Will Napa Valley Cabernet Be Saved By Ranking It?

Canitbesaved Leo McCloskey is a very smart man.

He probably knows more about the chemical composition of great wine than anyone else alive and he puts this information to use through his consulting firm, Enologix. He is also a keen observer of market condition in the wine industry. He’s also a very creative man with a variety of fascinating notions.

Recently McCloskey issued a press release that did not get the attention it deserved. In the November press release, McCloskey outlined the coming comoditization of Cabernet Sauvignon. Essentially, he points out that much more Cabernet is being planted around the world. In addition, worldwide winemakers know how to make good wine from this variety. The result is that so much Cabernet Sauvignon is continually being produced around the world that eventually this varietal, like Chardonnay before it, will beome a commodity. When that happens prices go down. We’ve seen this with Chardonnay and, as McCloskey points out, we innevitably will see it with Cabernet Sauvignon.

While not a bad thing for consumers, this downard price pressure on Cabernet Sauvignon wines is a decidedly bad thing for Napa Valley producers, particularly those producing wine in the up to $75 or so category. Napa producers have much higher fixed costs than producers in Chile, Australia and even Sonoma and Temecula. That means the potential for decidedly lower margins for Napa Valley producers.

Those in Napa able to sell through their $150+ Cabernets may not have the same problems. They’ve established themselves, for one reason or another, as justifying these unusually high prices.

So, what is Napa Valley to do about this semi-apocolyptic change in the marketplace for its #1 wine?

Buried at the very end of McCloskey’s press release was the answer. And it is a fascinating proposition:

“Worldwide over-planting creates an oversupply, resulting in a downward trend of lower prices that cannot be avoided without classification or regulation of the type found in Europe.

“CLASSIFICATION OR REGULATION”!

Let’s be clear what is being suggested here. Classification is another word for “Ranking”, as in “This is of a higher order than that”. This notion of classification is hardly unknown in the world of winemaking and grapegrowing. There is the classification of producers (such as in Bordeaux), the classification of vineyards (such as in Burgundy and the Douro) and the classification of regions.

It’s important to note that no where in the United States is there any official quality-based ranking or Napacab classification going on where wine is concerned, despite the fact that the Old World winemaking regions, often the model for American winemaking practices and procedure, have embraced the idea of rankings, classifications, and regulation of production methods.

I am fascinated by both the idea of classifying Napa Valley in some way and by the fact that it will never happen in any official or semi-official way.

That an official or semi-official ranking of Napa Valley Cabernet will never happen is not simply a matter of being too busy to have gotten to it yet that there has never been any kind of quality classification of vineyards, producers or appellations in America, let alone Napa Valley. It’s a matter of Americans being generally opposed to state-imposed or official hierarchy.

We see this peculiarly American tendency to avoid official hierarchy and its related notion of freedom of conscience on display throughout our history. So much of the early immigration to American shores was motivated by a stifling and official class system in England that prevented individuals from rising up beyond their class. We see it in Roger Williams’ objection to the Massachusetts Bay Colony religious leadership’s lack of tolerance for religious freedom and his insistence on freedom of conscience and separation of Church and State. We see it in American revolutionaries’ objection to being dictated terms by the Mother Country’s Parliament without access to representation. We see it in the U.S. Constitution’s Senate, which puts all states, regardless of size on equal footing.

While Americanss general disposition against hierarchy is not universal as seen in its history of racial discrimination and the informal and formal hierarchies that supported it’s long established race-based policies, this dichotomy of American inclinations where established hierarchy is concerned is part of the American character and traditions.

Where business is concerned, however, Americans have rarely stood for official statements of quality where subjectivity is at issue. Yes, we have classifications of beef and milk. But consider that the USDA Beef grading system stands on the nearly universally accepted notion that higher marbling in beef produces greater flavor. Plus, the USDA Beef Grading structure is voluntary. Milk is graded, but the notion of “Grade A” milk is built on objective standards that are motivated by health concerns. Furthermore, no specific milk or beef producers, nor any beef or milk producing regions have been officially singled out as better at it than their peers.

