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Tuesday, 16 July 2013 23:46

Memories of Bob, Part II

by Dan Clarke

R Mondavi JPEG in front of new winery PicmonkeyA younger Robert Mondavi admires bunch of grapes in front of his new winery.

Nature of the Man – Indomitable

After a falling out nearly fifty years ago, Robert Mondavi was exiled from Charles Krug, the family winery. Though a financial settlement was reached years later, in the mid-1960s he was adrift and without funds—at least funds necessary to start his own winery. In 1991 a luncheon marking the 25th anniversary of the founding of the Robert Mondavi Winery was attended by several of the people who'd provided financial backing for the venture. One of them recalled asking Bob for some projections of costs to establish a winery and estimated revenues for the first year or so. He said that Bob repaired to another part of the building with a pencil and pad of paper, later returning with numbers that looked good enough to validate investment. The speaker added that those projections later proved uncannily accurate. Bob was a smart man and had been in the wine business for about 30 years at that time, so it's not unreasonable that he be able to make fairly accurate predictions. However, any new business is a risky proposition. I have the feeling that Bob knew what was going to happen, because he would will it to happen.

At the beginning of harvest some wineries invite a man of the cloth to bless the first grapes to be crushed. It's part religious ritual, part agricultural tradition and also a good photo-op for the media. The Robert Mondavi Winery followed this custom in the Napa Valley and also at their Woodbridge facility just north of Lodi. One year Bob showed up walking with two canes. Though obviously in pain, he took the microphone to thank the officiating priest and all those who'd shown up on a hot August day in the San Joaquin Valley. When ceremonies concluded winery employees returned to work and most of the spectators took off. Some grape growers and a few writers were invited to stay for lunch over on the lawn, but I lingered. Soon there were only two of us out near the crush pad. Machinery started and the first Sauvignon Blanc grapes started moving on the conveyor belt toward the crusher. Bob moved slowly toward the spot where fork lifts were delivering their bins of grapes. He leaned over and watched the grapes move by for several minutes. How many times has he seen grapes crushed, I wondered? Isn't it always pretty much the same? What his thoughts were at that time I don't know, but I do know my thoughts were, “He still cares. You have to respect a man who still has such passion for what he does.”

A few months later I ran into Bob's son, Michael, and asked how his father was doing. “He's doing great,” came the reply. “He's had both his knees replaced.” Guests at Bob's birthday party the following June were dancing on the lawn. When the band started playing the twist I figured to sit one out, but as I left to get a glass of wine I glanced over to the right and saw Bob Mondavi doing a very credible exhibition of the dance—one that made my own knees ache just to watch.

Nature of the Man – Gracious

At a later birthday celebration at the winery (I think it was Bob's 90th), Governor Gray Davis was among those mingling on the lawn. He was in the company of several guys in dark suits--unusual dress in the Napa Valley, especially on a sunny afternoon in June. Though in his second term, Davis' popularity had been plummeting. A few months later voters would make him the second governor in the state's history to be recalled. On this occasion he had come to the winery to offer official birthday greetings to Bob. When his presence was announced and he was asked to come up to the stage, the crowd was strangely silent. As the governor ascended the steps to join Bob there was still an uncomfortable quiet. Emcee Tommy Smothers said to the crowd, “C'mon. We know you don't like the guy, but give the Governor a welcome.” It was a funny line, even if borderline cruel. Though 60 years old, Smothers still had that impish little boy quality that let him get away with it.

Bob strode over to greet the approaching Davis. He thanked him for coming and said that he was honored by his presence. Gubernatorial presentation having been completed, Bob said something like, “People are behind you, Governor Davis, just keep doing what you're doing” (stay the course, in effect). I have no idea what Bob's political leanings were, but he treated the Governor of California with respect and cordiality. It was the appropriate thing to do.

On a different occasion at Woodbridge (likely another blessing of the grapes), I slipped inside the door of a huge new barrel room as Bob addressed all the employees of this Mondavi-owned winery. There had been substantial money spent on upgrades recently and much of it had gone toward new French oak barrels for aging of the red wines. The new barrels weren't absolutely required, Bob told them, but they were necessary if the Woodbridge Winery were to continue in a leadership position in its price category. He thanked his employees for their efforts and assured them that they all contributed to the success of the operation. Returning to the subject of the new barrels, Bob said that this move was part of a constant effort to improve, citing past innovations in the quest to be the best. Reminding them that they were participants in the success of the winery, he challenged his employees to stay working hard and to imagine innovations yet to come, asking “What will we need to be doing to still be the best 25 years from now?”

