Place vs. Location … a big 92 point snafu

Hidden Ridge Vineyards, Sonoma

Hidden Ridge Vineyards ... Sonoma

If you think about a ‘place’, it has a name you can attach to it. In wine, Chianti is defined, regulated, laid out.  Likewise for Rutherford, Santa Lucia Highlands, Barossa Valley, etc.  A ‘location’ is simply a spot of land, identifiable by a specific latitude and longitude (and thanks to Google Earth, you can zoom anywhere with perfect accuracy).

160 acres of mountaintop land.  Spring Mountain, to be specific.  52 acres planted to the top Cabernet Sauvignon clones.  Stunning views in a 360 degree panorama.  Your closest neighbors are none other than Paloma (!!!!!) and Pride Vineyards (!!!!!!). And, here’s the kicker, you can only label your wine with the ‘Sonoma’ appelation.

That’s the snafu that Hidden Ridge Vineyards finds themselves in.  We had a great visit with Casidy Ward, proprietor (along with her husband, Lynn) of this cherished property, and she explained that because of the specific location of this vineyard, it falls outside of all designated AVA’s.  Possibly some of the best Cabernet Sauvignon grown, yet it can only be labeled ‘Sonoma’ … and thus, it is worth less on the bulk wine market.  Rather than fight the system and try to get Spring Mountain AVA pushed to the other side of the mountain, they decided to make their own label and show just how special this place is.

[Sidenote: My co-worker Brandt and I were talking about our affinity for wineries that produce only one wine, from one grape, from property that was bought based on potential of quality rather than a gold-standard of place name (There aren’t that many out there). It forces a winery to work harder, for the label of a place will not be there to help sell the wine (how many times has a sales pitch started with ‘This is from Rutherford in Napa Valley…”).]

Hidden Ridge Vineyards received 92 points on both their inaugural release (2003) and the current release (2004).  By any sensible terms, this wine is the equivalent of, or better than, almost all Napa Valley ‘cult wines.’ However, just as the winemakers have to work harder to produce this product (a two mile long dirt road following the spine of Spring Mountain gets you to the vineyards!), we have to also work harder to sell this product.

Take out the idea of place for a moment.  And instead focus on location.  After all, it’s the terrior that is supposed to be sacred, is it not?

Laying out the vineyards at Hidden Ridge

Laying out the vineyards at Hidden Ridge

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New York Times jumps on the wine in a box bandwagon

This morning at 9:30 am, Tuesday August 19th, the single most emailed story on the New York Times website was not that Obama has decided a running mate, it was not the war in Iraq, it was not the Olympics.  Here’s the true measure of the popularity of wine in today’s culture: it was about boxed wines.

A full third of all wine sold in Italy today is packed in Tetra-Pak.  The boxed wine selection in most stores is about five times the size it was three years ago (with several prominent large brands taking up less and less space, I might add).  It’s all about finding better, but not best, juice in boxes for the sake of convenience and environmental karma (plus value, of course).

(Sidenote: I still think that if a prominent Napa Valley Cabernet producer, somebody with a stellar reputation, released a TINY amount of their wine in box format — imagine paying $300 for a 3L box! — it would generate enough buzz to be the story of the year.  Talk about free advertising!)

However, the really interesting part is to be found here, in the New York Times comments section.  If you want to keep on the pulse of current public opinions, the newspaper comments section is a good place to find the more aggressive, passionate, and loud voices (that inevitably influence the more passive and quiet ones).

Heidi Barrett is new winemaker at Fantesca Winery

Big news from our friends on Spring Mountain, Fantesca Winery. Former Screaming Eagle winemaker Heidi Barrett has joined Fantesca! To say this is big news is the understatement of the year, and congrats to Duane and Susan for landing Ms. Barrett!

Next week is Winefest in Minneapolis (which, amazingly, gets better and better every year). Duane and Susan are key supporters of the University Pediatrics Foundation and will have a table at the Friday night tasting. Look for them, and be sure to say congratulations.

From the Fantesca website: “We are pleased to announce the hiring of Heidi Barrett as our new winemaker. Hailed “The First Lady of Wine” by Robert Parker, Jr. for having received an unmatched four perfect 100 point scores, Heidi Barrett brings a level of esteem and winemaking experience unlike anyone else. With another 100 point score from the Wine Enthusiast, Heidi Barrett is the only winemaker ever to have received five perfect scores from the top wine critics in the country. When it comes to Napa cult wine, Wine & Spirits Magazine states that “Heidi Barrett is the reigning queen”. Fantesca Estate & Winery is Barrett’s first new project since leaving Screaming Eagle in 2006.”