Wine Talk

Snooth User: DawgByte

Who are the consistent CA wineries

Posted by DawgByte, Mar 4, 2011.

Outside of the pricey boutique wineries, who do you think consistently produces good wine year-after-year and represents good value? I'm thinking of the "larger" more established wine makers, who try and bring their A-game across the spectrum of their varietals.

To me the sign of a good wine maker and overall brand is someone who you can trust every year to produce solid wines. They may not be the best every year, but someone you can always turn to and know you're going to enjoy their wine.

Here are a few that come to my mind:

Bargetto - IMHO everything they do speaks of quality. I know that every time I open a Bargetto wine I will not be disappointed.

Simi - Not quite in the league with Bargetto, but still a consistent producer. They always seem to do a good job.

Sanford - If I'm looking for a good representation of Santa Barbara Co. wines I know I can always count on Sanford.

Beringer - This selection may raise some eyebrows, but I think overall they seem to be consistently good and represent worthwhile value. Over the years I've had some truly wonderful wines from Beringer. They did either a cab or a zin in '94 that was stunning.

 

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Replies

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Reply by Girl Drink Drunk, Mar 4, 2011.

Ridge

Girard

Hall

Honig

Provenance

 

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Reply by DawgByte, Mar 4, 2011.

GDD - What do you like about each? Any comments on the one's I chose?

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Reply by JonDerry, Mar 4, 2011.

Interesting list GDD, it's one of the few i've seen where I have experience with all.  Can't knock Ridge, and the other four I would describe as consistently solid.

I'd add Melville, Mount Eden, Jaffurs & Larkmead into the mix.

DB: I haven't had much from the wineries you picked.   

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Reply by Andrew46, Mar 5, 2011.

I don't taste much from the bigger producers, but Steele is one that comes to mind.  Not sure where you draw the line on the size, but I think they produce 100k cases or so.  Very consistent, and good QPR.  (Quality Price Ratio).  I like his Zins, Cabs, Syarh and Metlot as a very solid choices.  Barbera from his second label, Shooting Star was a great value at around $12.  Jed Steele was the winemaker for KJ and built that brand up prior to starting his own thing, so his Chards and other whites are solid as well.

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Reply by gregt, Mar 5, 2011.

HotDawg - you said "large" wineries.

Bargetto? They're only available in CA as far as I know.  I have never seen or heard of them anywhere else.

Of your others,  Simi has somewhere around 700 acres under production, Beringer is probably as big and they're one of, if not the, oldest winery in Napa.  Sanford pretty much does only Pinot Noir and whites as far as I know but they're widely distributed, so I guess they'd work under your parameters.

Beringer is good choice - they produce a nice range from the very top to inexpensive wines like the Knights Valley that you can get for around $25 and it's a solid Cab, or at least it has been in prior years - I'm not a fan of the 2007 at all. 

Simi is a decent example of a CA Cab too - they don't do anything too high-end and they produce a pretty oaky style, but it's not all that bad for the $20 range.  And Sanford is a solid choice for PN at that range too. 

In the large category you're talking about, BV was always good at the lower end even tho their higher end fell off a bit.  In 2007 I think their higher end came off very well but their lower end failed, so that's an interesting twist. 

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Reply by Richard Foxall, Mar 5, 2011.

By "larger" I think that should mean I can find them near my cousin's home in NJ at a liquor store.  Hall would not make that list, nor would a lot of others.  Bargetto?  Absolutely not.  Bargetto, imo, isn't big by any standard.  Until not too long ago, I could mention their name in San Francisco and get a blank stare.  Well, not from my next door neighbor, since he was Richard Bargetto... and that was the only reason I knew of the winery for years. 

Murphy Goode makes some respectable wines, and I would count them as big, since they are owned by Jess Jackson of Kendall Jackson fame.  La Crema is huge but still makes decent pinots (better than the stuff my NJ relatives served me!).  J Winery, same. LIberty School, if you don't mind Paso Robles cab (affiliated with Caymus).  But these aren't up there with a Chappellet or Dunn or anything.  Just drinkable stuff you can find when you travel to less wine-saturated parts of the US, like Florida, Jersey, etc.

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Reply by Stephen Harvey, Mar 6, 2011.

I was interested in the comments on Berringer which is owned by Fosters, which is Australia's largest wine business which also owns the Penfolds brand

The large wine companies can often achieve some great wine providing they are not overly influenced by stock prices and short term profit issues.

One of their greatest challenges is keeping talented winemakers without overloading them with corporate crap

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Reply by dmcker, Mar 6, 2011.

