Wine no longer reigns supreme at ‘finer tables’

2013-08-20T22:00:00Z Wine no longer reigns supreme at ‘finer tables’Bill Ryan Napa Valley Register
August 20, 2013 10:00 pm  • 

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

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(4) Comments

  1. kevin
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    kevin - August 21, 2013 9:49 am
    Beer sales are down too! The inhumanity!
  2. vocal-de-local
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    vocal-de-local - August 21, 2013 2:37 pm
    Wine has been strongly associated with breast cancer. All alcohol is associated with breast cancer but the media tends to focus on wine. Not sure if that plays a role or not.

    An issue that I have with wine is that the high yeast (and mycotoxin) levels in many wines make people very sickly feeling. There's such an inconsistency in wine quality across the board. This doesn't exist as much with alcohol used in cocktails. There's less decision making with hard liquor. Either there's good quality or bad quality liquor and a huge myriad of option in between do not exist.

    People also like the custom making approach to cocktails such as requesting more spice added to a bloody mary etc.

    But one thing I will say about wine quality (I'm extremely sensitive to fungal taste), high altitude/low humidity wines are less susceptible to mycotoxins which make wine lousy tasting. I've even tasted it in highly rated wines.

    The inconsistency of wine quality is the problem.

  3. NapaMark15
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    NapaMark15 - August 22, 2013 10:37 am
    The beer segment as a whole is up. Big beer (Bud, Miller, Coors, etc) is down. Craft beer is up ... way up.
  4. NapaMark15
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    NapaMark15 - August 22, 2013 10:43 am
    Why does it matter? People are still drinking plenty of wine and many people start or end their meal with a cocktail (an aperitif or a digestif). Plenty of wine is still being consumed with the meal itself.

    And the French Laundry? They may have a liquor license, but they're not serving cocktails. They're pouring brown spirits to be sipped neat. Liquors like America's spirit, Bourbon.

    Get over yourself and your wine. It doesn't have to be black and white, this or that.

    And cocktails have gone up in price? So has wine. People happily pay $700+ for a bottle of Screaming Eagle, made using the best methods, by the best people, with the best grapes. There are people like this with cocktails as well. Not all bartenders and cocktails are created equal.

    Get over yourself.
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