Where ranking is done in the world of American business and commerce, particularly where consumer products and aesthetic issues are concerned, it is almost always done outside of official channels. It is most commonly found in the world of art and is the realm of critics. In the world of wine, it is critics that have taken up rankings and classifications, most recently in the form of the 100 point scale.

It’s not that Americans are opposed to ranking things. It’s that they are opposed to official and particularly governmental quality rankings.

There is no current movement among consumers or within the wine industry to create any set of classifications, whether it is of producers, vineyards or appellations. Nor is there even a movement to regulate how wine is produced within any set of boundaries as there exists in many parts of Europe. Nor will there be as far as I can see. The very notion of government telling a winemaker in Sonoma Valley or Napa Valley how many tons per acre of Cabernet grapes they may produce and still be able to place “Sonoma Valley” or “Napa Valley on the label would be seen as an unprecedented intrusion into the natural freedoms the American grapegrower and winemaker has come to enjoy and take for granted.

If you think the uproar over the proposed federal law (HR 5034) to give alcohol wholesalers hyper control over the American wine marketplace has been severe inside the wine industry, try to tell an American winery owner they can’t produce more than 6 tons of grapes per acre and still put “Napa Valley” on the label or that they are required to age their wine in oak barrels for a particular amount of time before calling it “Napa Valley or that their Napa Valley Cabernet is of a lesser quality than their neighbor’s down the road. The outcry would be deafening.

All that said, the idea of how a classification system for Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon might be undertaken is a hugely fascinating notion that deserves exploration for the simple sake of slaking the thirst of wine lovers to examine wine in its every permutation.

What has to be understood upfront is that any classification of Napa Valley Cabernet is an exercise in assessing quality. Assessing quality is an objective activity only in the smallest part. For example, red table wine is not supposed to be oxidized and all browned up. That’s bad wine. An over abundance of certain microbes in wine is equally understood to be bad. But both of these examples as well as others we can think of are pretty low bars over which winemakers need to jump to make palatable wine. Here we are talking about what characteristics amount to GREAT wine…wines that can obtain the highest classification. We are talking about subjectivity in quality analysis.

More than anyone, McCloskey understands the idea of quality analysis. Through his consulting firm, Enologix, Leo has been able to formulate various mathematical models and identify chemical characteristics that define highly rated wines by both national wine critics and winemakers. His service is and has been used by a collection of remarkably successful and well known wineries across the globe. In other words, McCloskey is well aware, as most wine lovers should be, that certain kinds of wine are more highly prized than others for the specific characteristics they deliver. While this is not to say that this currently accepted set of characteristics generally applied to “quality” wines will always remain the same in the future they are today, it is a fact that at this moment they are what they are.

What’s also interesting is that the general assessment of today’s critics as to which type of wines are of a higher quality tend to be the same wines that winemakers will identify as those of a higher quality. Again, McCloskey knows this. He regularly gathers together winemakers from specific regions to blindly assess the quality of a collection of wines hailing from the winemakers’ same region. He’ll tell you that the winemakers favorites tend to match up with the favorites of the national critics.

The point is that if we start to go down the path of allowing critics to create a classification of Napa Valley’s best Cabernet producers and if folks object to giving national critics this power, you are likely to wind up with a similar classification even if you give the job over to winemakers.

Of course the key to creating any kind of classification of producers or vineyards in Napa Valley is objectivity by those making up the classification. McCloskey has an interesting idea about this. He has outlined them at the 2007 TASTE3 Conference at which he spoke about this issue and that can be watched here on YouTube.

However, in a wide ranging conversation with me, McCloskey threw out the possibility of a Think Tank comprised of Emeritus Wine Trade Individuals. Imagine an organization that has the overall mission of bringing together winemakers, vineyardists, marketers and others who, after having worked in the wine industry for many years and now find themselves either at the end of their career or in retirement, are granted a chair at this Think Tank where they work to bring members of the industry together, share ideas, and generally promote cooperation within the industry.

