My Gripe with the Valley

As a traveling student of vitis vinifera, I find myself in Napa Valley at least once a year. This place is always a mixed bag for me. I have had some epic meals, some great times and been the recipient of generous hospitality. 

I will continue to travel here every year as I try to find a place in my heart for those wines that used to really freak me out (in a good way). I am thinking now, since I have quit smoking for a couple years and refined my palate, that maybe that space is occupied by the old world.
 
I have tasted with vignerons in France, Italy, Australia, New Zealand, Spain, Portugal, Washington, Oregon, California, and Texas. I have a strong opinion of which wines I like. And I know that a good bottle can be found under twenty dollars. In fact, the majority of what I drink is under fifteen. Mind-blowing Zweigelts, heart-wrenching Pinot Nero, transcendental Rieslings, etc. 
 
It chaps my hide when some chotchkie from Goldman Sachs moves in to Coombsville (or some other unexploited armpit of the valley) and starts making a $300 Cabernet Sauvignon. 
 
I can now tell I hate their wine just by looking at it with its rattlesnake boots, designer jeans, and Tommy Bahamas. They have some wife dripping in diamonds and pearls, who they will cheat on as soon as she has had enough of his alcoholic crap in her system and passes out at their faux-chateau. 
 
You smell their wine and a bouquet of dirty money, desperate pipe dreams, and cluelessness fills your nostrils. Followed by the sting of some poorly made Creme de Cassis. Then you taste...and it's like blueberry pancake syrup and coconuts filled with booze. Followed by a swift kick in the gut from the price tag. 
You look up and the owner is smiling down upon you with that creepy persuasive nod like a waiter talking you into dessert.
 
"$300 dollars?" I ask?  "$219 FOB" he responds. As if that is somehow better...Then they follow up with the "gobs of black cherry, and plums" nonsense sales pitch, 100% new French oak and maybe some Parker points to add insult to injury. Yadda yadda yadda... "how long you in the valley for"?
 
The elephant in the room is how visitors have to pretend to be gracious for the opportunity to taste this expensive bottle. Instead, we should be outraged that they are perpetuating the problem with California wine. IT IS TOO DAMN EXPENSIVE! 
 
Even if you can choke down the 16%, terroir-free, homogenous oak sludge, you can't afford it. At least I can't. You can buy a bottle Dugat Py Grand Cru for 300 bucks! Those vineyards are teeny and sacred. They have been mastering that wine for hundreds of years.
 
These guys breeze in from Silicon Valley or Wall Street and want to rob me and ruin my country's wine reputation!? This is a cause for revolt! Or at least a trip to the bathroom. 
 
Don't get me wrong, I like Napa Cabernet. As long as there is a bloody steak in front of me and I don't have to pay for it. I wish these people talked about terroir and aspect, and agricultural techniques instead of how they afforded the luxury of Michel Roland consultation (micro oxygenate!) and Dave Phinney winemaking genius. 
 
It reminds me of the Staglin's scene in Mondovino, where they talk about how they appreciate and honor their winegrowers and laborers with water and tee shirts, while they sit on the terrace slurping oysters and eating foie gras. 
 
Most of these folks have never been to the Bordeaux and don't care to. Furthermore, these guys haven't even tasted their neighbor's wine! I have had winemakers in Napa tell me " I don't give two sh*ts about how much oak my neighbor uses or whatever!" Bottom line: blissful ignorance looms over Napa Valley and it rubs me the wrong way. 
 
I know what your thinking, "tell us how you REALLY feel?" But I am passionate, and patriotic. These guys are giving us a bad name. I am disgusted by their behavior and their product, and it takes me a few months to calm down. Lucky for you dear reader, I am still hot and bothered. End rant.

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Comments

lesliehiggs said on Feb. 17, 2012, 3:36 p.m.:

So much of that rings true! What a fun read!!
I do have to say though, that I've had the pleasure of meeting and working with some really great people making some pretty killer wines out of Napa Valley. Just this week I've met with Nick Goldschmidt, Michael Honig, and Jean-Noel Fourmeaux du Sartel - really cool guys with really good (and appropriately priced) wines.
I hate it when a couple of spoiled grapes ruin the good juice!

Jamie Glover Dabbs said on Feb. 21, 2012, 4:51 p.m.:

Cheers, Leslie! And can someone tell me what "FOB" means?

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