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Wednesday, September 12, 2007



Why Napa cabernet has become prosaic to me…
Brief disclosure:Generalization time folks, so caveat galore, but I think my jaded slant will be quite deliberate in what and/or whom it is directed towards.
I have so many positives to mention w/ regards to the Golden State. First off, it’s my favorite of America’s 50 so named territories and I am determined to coax my wife into moving there when an appropriate opportunity arises. It has skiing, surfing, palm trees, wine and above all…Arnold Schwarzenegger. Alas, as with all examples of true love, I tend to be the hardest on that which I covet the most.
Now Napa is an obvious whipping boy for the purpose of this joust, and I’ve decided to not be trite w/ yet another bout of banter on chardonnay (for obvious, redundant reasons)…but what is up w/ their damn touristy cabernet these days, or should I say, cabaret?! It’s undeniable what a Disney Land the wine country has become when one travels east of the Mayacamas range from Sonoma, but has it gotten so bad that the proverbial day-tripper dilution has seeped into the wine quality (or lack there of)?
Now, as I said before, I don’t think all Napa cabernet is fictitious, but I think it’s broadly converting itself into something very ‘Beverly Hills’ in nature. You know, costs a lot of money, but is excessively cheap…it can age with copious amounts of plastic surgery, but it doesn’t really get appreciably better, no more interesting in time…..pretty on the surface but relatively shallow in persona, almost boring if you spend too much time w/ it…and let’s not forget the all too easy notions of being top heavy, perhaps the most apropos comparison to the Hollywood Hills brethren yet!
Metaphors aside, I fear the excitement of the renaissance in the early 70s is gone. America, in general, tends to perform its best when there is a chip on its shoulder. The underdog is something of which we don’t like to be, but we seem thrive on transcending its perception anyway. So has the Bordeaux arms race lead us to an era of cults, mailing lists and greater exclusivity? Twenty five dollar tastings at Opus One, enshrouded in faux-prestige?! You have to be literally sweating money in order to buy any land in Napa, so I suppose it’s rational to assume that the producers simply treat their wines as the luxury item trinkets they have become accustomed to enjoying anyway. The days of the Warren Winiarski’s of the world trekking across the country w/ their families in a broken down shaggin’ wagon, a la Johnny Appleseed, sans a job w/ only a glint of a trellis in his eye…are long gone in Napaville. To some, there is nothing wrong w/ that. To me, I find it infinitely depressing.
Perhaps one of the few reasons I can stop to notice what is going on in Napa, w/ even more profound clarity, is due to the view directly south at lands of the upstart Santa Barbara county. One can’t help but notice the remarkably stark contrast that the bucolic Santa Rita Hills offer in comparison to the Rodeo Drive through Highway 29. Parts of the Central Coast seem to strike me as homey time capsules, proud to humbly ferment in an ‘Industrialized Ghetto,’ sans fancy schmancy high class facilities to lure in the thirsty tourists. I can’t help but draw parallels to the Long Island dichotomy between the North and South Forks. The north is proud, cozy, quaint…even boring at times (but that sense of placidity can only endear a New Yorker that’s over-run w/ daily excitement), but certainly a territory of farmers resistant to any semblance of superficial face lifting. While the glitz and glam of the Hamptons on the south side seems an ocean away in its ritzy clientele, high priced land and obnoxiously over-bloated sense of wealth. What I find to be the most enjoyable sight, as the voyeur that I tend to be, is that of the North Fork farmer’s rhetoric regarding how much they detest the notion that one day his little village may morph into yet another Hamptons neighborhood. It’s almost tantamount to a rallying cry from a Militia infantryman, exclaiming ‘the Red Coats are coming, the Red Coats are coming!’
I find so many similarities when juxtaposing these regions of Long Island to that of the fore-mentioned realms of California that the tension can almost seem unbearable at times. I fully admit my bias, coming from a rural, tucked away nook of small town Connecticut (and traveling into the depths of the pastoral for University in New Hampshire), but I’d also like to think I have grown to see the urban side from my recent years in New York City, Mecca of all things blaringly intense. While I truly believe all sound answers tend to lie in between two extremes, I find the boundaries of Napa’s current state to be putridly plastic. Fine wine should come at a price, but what price puts the fine wine into the category of a luxury icon? Moreover, what constitutes fine wine? It’s almost as if some of these ‘Cult Cabernets’ simply believe that high price tags equate to high class by association. When reading into Neal Martin’s provocative question of whether or not wine has a soul, if it truly does, one can certainly eviscerate that soul in several ways. Beyond the finings, the filtrations and overt food processing, there is something in which I believe is even more dangerous to a wines character….dressing it up in corporate clothes and putting it on an action item list.
Some literal translations of terroir seem to evoke the notion of actually tasting like a place. When a wine actually smells and tastes like dirt and rocks, it's claimed to be a terroir wine! Well in that case, if it tastes artificial and expensive, does that make it a Napa terroir wine?
All I ask is that Napa remembers where it came from...instead of a future trip to Hollywood, I believe a trip closer to Foxen Canyon would be a more suitable sense of 'memory lane.' In wine, there certainly is such a thing as 'too big for your britches.'

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