Behold: The Golden Age of Artisan Winemaking
Today, on the front page of the SF Chronicle, above the fold, was a huge story about the sale of venerable Stag’s Leap Winery for $185 Million. This story, along with the news that William Hill and Canyon Road went to a consortium of St. Michelle and Antinori and Duckhorn sold most of it’s value to an equity firm, led to the state of Napa Valley being a BIG concern not just in the media but in the industry.
I was trying to muster some sort of concern or even interest in these developments but just couldn’t. There is a suggestion swirling around all the media reports that Napa Valley is "evolving" or becoming more corporate or that the California wine industry is changing:
"The transaction is a big step down the corporate path for the renowned
valley, where wineries once were strictly family enterprises."
I simply don’t see how the sale of Stag’s Leap is a "big step" down the corporate path.
The fact is, today in America and in California we are in a GOLDEN AGE of small, artisan winemaking.
The vast majority of wineries in CA are privately owned. You can’t travel on foot in this state without tripping over a new winery or brand "dedicated to exposing the unique terroir of (name the region)". It’s an embarrassment of riches for wine lovers who value a diversity of experience.
Why I’d bet that at least four or five new privately owned wineries were founded in just the past two days here in California. New custom crush facilities that winemakers rent to make there wine are popping up all over the state to deal with the demand for winemaking space. I read about more and more co-op tasting rooms emerging…in urban areas.
Hell, there’s a god damned Renaissance of private winery ownership in America today.
Someone go talk to Jim Laube of the Wine Spectator or Robert Parker or the San Francisco Chronicle Tasting panel. Ask them about the wines that are crossing their desks these days. My bet is that on a weekly basis they are confronted with a brand of wine they’ve never heard of before. My bet is that they are receiving more wines as samples than ever before.
Here’s the real question: How is it that corporate American and the big investment funds haven’t yet found Napa Valley, let alone Sonoma, Santa Barbara or Mendocino. Corporate America hasn’t even begun to dabble in wine. Corporate and Investment Fund purchases of wineries are infrequent, few and far between. Now, that might change as more and more Americans drink wine or as India and China mature as markets.
But rest assured, the small, privately owned, artisan-oriented family wineries has never been stronger in America.
It’s a great time to be a wine consumer who likes variety and loves discovering new winemakers.