Driving home to Sacramento I thought about how Bob had paid such respect to the Woodbridge staff while still encouraging them to do better. I had no doubt that he was seriously planning a future 25 years out. Bob was over 80 at the time.

Memories of Bob, Part I

Memories of Bob, Part III

Monday, 15 July 2013 18:22

Memories of Bob, Part I

by Dan Clarke

 

I first met Robert Mondavi in 1987. We were entering an elevator at the conclusion of a dinner in San Francisco at which he had been honored. The evening was billed as something like Legends of the Napa Valley and he was one of the 12 legends acknowledged that night.

“Hi, I'm Bob Mondavi and this is my wife Margrit,” he said, offering a handshake. Of course, I knew who he was. After all, he was a legend in the world of wine. Though I was covering the event for the California Wine Press, I was not a legend in the world of wine journalism. We exchanged pleasantries on the ride down to the ground floor, saying goodbye as we headed for our cars outside. I remember thinking, this man is a real heavyweight, but a regular guy. Since then he's always been Bob to me.RM RMondavi Toast low Picmonkey" . . . in the company of the best wines of the world."

Though that night was the first time we'd actually met, I was aware of him from the time he opened his own winery in 1966. Just a few years after that I had begun attending jazz concerts on the lawn at the new winery. At that time there were fewer than 30 wineries in Napa and booking music was quite innovative. It made people more aware of wine and of the Napa Valley. It was obvious that this Mondavi was a creative man, the kind who made things happen.

The Robert Mondavi Winery did no paid advertising in those days, but they had the best PR department in the business. They made a writer's job easier. There were real stories to be told and access to the family and staff was easy. Though still not a legend in the world of wine publishing, I found myself invited to many of their events. I had opportunity to observe this man in action and, on occasion, to interact with him. I was saddened the last time I saw him, as Bob's health had begun to wane. He was sitting next to his brother, Peter, and had a glass of wine in his hand. The glass had a straw in it.

Bob died at age 94, but a month ago the Robert Mondavi Winery, now owned by Constellation, acknowledged what would have been his 100th birthday. At that time I noticed newspaper articles in which colleagues included a personal reminiscence or two and I would like to share some of my own memories of Bob Mondavi when he was the most vibrant, dynamic personality I'd ever encountered.

Tastings

Several times I participated in tastings at the winery with larger groups, often from hotel chains like Hilton and Hyatt. Food and beverage directors, chefs and key management people would come from all around the country to visit Northern California wineries. It was part educational for them and part buying trip. They were looking for wines that could be put on their core lists, meaning they'd be available at all their properties. These hotel reps also had some latitude to select wines they liked that would be available at just their own locations. Getting placement on a core wine list meant significant sales for a winery. By the time I would sit down to taste with the hotel people they had visited other wineries that had volunteered to share hosting duties for 40 or 50 tourists, including some in neighboring Sonoma County. As I recall, wines at these tastings at the Mondavi Winery were presented in flights stratified by price within each varietal category and would represent products from all the wineries that had been visited. Discussion would follow these segments. It was fun to get the perspective of non-Californians and learn about the needs of their clientele, especially so when a large group of Japanese sommeliers visited. Bob was a tireless promoter of his own winery and of the Napa Valley, but that never seemed to be at the expense of anybody else. If cultivating these groups was good business for the Mondavi organization, it was also good business for numerous other wineries that participated.

