Once again, the wine industry has met the enemy — and it is us. An Aug. 11, San Francisco Chronicle headline read, “Cocktails take seat at finer tables.” Napa Valley wines used to dominate those “finer tables.”
Just take a 1980-90s look across America to find proof that fine wine from Napa Valley dominated. Led by such visionary experts as Kevin Zraly at Windows on the World, Alex Sebastian at the Wooden Angel in Beaver, Pa., Mary Ross at the top of Sear’s Tower in Chicago, Stephan Pyles at Routh Street Café in Dallas, Lorene Kamps at Gaido’s in Galveston, Texas, Jeff Prather at Ray’s Boathouse in Seattle, Pug Ostling at the Grape Escape in Boise, Idaho, Fred Dame at the Sardine Factory, and Piero Selvaggio at Valentino’s in Santa Monica, Calif.; hundreds of sommeliers and wine directors opened the doors to the “finer tables” for us.
Cocktails were $4.50 and only for old grandpas and grandmas who “needed a stiff drink.” Well, we let them fly past us. First, we let the trade equalize the prices; wine — $9 to $13 a glass; “hand-crafted” cocktails — $9 to $13 a glass.
Then we let them exploit their “artisan craftsmanship” approach, which led patrons to think they were therefore somehow worth more. That put the appeal of all of the centuries of wine making artistry in the dumper.
It’s really sad and disappointing that we didn’t understand the business better and lost our solid edge. The last straw is French Laundry’s new liquor license. For 19 years, they didn’t need one, as wine starred on our “finest” table.
Let’s not give up. This is so important to the Napa Valley’s next 25 years, it’s worth spending some big bucks to hire experts to reverse engineer our situation, and find the new path.
Why new experts? Because we may have classic tunnel vision and might not recognize the new way. Every day that we let the darling cocktail vibe stay unchallenged will make it harder to get all the way back on the “finer tables.”
Bill Ryan / St. Helena