Generally, though, conglomerate-buy means loss of edge in just about every winery I've followed. Never anything to be wished on a winery favorite, or even semi-favorite....

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Reply by Stephen Harvey, Mar 6, 2011.

Whilst I agree in general, a lot of our "Corporate" wineries have begun to realise that tomorrows profit is todays experimentation and given the global talent war many are allowing talented winemakers to have their little experiments going on, partly to keep them interested enough to stay and partly to keep the cuttingedge of winemaking sharp.

I know a lot of winemakers under the corporate umbrella and many are actually enjoy the fact they can get a budget to try something different. 

The Penfolds team have been allowed to "play around" with Pinot and Sangiovese as well as being given some licence to make a Chardonnay that is the "white grange".  These experiments a producing some really good outcomes across many of their wines as the winemakers are sharpening their collective skills.  In particular they are making some reasonable Pinot and Sangiovese and in general the chardonnays in the stable have become much sharper and more in balance with a much sharper acidity rather than fat and flabby.

But as you know it only takes a bad day in the Boardroom and the world changes!!!

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Reply by Girl Drink Drunk, Mar 6, 2011.

Foxy, interesting.  I find Hall all over in MA.  Girard is actually a slightly tougher find here.

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Reply by Richard Foxall, Mar 6, 2011.

Interesting, GDD.  While I don't find Hall super-obscure, I am a little surprised, especially given my teenage and twenty experiences with MA outlets.  (Admittedly, 25+ years out of date.)  When I first learned about them, I had trouble finding the wine in California, at least with any reliability.  Quality, reasonable price, and decent distribution?  Let's see how long they can keep that up. 

SH and dmcker both have interesting points.  Having corporate resources can give a bit of breathing space, to be sure.  A friend is an etymologist who studied integrated pest management--an attempt to limit or eliminate pesticide use.  Big agribusiness farms were willing to experiment with small plots in hopes that they would eventually see a payback, where owners of small plots could not take the risks.  (Agribusiness knows very well that chemical intervention doesn't pay off over the long run--initial successes slip back to the mean as bugs develop resistance or new bugs move in.) But it's a fine line between trying new things and losing your focus, and eventually, the corporations also want to see a return.  They buy the winery or any business because they see a way to squeeze more profit out of it than the person they buy it from.  That rarely means increasing the quality, unless they can increase the price.  In this market, increasing price is a non-starter.  Waiting out the market and buying assets at a discount, esp if you have a good distribution channel, is a possible reason to buy now, too, but my sense, and that of others, is that the market for $30-100 bottles won't be recovering any time soon, so tying up your capital mostly means buying at discount and slashing expenses. And that's not beneficial for wine, although some of the excesses of the last decades can be cut without a loss in quality.

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Reply by Girl Drink Drunk, Mar 6, 2011.

We've come pretty far in the last 25 years.  The state's still unnecessarily Puritanical, of course, but the wine scene has drastically improved.

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Reply by gregt, Mar 6, 2011.

In general I agree w Foxall about large corporate ownership, but some of the more enlightened corporations don't destroy brands entirely.  Inglenook is an example of something that was eradicated.  The Beringer-Bass people however, seem to have done a better job of preserving some of their best wines.  And the good folks at Chat. St Michelle in WA seem to have been benign owners of the different wineries they pick up. 

I think they realize that there's something to be gained by putting out a respectable wine. Most interesting to me has been Jess Jackson. After he sold his brand he went around and picked up some decent wines around the world and seems to have done them no harm at all.  In Australia for example, he owns Yangarra and that seems to be benefiting from his connections rather than being harmed.  Although they did make the one and only Merlot I've ever had from Australia that was pretty good and they've stopped doing that now to concentrate on "Rhone" grapes. . .

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Reply by Richard Foxall, Mar 6, 2011.

Inglenook's demise came at the beginning of the corporatization of Cali wines, and was just a good example of how not to do something.  But there was no model, no one understood the fragility of the name, and most folks had little experience of anywine, never mind the limited amount that Niebaum could make.  What was probably one of the best wineries in the world (if only more of it had been collected and aged, we would have some idea) became synomymous with crap wine, jugs of horrible stuff from the Central Valley.  By the time the last Niebaum vineyards in Napa were sold to Coppola, hardly anyone remembered their significance.  Of course, they had torn up vineyards for winery space first.  I was lucky enough to purchase some of the last bottles of Inglenook from the Niebaum vineyard and, while the winemaking probably left something to be desired, I really enjoyed it.  I should have kept one just for the sake of history.  My point (I think) was that it's a balancing act and most corporations are balancing cash, but they do have the wherewithal to do things that independent wineries often cannot.