Another sort of tasting became an annual ritual. The winery would invite some members of the media to a good restaurant in San Francisco. There they would participate in a blind tasting of Mondavi Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon and first growths from Bordeaux. These French wines were Cabernet based and considered the standard of the world for wines of this type. They were also far more expensive than anything from California. While we writers knew the identities of the wines to be poured prior to the tasting, we sat down to glasses of unidentified red wine. Two Mondavi Cabs would be among several French entrants. Each writer was asked to list which wines he liked in order of preference. Someone would tally the results while we tucked into a very nice lunch. Similar tastings were held on the same day in other major markets like New York and Los Angeles. When results were announced we discovered that most of us had selected the two Mondavi wines anywhere from the middle to the top of our lists. Invariably, Bob's comment was that he wasn't trying to say his wines were the best, just to show that “we belong in the company of the best wines of the world.” By that standard, anything but repeated, dead-last finishes would validate the theory. But his wines did so much better than that. Each time his point was proven, but Bob graciously underplayed his hand, letting others say, “Hell yes, these wines belong in the company of the best in the world.”

Memories of Bob, Part II

Memories of Bob, Part III

 

RM plaque with hands PicmonkeyPhotographer Gerry Parrott captured the moment as hands of Tim Mondavi and Margrit Biever Mondavi set the plaque. The Napa Valley Vintners (NVV) has dedicated a stately, old-growth olive tree planted at its St. Helena office in honor of Robert Mondavi, one of the founding members of the wine trade organization. Mondavi's life was celebrated during an intimate ceremony this week at the NVV that included Margrit Biever Mondavi, members of the Mondavi family and winery staff, and representatives of the NVV's Board of Directors and staff. June 18, 2013 marked the 100th anniversary of Robert Mondavi's birth."The concept of dedicating something in Bob's honor that is so alive is perfect and today's celebration was very meaningful because he was a co-founder of the Napa Valley Vintners. I know he would be happy that his spirit lives on in this 100 year-old olive tree," commented Margrit Mondavi, who along with Robert's son Tim Mondavi, helped set a commemorative plaque at the base of the tree.

Linda Reiff, executive director of the Napa Valley Vintners, spoke at the ceremony noting, "The spirit in which Mr. Mondavi lived his life is the same spirit that has always guided the Napa Valley Vintners. He often said 'A rising tide lifts all boats' - a philosophy still shared by our more than 450 winery members and the NVV's leadership. This heritage olive tree, planted at our organization's permanent home, seemed the perfect symbol to honor his life and show our respect for his contribution to our industry."Robert Mondavi was one of seven vintners who signed the NVV's original Agreement of Association in 1944. He was also one of the founders of Auction Napa Valley (formerly Napa Valley Wine Auction) in 1981. Mondavi served four one-year terms as president of the NVV: 1954, 1958, 1968 and 1969. The NVV moved to its headquarters, across the street from the St. Helena Library, in January 2010. About the Napa Valley VintnersThe Napa Valley Vintners (NVV) is the non-profit trade association responsible for promoting and protecting the Napa Valley appellation as the premier winegrowing region. From seven founding members in 1944, today the association represents more than 450 Napa Valley wineries and collectively is a leader in the world-wide wine industry. To learn more about our region and its legendary American wines, visit www.napavintners.com.

Editor's note: Planning a trip to the Napa Valley? You may want to check out Taste California Travel's Resource Directory where you'll find links to the websites of all the wineries, as well as websites of hundreds of Lodging and Dining option in the North Coast of California.

from TASTE News Service

Hess Veeder Hills Harvest PicmonkeyHess Mt. Veeder EstateThe Land Trust of Napa County has received an $11,439 donation from The Hess Collection, generated by the winery's participation in the 1% For the Planet environmental advocacy program.

1% For the Planet is a growing global movement of companies donating 1% of sales for local environmental programs. The Hess Collection is a long-time member, and has often selected the Land Trust as the beneficiary of this annual donation. The 380-acre Archer Taylor Preserve, a permanently protected wildlife habitat managed by the Land Trust, is located near the winery.

Each year Hess designates 1% of sales from the Hess Collection Small Block Series of limited-release wines made available exclusively to Hess Collector’s Club members and visitors who purchase the wines at the winery on Mount Veeder for the program. Since the effort began, the winery has donated more than $50,000 from the sales of the limited production wines, and other sustainability promotions.

“Our commitment to sustainability began when founder Donald Hess first came to Mount Veeder and Napa in the late 1970’s,” explained Timothy Persson, Chief Executive Officer of The Hess Collection, who noted that the winery has earned certifications for both its vineyards and winery operations from the Napa Green, Fish Friendly Farming and California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance programs. “The Land Trust of Napa County shares our values, and we’re pleased to partner with them to preserve the character and precious green space of Napa County.”

