Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Merlot's bad rap...

"...I'm not drinking any f*cking Merlot!" - Miles, Sideways

I can't help but think that the poor reputation Merlot has garnered in the last 10 years is due to the climate effects I spoke about in the last 2 posts.

When Merlot really started to take off, many producers started to source the fruit from anywhere they could...with some of the massive producers really pulling all the stops out of California's San Joaquin valley.

Now fruit from Merlot vines grown in really hot areas are known to be a problem in their acid profile. Where other vines may not metabolize all their malic acid in hot climes, Merlot seems to be subject to even more degradation. This makes for really flabby fruit, and in the drive to get more product to market, those insipid wines from that fruit found it's way into the main bulk of the market. People found it dull, boring, flat...etc., and they found it by the bucket-full on the supermarket shelves.

That avarice shot the varietal in the leg, and it continues to stagger forward, diminishing the reputation of other good Merlot's in the state.

Rich Cartiere's WMR (Wine Market Report) has a report on the troubles that the San Joaquin valley faces now, and by contrast, how rosy the picture looks for California's North Coast wine industry. I've opined on the southern end of the valley's situation before [Thompson seedless post] [Temecula post] and I'm not sure that there's really anything that's surprising in it to me.

I'll have to check the 2005 acreage reports, but I'd be surprised if growers down there were actually planting MORE vineyards after the troubles they've had selling their crops in the past. When they were able to sell them it was at a price that seemed little above the cost of producing it in the first place...but that's also to be expected when the area you're growing in doesn't produce grapes of good wine quality, and the market is driven by producers who are selling the product for a bottom-basement price (arguably Gallo has the most influence in the area as far as crop prices are concerned)...margins are so close that there's really no room for growers to breathe. So why go back in that direction - especially with the flood of Aussie wines on the doorstep?
Wouldn't apricots, peaches or pears make more sense...?

Planting more grapes after seeing prices crash and hundreds upon hundreds of acres of vineyards being ripped out in the past few years doesn't make good financial sense for the growers, or the reputation of California's wines in general.
People have labeled me as insensitive to the So.Cal. viticulture plight before, but frankly, I think I'm just telling it like it is.

4 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

So, is Two-Buck Chuck to be viewed as a double edged sword?
Sure it relieves the excess of crappy bulk wine produced from the southern end of the valley, but does it's success then encourage growers to plant more acres in a gamble that the phenomena will continue or even expand?

And what does that do to the reputation of California as a whole if Two-Buck Chuck is all they've ever experienced?

April 11, 2006 9:10 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Speculation is that Gallo is behind a good portion of the SJ Zin, Grenache, and a few other varietals because they need more. Hopefully the littler guys who can't float an operation w/o a solid buyer aren't planting. The market's going to be even tighter for them in the next few years.

GaryO

April 12, 2006 6:51 AM  
Blogger St. Vini said...

It's interesting, but I don't think that Gallo's behind all the planting that's going on, and not all of it's located in the San Joaquin valley either.
Certainly North Coast plantings are well supported right now with increased sales & a good rep. By the time this current harvest is digested the 2004 plantings will be coming online.

And say what you will about $2-Chuck, it's gotten alot more non-drinkers to experiment with wine than anything else in the past decade.
Many I think will continue to try other wines, and move out of that segment, so I don't think it'll be a negative to the California image in the long run...and how could it be?
At $2/btl how could anyone ever be disappointed...?

Vini

April 12, 2006 7:47 AM  
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