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February 18, 2009

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The 'gottcha' wine for me was a Mondavi Pinot Noir Reserve from the '70's, Yah, I guess I'm showing my age here, but it was the first time I really understood what wine was about. The first time I understood that we were making great wines in New York was at the Vintage store, here in town, where I had the pleasure of tasting a 2003 Jamesport Estate Merlot. It had complexity, fruit, and balance; all the good stuff that makes for a special wine. It also had a characteristic that I have come to associate only with small farm wineries: an ineffable care and attachment to the land that shows in the wine. This characteristic seems missing from wines from large output producers. Their product may, sometimes, be technically superior, but it seems to lack ardor or passion in comparison. There are certainly wines that have this same something (terroir, soul, who knows?) from other regions, but only from small producers. The pleasure of New York wines is that nearly all are produced by small farms.

Alvin,

I like the term "gotcha wine." I'll usurp that with your permission! Interesting to see the dichotomy of your gotcha wines -- the first from a large producer (though in the 1970s RM was making far less, probably 250 to 500k cases by the end of the decade) and the second from a vastly different entity.

Usurp away, enjoy.

Re Mondavi and Jamesport: I like to think that my tastes have matured with the graying of my hair. In any case, there was a lot of enthusiasm coming out of Cali in the '60's early '70's, especially leading up to the time of the Judgments of Paris. In many ways the current state of the NY wine industry, albeit on a smaller scale, is similar to what California was at that time. So much promise, enthusiasm, and courage to experiment.

Robert was on his way to becoming Megawine Corp, but it was one of the best wine a soul could acquire in a Pennsylvania State Store. Where I grew up Lancers and Blue Nun were considered exotic so this was an eye opener.

The one part of Mondavi that I can't seem to reconcile was his simultaneous desire to produce fine, world-class wines -- while also blowing production off the charts. His brother was making a million cases at Krug, so perhaps the sibling rivalry played a part, but those two things do seem to be mutually exclusive. The book about the family (House of Mondavi) doesn't shed much light on that issue.

Your comment reminded me of something Mark Miller observed in his autobiography. He stated that the wine industry didn’t understand what was going on in the late sixties and early seventies. They just didn’t comprehend that the changes were a paradigm shift. They didn’t realize that America was developing a taste for elegant wines; it certainly hadn’t been the case in the past. It had been common wisdom that to be able to make money in the wine industry one had to get REALLY BIG. It was the business model that had historically worked, e.g. Gallo, Taylor, Krug, Canandaigua, Virginia Dare and etc. Could explain Mondavi standing with a foot in each camp. Certainly an interesting question.

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