“We are very grateful to The Hess Collection for this generous donation,” said Doug Parker, CEO of Land Trust of Napa County. “The Hess Collection’s contribution is a great help toward permanently protecting the landscape of Napa County and we are proud to be supported by and associated with Donald Hess, Timothy Persson, and the entire team at The Hess Collection in this meaningful way.”

About the Land Trust of Napa County

The Land Trust of Napa County is a community-based nonprofit dedicated to preserving the character of Napa by permanently protecting land. Established in 1976, today the Land Trust has grown to over 1,700 active members and supporters. In its 36-year history, the Land Trust has completed over 150 land conservation projects with landowners across the county, protecting more than 53,000 acres of land - over 10% of Napa County.

About Hess Family Wine Estates

Hess Family Estates produces terroir driven wines on four continents, and includes the wines of The Hess Collection on Mount Veeder in the Napa Valley; Artezin from California’s North Coast; Sequana, highlighting Sonoma’s Russian River Valley and the Santa Lucia Highlands of the Central Coast; MacPhail Family Wines, with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay expressions principally from Sonoma’s Sonoma Coast; Peter Lehmann wines from Australia’s Barossa Valley; Colomé and Amalaya from the Salta Province of Argentina; and Glen Carlou from Paarl, South Africa.

Editor's Note: The Resource Directory of Taste California Travel has links to the websites of hundreds of Lodging and Dining options in Wine Country. Also there are links to winery websites and craft beer purveyors.

from TASTE News Service

Scott Harvey in front of Vineyard Picmonkey"balance is critical . . . " --Scott HarveyLower alcohol wine represents Napa Valley winemaker Scott Harvey’s commitment to making wine that is drinkable, enjoyable, and enhances good food. At last, new tastes in wine are catching up to Scott Harvey’s training.

The winemaker is not alone in his views about the superiority of lower alcohol wines. According to Richard Halstead, CEO of global market research Wine Intelligence, “Alcoholic strength of wine is an issue that consumers take seriously across the world." According to Drinks International, "there has been widespread criticism of 15.5% alcohol blockbusters and requests for winemakers to aim lower."

Trained in Germany in the Old World style, Scott believes that balance is critical to good wine making results. In a recent interview with Dan Berger, writer for the Sonoma County, California – based newspaper and online site, Press Democrat, the writer explored the winemaker’s perspective on the place of alcohol level in wine making. “Balance is the key to all great wines, said Scott Harvey. “I prefer to make my Napa Valley Cabernets come in at 13.5%.” Many Napa Valley cult wines come in with labels from 14.5% to 15.5% “although from the way they taste, they could well be at least 1.5% higher.” said Scott.

“I pick wine grapes when the grapes still taste like Cabernet grapes or Zinfandel grapes—rather than like raisins. Most winemakers are afraid to pick this early, but I listen to the grapes.” Scott picks Cabernet grapes at the moment when they are red fruits, not black fruits, turning into raisins. It’s what Scott calls “The Perfect Moment” in his video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Br9H29iYsC8

A lower alcohol wine can be an award-winning wine. For example, Jana Cathedral Napa Valley 2006 ($65) has an alcohol level of 13.5%. This limited production Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is the winner of a double Gold Medal at the America Fine Wine Competition. “I made this wine in the European style with low pH and low alcohol, so it pairs very well with an elegant and rich meal,” Scott explained. “I named it for Cathedral Rock in Sedona, Arizona, where I proposed marriage to Jana.”

Another Scott Harvey award-winner, with a 13.5% alcohol level, is Scott Harvey 2009 J&S Reserve Barbera, which was singled out at the California State Fair with a Gold Medal - 94 Points. “The rich full flavors express both the varietal and the terroir of Amador County,” explains Scott. “This Barbera is a blend of the Spinetta Vineyard and Vineyard 1869 of the Shenandoah Valley of Amador County, California.”

Lower alcohol and more balanced results have been more achievable with the more recent cool vintage releases of 2010 and 2011. “It’s the lower temperature vintages that produce less sugar, and with less sugar comes lower alcohol," said Scott.

