A Visit to Napa: Part 2- Hard Times in Napa?
Posted: August 14, 2009
The economic state of Napa (and pretty much all well established wine producing regions) is hurting. Auction Napa Valley 2008 raised over $10 million. In 2009, they only raised $5.7 million. Some wineries aren't really feeling the economic pinch, but most are. Throughout my week-long trip, I encountered many industry people struggling in the wine and restaurant businesses. Just about all of them said that business was down. In my Napa visit in late July, many people at wineries and tasting rooms asked me how Binny's was doing. I said we were not as frequently selling the higher tier wines, but plenty of the good value, lesser expensive wines. In my visit to Shafer, I asked how their business was. They are not struggling as much as other places in the valley. Their waiting list for the flagship Hillside Select is closed because it is so long. Shafer produces about forty to fifty thousand cases a year. The five wines they release are always high in quality. The current release 2007 Chardonnay will be exceptional - the Carneros fruit does not go under any malolactic fermentation, but it does see 40% new French oak, however. The nose has some toasty, leesy flavors along with lemon, green apple and vanilla. In the mouth, it is rather tart right now. It will be good. I remember feeling the same way about the 2006 when I had it in April of 2007. The Shafer Merlot is consistently one of my favorite domestic Merlots. The 2006 has a nose of ripe black cherry, blackberry and white pepper. It is fruit forward and well balanced in the mouth. The 2006 Shafer "One Point Five" Cabernet got some thrashing from Wine Spectator. In my tasting, however I found lead pencil, cassis and and tart cherry in the Bordeaux-like nose. It is full bodied, well balanced and has a refreshing finish. This is going to be really good in the next 5-10 years. The 2005 Shafer Relentless is an 80% Syrah/20% Petit Sirah blend. The nose shows Chambord, stewed blueberries, and baking spice. In the mouth, full bodied, extremely fruit forward and well balanced. Shafer ran low on the 2004 Hillside Select. They ended up pouring the 2001 vintage. Personally, I think it's a little disjointed right now. The nose is a bit warm, but shows dark berry fruit and cassis. The mouthfeel and balance of this wine, I think is what makes Hillside so special. If you have any 2001 Hillside, wait! Shafer's prestige, quality wines and good balance of sales between retail and restaurants keeps the economy from slowing them down.
Shafer's Hillside Vineyard's in the Stag's Leap District Joseph Phelps is also a well renowned producer in Napa. The grounds are beautiful and the majority of the wines are solid. The 2005 Cabernet is sourced mainly from Rutherford and gives the wine a warm, earthy quality. There is terroir in Napa. The flagship 2005 Insignia needs some time to show its real stuff. It is mass produced wine. 15,000 cases times $200 per bottle equals A LOT of money. I talked to the gentleman pouring the lineup of wines about the state of Phelps. I could not get much out of him, but from what I did, I am assuming they are feeling some of that hurt too.
Joseph Phelps' Backyard (2/09) O'Shaughnessy is relatively new player located on Howell Mountain. Their Howell Mountain estate vineyards are 1,800 feet up. The drive up is treacherous! O'Shaughnessy only produces two Cabernets and a Merlot. The other Cabernet comes from Mount Veeder. It was fun to taste the difference between the two Cabernets: The 2005 Mount Veeder was more gamey and structured. The 2005 Howell Mountain was more perfumed and was more approachable. The 2006 O'Shaughnessy Merlot is awesome. Unfortunately, it was only available at the winery due to it's 100 case production. (I think Merlot is going to start making a comeback. Every Merlot I tasted in Napa was great quality.) Considering the quality and high ratings of O'Shaughnessy's wine, they could ask for a lot more per bottle. They are a newer winery and maybe that is why they don't jack up their prices.
O'Shaughnessy Barrel Room I find myself seeking out true value more and more. Has the sticker shock of Napa Valley wines affected you in this economy? Love to hear what you have to say... Next time, I shall tell a tale about Quintessa and Ridge. I will also talk about my favorite winery, Kapcsandy Family.