Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Baby Wines

Baby wines?  Really?  What the heck are baby wines?  Good question.  We've heard the term "baby" applied to certain wines for years.  Can't remember the first time but baby wines have been around quite a while.  So what are they?  Perhaps the place to start for this discussion is what they aren't.  

Baby wines are not young not-ready-to-drink wines, although you could call such wines babies.  When their youthful burn scorches your mouth though they seem more like rebellious adolescents.  Baby wines are also not a second label for a premier producer although they could be a baby version of that top shelf wine.  Even though Mondavi of Napa spawned Woodbridge of Lodi, it could never be mistaken for that parent.

In short baby wines are wines that approximate the quality of an acknowledged great wine at a much lower price.  So a Baby Brunello is one that has much of the same character of the great one but beware - Its bargain pricing may reflect its shortcomings.  Since the advent of Italian IGT laws which allow wines made from grapes grown outside of a delimited appellation to carry the name of the esteemed region, so-labeled wines are acknowledged to be in the style of Brunello, Barolo or whatever; ergo, a baby version of that thing.

Our favorite wine writer, Lettie Teague, is our inspiration for this post and she wrote about the subject in the December 31, 2020 edition of the  After several consultations with wine industry pros, she concluded the term, baby wine, is a selling tool.  The vendor is calling attention to whatever the adjacent great property has to offer and declaring this one is similar to that one but at a much better price.

"The term baby is meant to leverage brand recognition when attached to certain wines to raise the profile of a lesser label at a more attractive price point."  This "associative marketing" intends to convince a consumer that the less prestigious wine merits a try.  We should point out that this ploy works only if the customer knows what the great wine is.

Depending on how you define the term, here are some of our baby wines currently in stock:

    Alain Patriarche Bourgogne La Montagne is a Chardonnay sourced from just the other side of the Meursault border. Patriarche markets their own legitimate Meursault so La Montagne is probably the closest thing to it.

    The Super Tuscan Sassicaia is truly one of the great wines of the world. It can also run upwards of $250/btl.  We have a $16.99 Rosso Toscana made by the same winemaker.  Could it be a baby       Sassicaia?

    Post & Beam is new from Far Niente of Napa Valley.  It's priced a third lower than their flagship Cabernet Sauvignon.  Are they trying to make a baby Far Niente?

Saturday, May 15, 2021

The Mendocino Wine Company

We just got in a case of Parducci Chardonnay, a wonderful example of its type.  Complex, clean.  Not manipulated in any way.  Oak?  Yeah, it's there.  But not unduly so.  It's really a lovely bottle of white wine at a reasonable price.  So we thought we would promote it here.  

We also thought we would report on Parducci, itself, since it's such a historic property.  Managed by the Parducci family since 1932, it's the longest continuously running winery in Mendocino County.  But now things are a little bit different.  While still run by the family, Parducci is now one of seven wineries included in The Mendocino Wine Company.  It's the only one in that group that we are familiar with.

There is much about business we don't pretend to understand.  At our station in the wine business we don't know what the arrangement is that those constituent wineries have with each other.  Are they a collective?  A cooperative?  Is The Mendocino Wine Company a business entity in itself or maybe a creation of a Wall Street insurance company?  There are players of all stripes from far and wide in the California wine industry today and while we here at V&C don't need to know their business, we are curious.

Being a small player in the wine business we understand how guys like us have to get every break we can in order to compete.  And we learn from others who share what they know.  A few years ago the rep from a well known Napa property shared with us how his company had to join other similarly sized wineries in order not to be overwhelmed by the competition.  Part of their collaboration was building one large shared winery to offset the cost of winemaking.  We also read a magazine article by Peter Seghesio who said the big players can lock the small guys out of distribution channels by their overwhelming volume of business.  As I recall, Seghesio ended up selling to one of those Wall Street Insurance companies.

At their website The Mendocino Wine Company devotes a lot of space to sustainability.  To their credit, that seems to be a cornerstone principle of the company.  They list several certifications to prove it.  All of the wines produced there are sourced from certified sustainable vineyards, some of which are certified organic.  

Water is an important issue to companies with this kind of value set.  Any by-products of wineries, even organic by-products, are not allowed to interfere with river ecosystems.  Water usage in general on the properties are limited both in the vineyards and for the use of the winemaking team.  100% of the water used on properties like these is reclaimed and then re-used.  

Cover crops and composting provide nutrients and prevent erosion in the vineyards.  Natural predators are introduced and maintained so toxic chemicals aren't needed.  Wildlife corridors and habitats are fostered.  Solar and wind power are the clean energy sources most favored.

All in all, The Mendocino Wine Company, however they are constituted, seems to be an asset to the industry. 

Thursday, May 6, 2021

Explore - Experience - Evolve

Our post title comes from the side of a wine box that just came in the door.  Kudos to whoever thought to sequence those words that way and then to apply them to wine appreciation.  

You wouldn't think boxes would be in short supply in the beverage industry since everything comes packed in them, but they are.  After a single use they apparently get discarded.  The large distributors in Atlanta have had to purchase boxes for re-packing loose bottles for smaller orders.  Our "Explore - Experience - Evolve" box is one of those in-house creations for one of the huge players in Atlanta so maybe the admonition was meant to apply to beer, liquor or something else.  Anyway, we like it.

We first dipped or toes into the wine business back in 1976 while doing the student thing in northern California.  Back then in that neck of the woods the wine business was really the California wine business.  The store I worked in had imports, to be sure, but the California wines were clearly front and center both on the floor and in the California consciousness.  I'm sure Georgia and Georgians support the the peanut and Vidalia onion industry the same way.

I'm a peanut lover and I'm fond of onions but I wouldn't consider myself a connoisseur.  But if, say, I was really locked into Spanish peanuts, I hope I would venture out occasionally to try other types.  Onions, in general, are great.  The only ones to avoid, in my opinion, are the ones that have been around too long.  Whew!  

I do like stinky wines though.  I mean I like the dry earthy reds of Tuscany or Spain that haven't been cleaned up for the American market.  The Spanish stuff always came naturally for me for some reason; Tuscany was a taste I had to acquire.  One time I told a supplier of this affinity I had and he brought in a half dozen of the stinkiest wines I ever tasted.  They were so ripe they were probably tainted.  He wanted me to stock them in my store.  Yeah, right.  If they were too much for me who claims to like such things, how could I in good conscience sell them to others. 

So if I like stinky wines then, following the dictum on the box, I should try the really-cleaned-up wines made by the mass marketers from California.  And I have.  And they are good.  Much better than that kind of thing was back in the 1970's.  But they lack distinction in the same way the overproduced music of Fleetwood Mac and The Eagles did back then when compared to something like The Allman Brothers Live at the Fillmore East.

It's a business though and you have to go with what sells.  But if you ever try that thing that is different from your usual, then at least you then have an understanding of what that thing is.  Maybe that thing isn't what you like.  Or maybe by trying it that one time you will remember it at a future time when your meal seems to call for just that wine.  Maybe you evolve.