Scott Harvey Signs Bottle PicmonkeySigning a medal winnerOn the white side, Scott is known for his European Style Riesling, which previously has had alcohol levels as low as 9.5%. Scott will have a new release of his Mendocino Riesling in June. He is also a celebrated wine blender, originally known as the creator behind the popular Ménage à Trois. Most recently, Scott brings his blending skills to his latest award-winning white wine blend, Primero Beso (First Kiss.)

The World Wine Championships, run by Beverage Testing Institute, has just awarded 91 points (rated Exceptional) to Scott’s Primero Beso 2011 White Blend, ($18), with a 12.5% alcohol by volume. The judges rated the blend for its “pale golden yellow color. Aromas of dark fig-date bread and honey with a soft, dry-yet-fruity light-to-medium body and a tangy apple, peach, starfruit and lemon tart accented finish. Very refreshing and lively as a sipper or to pair with spicy Mexican foods.” 4/13/13

About Scott Harvey WinesHandcrafted wines from Napa Valley and Amador County, Scott Harvey Wines produces wines under three labels: Scott Harvey Wines, Jana Winery and InZinerator. Established in 2004, Scott Harvey Wines features Vineyard 1869 Zinfandel, Napa Valley Cathedral Cabernet Sauvignon, Amador County Barberas, Zinfandels and Syrahs along with a variety of one-of-a-kind white and red wine blends. Creator of “niche wines that over deliver,” Scott Harvey, owner and winemaker, has been making quality wines for over 30 years.

Editor's note: Planning a visit to the Napa Valley? You'll find links to the websites of hundreds of Lodging and Dining options there, as well as links to all of Napa's wineries at Taste California Travel's Resource Directory.

Saturday, 02 February 2013 15:27

February 1, 2013 Wine Pick of the Week

Echelon Chardonnay Picmonkey

 

2010 Collection Series Chardonnay

 

 Producer: Echelon Vineyards

Appellation: Napa Valley

Alcohol: 13.5%

Suggested retail: $14.99

 

“This Chardonnay is from Echelon's upper tier Collection Series. Winemaker Kurt Lorenzi has produced a bottle of Napa Valley Chardonnay at a very reasonable price, and he's done so in a style we find appealing. The combination of stainless steel fermentation and sur lie aging in 33% new French oak gives a complexity while preserving a fresh fruit quality. We like the pear and green apple character and what might be a bit of white peach, too. This Chardonnay has a hint of sweetness in the finish, but there's enough acidity and complexity to keep this aspect in check.”

Food Affinity: Will be a good food-pairer with many dishes. We're thinking fish. Perhaps simply prepared halibut napped with just a little butter or light cream sauce. Grilled halibut or salmon served with a fresh salsa of some stone fruits would be another direction to explore.

Sunday, 06 January 2013 15:30

June 1-4, 2017 Auction Napa Valley

Region: North Coast     City: Napa Valley     Contact: www.auctionnapavalley.org

Thursday, 29 November 2012 19:59

Wine and Tourism—The Experience

by Dan Clarke

 

Some folks in wine country used to feel tourists got in the way.

Twenty years ago a friend was lamenting the growing incursion of tourists in the Napa Valley. Jon managed a vineyard known for producing very high quality Cabernet and Merlot grapes. Yuppies were coming up from the Bay Area, he said. They clogged the main traffic arteries up and down the Valley, especially on the weekends. They impeded business and personal travel for the locals. More than once he'd had to slam on the brakes to avoid crushing a clueless bicyclist who'd decided to execute a u-turn right in front of him on the Silverado Trail. The free-spending ways of these profligates had led to the closure—or even worse, gentrification—of some of the watering holes he and his friends favored. He didn't see himself as a beneficiary of this tourist boom.

DowntownCalistogaByPeterStetsonPSI PicmonkeyDowntown Calistoga photo courtesy of Calistoga Visitors Bureau

About this time the bar and restaurant of Calistoga's Mount View Hotel had just been remodeled to effect an upscale Italian theme—obviously at significant expense. Jon and I were enjoying a couple of quiet beers one Friday evening and wondering if the house would ever recoup its investment when we had an epiphany. A handsome young couple came in and ordered a couple of beers. They asked for the grappa list and ordered a couple of those, too, though each glass was about $12-14. Fifteen minutes later they were out the door and on to the next beneficiary of their largesse. They'd just dropped about thirty-five bucks, not counting tip. At this point Jon and I realized that we were no longer part of the Mount View's* targeted demographic.