As McCloskey points out, there really is nothing quite like this in the wine industry, even while many other industries have such bodies. And in McCloskey’s view, this just might be the kind of organization that could put an objective and well reasoned spin on a classification of vineyards or producers in Napa Valley that, if well promoted and adopted by members of the industry, could help prop up Napa Valley Cabernet in the face of price pressure brought on by commoditization of the variety.

Now, of course this would not be an official or government sanctioned kind of classification. But, were it supported by the majority of Napa Valley winemakers, by the Napa Valley Vintners, by the Napa Valley Grapegrowers, and by the media, it would likely be supported, most importantly, by consumers. Plus, it would deliver the added benefit of creating a new and vital area of discussion for wine lovers—as though they don’t have enough already.

Whether a body of old and accomplished fuddy duddies or another type of body that determines a classification system and goes about the business of doing the classifying, the important issue is how a ranking of the best Napa Cabernet producers or vineyards is accomplished. Let’s be clear that their is no objective criteria that delivers a verdict on what wine is better than another.

Price based classifications measure the supply and demand curve.

Quality Assessment classifications measure the palates of a specific group

Assessments of vineyards based on terroir characteristics such as in the Duoro amount to subjective determinations of what style of wine is most desirable since certain terroir characteristics (Elevation, vine density, wind, temperature) deemed to be favorable will tend to promote a particular character of wine.

And so, since any classification of quality is subjective, I wonder why we don’t just give over the business of classifying wines to to those folks who are doing it anyway and who appear not to be slowing down in their willingness to grade wines and who dont’ seem to be losing any measurable audience where the grading of wines is concerned: The Critics.

Here’s what I’d like to see. I want to see McCloskey’s Wine Industry Emeritus Think Tank created. It’s a damn good idea all on its own whether they are involved in the business of ranking and classification or not. But instead of this Committee of Elders doing the ranking and working of classifying producers or vineyards, they are charged with selecting an anonymous collection of wine critics to have the honors. What’s critical in all this is that the critics chosen by the Committee of Elders is kept anonymous. Once any member of the Critics Classification Circle is confirmed by a member of the circle or an elder, that critic is removed from the process.

Anonymity is important for all the reasons you think it is, not the least of which is the matter of outside influence. Most important, however, is that the Wine Industry Elders that select the Critics are trusted. This trust is only created by seeing the vast majority of the Napa Valley wine industry give their vocal support to the Committee of Elders.

Once this happens, and once the Elder can go about outlining the parameters that ought to be used to assess quality (ex: years making wine, volume criteria, quality, etc), the Critics can go about announcing their classification and issuing updates on an annual or basis or such.

It’s all quite fun and and interesting to think about, particular for wine geeks, despite the fact that it will never come to pass. And this brings us back to the point of McCloskey’s press release: commoditization of Cabernet is coming and with it the downward price pressure on Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Recall that keen observer McCloskey noted that without some sort of classification system or sent of production regulations, there is little the Napa Valley can do to stop this downward price pressure that is coming.

I think he’s right.


23 Responses

  1. Morton - December 28, 2010

    This is a silly idea. The Napa Valley is small enough and its production is finite. There is no need to define it smaller or create an “official” hierarchy on paper. The classification system in Bordeaux hurts it as a whole, though it artificially helps a few growths. An ocean of surplus Cabernet Sauvignon in Australia and elsewhere early this decade did not affect Napa Valley Cabernet prices or demand one bit. But the surpluses did affect the unclassified Bordeaux producers.
    What will continue to be effective in preserving demand and prices, will be Napa vintners working together to promote and market their region. Not creating a divisive and artificial hierarchy.

