Sometimes the Hunt is as Rewarding as the Prize
I can remember in 1985 driving from Alameda where I then lived to visit Inglenook Winery in Rutherford. Inglenook was in those days a warm, inviting place to taste wine. If memory serves, Inglenook at one time had about 80 acres of Charbono grapes from which they made a fantastic wine. They released their 1985 Reunion that year which we just couldn’t get enough of. We used to go there as club members and we loved it when Jim (from Mississippi) and Manny (from the east coast) would open up the John Daniels Library where we could try wonderful older wines from the 60’s and 70’s. Oh the stories we could tell.
This was a large winery with a small winery feel – something which can only more rarely be found these days. At the time Clos du Val had Sam and later Marc who had been at Guenoc; personalities that personalized the wines. These were good days. Later, living in the valley from ’88 on, we were able to get personalized treatment as locals (buying regularly helped) and we could bring visitors who recognized the great treatment we got. Of course, having your children in school with the local vintners like Justin Meyer or Mike Mondavi, the Cejas or supporting the swim team with Ray and Nancy Courson, or watching Taylor Bartolucci perform at school, or becoming friends with Bernard Portet inevitably provided access to wineries with its “perks.” They weren’t really perks though. We were a family. In 1990 Napa only had about 60,000 people and perhaps 110,000 in the entire county.
With the advent of larger and larger wineries, the corporate influence naturally began to take hold. Tasting appointments at the larger venues that visitors had heard about and wanted to see made the tasting rounds for out of town family a little more difficult as locals didn’t want to risk wearing out their welcome with owner-friends.
By the early 2000’s the opportunities had shrunk noticeably. To expand, wineries raised money and that meant extra shareholders who many times were more interested in a return than in the art of wine. Sure, the wine had its allure, but bottom line now had a much heavier influence.
After several cycles, in later years the number of wineries blossomed into the high 300’s and 400’s and it became fun to find the hidden gems. The Goosecrosses (Ray Gorsuch) , Saddlebacks (Nils Venge – 1st 100 point recipient of an American Wine), S. Andersons (Oh…. the Richard Chambers Vineyard now pleasing Cliff Lede), and other small growers still were able to be found and enjoyed. We even ventured into Sonoma down little dirt roads to find elegant small producers really crafting their wines. Unfortunately, while they used to be considered some years behind Napa (some might say), perhaps that now is an advantage.
We pray that these Napa wine families who remain and now their children who have assumed the winemaking will survive and spare us from Artificial Intelligence systems that now make tasting reservations and “wine educators” who have no idea we are from Napa because they aren’t (God bless them).
So I will say it. “Save our Family Farms.” It is a good idea if not too late. Save what remains of Napa before it simply becomes a faint and distant memory.
Author: Gerald (“Jerry”) Robertson has lived in Napa since 1988. In 1993, he became registered as a patent attorney with the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office. Jerry’s knowledge of wine, he says, is through “osmosis”, but his involvement in legal work for wineries in both patent and trademark matters injected him deeply into the business. As a student of wine and the culinary arts, he filed many iconic trademarks for wineries in the Valley. In 2002, Jerry and his wife, Deborah, joined the International Wine & Food Society and Jerry soon after became Cellar Master. In 2018, Jerry was asked to take on the Presidency of the IW&FS Napa Valley and Sonoma County Branch. Jerry has a unique perspective on the path traveled by Napa Valley and its wineries, both small and large, in the years he and his family have lived here. Jerry continues to practice law and for years has been engaged in the development of alternate-fuel power generation projects in developing countries.
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