Are California Vintners a Bunch of Trophy Hunters?

Why aren't more of the "great" winemakers in California trying to put out affordable bottles? In Slate, Mike Steinberger looks at the question, noting that "In Europe, some of the most celebrated vintners put out modestly priced wines alongside their loftier offerings. ... But among California's superstar vintners, there is almost no one making wine for the masses."

One of the biggest reasons, Steinberger writes, is that many Euro wineries are operating on land that was paid off generations ago. Manfred Krankl from the Central Coast winery Sine Qua Non explains that in contrast, "many of the better vineyards in California were developed or acquired fairly recently," and he estimates that prime acreage on the California Central Coast to be about $25,000 to $50,000 an acre.

So just make wine in a "relative backwater," argues Ehren Jordan of Turley Wine Cellars, who has produced $17 Cinsault in the "comparatively unglamorous Lodi appellation ... because he depends on wine for his livelihood, [so] it is important for him to appeal to a cross-section of consumers by offering wines at a variety of price points." Jordan says that his rich neighbors "who earned fortunes in other fields and came to wine country with a trophy-hunting mentality" don't have to worry about making cheap wine since they are "not in the business to make money." Instead, he says, they are mostly after high wine scores and creating bottles for collectors, not drinkers.

The comments on the story also provoke good discussion. "I think the story is quite incomplete without mentioning EU subsidies of grape growers/winemakers," says Adam Lee. "You have to take that into account when talking about lower wine prices for European wines." Sarah says that "there are tons of fabulous $20 and under wines in California - maybe not from Napa, but who cares about Napa these days anyway? I'd rather [have] a delicious Husch Chardonnay from the Anderson Valley, or for a casual dinner I can always rely on Cline to give me a surprisingly complex Zin or Syrah for under $10, even."

Image source: Flickr member brianholsclaw under Creative Commons