  2. Mike Duffy - December 28, 2010

    Hi, Tom.
    An interesting idea, but as you point out, highly improbable.
    What percentage of your clients produce Cab in Napa? How about in Sonoma, or other regions? Transparency, baby!
    It seems that any Cab producer who can’t differentiate their wine on some basis (cult, price, points, plot of land, “terroir”, organic, biowhatsis, …) will be riding the down escalator in terms of pricing.
    Still, “Napa” Cab still has some established cachet, regardless of whether it continues to be deserved by all producers of same.

  3. Tom Wark - December 28, 2010

    Morton,
    I’m not willing to call it a stupid idea (the classification by producer, vineyard or appellation). But it sure is unlikely. As for the price of Napa Cab, the trends don’t lie. How does Napa preserve its pricing?

  4. Tom Wark - December 28, 2010

    Mike:
    How are you?
    One current client produces one Napa Cab and sells it all out of their Sonoma tasting room.
    It used to be that “Napa” was enough of a differentiation in the market. Will it still be?
    Tom…

  5. Andy Perdue - December 28, 2010

    The United States doesn’t have an emperor, which was the case when France came up with the classification system. So the political climate was (and, as you point out, remains) much different.
    But there already are unofficial classification systems in place. Here in Washington, wine consumers know the top Cab producers are Quilceda, Leonetti, Woodward Canyon, L’Ecole and Barnard Griffin. The same thing happens in Oregon Pinot Noir country, with Ken Wright, Ponzi, Beaux Freres, Archery Summit and Elk Cove.
    We can make similar lists based on variety and region: ice wine in British Columbia, Riesling in Washington, etc.
    No doubt those who love Napa Cab, Russian River PN, Dry Creek Zin, etc., already have their lists of “can’t miss” producers, which in essence is a classification system created by consumers (with a big assist by critics).
    DIfficult to imagine anything official happening, but it is fun to think about it.

  6. Thomas Pellechia - December 29, 2010

    Tom,
    I used to want to establish a standards system similar to what McCloskey points out, but after years of bringing the idea to the fore, and receiving the kinds of responses that you have gotten above, I simply gave up on the idea.
    The way it looks to me now, if Napa (or any) Cabernet Sauvignon producers want to maintain their individual price and status hierarchy while the variety becomes a commodity, all they have to do is change the name of their wines from varietal to proprietary.
    It isn’t a lack of classification that hurts when grapes become commodities; it’s varietal labeling.

  7. Morton - December 29, 2010

    While the Napa Valley has prospered in the past by using French names, French varieties, and French cooperage, it has also prospered through creativity and competition. A classification similar to Bordeaux is the antithesis of the latter. It is as small minded as plunking Chateau into the name of an American winery.
    In the Napa Valley we are free to plant anything we want, farm it any way we want, make it into any type of wine we want, learn from our mistakes and our neighbors successes. Our wines are as good as any in the world; better than most. We have worked together to produce the most effective marketing of a region in the world of wine. We need to continue what has made us successful.
    We don’t have to copy everything from the French, particularly their unimaginative, bureaucratic, and anticompetitive business practices. They are the ones who need help today. They need to shake the conventions and rules that hold them back. They need to think about copying us.

  8. Kathy - December 29, 2010

    I don’t agree with the premise Napa Cabernet will become less worthy or expensive if the varietal becomes a commodity. Hamburgers are probably the biggest food commodity in the world, yet people are going in droves to new high-end burger restaurants and happily paying $20 or more for one. Why? Because it tastes better than the $1 alternative and – more importantly – who doesn’t love a great burger? Housing is a commodity, yet some people spend millions while others spend $100K.
    There is already a vast range of Cabernet available from Napa at price points from $2 to $hundreds. $2 sounds like a commodity price to me, but that didn’t kill the market for a $150 bottle. There’s always a high end market for everything.

  9. Mike Duffy - December 29, 2010

    @Kathy – true, there is always a high end market. The question is it big enough to support everyone who aspires to be part of it.

