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A look forward, a look back

Acquisitions marked 2013, but climate may be big story of 2014

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It’s that time of year to look backward and into the future and recap the biggest developments for Napa Valley wineries in 2013. They’re in no particular order.

Four high-profile acquisitions occurred in 2013 in Napa:

The Artemis Group, owners of esteemed French first-growth Château Latour, bought Araujo.

Charles Banks, former owner of Screaming Eagle, and owners of French first-growth Château Latour, bought Mayacamas, one of Napa’s oldest boutique wineries.

Jackson Family Wines acquired the Yverdon Vineyard and Winery in the Spring Mountain District from Angus and Margaret Wurtele, who will keep their Terra Valentine property and brand. Terra Valentine is also on Spring Mountain.

Golden Equity Investments, a Colorado-based investment firm owned by members of the Coors beer-brewing family, bought Goosecross Cellars in Yountville.

Many high-profile acquisitions also occurred in Sonoma County, Oregon and Washington, where land is still cheaper. Napa vintners moved into Washington, in fact. Duckhorn Wine Co. bought 20 unplanted acres on Red Mountain, a site famed for cabernet sauvignon. It will call the wine Canvasback. Cakebread started making wine from the Walla Walla, Wash., appellation. Ironically, the grapes actually come from the Seven Hills Vineyard in Oregon.

In addition, the Trinchero family has entered a joint venture with Charles & Charles winery in Washington.

E. & J. Gallo, which owns Louis M. Martini and William Hill wineries here, bought Columbia and Covey Run wineries, which are among Washington’s largest.

Mother Nature

Last year was the driest year on record. Vineyards didn’t suffer because the mild weather eliminated the need for much water for frost protection so it was available for irrigation. Things could get much tighter if we don’t get some significant rain, and none seems on the horizon.

The latest pestilence to hit the wine business is the red blotch virus. It’s apparently been here a long time, but was confused with other viruses that turned grape leaves red. It’s a bad one, preventing grapes from ripening into the rich wines Napa Valley is known for, but researchers are working on it with record progress.

In spite of drought and red blotch, it was unquestionably a great year, a very unusual third in a row, with high yields and quality at once.

Dave Whitmer, who has been Napa’s ag commissioner 20 years, retired after beating back innumerable pests and diseases. Deputy Greg Clark, also well regarded, succeeded him.

Anniversaries

A number of wineries celebrated big anniversaries, including Cakebread Cellars (40 years), Domaine Chandon (40 hears), Joseph Phelps Vineyards (40 years) and Louis M. Martini Winery (80 years).

In addition, Mike Grgich turned 90 and Peter Mondavi Sr. turned 99.

It would have been Robert Mondavi’s 100th birthday.

The Peter Mondavi family, owners of Charles Krug Winery, the oldest still-standing winery in the county, completed an extensive restoration of their historic properties after renovating their vineyards and wine production. They’re really on a roll and will open a deli cafe in the spring, the only one in the valley other than that at V. Sattui.

What’s selling

After years trying to persuade people that “pure” wine varieties like cabernet sauvignon were superior, vintners have seen huge growth in blends, both higher-end and sweetish wines that helped soak by oceans of orphan syrah, merlot and even zinfandel made surplus by the declining popularity of white zin (though moscato is up 33 percent and has taken up much of the slack and then some). Sweet reds were up 22 percent, said Nielsen.

Sparklers are hot again, after falling from favor after the change of the millennium. But moderate bubbles like Prosecco and non-Champagne French wines are leading the charge.

Though Americans love wine, beer, spirits and cider are growing much faster, particularly among critical younger consumers whom the wine industry once thought it owned.

Wine was up 2 percent to 360 million 12-bottle cases, according to wine consultants Gomberg, Fredrikson & Associates, but craft beer rose 15 percent in 2012.

Spirits, especially pricey ones, are gaining with Irish whiskey up 18 percent in 2012, said Gallup. Bourbon was up 4.5 percent.

And the U.S. market’s top 10 cider brands grew by 63 percent in 2012, said Shanken.

Fundraising records

Finally, it was a good year for auctions:

Premiere Napa Valley raised $3.1 million, missing the record by 0.02 percent ($60,000).

V Wine Celebration raised a record $9.2 million for cancer research.

And the Staglin Music Festival for Mental Health raised $2.8 million without an auction. It probably would have totaled more, but the Staglin family, who chaired Auction Napa Valley 2013, worked to help set a record for the charity auction, raising $16.9 million.

Napa Valley vintners have challenges ahead, but as 2014 begins, they’re on a roll.

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