The Dehydration of Napa Valley
Andy Beckstoffer is a pretty astute guy.
Andy is one of the largest growers in Napa Valley and maybe the most respected. And it was Andy who last year initiated an inter-industry discussion on the affects of long hangtime and hyper ripeness on the vines and on wines.
This is a touch subject for a number or of reasons. Over the past decade or so vintners have been asking growers to let the fruit hang on the vine much longer than in the past. The idea is to get the grapes much more ripe in order to make a…a what…a "blockbuster", high alcohol style of wine that seems to be in vogue. The problem is that to achieve this level of ripeness, the grapes are forced to dehydrate. This means less tonnage and less money for growers.
Beckstoffer also wanted to make the case that this might also so stress the vines as to shorten their lifespan.
But as I said, Beckstoffer is pretty astute, not just a grower bemoaning a loss of income because his grapes are shriveling. Beckstoffer makes the case that if Napa Valley continues to make wines in this style, the region will get a reputation for making one kind of wine…high alcohol monsters:
"Napa wine is getting the reputation of being high alcohol and people
are saying they’re hot," he said. "Even the Wine Spectator used the
term high octane Zinfandel. Why anybody would put anything in their
mouth that said high octane, I don’t know."
Beckstoffer may be ahead of the curve on this one. But his point is a good one. Napa Valley is becoming known as a source of "high octane" Cabernet. However, I’m not sure those drinking Napa Cabernet are quite finished with this style of wine. Furthermore, those who only began experimenting with and regularly drinking this style of wine in the past 10 years probably don’t know anything different.
In casual conversation journalists and winery owners and retailers we usually come to the question of when will this high alcohol style of wine begin to lose popularity. Beckstoffer puts this issue in context:
"Right now the retailers seem to be following Parker and the Wine
Spectator and telling people to drink those wines," he said. "But, you
get a tipping point. If we have the situation where the retailers start
telling people not to drink wines that don’t go with food, where do we
John Intardenato has a good story in the St. Helena Star in which Beckstoffer is interviewed on the occasion of being named Grower of the Year. It’s a peak into his insightfulness and well worth a read.