  10. Rob McMillan - December 29, 2010

    Shenanigans! Poppycock and rubbish. For a pretty smart guy, Leo misses two economic facts:
    1) You can’t set price looking at only supply. Demand has to be factored in and demand continues to rise for American wine. French wine had been in excess position for decades but even with declinging EU consumption, price went up. (I know there are partial subsidies).
    2) Napa wine in particular is more inelastic than most appellations. Why? It’s a scarce commodity and a desirable brand. Leo mixes up the economics of commodities with luxury goods and they behave quite different. Proof? If Kia’s overproduce massively, what happens to the price of a Mercedes?
    Shenanigans! Poppycock and rubbish I say!

  11. Tom Wark - December 29, 2010

    Rob,
    I’ll leave it to Leo to explain why Napa Valley will not be the only Cabernet producing region to completely escape the commoditization of Cabernet.
    That said, when you start to use those technical banking terms like “Shenanigans” and “Poppycock” I get confused!!

  12. Warren - December 29, 2010

    Hi Tom, this was an interestig article. Problem is twofold. You already have an informal classification system in place. Everytime someone assigns a score to a wine its the equivalent of classifying it. Some reviewers have more weight than others and some reviewers are seen as more authoritative than others. Witness the effect of a high RPJ score on wine:price rises and heavy demand. (and boasting rights etc) Second problem: Classification of a product implies homogeneity. (And clearly wine isn’t homogenous). And third problem classification runs in parrallel with mindless acceptance. Although I think the RPJ phenomenon has passed, one of the consequences was that wine nuts didn’t have to come to their own conclusions about what they were buying. If RPJ rated it highly it had to be good, and the folks out there with their big egos could build their boasting rights on what they had bought. “Heres a bottle I managed to get. Its a 97 pointer.” Subtext aren’t I great!.

  13. Tom Wark - December 29, 2010

    Roger:
    I’m not sure that “napa valley cabernet sauvignon” isn’t homogenous enough to start classifying the producers if you wanted to.
    Also, I’m not convinced that those who use Parker or the Wine Spectator or Wine & Spirits or Wine Enthusiast are mindless about what they like. I think they have a certain trust in these publications and people that convince them that buying the wine without tasting it isn’t the risk that it might otherwise be. That said, sure, there are Point Whores who inflict their ego upon others. I just don’t think that describes the majority of those that might make a leap based on a score.

  14. Don - December 29, 2010

    Not gonna happen. We have our appellation system. And we have some laws regarding vineyard designation and estate grown & bottled. This system is not going to be replaced by anything. Especially a govt. classification. And even more especially not going to happen by a classification system created and approved and adhered to by the members of the industry itself. Way too many independent, or self-motivated, or self-starters, in this or any other healthy, highly competitive, low-barrier-to entry, industry. The so-called problem of too many overpriced wines not being able to sell in the market, is a problem without a solution, doesn’t need a solution, and I will eat anybody’s Easter bonnet, chapeau, beret, or pelt if it happens.

  15. Rob McMillan - December 29, 2010

    Tom …. My twisted sense of humor. You have to be a South Park fan to get the ‘shenanigans’ part. I am declaring shinanigas!
    But to the point, I don’t believe the premise. Neither Chardonnay or Cabernet as a product are or will be comoditized as if they were paper towels. Its not just Napa that will withstand price pressure, its other appellations as well both here and other parts of the world. The only way someone can convince me otherwise would be do the math and prove demand is dropping.
    There is price erosion today because of the economy (demand shock .. back to the issue of demand impacting price). But the premise that there is comoditization of a luxury good that has fewer substitutes than most goods, or that a ranking system will somehow protect an otherwise false dichototemy is on its face fallatial ….err …. wrongditude… nuts.
    http://www.southparkstudios.com/clips/103481/shenanigans

  16. 1WineDude - December 30, 2010

    Thought-provoking… BUT…
    Is Napa Cab really in trouble? It sure doesn’t seem that way. I mean, we are talking about a pretty small amount of wine (in the grand scheme of things) and there is still demand.
    As for a classification – it would be fun but I doubt it would “stick” the way that the (incredibly lazy and hopelessly out of date) classified growths of Bord’x have.

