Who Will Plant Alicante Bouschet?

Nick Frey at the the Sonoma County Wine Grape Commission is reporting that 1) Pinot Noir plantings are set to overtake Cabernet Sauvignon plantings in the County, 2) that the price of a ton of Sonoma County Pinot Noir has overtaken a ton of Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon and 3) that poor Merlot has seen its price drop to a "dismal" $1550 per ton.

Regarding 1: I’m surprised it took this long
Regarding 2: Behold the natural migration of money toward quality
Regarding 3: This  should mean some much better prices on excellent Merlot from Sonoma

The fact that Pinot, long known to do so well in the western and southern reaches of Sonoma County, only now has over taken Cab in total acreage has to do, likely with the former attitude of Californian growers to plant the most popular grape variety wherever they happen to have fallow land, no matter what conditions are. Those days are long gong. I think we must be seeing the slow development not merely of monocultures in wine growing regions, but also mono-varietal-cultures. Fifty years from now will there be much of anything besides Pinot and Chard in Russian River Valley and Sonoma Coast, Cabernet Sauvignon in Alexander Valley and Pinot and Chardonnay in Carneros?

It turns out there’s good money today in planting varieties where they produce the best grapes. That wasn’t necessarily the case 25 years ago. Witness the mass plantings of Cabernet in the far too cold Monterey appellation.

Finaly Merlot. I’m aware of a number of killer Merlot vineyards here in Sonoma Valley. One produces incredibly tiny berries year in and year out that produce intense, structured, fruit forward wine. If the price of grapes in these Merlot vineyards continue to fall we’ll see some great prices on the wines made from them. But we won’t see the wines for long. They’ll eventually be replaced with grapes that bring in more per ton. That’s a shame.

It’s a shame because while it is a good thing that we are planting what grows best in different regions, that also means that many other varieties will be lost to those regions. How much Petite Sirah will be re planted in Russian River Valley when the old vine Petite has given its all and doesn’t want to produce much any more. Chenin Blanc can do just great in parts of Napa, but I dare say probably no more than an acre or two has been planted in that Cabernet haven for years. Will anyone plant Alicante Bouschet anywhere in the North Coast?

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6 Responses

  1. Steve Heimoff - October 23, 2007

    I guess the more things change, the more they stay the same. This conversation brings to mind that old story about the Dukes of Burgundy outlawing Gamay because it didn’t produce the best wine. Philippe the Bold called it “a very bad and disloyal plant” in 1365, while Philippe the Good, 60 years later, once again prohibited it [in favor of Pinot Noir]. I think in great wine regions there’s always this tension between what makes the greatest wine vs. everything else. We’re just seeing the latest iteration of that in Napa-Sonoma.

  2. Tom Wark - October 23, 2007

    “A very bad and disloyal plant”, indeed! Gotta love those Dukes, both Bold and Good.
    What’s interesting is that there appears to be a connection between plantings, price and the correct connection between place and plantings.
    Still…who will plant Alicante Bouschet????

  3. ian - October 23, 2007

    Merlot will bounce back. Acreage of Merlot is falling as growers graft to other varietals (including Pinot), leaving behind the good stuff. It will come down to supply & demand, supply is down, demand is holding steady and actually increasing for high-end merlot (and remember a lot of Merlot goes into Cab and bordeaux blends..)
    So we’ll see prices for good merlot snap back, and it will surprise a lot of people.

  4. bartolo - October 23, 2007

    I would buy some of the Alicante Bouschet when someone decides to….and the Chenin Blanc.

  5. David Graves - October 29, 2007

    So Argentina ends up as the haven/refuge for Malbec, and Chile has its Carmenere. Who’s to say that for example Greek varieties wouldn’t thrive here? Diversity is a good thing in principle, but hard to promote–which is another reason for the tasting room.

  6. swirlingnotions - October 30, 2007

    I actually think certain Greek varieties would do VERY well here, David. Good point about the market.
    Maybe, as more people learn more about lesser-known varietals through blogs like this one, new markets will flourish and create opportunities for things like Alicante Bouchet and Greek varietals. I know it’s pie-in-the-sky thinking, but hey, a girl’s gotta have hope.

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