If you've been following this blog for any length of time you know how I feel about consolidation in the wine business. Actually if you just read the last paragraph of the last post where I lamented about everyone in Napa making the same "international style" of Cabernet Sauvignon, you know where I'm going with this. How can you enjoy tasting wines when they all taste the same?
On top of that, the fact that the small estate wineries continually get locked out of distribution because of the monopolization of those channels by the factory farms, well, it just compounds the unfairness of it all for consumers who appreciate the art of distinctive wine making.
One of the favorite movie scenes in our kid-infested household was the "let the boys play the game" scene from Remember The Titans. The implication there was that there was officially-sanctioned wrongdoing on the field. Of course it's not the same situation here in the wine industry and I'm not asking for an official to intervene. I just want the scales adjusted and balanced a bit and perhaps a voice be given to the farmers. Dream on, I guess.
Anyway, here's what I've learned recently about consolidation. The difference between some of the mega-players in the game has to do with whether they are privately held or corporately owned. So Gallo and other extra-large family-owned wine companies have actually owned and farmed vineyards over generations while in contrast, Constellation and other even-more-removed-from-the-farm corporations are in the business purely for return on investment.
According to one local industry professional, passion in wine production is innate and the investors in Napa Cabernet who are not natives to Napa viticulture and wine making simply don't have it.
In concrete terms (and this is a generalization) family-owned mega-wine companies that purchase small wineries include the assets (vineyards, winery, etc.) in the transaction and intend to utilize them going forward. The large corporate entities with an investment in the wine industry just buy the brand name and fill the bottles with what they deem to be appropriate. Either way the mass marketers play it safe and don't take chances with wine styles that may not appeal to everyone. And that bothers me.
This Thursday evening between 5 and 7pm, we will be tasting prominent Napa Cabernets here at the store. Our examples that evening will include both estate bottlings and contract productions.