By Tom Marquardt And Patrick Darr
News channels have been abuzz over the recent decision by the French government to stem the crisis facing French wine producers by paying them to dump their wines and uproot some of their vineyards. It is an unfathomable concept, given the history of revered wine meccas such as Bordeaux, but it’s not unprecedented nor is it an impromptu crisis of nature’s making.
The crisis is a combination of increased production and decreased consumption. Because of a good crop and a built-up of inventories from the covid-19 pandemic, production is up 4 percent. But as the younger generation of French turn to alternative beverages, per capita consumption is down 15 percent. Over the last decade, wine consumption in France has dropped 32 percent.
Consumers in the U.S. drank about 3.3 gallons per person in 2002; in France it was about 12 gallons. That’s hard to believe for people as old as us who remember wine being the beverage of choice in France in the 1980s. Today, it’s water.
According to French Agricultural Minister Marc Fesneau, the French government will pay wine producers $215 million to sell about 400 million bottles of surplus to pure alcohol and sell to makers of perfume, hand sanitizer and cleaning liquids. More money will be given to grape growers to rip up vines and replace them with alternative crops, such as olives.
You may have been hoping they would just reduce prices and give consumers a better deal on some great wines. Perhaps a better alternative is to follow a unique concept of several American entrepreneurs who buy up excess stock and rebrand a less expensive wine under a different name. Cameron Hughes and de Negoce are good examples. However, lower prices could drive producers into bankruptcy and the government is well aware of those dangers to one of its top – and most emblematic – industries. There will be no deals.
Bordeaux will be uprooting more than 23,000 acres of wine this year. Producers in southern France are in the same predicament. And this issue is not unique to France: consumption is off a whopping 34 percent in Portugal, one of the countries with the highest per capita consumption in the world.
While the news is currently focused on France because of the government’s draconian intervention, producers in this country could be faced with a similar dilemma. Consumption has been slightly decreasing yet there are more producers of wine. Fortunately, most of the producers make less than 2,000 cases a year – a quantity much easier to sell. But now that the average price of Napa Valley is now more than $100 a bottle, average consumers will be looking elsewhere for their daily plonk.
We do not know what it will take to reverse the trend. Consumption soared in the early 1990s after “60 Minutes” aired “The French Paradox” which associated wine with good health. Now, health experts are not quite so sure. Add to this the fact that new generations that aren’t as caught up in a wine culture and you have a globally challenging future for all wine producers.
Rombauer Vineyards needs no introduction to California wine lovers. Its chardonnay is iconic, and sometimes the demand makes it hard to find.
Just purchased by E. & J. Gallo, the winery was officially founded in the early 1980s by Koerner and Joan Rombauer, and was led by them until their deaths in 2018 and 2002 respectively. The winery produces wine from grapes grown in the Napa Valley, Sonoma Valley, Carneros, Sierra Foothills and Lake County.
We recently tasted some of their other wines which are a sure bet for consumers who enjoy the fruity, buttery expression.
The first was the Rombauer Sauvignon Blanc North Coast 2022 ($30). It has an appealing blend of citrusy grapefruit and peach/melon notes from what appears to be a blend of warmer-grown fruit and fruit from a cooler climate. The blend presents a nice yin and yang in the mouth and a smooth finish.
We also tasted the Rombauer Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2019 ($75). This classic Napa Valley offering begs for a juicy steak. Aged in French oak, this wine features notes of berry, cherry, vanilla and cedar. Very drinkable now and for at least the next 5 to 10 years.
One of the stars of the brand is its several iterations of Zinfandel. We tasted the Rombauer Zinfandel California 2020 ($38). A classic, old-school California zinfandel, it sports notes of blackberry, black raspberry and a hint of oak. Very rich and flavorful and a perfect match for summer barbecues. Although it is nearly 16 percent in alcohol, it doesn’t drink hot.
Located in Sonoma County, Jordan is a family-owned winery that produces only two wines: Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and Russian River Valley Chardonnay. Both are classic examples of earlier California wines from the 1970s when Jordan was founded. You will not find explosive fruit notes or a heavy dose of oak in their releases. Instead, you will find elegance and balance that match perfectly with fine cuisine.
We tasted two new releases:
Jordan Chardonnay Sonoma County Russian River Valley 2021 ($42). A very elegant well- balanced effort. Apple and pear notes are accented in a light touch of toasty oak. A wine to accompany almost any fish or fowl dish.
Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma County Alexander Valley 2019 ($60). A beautiful, medium-bodied red wine with a hint of herbs along with the cassis and cherry notes. Just a bare hint of wood. A great balanced table wine that will not overshadow fine food.
Landmark Vineyards Overlook Pinot Noir 2021 ($27). This is a terrific value in a category of wines that continues to see escalating prices. Generous red cherry and plum notes with hints of spice and leather. Medium body and ready to drink with summer fare.
Decoy Alexander Valley Limited Merlot 2021 ($30). Part of the vast Duckhorn portfolio, Decoy has one of the best quality-price ratios in the industry. This merlot has intense black cherry fruit with a dash of dried herbs and spice. Good palate weight makes it a nice match to barbecued foods.
Tangent Edna Valley Albarino 2022 ($17). If you are looking for something different than chardonnay or sauvignon blanc, albarino is a good call. Indigenous to Spain, it is also grown in California. This Edna Valley version has the same citrus aromatics but adds some tropical fruit notes that we don’t find in the Spanish version. Nice mineral notes as well.