Prepare to get a master's (okay, associate's) in the wine business. We talked to a well-known Napa Valley winemaker, Joseph Carr, to get the lowdown on the ins and outs of the fermented grape biz. Think you already know it all? Bet you didn’t know Turkey has more vineyards than the US, Mr. Smart Guy.
1. You don’t have to own a vineyard to make awesome wine
“California is where a young winemaker who may not necessarily own that $6 million winery can still produce an amazing product.” That’s right, you can this minute (well maybe not this minute) become a wine “négociant,” someone who buys grapes from existing vineyards, creates their own wine, slaps a label on it, and ships it off -- you don’t have to grow a dang thing.
2. America almost destroyed (but then totally saved) the French wine business
Yes, in the finest American tradition, we totally almost broke French wine... but then made it all better! It was an American louse that carried the blight that ravaged 40% of Bordeaux's vineyards in the mid-19th century. But it was hardier American root stock that, when grafted on the French, brought the industry back from the brink. “I always give the French a little wink when they brag about those great Bordeaux’s,” says Carr. And he does that for good reason -- it was root stock from Pennsylvania and Texas that saved the day.
3. They use Nielsen scores, just like TV
How do winemakers know what to produce in a market that can require years of advance notice? Big Data, just like everyone else. Nielsen -- the same guys who measure Seinfeld rerun ratings -- measures the popularity of wines in the market place and winemakers pivot to create products that meet the demand.
5. Your favorite wine is probably mixed with Merlot
As Carr says, “A lot of the Cabernet Sauvignons you buy, including mine, have a lot of Merlot in them.” Carr’s Josh Cellar’s Cab Sauv is 10-15% Merlot in any particular bottle. Why? “It’s a great wine. It’s a super wine. It will have a resurgence,” says Carr.
7. Your French “Cabernet” might be less than 60% Cabernet
“California laws are very simple,” explains Carr. “A wine has to be 75% Cab to be called a ‘California Cabernet.’ If it’s from Napa or Sonoma is has to be 85%.” How about in France? “The rules are crazy over there.” Every region varies with their local laws and regulations, meaning, whatever its name, 40% or more of that French wine could be totally different grape varietals.
8. Wine consumers have more in common with craft beer drinkers than you’d think
“The American palate and the American understanding of the wine business is so much more sophisticated today,” says Carr. “It’s a lot like the craft beer consumer, they’re starting to know a lot more about the wine industry.” That means the hugely bold flavors of American wines of 20-40 years ago have evolved into more complex and subtle tastes, which should sound familiar to every Trappist Honey Dew Ale drinker out there.