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words with winemakers Print
Written by Nikitas Magel   

Winemaker Robbie MeyerRM:  Especially with that figure you threw out — 50,000 cases — absolutely!  There are some independents at the 10,000 or 20,000 case level, but when you get up to 50,000 cases, it's almost all corporate wineries.  But as far as the proliferation of brands goes, even though it's true and we joke about it, realistically, anytime that happens, it actually elevates the industry as a whole, because it creates stiffer competition.  And during tough economic times, that's just fine because it 'shakes the tree' and gets rid of people who aren't really serious about doing this.  But it also puts on notice those who are serious — if you're not doing your best, there's a thousand other brands right behind you that will push you right out the way!  So, I think the competition is healthy.  At the same time, I know that we, as winemakers, can sometimes get a little frustrated when people just come in from the outside — not knowing much about winemaking, viticulture, or much else about the wine industry — and don't really want to pay their dues, but rather just buy their way into the business.  That can be denigrating.

EV:  I think that, as a whole, the growth is actually a positive reflection of the fact that American consumers are drinking more wine — we know this, right? — and that the country is becoming more of a wine culture.  I think we're all grateful for that.  All of us who have come into the industry have wanted from the get-go to see Americans drink more wine; we want to see it be part of the table at lunch and at dinner, every day — because that's how we live.

MR:  I don't even think we've ever had a downward trend in wine consumption since the beginning of the modern era of American winemaking, say, the early '70s.  It's been trending upward, albeit slowly.  But in the past decade, there's definitely been more interest in wine, more brands in the marketplace, and more people exploring and enjoying wine.  I know we live here in a very cuisine-centric area where people are really focused on gastronomy, which goes hand-in-hand with wine, but even outside of Northern California, you still see that carrying over.

"The proliferation of brands actually elevates the industry as a whole, because it creates stiffer competition. It 'shakes the tree' and gets rid of people who aren't really serious about doing this."

NM:  So, I'm hearing from you a lot of positive changes you've seen in the local wine industry over the last decade.  On the flip side, can you tell me what changes you've seen in the same span of time that you feel have negatively impacted the wine industry and which perhaps might trouble you?

RM:  The proliferation of brands.  The corporatization of wineries.  {laughter}  The same things we just said a minute ago!  All that can go both ways.

MR:  The proliferation of brands means competition, like Robbie said earlier, and competition brings better products.  But it also means…

SJ:  It's harder for us!

EV:  We have to work harder to stand out.

MR:  …it also means that you may not have as broad a consumer base as you once did, because you've got ten or fifteen other brands that are getting into markets that you can't necessarily get into, yourself.  You can't be everywhere at once.

Vineyard in SummerTM:  For instance, take a vineyard like one that that's pretty well known in Napa, To Kalon Vineyard — 30 wineries get fruit from Tokolon!  How do you differentiate yourself, making your own $100 bottle of To Kalon Cabernet Sauvignon, from the guy who has the four [vineyard] rows adjacent to you who's also selling his own $100 Cabernet Sauvignon?  Sure, the difference comes with the winemaker, the methods, and all that.  But the wine's supposed to be about that place.  And so that's part of what happens with the proliferation of brands — once upon a time, there was only one or two brands that made wine from that place; now there's dozens.



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