Monday, April 25, 2011

Is it over? Or is Napa Valley simply helping to sell publications?

In the recent issue of Wine Business Insider, (April 21) there were a lot of charts and graphs and some sensational headlines that looked to tell a story of the challenges to Napa Valley from competing wine markets here in the US and from around the world.

“Wine Spectator 2010 Top 100 Wines Reflects Increased Competition for Napa” - The premise was to look at wine scores and wine pricing from Wine Spectator comparing the year 1988 to 2010 in the “Top 100 Wines of the Year.” For example the Napa Valley appellation had 14 wines in Spectator’s Top 100 in 1988 and only 11 in 2010—down by three. All other California appellations which include Sonoma, Paso Robles, Santa Barbara, Mendocino among others, had 19 in the flight in 1988 and now 13 in 2010—off by a third.

Additionally, Bordeaux had 18 wines in the Top 100 in 1988 and only 1 in 2010, yes one—yikes, apparently not so good for Bordeaux. Burgundy had 17 in 1988 and 5 in 2010. Italy took a hit from ’88 as well. Take a look at the chart to see what wine regions of the world placed in the Top 100 in 1988—many had no placement where today they have one or more.

Additionally have a look at the point scores and pricing and one will see that Napa Valley is the only region to have its point scores actually increase over the past 22 years, again, poor France. Also have a look at the value of Napa Valley wine and again, note the high value of the region’s wines—a direct correlation to demand in the market…and not to beat the horse, but poor France.

So what does all of this mean to the reader, the consumer and to those of us in Napa Valley who scratch our heads and wonder why the story looks to be about poor Napa being cut off at the knees by world-wide competition. Not much really, since the numbers are anecdotal, one list of wines from one year and another list of wines from another. It may give us some trends to follow and that’s helpful, but the idea that this is a cloud over the Napa Valley is simply titillating journalism. If the reader really wanted to look for the wam-bam of the story, the numbers don’t serve France, Italy or the other appellations of California well at all. Given the point and placement spreads for these regions, the headline would more appropriately read, “OMG--What happened to France.”

The real story is that we live in a global market and wine drinkers have a lot more choice. The Napa Valley is just 4% of California’s wine grape harvest and just 4/1000th of the world’s wine production—a small player with a large reputation for quality and innovation and obvious consumer demand. Perhaps the reason for the 2010 list’s wines might have something to do with the depressed economy and Wine Spectator looking to review value wines from around the world in response to that. Dunno.

Ultimately, two pages of discussion on the demise of Napa Valley that has no basis in fact and the reader is left wondering what it all means—I agree, pull a cork on a great Napa Valley wine and enjoy the afternoon.

Terry Hall
Napa Valley Vintners

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