The Jess Jackson story is interesting, especially to see what a benign owner he has been in buying other wineries, relatively.  He's a really polarizing figure, but like most larger than life characters, what you see in him is a reflection  of what you are looking for.  Some day, he will no longer be with us, like Robert Mondavi, and we'll reconsider his impact.  Did he ruin chardonnay?  No, that's giving him too much credit.  Did many of the things that he did catch on and become at least present in the consciousness of virtually every winemaker?  Absolutely.  (Sorry for the rhetorical questions--I usually avoid them, but if you are talking retrospectively about someone, seems kind of inevitable.)  So far, in his purchases, seems like he has just provided a cushion to winemakers and owners whose work he likes but who are vulnerable to the vicissitudes of business, weather, and the like.  We'll see, of course.

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Reply by dmcker, Mar 6, 2011.

I have never found a single winery that's gotten better from being bought up by a conglomerate. Period, full stop. Just a question of how more or less they got worse.

The vision, the decisions, just about every dynamic and factor in the business equation is affected to greater or lesser extent. And I'm not even talking about someone in the boardroom having a bug up and making some immensely stupid decision, though as Stephen mentions that's always a possibility.

Maybe a little money to 'experiment' with might keep the boys and girls feeling like it still is a little bit fun, but there are other tradeoffs. Not at all like the balls-to-the-wall spirit of going for it that the wine visionaries who created the original value that the corporations later bought up brought to our tables. Compromise and some level of mediocrity become the culture, whether faced up to consciously or not.

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Reply by Richard Foxall, Mar 6, 2011.

d: I'm pretty sure that any winery that survived with its visionary owner is going to be better than it will be after it's bought up, but two measures that might be taken into account in the business sense:  1) lots of small independents can't survive that way at all  2) although the wine might not improve, it might get into the hands of more people who will appreciate it.  In the case of successful wineries where the founder is eventually going to retire or has no succession planning, selling before that might mean that after the visionary is gone, the brand might continue and reflect that vision, but not always true, of course.  Also, the ability to do higher level QC probably means that a winery won't put out something that is actually foul.  But can a big conglomerate make the kind of wine I want to drink?  Usually not, but that's also because I like a good story behind the wine. ;-)

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Reply by dmcker, Mar 6, 2011.

More so about 'tasting' the stories than in other industries where what I described rings just as true. In those other industry they're just of historical value (more or less) with not even some mediocre plonk to offer up and share while remembering. How many stories you know from the 'old' days (anything more than five years ago) in the Valley, Foxall? Hopefully the people that sold out there are off drinking good wine anywhere across the globe (and not trying to make some half-arsed wine, too)....

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Reply by gregt, Mar 6, 2011.

I don't really have an opinion one way or another.  My sentiment is w D but as Fox points out, the Inglenooks and some of the others back then were before there was so much of a wine culture.  Jackson is definitely up there w Mondavi and Gallo as one of the seminal figures in the US wine industry.  I don't know if his latest ventures are considered conglomerate or not?  Kind of like the Mondavi ventures now that they've sold the namesake winery.  Don't know.

Ravenswood is an example.  They got a little worse after being bought but I think they're actually OK these days.  Rosenblum wasn't my very fave, but I don't know that his wines have been hurt necessarily.  Of course, the founders are still around so maybe in the future it's a different story once they leave.

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Reply by outthere, Mar 6, 2011.

+1 on Ridge - Year in and year out, from Geyserville to Paso Robles, you consistently get a good to very good wine.

Right up there with Ridge is Seghesio. Rarely disappoints.

Jess Jackson is a pompous ass and can kiss mine.

Copain is another good bet good consistently good Syrahs and Pinot Noirs from the bargain Tous Ensemble to the high end.

The new leader of the pack for me is Bedrock Wine Co. Good to great right across the board and always a bargain for what you are getting. From his Field Blends, to Syrahs, to Zins to PN's to SB's to Late Harvest Semillon... Just a treat to drink.

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Reply by hhotdog, Mar 6, 2011.

the recent year Rosenblums...not worth a dime...grape jelly high alcohol waste of $...sad because 7-ish years ago(ok my memory may be a year or so off!) had some i enjoyed. hope the big guns can keep quality job 1(heard that jingle once before in the past)in the future?  hopefully the new big corps. can learn from the failures of the past big corps.?  i hope so for consumers sake.  if not cudos for the little guys!

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