Perhaps Jon didn't benefit directly, but the winery that purchased his grapes didn't seem to mind catering to tourists. Visitors tasted wines there and bought bottles of wine; sometimes even cases. Moreover, if these tourists were treated reasonably well, they took home memories. They became ambassadors for wine and helped push the price of Merlot made from Jon's grapes to $75 a bottle.

Though wineries have existed in the area since the time of America's Civil War, it wasn't all that long ago that prunes were a more significant crop there than grapes. When Robert Mondavi opened his Oakville winery in 1966 there were approximately 25 wineries in the Napa Vallley. The Napa Valley Vitners Association now counts 436 wineries among its members. Obviously, the wine industry in Napa and the rest of the state has grown substantially in the last few decades and this has triggered a whole new category of tourism.

A couple of weeks ago I joined approximately 230 others at the Flamingo Hotel in Santa Rosa. They came for the second edition of the Wine Tourism Conference, which was organized by Zephyr Adventures. While most at the two-day meeting hailed from California, tourism interests in 18 additional states and two Canadian provinces were also there. Attendees represented government-sanctioned promotional boards, regional grower and vintner organizations, individual wineries, vendors of specialty travel services and members of the press. According to Touring & Tasting, one of the conference sponsors, overall U.S travel is expected to account for $852 billion dollars in 2012. It's projected that 27 million people will visit wineries in the United States this year.

The phrase “wine tourism” is fairly new and lacks a universal definition. Actually, it might be considered a subset of larger categories like “agricultural tourism” or even “culinary tourism.” Whatever it is called, experiencing a rural environment can be a great adventure for many Americans trapped in hectic urban lives.

Jean-Charles Boisset PicmonkeyJean-Charles Boisset has inherited Haraszthy's legacyAs keynote speaker at the recent conference, Jean-Charles Boisset spoke of his first visit to California. In 1981 the 11-year-old boy visited Buena Vista Winery in Sonoma County with his grandparents. Perhaps imbued with a sense of history from his French family, Boisset was quite taken with both the story of the short-lived Bear Flag Republic, a product of the area's secession from Mexico in 1846, and the pioneering efforts of Agoston Haraszthy who had planted vinifera grapes and established the Buena Vista Winery not long after that time. Though too young to qualify for sampling in the winery's tasting room, the young man from Burgundy did get a taste of California's wine elsewhere on the trip and found it very much to his liking. Three decades later Boisset now owns Buena Vista and seems acutely aware of its heritage. He is investing in substantial restoration and declares “a winery should be a place where people need to feel comfortable, to learn, to reflect.” In tying the efforts of America's wine pioneers to the country's recent focus on food, he observed, “The U.S. has always been a country running toward the future. You're the place that is creating this magic around the world.”

Consumers can get wine at the nearest supermarket; what they are seeking in visiting wine country is an elusive concept—an experience. Traci Ward, who represented Visit California at the tourism conference noted “a shift coming in who the traditional wine consumer is. Younger people don't want to be told what the have to do; they want will let you know what they want.”

People in the wine business attended the two-day meeting to learn more about how to create a a positive environment for visitors. Others—those in the travel business—came because they wanted to learn how to offer wine experiences for their clientele. Readers of Taste California Travel are typical of the audience all of these people traveled to Santa Rosa to learn how to please. Whether you're going to Napa or anywhere else in California's wine country, you're likely to be welcomed by people who're happy to see you. Enjoy the experiences you can have with them. However, if your experience is less than happy, don't put up with it. Your satisfaction is paramount

*While the Mount View probably does not have a grappa list these days (that was at least two concepts and two more remodelings ago), it is still a worthy establishment in Calistoga, one of the many offering a upscale environment for its visitors, be they yuppies or not. Currently there are two restaurants at the property, Barolo and JoLē. A decidedly unpretentious alternative down the street is Suzie's, where some of the locals go for a shot and a beer.

