association of 280 vintners bound by a mission to make Napa the best winegrowing region it can be, and it's one of the most powerful and successful organizations of its kind.
Aside from having perhaps the most magical name in American wine, and one of the most illustrious in the world, Napa’s vintners enjoy a unique camaraderie. They're a diverse group of strong-willed individuals from many walks of life. Yet historically they've put the interests of Napa wine at, or close to, the forefront of their agenda.
Many wine regions, new or established, would do well to see how this group puts aside its differences and rallies behind the Napa name—an effort that works to the advantage of both the little guys and the big boys.
Most of these vintners have something in common with me as well, though I’m not sure they realize it. Few of them ever imagined that they’d end up being winemakers any more than I envisioned growing up to be a wine critic. We share a passion for our professions.
Today I’m going to talk about the role of the critic and the media, and within that context, the often-testy relationship between the artist and the critic. Writers write about things that are important to them. (I know that’s true for me and my colleagues at Wine Spectator.) Sometimes these topics are light and upbeat. Other times they’re far more serious and can be damning. For sure, being a critic is not about winning a popularity contest. Nor are we publicists for any wine or wine region.
I'm also going to address the challenges that Napa faces in the future, despite all of its successes:
The prices of Napa wine have risen sharply, and many wines are in danger of pricing themselves out of the market.
Napa vintners should take a hard look at its appellations and make them more meaningful, which in most instances means they should be smaller. Pope Valley is a glaring example of excess.
Napa vintners should be more vocal about corks and closures and adopt a stronger stance in favor of consumers’ interests. And for that matter, the issue of clean cellars and flawed wines is very real and should be addressed.
If global warming is a real threat, as I believe it is, then vintners should be more assertive about taking a stand on ways to mitigate its impact. Even if it isn’t for real, protecting the environment is in vintners’ best interests.
Tourism in Napa threatens to undermine the quality of life for those who live here. How many tasting rooms does Napa really need? Will too many visitors kill the goose that laid the golden egg?
Napa Valley is a national treasure, and its unique position in the wine world offers it unique opportunities to take an even stronger leadership role to make wine better for consumers.