  17. Jean Tournier - December 31, 2010

    Really interesting, especially since I didnt know that the Napa Cabernet was in trouble.
    I tend to agree with Morton about the classification…I really think it would be a bad idea. The napa valley is already small and competitive enough, and I think it would threaten some producers more than it would help them

  18. Joe Miller - December 31, 2010

    What Leo overlooks is that there are hundreds of years of winemaking history in the European wine producing regions. Their classifications derive from this experience that goes far beyond what any individual winemakers are producing. Some great vineyards have been known as great for a thousand years (e.g., Clos de Tart in Burgundy). Napa and other California wine areas are mere infants, and while it is clear that some vineyards are capable of producing finer wines than others, the hand of the winemaker is often more important than the soil. Leo ads the twist that his company can do a lab test and tell you if it is a great wine, but so maybe he has a commercial interst in classifying vineyards as well.
    Having experience with evaluating wines made from grapes picked from the same rows at the same time, but made by different wineries, I have seen that the hand of the winemaker often far more important than the vineyard. On the other hand, there is no question that some vineyards are capable of consistently producing better wines if well made. I think it is simply too early to classify the vineyards in such a diverse region as Napa Valley- maybe someday. I wish all wineries did identify the vineyards from which their grapes came. It could be a start toward an eventual classification of vineyards. For now Napa IS classified (unofficially) a lot like Bordeaux. Unlike Burgundy, the various classified Great Growths of Bordeaux are not classifications of vineyards, but wine producers. And the 1855 classification was done largely by the price various producers were able to get for thgeir wines. Simularly, certain Napa wineries have achieved exalted status (for several different reasons, not all having to do with the quality of their wine), while the vineyards from which their fruit comes are largely unknown.
    As for Cabernet becoming a “commodity, ” I think that is a non-issue. So what? Chardonnay may be considered by Leo to be a commodity, but there is a tremendous range in quality of Chardonnays, and there is no question that certain producers and/or vineyards are capable of producing finer ones than others; these often sell for very high prices. Fords and Chevys made be mere “commodities,” but there are also Ferraris and other high end autos that haven’t been degraded by the existence of the commodity cars.
    Joe