 

Editor's note: Planning a trip to any part of wine country? Taste California Travel's Resource Directory contains links to the website of thousands of Lodging and Dining options, as well as links to all of the state's wineries. We've also added a section for brewpubs and beer-centric restaurants and bars.

Thursday, 29 November 2012 19:31

Wine and Tourism—The Experience

by Dan Clarke

 

Some folks in wine country used to feel tourists got in the way.

Twenty years ago a friend was lamenting the growing incursion of tourists in the Napa Valley. Jon managed a vineyard known for producing very high quality Cabernet and Merlot grapes. Yuppies were coming up from the Bay Area, he said. They clogged the main traffic arteries up and down the Valley, especially on the weekends. They impeded business and personal travel for the locals. More than once he'd had to slam on the brakes to avoid crushing a clueless bicyclist who'd decided to execute a u-turn right in front of him on the Silverado Trail. The free-spending ways of these profligates had led to the closure—or even worse, gentrification—of some of the watering holes he and his friends favored. He didn't see himself as a beneficiary of this tourist boom.

DowntownCalistogaByPeterStetsonPSI PicmonkeyDowntown Calistoga photo courtesy of Calistoga Visitors Bureau.

About this time the bar and restaurant of Calistoga's Mount View Hotel had just been remodeled to effect an upscale Italian theme—obviously at significant expense. Jon and I were enjoying a couple of quiet beers one Friday evening and wondering if the house would ever recoup its investment when we had an epiphany. A handsome young couple came in and ordered a couple of beers. They asked for the grappa list and ordered a couple of those, too, though each glass was about $12-14. Fifteen minutes later they were out the door and on to the next beneficiary of their largesse. They'd just dropped about thirty-five bucks, not counting tip. At this point Jon and I realized that we were no longer part of the Mount View's* targeted demographic.

Perhaps Jon didn't benefit directly, but the winery that purchased his grapes didn't seem to mind catering to tourists. Visitors tasted wines there and bought bottles of wine; sometimes even cases. Moreover, if these tourists were treated reasonably well, they took home memories. They became ambassadors for wine and helped push the price of Merlot made from Jon's grapes to $75 a bottle.

Though wineries have existed in the area since the time of America's Civil War, it wasn't all that long ago that prunes were a more significant crop there than grapes. When Robert Mondavi opened his Oakville winery in 1966 there were approximately 25 wineries in the Napa Vallley. The Napa Valley Vitners Association now counts 436 wineries among its members. Obviously, the wine industry in Napa and the rest of the state has grown substantially in the last few decades and this has triggered a whole new category of tourism.

A couple of weeks ago I joined approximately 230 others at the Flamingo Hotel in Santa Rosa. They came for the second edition of the Wine Tourism Conference, which was organized by Zephyr Adventures. While most at the two-day meeting hailed from California, tourism interests in 18 additional states and two Canadian provinces were also there. Attendees represented government-sanctioned promotional boards, regional grower and vintner organizations, individual wineries, vendors of specialty travel services and members of the press. According to Touring & Tasting, one of the conference sponsors, overall U.S travel is expected to account for $852 billion dollars in 2012. It's projected that 27 million people will visit wineries in the United States this year.

The phrase “wine tourism” is fairly new and lacks a universal definition. Actually, it might be considered a subset of larger categories like “agricultural tourism” or even “culinary tourism.” Whatever it is called, experiencing a rural environment can be a great adventure for many Americans trapped in hectic urban lives.

Jean-Charles Boisset PicmonkeyJean-Charles Boisset has inherited Haraszthy's legacy.As keynote speaker at the recent conference, Jean-Charles Boisset spoke of his first visit to California. In 1981 the 11-year-old boy visited Buena Vista Winery in Sonoma County with his grandparents. Perhaps imbued with a sense of history from his French family, Boisset was quite taken with both the story of the short-lived Bear Flag Republic, a product of the area's secession from Mexico in 1846, and the pioneering efforts of Agoston Haraszthy who had planted vinifera grapes and established the Buena Vista Winery not long after that time. Though too young to qualify for sampling in the winery's tasting room, the young man from Burgundy did get a taste of California's wine elsewhere on the trip and found it very much to his liking. Three decades later Boisset now owns Buena Vista and seems acutely aware of its heritage. He is investing in substantial restoration and declares “a winery should be a place where people need to feel comfortable, to learn, to reflect.” In tying the efforts of America's wine pioneers to the country's recent focus on food, he observed, “The U.S. has always been a country running toward the future. You're the place that is creating this magic around the world.”

