Even though a second acre was planted in 1985, the supply problem was compounded when Grace's vines began to succumb to the ravages of the phylloxera root louse and had to be replanted on resistant rootstock.
"Our production declined from 12 to 15 barrels down to three barrels \[about 70 cases\] in 1995," Grace said. His winery's loyal followers still hoped for their annual allocation, even if it meant only one bottle -- albeit a magnum -- of the precious cult wine. The etched, hand-painted bottle sold for $375.
In 1996, there was an even more critical shortage, with only two barrels -- 48 cases -- of wine. Grace knew that some customers would be left without wine if he bottled again in 1.5-liter magnums. But bottling in a regular 750-ml format was unacceptable; a single normal-sized bottle would hardly make a worthwhile cellar trophy.
So the vintner decided to spread the wealth more evenly through a compromise: He bottled his 1996 Cabernet in unusual 1-liter bottles. As in 1995, he had each bottle etched and hand-painted. Those customers lucky enough to be on the winery's mailing list can each purchase one (and only one) bottle for $350. Grace makes no apology for the price. "Each \[empty\] etched bottle cost $52.50," the vintner pointed out.
The good news for lovers of Grace Family is that a third acre of vines will soon be planted. The earlier replantings began to come into production in the 1998 vintage, when 6.5 barrels (about 150 cases) of wine were made. When Grace Family's 3 acres of vines are fully mature, the winery should be able to produce as much as 750 cases annually. Grace said he would eventually revert to a normal label, although he's not sure what size bottles he will use. Either way, the price may drop as availability increases.
For more on Grace Family Vineyards: