ILTG Media celebrates and elevates wine culture by pairing it with fashion, film, food and music through unique and insightful digital content. Through their digital publication they publish bite-size posts and videos rich in storytelling and imagery that intertwine those worlds.
Sure, the California Grape Crush Report is a nerd magnet for the wine industry. But you don’t have to be a grape-stained winemaker or back office number cruncher to appreciate some of the trends that pop out of this year’s Grape Crush Report.
A few of the most interesting points from 2017’s preliminary report:
Those Napa grapes tough…
Napa is still the place to beat. Grape prices in California’s priciest and most esteemed wine region were up 11.5 percent in 2017, reaching $5,205 per ton. That’s almost twice as much as neighboring Sonoma, which also did well. Its $2,803 per ton was an 8.2 percent increase over 2016.
Napa Cab is king, but Franc is finer. One of the most coveted Napa grapes, not surprisingly, remains Cabernet Sauvignon, which now sells for the stratospheric average of $7,421 per ton, 9 percent more than 2016. Even more expensive was Cabernet Franc.
(Editor’s note: for an authentic drop of Napa Cab Franc, give the 2014 Conn Creekvintage a go. You’ll get a chewy, berry sensation that radiates grape maturity. And at 38 bucks, this one is robbery.)
Those who doubt its growing cachet in California should consider this: Franc fetching more than Sauv now. Its 2017 cost was $7,969 per ton in Napa, a 10 percent year-over-year increase.
White wine has seen better days
Statewide, Chardonnay’s dominance is slipping. Chardonnay is still the most popular grape variety crushed in California, accounting for 14.5 percent of the total crush in 2017. (Hey, what’s a California wine bar without its cougar juice?) But Cabernet Sauvignon is closing in on Chardonnay’s dominance, and now they’re almost neck and neck. Cab represented 14.2 percent of last year’s total crush.
And overall, white wine is fading. In 2017 the average price for all varieties of wine grapes was about $775 per ton, up 1.5 percent from 2016. Red wine grape varieties rose 4.6 percent to $962 per ton. But white wine grapes fetched only $587 per ton, down 2 percent from 2016.
This decrease isn’t the result of a glut. Yields of Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc were down significantly in several districts. Overall, the white grape harvest was off more than 3 percent throughout California in 2017 while reds jumped 5 percent.
Northern California grapes in general still fetch the best prices. Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino County and Lake County are the four price leaders.
Think Napa is the volume leader? Far from it. District 13, (Madera, Fresno, Alpine, Mono, Inyo Counties; and Kings and Tulare Counties) had the largest share of California’s 2017 crush, at 1,403,292 tons. But the average price per ton in District 13 was only $304, so Napa doesn’t have to worry about its quality being challenged anytime soon.
Who’s hot. Who’s not.
Guess what other grape is fading? A former pool party standby of the 1980’s and ’90s – Zinfandel – is getting less popular. The average price statewide for Zin grapes in 2017 was down 2.4 percent to $590 – hardly Bordeaux territory for California’s state grape.
And guess who is coming on strong? The Crush Report showed that Pinot Noir prices jumped sharply in all growing regions. Statewide, the price of Pinot is up more than 4 percent over 2016. The Pinot Stampede is growing. Deal with it.
(Editor’s note: aching for a delicious, yet affordable, squeeze of Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir? Check out Chalk Hill’s 2014 version. It’ll give you that classic California cherry cola, but supported by earthier undertones that give it a bit more maturity.)
2017: a year of terrible fires in California
The fires weren’t as big a deal as feared. While October wildfires in Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino counties were reported worldwide and the visual evidence certainly looked devastating, the state’s vineyards and wineries were not significantly affected.
Overall harvest of about 4.233 million tons was in line with the previous harvest year and among the largest in the last decade. Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino counties account for only 12 percent of California’s harvest. And by the time the fires struck, 90 percent of the wine grapes in Napa and Sonoma and 85 percent in Mendocino were already picked and in production.
SOMMX returns wine to its rightful place: the center of the celebration
Presented by I Like This Grape, SOMMX is a special, limited-admission event celebrates wine as a primal partner in the pleasures of today’s multifaceted life.
Too often these days, wine can be unrelatable. It can seem like an elite pastime: a quasi-holy libation swirled and sipped by experts and deep-pocketed aficionados in reverent, church-like settings that admit only a privileged few. That’s about to change.
On April 12, 100 people will take a guided journey through wine, art, music and fine cuisine. In a seductive Laguna Beach setting that combines elements of an elegant restaurant, an art gallery and a suave European residential retreat, a five-course tasting menu will be paired with five Spanish wines curated by Amelia Singer, celebrity sommelier and host of The Wine Show on Britain’s ITV and streaming on Hulu.
Five of Kanye West’s songs will be interpreted in innovative ways by gifted local musicians, and five original paintings, created and themed exclusively for the occasion by visionary Laguna Beach artist Kathy Lajvardi, will be unveiled over the course of the evening. Singer – a lively, witty and knowledgeable bon vivant – narrates and hosts the event.
I Like This Grape is a new media entity devoted to the celebration of wine as part of the panoply of world culture, and by “culture” we mean Kanye as well as Kabalevsky, Tarantino as well as Tolstoy, the cave paintings of Lascaux as well as the provocative installations of Christo. As SOMMX amply demonstrates, ILTG exists to liberate wine from its high-toned prison and bring it back into the wider world where it belongs.
It’s no secret that the largest specimens coming from the south of the globe are from the Malbec grape, but did you know they were actually created in France? More precisely in Cahors, a small area within the super-known land of Bordeaux a.k.a. place of origin for the best cuts or blends that exist in the world.
The famous Bordeaux wines have a small percentage of the Cot grape (which is French Malbec), but there it develops far differently than in Argentinian latitudes. Why? The dry climate with little rain and many hours of sun that characterizes Argentina.
Since Malbec’s arrival to this country, almost 150 years ago, it hasn’t stopped growing and is the flagship grape without a doubt. You can find Malbec of very different style. From fresh with lots of fruit, to intense with great contribution of wood, tannins and astringency (the ones that tend to abound the most).
Teresita Barrio and Cristian Moor
The important thing is its great versatility that allows for several pairings. Barbecued meat, homemade pasta with different sauces and even seafood are excellent choices. It is a variety chosen by many white wine lovers since it usually has a “sweet” entry and pleasantly invites you to continue drinking.
Thanks to Malbec, Argentina has managed to position itself as a notable wine country in the world. From different corners, people visit us year after year to get to know the depth of where those Malbec flavors come from around each continent.
Maybe that’s why I thought of a special musical pairing for #VINOMUSIC. In the same way that our wine presented itself to the world almost 30 years ago to show Argentina’s potential, a late 80’s band (in particular its singer) transformed Argentine and Latin American rock forever. That band is Soda Stéreo.
Soda Stéreo started with a style very different from the one they were imitating, but always represented a new wave of rock, generated from high expectations and a lot of fans. Their costumes and hairstyles continue to be emulated to this day. The songs, although the band separated at the end of the 90’s, play on the radio and in the hearts of the Argentines. They took South American music to a level never before achieved.
For the wine, I chose a “garage production” wine – a.k.a low yield and premium quality. This comes to us from a couple of winemakers who only produce this Malbec and a sparkling wine: Moor-Barrio Wines. For their Malbec, Initium, they use grapes from Uco Valley in Mendoza. Specifically, 50% new vines and 50% vines over 90 years old.
Hand-numbering Initium labels
They harvest these grapes by hand with the help of a handful of friends, and thresh the grapes before macerating them in cold tanks to ferment in oak barrels. They end with a malolactic fermentation in steel tanks and mature the grapes in oak for another year. The result gives just 1,000 bottles, signed and numbered one by one.
(Editor’s note: for another Uco Valley Malbec, sip the BenMarco Malbec 2014. A full-bodied, dark fruit drop with lush tannins, this is a terrific value for the wine you get.)
Finally, sit down to enjoy some wine that doesn’t stop giving us different sensations as it opens up. You’ll get lots of red fruit, with touches of caramel and chocolate from the oak. The finish is very round and silky thanks to its malolactic fermentation. Initium and Soda Stéreo are almost united in an eternal ending with the exceptional and unmistakable voice of Gustavo Cerati in the background.
Florencia Gonzalez Balverde
Florencia Gonzalez Balverde is an international sommelier, born and raised in Mendoza, Argentina. She lives for tasting and writing about amazing vino – especially when it comes to exposing the wine world to new people. Oh, and dogs! She loves dogs. Be sure to follow her on Instagram, Twitter, and roam around her website.
Recently, a reader of I like this grape. asked us to recommend a wine to celebrate getting a promotion.
Some more context: she is a 5th year software engineer at a mid-size company in California that builds high-end websites and apps. She’s in her late 20’s and this is her first job out of school. So the promotion is a big deal. She plans on having a little celebration with family and friends at her house.
We asked some of our sommelier and wine expert friends to weigh in and help our dear reader. Here’s what they said:
The story of this brand is really interesting. Will Harlan, the son of legendary Bill Harlan, created this brand as an experimental project focusing on the younger vines of Harlan Estate. The Mascot has had incredible success since its beginnings in 2008 and it represents the younger generation of winemakers in Napa Valley. This is the perfect wine to enjoy and treat yourself to for your big promotion. After all, you deserve it!”
“I think you have to go for a fun wine – after all, it’s a celebration! If you’re someone who loves bubbles, go for a Franciacorta – they’re Italian bubblies made in the same method as Champagne, and they encompass a huge range of styles at very friendly prices. Get a Riserva if you love bready, biscuity aromas and flavors. But, if you’re a fruit lover, an NV (non-vintage) should satisfy.
If you’d rather have a red, seek out an old vine Grenache from Australia. I’m sorry to say that this will probably ruin all other Grenaches for you. Oh, well. Now that you’ve been promoted, you can become the old vine Grenache person that was always there inside you.
I especially like the Clarendon Hills Kangarilla. And if you really want to mark the occasion, why not invest in a vintage port, use a marker on the bottle to remind why you bought it, and then hide it from yourself in a place that you won’t bother to look for the next 50 years? Then when you retire and decide to clean out the crawlspace and find the bottle, you can pop it open and praise yourself for being so wise at such a young age to invest in your own future enjoyment.”
“Since this is a young developer, I’m going to put $100 cap on the wine since that will likely seem like a lot to drop on a wine unless they are really into wine. Given that range, I’d go Old World with something that isn’t the standard Napa Cabs which they might have had at company dinners and see all the time.
I would also want something with a little age on it so the wine can change and develop over time in a decanter. That way, this person can really savor and enjoy the wine as well as the fruits of their hard work. So my pick would be a second or third growth Bordeaux, which would fit the bill on all of these points.
I’d pick one of the above, toss it in a decanter and cook a fantastic meal enjoying a small taste every 30 minutes paying attention to how the wine develops while savoring your success.”
Cassandra M Brown
Cassandra M Brown, Certified Sommelier, CSW, CWAS, CSP
“If money isn’t an issue, I would say splurge and pop a nice bottle of Champagne. “Champers” ranges from dry to sweet and works for every occasion.
If budget is an issue, popping a bottle of delicious bubbles doesn’t always mean you have to pop a bottle of Champagne. It’s totally fine to go for something more moderately priced like Prosecco from Italy or Cava from Spain.
Cremant de Bourgogne or another ‘Cremant’ is also a nice choice. ‘Cremant’ is French Sparkling wine made outside of the Champagne region but produced in other regions of France and is made in the traditional Champagne method.
There are also some beautiful domestic sparklers from California and even New Mexico that should not be overlooked. Bubbles…always the way to go!
Here are some to try. Great rec’s other than Champagne. All these producers have an amazing assortment!:
Naushad Huda, founder of I like this grape. (not a sommelier, just a wine geek with an opinion)
“I’d go with a Cru Beaujolais. Beaujolais is a region in France and the grape used in these red wines is Gamay.
Now, don’t confuse Cru Beaujolais with Beaujolais Nouveau, which are uber popular wines that are released the 3rd week of November and heavily marketed.
Beaujolais Nouveau wines are bottled just a few weeks after the grapes are harvested, have very little tannins and are typically purple/pinkish in color. It’s simply spiked grape juice! They are meant to drink and have a jovial time – think Pirates of the Caribbean! (Nothing wrong with them, but save the Nouveau for Sunday brunch.)
The Cru regions of Beaujolais, of which there are 10, produce wines that are very diverse in flavor – though all the wines are made from the same grape: Gamay! It’s fascinating to experience how the same grape can express itself so differently.
You can get some vibrant, juicy wines from a region in Beaujolais called Chenas all the way to slightly heavier, minerally, stony wines from regions such as Morgon. You can easily pick up a Cru Beaujolais wine for under $35. They pair with just about everything you eat, can be stored for years, and will be a fun wine to pronounce when you’re tipsy.
Tip: buy 3 of the same bottle, one to drink for the celebration and 2 to hang on to for future so you can reminisce about this wonderful achievement in your life years later.
Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Like so many French wine regions, it’s fun to say out loud – tres sexy, n’est-ce pas? – yet the average American has absolutely no clue about where it is or what its wine tastes like.
Let’s lift the veil of mystery.
First of all, Châteauneuf-du-Pape is an ancient town in the southern Rhône Valley. If you were to travel north, up the river from its silt-filled mouth at the Mediterranean Sea, you’d pass Arles and Avignon. Just before you hit Orange, there it is on a high bank about three clicks east of the riverbank: an ancient town of 2,000 people, dominated by the remains of a castle.
How ancient, you ask? Well, the Romans colonized the region two millennia ago, when the mouth of the Rhône was several miles north of its present location. The ruins of their public buildings can be found all over this part of the valley, including a kickass amphitheater near Orange.
See it smack dab in the middle?
The Romans planted wine grapes here, too, and it was a great spot for it: rocks, stone, sand, limestone and clay soil and a warm, dry Mediterranean climate. The village probably dates from the 10th century, but it comes by its name because Pope Clement, who was French, transferred the papacy from Rome to Avignon in 1309. He spent a lot of time at Châteauneuf-du-Pape over the next few years and died nearby in 1314.
Editors note: for a beautiful, quality representation of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, give the Domaine de la Vieille Julienne 2010 a taste. This legendary estate produces some of the world’s best juice and the 2010 is no exception. Drinking young, big and full of grippy tannins, this drop packs a haymaker of dark fruits. Drink now or age it for a few more years.
Subsequent French popes also favored the place. Pope John XXII built a large summer residence in town in 1333, the ruins of which still dominate the skyline today. Hence the name: Châteauneuf-du-Pape means “the new castle of the pope.”
Though the papacy moved back to Rome in the late 1300’s and the castle fell into ruin, the already well-established winemaking tradition continued. By the late 1700’s, Châteauneuf-du-Pape had earned kudos for the quality of its wines, which reportedly combined the best qualities of the Languedoc and Bordeaux.
Like the rest of Europe, the vineyards of Châteauneuf-du-Pape were destroyed by Phylloxera. In fact, the destructive pest struck here first in 1866 and laid waste to almost everything. By 1880, only 200 hectares of vines remained in the entire appellation.
Growers who had prospered for generations went bankrupt. Vineyards were abandoned. It took decades for the area to recover, partly because the wine was being sold at low prices and it wasn’t considered worth the effort to replant. From about 1900-1920, negociants used Châteauneuf-du-Pape wine mainly to add color and backbone to more desirable wines from Burgundy.
Editor’s note: the Domaine Roger Sabon 2015 is all tart-fruit raspberry on the front and minerality on the back. A charismatic yet elegant take on Châteauneuf-du-Pape, this is an excellent version for both experts and novices alike. The softer tannins won’t leave your mouth cottony yet finishes with enough pleasant brute force where laying it down for a few more years will serve you well.
In 1924, Châteauneuf-du-Pape applied for official appellation status. It took 12 years for the fussy French wine brain trust to grant it. That sense of being dissed by the wine establishment has persisted over the decades, and Châteauneuf-du-Pape once had a reputation for being a bit of a rustic bad boy.
Its red wines (about 95 percent of total production) were considered full-bodied but rough around the edges, and its three dominant varieties – Grenache Noir, Syrah and Mourvèdre – were traditionally not as valued as the characteristic grapes of Bordeaux and Burgundy.
In recent decades, though, the area has joined France’s big-boy ranks, with high scores from many judges and rising prices to match. Other nearby regions, such as Gigondas and Vacqueyras, are well regarded, but Châteauneuf-du-Pape is universally acknowledged to be the best wine region in the southern Rhône.
The reds share certain traits: red and black cherries, strawberry, kirsch, black pepper, ripe raspberry and garrigue (the quality of the herbs found locally). Its textures can be luscious, big and fruit-forward when young; two or three more years in the bottle gives them silkiness and finesse. Some can be left in the cellar for 8 to 12 years.
Editor’s note: throw this Domaine Giraud 2015 in your cellar (or wherever you keep the good shit). This fancy fruit and herbal drop has some power behind it. Although totally drinkable now, let it calm down for a few years to soften up the biting finish. Otherwise a great show-off wine to represent the region.
The appellation of Châteauneuf-du-Pape is 3,231 hectares in size. It’s about 8.5 miles long and 5 miles wide, delineated by the city of Orange with its Roman ruins in the north, the town of Sorgues to the south, the Rhône River to the west and the A7, a major highway, to the east. About 13,750,000 bottles of Châteauneuf-du-Pape are produced every year, most by small, family-owned estates.
It’s been a devastating week for Napa and Sonoma counties, and as of this writing the fires a still raging.
There has been loss of life, homes, wildlife, and livelihood for many – specifically to those in the wine industry which spans from the vineyards to various hospitality and tourism businesses. There are many articles on the destruction so we don’t need to rehash that information. Instead, we’d like to provide a list of ways to help our Northern California brethren, and highlight entities who are providing assistance. Also, there is a running directory of wineries that have been affected; one way of helping those wineries is by buying their wines in addition to sending them messages of support.
Please send us any tips to add to this post and we will update asap: firstname.lastname@example.org
Ways to Help
The Press Democrat has partnered with Redwood Credit Union, Senator Mike McGuire and numerous business leaders to raise funds to directly help fire victims. Every donated dollar will go directly to fire victims – all costs will be covered. To donate, click here.
The Salvation Army NorCal Wildfire Relief – Monetary donations are needed at this time. 100% of your gift will be used in support of the relief efforts. Donate here.
Donate to the Direct Impact Fund in partnership with GoFundMe. Your tax-deductible donation will go directly to support charities and individuals with verified campaigns on GoFundMe, donate here
The Redwood Empire Food Bank is currently providing critical food to shelters for our neighbors displaced by fires. Donate here
Sonoma County Recovers, both to donate and also ask for assistance if you’ve been affected. Click here
Sonoma County of Education will be coordinating funds for schools and students that have lost everything. Make a payment to a school district. Click here
Running Directory of Wineries Affected
Darioush Winery landscape and vineyard damage, but the winery building itself is still standing. (Take a sip of their ’13 Caravan Cabernet, $50)
Hagafen Cellars, “The winery building appears to be fine. The tasting room also appears to be fine though much of the vegetation surrounding it is black and burned.” (Take a sip of their kosher Sauvignon Blanc, $20)
Pulido-Walker’s Estate Vineyard, “Pulido Walker suffered a devastating loss of our home, but thus far the Estate vineyards seem to have withstood the destruction from the flames. Most importantly, we and our team are safe.” (Take a sip of their 95 point, 2010 highly acclaimed “killer Cabernet”, $150)
Robert Sinskey Vineyards, no social pages nor updated website, but this Instagram post which indicates loss to vineyard and tasting room. (Take a sip of their biodynamically grown Stag’s Leap Cabernet, $100)
Roy Estate, no social pages nor updated website, but word is that the winery was extensively damaged. (Take a sip of their 92 point estate proprietary blend red, $70)
Segassia Vineyard, A company spokesperson confirmed that the winery owned by the Cates family has burned.
Signorello Estate Vineyards, “…while the winery buildings themselves had essentially burned to rubble, the vineyards appeared to be in good shape—and ready to bear fruit for another 20 vintages. We can, and we will, rebuild the winery.”
Stags’ Leap Winery, “In the face of too much tragedy and loss, we continue to be deeply grateful that our buildings, vineyards and employees have been spared.” (Take a sip of their regularly 90+ point Cabernet, $50)
VinRoc, no social pages nor updated website found, but owner said “Total loss, everything gone except our (wine) cave,”
White Rock Vineyards, “Everyone at White Rock is safely evacuated and accounted for. The whole eastern Napa hillside from Stags leap down to napa is on fire.” Believed to have major damage. (Take a sip of their Bordeaux blend of which they make less than 1,000 cases, $50)
William Hill Estate Winery, “ we have confirmed that the winery buildings are intact. William Hill sustained only minor cosmetic and landscaping damage” (Take a sip of their Napa estate blend, 90 point offering at $43)
Ancient Oak Cellars, “I’m very sad to report that our house, two big beautiful redwood barns, gorgeous tasting counter, etc, etc are gone,”
Chateau St. Jean, ‘Our employees are safe and accounted for and their continued safety remains our number one priority.” The main structure appeared unharmed. (Take a sip of their 90 point Sonoma Chardonnay for just $25)
Gundlach Bundschu Winery, ‘I spent some of the day digging through the rubble at my parents’ house, with little to no luck finding anything intact.” Still assessing the damage. (Take a sip of this Sonoma Cabernet that’s scored 90+ points across critics, giving Napa a run of its money, $43)
Nicholson Ranch, “All the people at Nicholson Ranch are fine..Some of us are without power and some are staying with friends. But we are safe.The winery was in the path of the fire but escaped being engulfed by the flames. We have some damage to fix. The wine is secure in our cellars.”
Paradise Ridge Winery, “We are heartbroken to share the news that our winery was burned down this morning. The winery may be broken but our estate vineyards survived, which is foundation of our wine.”
Sky Vineyards, no updated social page nor website; the extent of the damage is unknown because the fire is still active in that area.
Frey Vineyards, The country’s first organic and biodynamic winery lost its winery and bottling facility. The wines are readily still available at Whole Foods.
Golden Vineyards, The vineyards “are scorched but they are not ruined,”. No updated social and website isn’t working.
Oster Wine Cellars, destroyed in the Redwood Fire.
Shout Outs To:
Participating wineries from Paso Robles have mobilized and will donate $1 from every bottle sold in the month of October to charities helping those impacted by the fires. Here is a list including these 90+ point Cabernets by J Lohr ($13), Ancient Peaks ($17), DAOU Reserve ($50).
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced Tuesday that the company is donating $1 million. The money will be divided among the Red Cross California Wildfires Fund, the Community Foundation of Sonoma and the Napa Valley Community Foundation
E. & J. Gallo Winery and Apple are giving $1 million, plus matching employee donations two-for-one.
Google said Google.org and the company’s employees are donating $500,000 to help support those affected by wildfires in Northern and Southern California. The money will go to the American Red Cross and to the Napa and Sonoma Community Foundations.
Intel said it is matching its employees’ donations