Consumers can get wine at the nearest supermarket; what they are seeking in visiting wine country is an elusive concept—an experience. Traci Ward, who represented Visit California at the tourism conference noted “a shift coming in who the traditional wine consumer is. Younger people don't want to be told what they have to do; they want will let you know what they want.”

People in the wine business attended the two-day meeting to learn more about how to create a a positive environment for visitors. Others—those in the travel business—came because they wanted to learn how to offer wine experiences for their clientele. Readers of Taste California Travel are typical of the audience all of these people traveled to Santa Rosa to learn how to please. Whether you're going to Napa or anywhere else in California's wine country, you're likely to be welcomed by people who're happy to see you. Enjoy the experiences you can have with them. However, if your experience is less than happy, don't put up with it. Your satisfaction is paramount

*While the Mount View Hotel & Spa probably does not have a grappa list these days (that was at least two concepts and two more remodelings ago), it is still a worthy establishment in Calistoga, one of the many offering a upscale environment for its visitors, be they yuppies or not. Currently there are two restaurants at the property, Barolo and JoLē. A decidedly unpretentious alternative down the street is Suzie's, where some of the locals go for a shot and a beer.

 

Editor's note: Planning a trip to any part of wine country? Taste California Travel's Resource Directory contains links to the website of thousands of Lodging and Dining options, as well as links to all of the state's wineries. We've also added a section for brewpubs and beer-centric restaurants and bars.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012 17:58

Napa Valley: Land of Golden Vines

Napa Valley: Land of Golden Vinesby Kathleen & Gerald Hill

The Globe Pequot Press

ISBN 978-0762734436www.globe-pequot.com

306 pages; $15.95

 Napa Valley Land of golden Vines

Although "Napa Valley, Land of Golden Vines" has some disquieting inconsistencies and inaccuracies, it’s probably the best and most comprehensive guide to the area.

Wineries are the main attraction, of course, and the book lists locations, phone numbers, varieties produced, open hours and all the other relevant details for most of those that are open to the public. Each winery also receives a couple of paragraphs of narrative to flesh out the basic details that otherwise are available in many free periodicals available to tourists.

Restaurants, lodging and points of interests are also covered as the authors take the reader on a trip up the Napa Valley. Beginning with the Carneros region and moving northward through the city of Napa, the communities of Yountville, Oakville, Rutherford, and then the towns of St. Helena and Calistoga at the valley’s northern end, the progression is logical and detailed.

However, "Napa Valley, Land of Golden Vines" does contain a number of errors and ambiguities:

The authors tell us that Marilyn Monroe "used to visit the Calistoga baths when hubby Joe DiMaggio was off playing baseball . . . ". The Yankee Clipper retired after the 1951 season. He married Marilyn in 1954.

On page 87 Beaulieu Vineyards is said to be "the oldest continuously producing winery in the Napa Valley." On page 139 Beringer Vineyards is called "the oldest continuously operating winery in the Napa Valley."

The bistro Bouchon "was created by the Keller brothers of the French Laundry (Yountville) and Fleur de Lys (San Francisco)." Thomas Keller is the chef/owner of the French Laundry in Yountville. Hubert Keller is the chef/owner of Fleur de Lys in San Francisco. They are not related. Certainly one would think such inaccuracies wouldn’t be found in a second edition.

Still, the amount of information in the book is substantial and many of the detailed topics are completely accurate and would likely be fascinating insight for most visitors. A 30-page history of the area is included, as are a smattering of vineyard and winery-supplied recipes. While I’m surprised at a number of inaccuracies, they don’t make the book less valuable as a tourist resource. Perhaps an analogy applies—that of a goalie who makes great saves all night, but leaves the fans remembering the few times a puck went past him. Authors Kathleen and Gerald Hill did have a pretty good game in goal and I would commend "Napa Valley, Land of Golden Vines" to California wine country visitors.

 

--Reviewer Dan Clarke writes about wine and food. He doesn’t know much about ice hockey but likes his analogy, nonetheless.

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