worldbeat – Brief Article

Larry Walker

Michel Laroche of Domaine Laroche in Chablis and Anthony Terlato, the owner of Rutherford Hill Winery and chairman of the Terlato Wine Group, have joined forces to produce a “New World Chablis,” a California Chardonnay from the 1999 vintage made like a Chablis, according to a press release from Paterno Imports, also owned by Terlato.

You can be sure that Laroche isn’t calling the wine a “New World Chablis,” as the French have struggled for years to end the designation of California wines as “Burgundy” or “Chablis” and even “Champagne.” In fact, the wine carries the rather unwieldy name of Michel Laroche at Rutherford Hill. According to Terlato, it is the first time a French producer and a California producer have worked together on a Chardonnay-based project.

“I’ve long had great respect for many of the vineyard sources in Napa Valley,” Laroche said. “I was excited to have the opportunity to apply the vinification processes of Chablis while simultaneously achieving the purest expressions of Napa Valley fruit.

Rutherford Hill winemaker Kent Barthman said, “We’re emphasizing clean fruit and mineral qualities over the more traditional characteristics of lush fruit, butterscotch and oak. We believe that this 1999 vintage will display some of the longevity of classical Chablis and age gracefully for at least 10 years,” he said.

The grapes for the wine were selected and pressed based on techniques common in Chablis. Fermentation and barrel-aging regimens also were handled in the Laroche style.

WorldBeat will raise a grateful glass to any project that gets the oak out of Chardonnay.

Bordeaux Prices Soar–Is Napa Next?

In a move that some fear may encourage California Cabernet Sauvignon producers to follow suit, first growth Bordeaux houses raised prices for the second week in a row on the 2000 vintage. According to Decanter Magazine, chateaux Margaux, Latour and Lafite have released the second section (or tranche) of their 2000 wines the second week in June and, as expected, prices were up by 25%. This was on the heels of a 60% to 75% increase in prices when the first tranche (slice) was released the first week of June.

A bottle of Premier Cru from the three producers is now priced at 984 French francs or about $128. Chaeteaux Haut-Brion and Mouton Rothschild are expected to follow suit shortly and announce their second release at the same price.

Decanter noted that at the time of the first release, Herve Berland of Chateau Mouton Rothschild admitted that the prices could not be “entirely justified by the quality of the wine,” citing the high dollar, market demand and the magic of the millennial year 2000 as factors in the increase.

Many of California’s cult Cabernets, such as Screaming Eagle, are already higher than the first growth futures, but most Napa Cabernets have yet to break the $100 price.

BRL Hardy Still Shopping in U.S.

BRL Hardy Managing Director Stephen Millar, in an interview in an Australian newspaper, said a list of U.S. winery targets has been drawn up and he expects a “significant acquisition” to be purchased in the next year.

Millar also announced a joint venture with Constellation (Canandaigua)–to be called Pacific Wine Partners–is scheduled to start up around August 1. Any winery purchase, he said, would be by the joint venture.

The new company would be looking to acquire a winery producing between 400,000 to 600,000 cases per annum in the $200 to $500 million price range, he said.

Under the joint venture arrangement, BRL Hardy is contributing $80 million along with their brands, while Constellation will throw in its 1,400 acre Monterey vineyard, its 20,000 ton winery and bottling facility, and its Farrallon brand.

Millar said the key driver for the joint venture will be BRL Hardy’s Banrock Station, and Hardys and Nobilo brands. He said BRL Hardy currently had an 8% share of the lucrative American market and, with the joint venture, hoped to double that figure “in a short period of time.”

“We are targeting the creation of a powerful 5 million cases per annum U.S. wine company within five to 10 years,” Millar said.

He did not mention who he believed would buy all that wine.

He admitted that the attempted acquisition of U.S.-based Kendall-Jackson Wine Estates (K-J) would have been the preferred option before it was taken off the market.

He said BRL Hardy started talking with four American wine companies just before Christmas, and when the K-J deal fell through in May, it turned to Constellation.

Chilean Brand Sold

Vina Carmen has bought the Chilean wine brand Terra Andina from Pernod Ricard. The brand will be integrated into the existing brands, Santa Rita, Los Vascos and Carmen. No price was given.

“We are a company of very few brands,” says Andres Barros, Carmen export director. “This gives us the chance to benefit from the Pernod Ricard network around the world.” In return, Terra Andina will benefit from access to parcels of land and winemaking facilities belonging to Carmen and Santa Rita.

What They Say:

Irritation at being treated as an insignificant market doesn’t support a grudge like mine. But when you get given the one-fingered gesture in the form of container loads of piss poor brands, then the case for a goad whinge improves samewhat. Finding a reliable, enjoyable California brand is like trying to find a town center that hasn’t become an outpost for the Starbucks empire.

Richard Neill in Decanter, September 2000.

COPYRIGHT 2001 Hiaring Company

COPYRIGHT 2001 Gale Group

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