5 Best Values for Labor Day

2014 Hahn Winery Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands,, $19.99, 30% discount.

This is the SLH Pinot (not the Central Coast), and it is every bit as good as the 2013 that played to rave reviews. Maybe better.

Dark cherry-plum fruit, smooth, with lovely silky texture. Hahn is one of the best these days for great value. Available from: www.wine.com

2014 Mulderbosch Sauvignon Blanc, South Africa, $ 11.39, 30% discount.

Bright citrus, mango  fruit and lively flavors are delivered in a fresh and refreshing style. Like the better wines from South Africa, this Sauvignon also has its own distinct, and very pleasant character. Available from: www.getwineonline.com

2014 Caymus Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, 1,000 ml bottle, $79.97, free shipping on 6.

No need to describe the wine except to say it is classic Caymus Cabernet which will age very well.

But this bottle contains 1 liter or 25% more than the standard bottle. As such, a decent deal. Available from: www.wiredforwines.com

2013 Luna Merlot, Napa Valley, black label, $13.99 (60% off) with free shipping on six.

This top of the line Merlot from Luna showcases classic herbs and berries with the telltale Merlot rich, smooth texture. Available from http://www.wineaccess.com

2012 Quivira Vineyards Syrah, Dry Creek Valley, $18.99, 40% off with free shipping on 6.

This big, spicy Syrah is back to help start this week. If you love Syrah, this is for you.

Available from: www.vivino.com

Are Wine Corporations People Too?

A recent article on Forbes.com caught my attention: ”How Wineries are Getting Sold and Still Keeping their Soul.”  Unfortunately,  The author tip-toes around this timely subject by asking what two sommeliers think of the subject and then turning to the CEO of Jackson Family Wines for the company’s talking points and a stock photo.

Since many online wine merchants pitch their sales through narratives and background stories, what happens when a family winery is bought by a large company or multi-national corporation is a crucial piece of information.  The subject merits more than a puff piece from Forbes.

After being sold, does the winery remain true to the original philosophy, vision or whatever, or does it increase its production to become a totally different, unrecognizable winery?

Or, as often happens, does it simply morph into a brand.

For wine consumers, the distinction between a real winery and a brand or virtual winery is key. Brand building is the way the business world works…just ask Trump. But in the wine business, there is a clear distinction to be made between brand building for a wine producer and a brand that is nothing but a brand.

Charles Shaw is a brand.  The original Chuck Shaw, the Annapolis graduate who founded the Napa winery which no longer exists, has nothing to do with “two buck chuck”wines. Similarly, Lyeth today is another brand whose current wines have no connection to the founding family, the winery and vineyards which are now part of Silver Oak.

A few weeks ago www.wineexpress.com went through the Lyeth history to sell a new Lyeth wine which, incidentally was cheaper at Trader Joe’s. And www.wineaccess.com often goes way out of its way trying to tie in irrelevant history to a current brand.

Now back to the Forbes piece.  As Bill McIver, who founded Matanzas Creek in 1977, posted on the Forbes Forum: “I seriously doubt that the style of any wine from a winery sold to a large company remains the same.  In my opinion it is totally absurd to believe that any multi-million gallon producer would continue the cost required to make superior wine. Today Matanzas Creek wine is not even made in our 50,000 case facility. It is made in a 500,000 manufacturing plant in Alexander Valley. Meanwhile the expensive stainless steel tanks and winemaking facility is idle and Matanzas Creek Winery building is used only as a tasting room that consumer believe is a real operating winery.”

Clearly, Matanzas Creek which was bought by Jackson Family bears little resemblance to the original,. Now with production greatly expanded, and the winemakers dismissed after the sale, one could say it has lost its soul. Few would argue that Arrowood Winery without Dick Arrowood, and Murphy-Goode without a Murphy or a Goode on the scene have also changed since being purchased by Jackson Family.

Other companies  go to extremes to alter the winery’s image after buying it. Anyone who ever met Walt and Roy Raymond, kind and down-to-earth founders of Raymond Vineyards in Napa Valley, must wonder what they now think of Raymond Vineyards under the ownership of J.C. Boisset. Production has expanded, and the tasting room has been redesigned so that one room seems more like the interior of a bordello (see the accompanying photo).  Sure Raymond is now pet friendly… but does seem to have lost its soul.

To be fair, today’s Arrowood Cabernets are fine, the Murphy-Goode Fume is a good by the glass restaurant wine, and the Matanzas Creek Sauvignon is okay at Costco’s current price.

In the Forbes article, the author concludes, “But when these business marriages are done right, the potential for both parties to benefit, as well as consumers, is tremendous.”  The question that should be raised is: “have these so-called marriages ever actually resulted in real benefits all-around?”

Maybe. But not often. The Louis Martini winery, in my mind anyway, seems to be on the upswing under Gallo ownership. Is that because Michael Martini is still involved and now has the tools he needs?

And across the board, I’m happy to say that Sebastiani wines are doing well under Foley ownership. The recent vintage of Sebastiani Barbera, the pride of the Sebastianis, is absolutely terrific.

But most morph into brands cranking out more wines that line the shelves of supermarkets and chain stores.

Good Wines, Good Neighbors

Attention all wine lovers: Here’s a genuine “insider tip” about two fabulous wine collections soon to be available. Why am I alerting others? Well, stupid me, I truly believe that wine is something meant to be shared.

And maybe I’m hoping to be invited to share a bottle by the new owners.

So hoarders, brand collectors who never enjoy the wine in their cellars but display them on tours, and hedonists who babble on about how great a wine was that they drank last night, and tell you about its point scores… this tip isn’t for you.

But back to my insider tips. The first collection is a 24-bottle vertical of Chateau de Beaucastel featuring the best vintages from 1978 to 2010. Yes, the great Chateauneuf-du-Pape.

Collection #2 is another 24 bottle vertical, this time of the Joseph Phelps Insignia, 1990-2013.

While both verticals contain the best vintages what brings us to the “insider tip” is the provenance of these wines. They have been cellared under truly ideal conditions and the older vintages have been babied over all the years.

The labels are all in excellent conditions and the level of fill is high on all bottle, confirming the perfect cellaring.

I know these things because the owners are my neighbors, and like the best of neighbors, they share fine wines. Yes, the 78 Beaucastel is alive and well, and you can enjoy the other great like the 83, 89, 90, 95, 97, 2001 and on and on.

As a longtime Chateauneuf-du-Pape fan who visited Beaucastel and other estates, I’ve tasted and enjoyed an ungodly number of CNP and can verify that the finest vintages are included in this collection.

Not to be overshadowed, only the finest vintages are included in the Insignias. I’m not teasing…it too has all of the great, long-lasting vintages of Insignia from 90, 94, 95, 97,2000, 02, and on and on. The just released 2013 Insignia is a perfect finale.

So now you are asking, “Where are these too-good-to-be-true wine collections available?” The answer is they will be headliners at a charity wine auction on September 10th. Winesong is the auction held on the Mendocino Coast town of Ft. Bragg. You don’t have to be present to bid.

Check out www.winesong.org

And yes, full disclosure, I was closely involved in this auction, but have not been since 2010.

Winesong benefits the Mendocino Coast District Hospital.