Article By: David Singer
Sideways, that infamous movie, did wonders for Southern California wine country and most notably, Pinot Noir. As a Sommelier I was trying for years to get some clients to try this wondrous grape, with some success. Then this movie comes out and top of the line drinkers of California Cabernet want to try it. I still have nightmares trying to explain why it tasted "light, thin and simple" to these clients. Yet, Pinot Noir flew off the shelves and still does. It is high time that Pinot Noir has received the attention that it deserves. However, too much of anything is not necessarily a good thing.
Now three years later, where did my $12 bottle of Pinot Noir go? I'm not referring to Burgundy, for Burgundy is, well, Burgundy and shall ever be. I'm talking about California Pinot Noir. Remember the brands that used to be in that price range three years ago that are now hovering around $2O a bottle retail? I'm not an economist but doesn't this seem a little bit too much? Especially when you compare them to other grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon, where the price for some houses hasn't changed? How about comparing the same producer that makes both Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir at the same quality/brand level? In those same three years the case of Cabernet went up sixteen dollars, the Pinot Noir, forty.
Have you looked at some of the major California brands of Pinot that are $96 a case recently? The grapes are not even from California! Since when have Pay d'Oc and Vin Corse become American Viticultural Areas? Appellations are confusing enough to many of our clients, now they have to deal with this curveball? Is this illegal? No. Pushing the envelope of unethical? Maybe. And, with every pun intended, definitely distasteful. Keeping the same label as your California bottlings with only minor changes, such as the label color and having Product of France on the back label in a small font is a little too much of a bait and switch. Especially when you are a brand name that is synonymous with California wine. Yes, I'm talking about Mondavi, specifically their Woodbridge line. Could there be a greater name that automatically has the association with being a pioneer in winemaking in California? Yes, Vin de Pays d'Oc is written on the front label and so are the rolling hills of California which is the exactly the same picture as on the bottle of Cabernet that is from California. The same flavor text written on both bottles on the back label has Robert Mondavi returning to his childhood roots in Lodi to craft wines. Doppelganger indeed.
Don't get me wrong. I'm all for anyone to make a profit, and Woodbridge isn't the only brand that is responsible of such actions, but let's be a little up front about it. Beaulieu Vineyard has handled this a bit better. Their front label is the same on their "Coastal Estates" line, but at least they have removed the map of California and all reference to making wine in California. Maybe it's the change in philosophy of these brands that the terroir is the least important part of their brand that is most irking when we all know how important the essence of place is to winemaking. Or perhaps it's the continuation, no, banking on the ignorance of the consumer, because these wines are now adding to the confusion. This, to me, is like the wine snob putting on airs in front of others who they believe are less knowledgeable than themselves. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain, let the Wizard of Napa show you the way.
Can you imagine the laugher at the local Pastis bars in the Pay d'Oc? Oh ho, the almighty California wine that beat us in 1976 now has to come to us for their wine to the masses? Even with today's dollar versus the euro it must be cheaper to buy the finished wine, ship it from France to California and bottle it than make a wine in their own backyard. Sacre bleu.
You know when Gallo came out with their Red Bicyclette line I was laughing pretty hard. Not anymore.