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franklin county times

California wine industry unlucky with the past five vintages

By By Stan Torgerson / wine columnist
June 25, 2003
There seems to be a glut of unsold wine on the California market. The state has had three remarkable vintages during the past five years, 1997, 1999 and 2001.
In between there were two average to good years, 1998 and 2000. It appears that consumers can't purchase and consume those wines as fast as the producers can create and bottle it.
I received an e-mail from my friend Garth Cobb, the winemaker at Karly. Karly zinfandels have become a Meridian favorite. Their Warriors Fires is as good as anything on the local market, their Sadie Upton is also premium quality, Bucks 10 Point may be a step down but it is still delicious and their Pokerville is one of the best bargains available with its slightly softer texture and its lovely fruity taste.
But Garth says he's worried. He writes that in a sense the California wine industry has been unlucky over the past five vintages for the very reason mentioned above. Too much wine. Too few customers.
He says the industry is in the midst of a market correction and the producers in the Central Valley who do not have locked in contracts with their wholesalers are really hurting.
The glut of wine has resulted in huge vineyard acreage being ripped out and growers temporarily abandoning sites, according to Cobb.
One of the factors is a man named Charles Shaw. He bought and blended large amounts of wine that producers felt was inferior and would not bottle under their own name. Shaw bottled it and hit the market with cabernet sauvignons, merlots and other California wines at $1.99 per bottle and has had a major negative effect on the business.
Wine Spectator magazine said last week that none of Shaw's wines are rated higher than 83 and the majority are in the 70s. That is truly every day drinking wine and decidedly on the down side. But at that price the wine sells, mostly to people who think all California wine is pretty much alike and it isn't.
With lower production will come what is called a short crop.
The line is already forming for the next trip on the wine roller coaster he says. But that roller coaster has not been present in Mississippi. The state warehouse has held firm and I see no bargain basement price wars in our state, not yet at least.
To the best of my knowledge the Charles Shaw wines are not available in Mississippi. But the Yellow Tail wines are and they are probably the hottest thing in the state. I've tasted them. They are worth their low prices but they are not great wines and to those who know wine, they cannot compete against their pricier brothers.
These observations are what make tomorrow night's cabernet sauvignon wine tasting so interesting. We will drink wines ranging from near $40 a bottle to one that is only $11.
Those who attend will be able to judge for themselves whether or not quality and price are related. Remember, while the tasting is at Northwood Country Club it is not exclusive to Northwood members.
The public is always invited. Six wines will be tasted and the admission is $30.
It starts at 6:30 p.m. and it would be appreciated if you would call 482-0930 and make a reservation so that we know how many bottles to have on hand.
Incidentally Garth Cobb will visit Meridian in January. He has agreed to a public tasting of his four Karly zinfandels, plus his sauvignon blanc, along with other wines he admires. You'll find him both charming and knowledgeable.
Plan not to miss that one nor Thursday night's either for that matter. I believe you'll enjoy both.