Lee and Chavez ruminate on the future of wine
As you will recall from my last column about Adam Lee, I met up with Adam and his general manager for Clarice, Morét Brealynn Chavez, at World of Pinot Noir in Santa Barbara in early March.
Besides working with Adam at Clarice, Morét is also a winemaker in her own right, producing both a rosé and a red blend under the label, Morét-Brealynn. The blend, called Stray Dogs (because it’s composed of whatever “stray” barrels they have available), reflects Morét’s passion for dogs, as all proceeds go to the Humane Society. Coming later this year is her own version of pinot with fruit from Green Valley in Russian River.
Being a younger winemaker, I wanted her take on how things like the Internet, social media, Amazon, and other modern developments in merchandising and marketing are impacting a tradition-bound business like the wine industry.
Well, something like Amazon has crawled into many customers’ presumptions. Assuming delivery the next day with free shipping are expectations many consumers have. However, for a tiny enterprise like Clarice and Morét-Brealynn, offering those perks is either unrealistic (e.g., times when no one is at the winery to do the packaging and shipping) or uneconomical (shipping a case of wine for free really cuts into one’s bottom line).
Adam chimed in here, saying social media (such as Instagram or Facebook or similar) have led to the decline of the influence of the wine critic. (Oh, Adam, say it isn’t so!) Formerly, a 94 rating would cause the wine to be sold out within days. That ain’t happening now. Critics’ role now seems to be bringing focus and attention to a fledging winery, giving winemakers a chance to craft and tell their stories.
We then jumped to a discussion of developments in the wine industry. Adam explored the surprising rise in popularity of sauvignon blanc. He exclaimed about how difficult it is to find sauvignon blanc grapes now, and, when you can, you pay dearly for them. The demand is so great that he knows of one winery in Sonoma that is yanking out cabernet sauvignon to plant sauvignon blanc. He explained that part of the reason for the increased market for sauvignon blanc is because of New Zealand’s incredibly poor production this year. This is crucial since New Zealand is the leader in affordable sauvignon blanc.
Both Adam and Morét hope to see a wine world where winemakers actually extol the virtues of other wineries’ product, much like how Robert Mondavi used to hold tastings of cabernet from other wineries in an effort to promote the notion that California can consistently make world-class wine. Along that line, Adam talked about a Zoom seminar he was holding where the subject was sauvignon blanc, a grape that he really doesn’t produce. He would be featuring wines from wineries other than his own.
The last point was that Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok (and, to a lesser extent, websites like CellarTracker) influence wine-buying decisions more than critics. For those of us of a certain age, it’s merely a sign of things to come.
The wine world, like the rest of the world, is changing.
Carl Kanowsky is an attorney, a fledgling baker, an enthusiastic cook and an expert wine drinker.