  19. Christian Miller - January 3, 2011

    Wow, what an interesting posting and what a strange article. So many generalizations, so little time.
    “Price data supports the view that California Chardonnay became a commodity after the 2002 recession as a result of New World overplanting. The tipping point to commoditize Chardonnay appears to be only 90,000 bearing acres in California. Over one decade the number of 90-plus point California wines dropped 50% in Wine Spectator.”
    –Why would 90k acres be the magic number? For California Viognier, ¼ that number might be oversupply. For California Semillon, 1/10th would be oversupply. Oversupply is a condition that only exists relative to demand. There are no figures for demand here, although the article appears to suggest that demand can be somehow inferred from the number of 90+ point wines in the Spectator, an eccentric form of economic analysis.
    “Diffusion of Napa’s intellectual property such as rootstocks, scion wood and techniques from Napa led to plantings across California, Australia, New Zealand and Chile. Worldwide overplanting creates an oversupply..”
    –Is there any evidence actually correlating diffusion of Napa’s “intellectual property” (which is what exactly? a rather tough variable to quantify, whatever your definition) with increased plantings of Cabernet in other regions?
    “Though Napa was evolving to a luxury Chardonnay producer, it was an undifferentiated one that became a New World commodity.”
    –This is not an accurate representation of the relationship between AVA and Chardonnay pricing, which is not commodified, but quite differentiated, albeit not as much as Cabernet. The lower pricing for Napa Chardonnay relative to Napa Cabernet can be easily explained by other factors. We could start with basic consumer demand: % growth in sales for Cab has outstripped Chardonnay for many years running, whether you measure via scan data or Gomberg-Fredrikson’s shipment estimates. You can add on variables such as stronger qualitative competition from other regions for Chardonnay, higher perceived quality and prestige for Cabernet vs. Chardonnay by consumers, higher value usage occasions or roles for Cabernet over Chardonnay (e.g. business dinners at steak houses, collectors and cellaring), easier and more cost-efficient mimicking of high end wine styles by less expensive Chardonnays.
    “USDA’s Grape Harvest Report shows that California Cabernet Sauvignon prices began falling after 1999. By 2007 they (adjusted for inflation) were 28% lower than 1999. In contrast, Napa prices increased 29% between 1999 and 2002. But even before the Great Recession, Napa prices, adjusted for inflation, were stagnant.”
    –The price differentiation 1998-2007 between Napa and the California average (hugely affected by Central Valley tonnage and trends) argues against commodification. In fact, in the mid-1990s acreage increases of Cab & Chard in the Central Valley had already outstripped the rate of sales growth for the fighting varietal wines they supplied; it was only a matter of time before prices plunged. The growth in sales of high end Cabernet was vigorous for most of that period, sometimes outstripping the rate of planting. Recently the growth in overall California Cab sales has outpaced growth in planting every year since 2005 at least, by a substantial margin. On the other hand, demand for very high-priced Cab fell in 2008-2010. And as one would expect, prices for Central Valley Cab increased during that period, whereas prices for Napa Cab weakened.
    “Today there are 75,000 acres of California Cabernet Sauvignon. Australia has 75,000 acres, and Chile an estimated 100,000 acres.”
    –France has roughly 150,000 acres of Cab. Yet arguably France has the widest range of price-volume segments, followed by California, then Australia and Chile. Is there a simple relationship between total acreage and price differentiation? It doesn’t appear so.
    “Enologix warns winemakers to differentiate Napa from California by classifying the wines of Napa Valley. In lieu of a classification, Enologix advises that companies create a three-year trailing average 100-point score of 92-plus points to support prices above $50.”
    Is there quantitative evidence supporting the notion that classification boosts prices? Geographic or yield limitations, or approval panels can certainly limit supply, which in the short term can boost prices. (The long term relationship would be an interesting study.) Would a critical score-based system limit supply, given both point inflation and the diffusion of technique that Enologix warns about. And how does a formalized point-based “classification” differ from the informal classification done by the market at large?
    Additional footnote: the origins of the French AOC system have more to do with authenticity and control of supply than hierarchy or quality rankings. The “quality” classification of Bordeaux crus actually predates the AOC system and was (ironically?) based largely on then-current pricing.
    Tom, I think your three points in bold are an excellent summary of the classification issue. On the other hand, the “Star Chamber” of critics idea is pretty bizarre, if entertaining.

  20. Leo McCloskey, Ph.D. - January 25, 2011

    I was incredulous in 2001 when the then Vice President of Kobrand told the audience at Burgundy in America Symposium that Chardonnay would be commoditized. Then a a University of California mathematician told the audience that the flagship Chardonnay price would collapse. A California winemaker next said that we it was poppycock; moreover he advised raising the price to $50 as I recall. I never forgot what happened next, my customers price fell. I became a maven of wine economics to help my customers who are thriving by producing the high scoring Cabernet Sauvignons. But nothing could save Chardonnay. My goal is to help wine professionals understand what might happen next to Cabernet Sauvignon. As far as I can tell 90-point Cabernet Sauvignon is going to sell for $18 in today’s dollars.

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  23. The story « Unfiltered/Unfined - December 3, 2012

    [...] doesn’t employ the strict classification system that is present in France. (Tom Wark wrote an interesting post about this a couple of years ago.) In Napa, because so much hinges on the unique expression of the [...]


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