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Saving A Vineyard

by Jerry D. Mead

Today we are going to save a vineyard (hopefully), learn about what may be the best value red wine of the year, an exceptional value white wine and some other nice wines to boot.

If you want to jump to the end to see what this great red wine is, and call your wine merchant to order your share of the total 600 cases for the world, that's just fine. But make sure you return, we have some important stuff to talk about.

Domaine St. George is a popularly priced brand of wines, most of which have broad California appellations. The wines sell for $7 or less and you get pretty much what you pay for, which is a wine that tastes like the $5 to $6 you usually spend.

But Domaine St. George also makes some limited quantity wines that range from very good to outstanding, have specific appellations and that St. George calls "Reserve." They range in price from $12 to $14. Problem is no one takes these wines seriously because folks are used to the ordinary, inexpensive St. George wines.

I've seen this happen to so many brands over the years, where the low priced part of the line becomes so well known that no one will take the really good and more expensive wines seriously.

Glen Ellen was one example, and the Benziger family who owned it had to begin using the family name to sell its best wines. The cheap "Inglenook Navalle" wines that Heublein created made it difficult to market the much more expensive Napa Valley wines. And Round Hill, Robert Mondavi and others have created marketing problems for the high end by placing too much emphasis on the low end.

If Domaine St. George were my winery, I'd change the brand for the best wines in a hurry.

Ordinarily I would not make this big an issue out of how someone markets their wine. But there's a special circumstance here. The "Best Buy" red I'm touting you on is perhaps the best value I've tasted in a couple of years and I tell you without hype or exaggeration that with a famous brand affixed, say Caymus, Jordan, Silver Oak, Ferrari-Carano or the like, it could easily command $50.

So why am I concerned when we're all getting this great bargain? Well, the vineyard from which this wine originates is more than 25 years old, it's in a very cool micro-climate and the crop yields are getting smaller every year. They are planning to pull up the vineyard and replant it, no doubt to a higher yielding clone that won't make wine half so good. It's tragic.

If this same vineyard was owned by a winery that could command higher prices, uprooting a great vineyard in its prime would never be considered. Low yield is part of why the wine is so wonderful.

What I want all of you to do is write or call the winery and demand, beg, plead, that they save the "Russian River Estate" Cabernet vineyard. Tell them to charge enough for the next vintage to pay for the low yield, or sell the grapes to another winery that can charge enough, create a new brand just for this vineyard, or anything that will save an irreplaceable living, growing asset.

You can get your message to (and also inquire about commercial availability of the wines) Domaine St. George, P.O. Box 548, Healdsburg, CA 95448 (707) 433-5508.

Domaine St. George 1997 "California" Cabernet Sauvignon ($8) The best of the "regular" wines. Ripe boysenberry fruit aromas and flavors. Easy to drink but not flabby or wimpy. Very tasty and a good "by the glass" wine for restaurants. Rating: 85/90

Domaine St. George 1996 "Alexander Valley Reserve" Merlot ($12) The least exciting of the appellation wines. Classic black cherry flavors; mouthfilling and satisfying with no harsh tannins. Rating: 86/85

Domaine St. George 1994 "Dry Creek Reserve" Cabernet Sauvignon ($12) A "Best Buy" red (but not the very best buy), with big, bold, ripe black cherry and cassis fruit flavors. Nicely oaked. Just developing cedar complexity in the aftertaste. Wonderful now and should improve for 3-5 years. Rating: 89/94


That informative little book that tells you the top ranked wines based on nine of the nation's top wine competitions is being shipped to book stores and wine shops, and should be widely available by Thanksgiving. Or it can be ordered by mail for $11.45 (includes shipping) to California Wine Winners, Box 1598, Carson City, NV 89702 (800) 845-9463. Did we mention that this year's number one Chenin Blanc is Husch ($8.50) from Mendocino?

There's a dead heat tie for number one Pinot Blanc, but one first place wine is only $13, the other is $20. Lots of similar value-oriented info throughout the book.

No bargains in Pinot. All the winners were $20 or more all the way down to eighth place, Beaulieu "Carneros" at ($15). The other values in the class were Beringer and Napa Ridge Reserve, also at $15.


Domaine St. George 1996 "Chalk Hill Reserve" Chardonnay ($12) Lean, cool climate structure, with delicate tropical fruit flavors and forward barrel- fermented oak vanillin nuances. Rating: 89/91


Domaine St. George 1994 "Russian River Valley Estate Reserve" Cabernet Sauvignon ($14) Wonderful! Arguably the most underpriced and undervalued red wine in California today. Put a fancy label on it and watch it fetch $50. Deep, intense black fruit...cassis, black cherry, black plum, black raspberry, the whole spectrum of those flavors. It enters bold and keeps building in intensity through the very long aftertaste. So delicious you'll want to drink more than you should and it will only get better with time. Buy cases if you can find it. Rating: 95/100

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Wines are scored using a unique 100 point system. First number rates quality; second number rates value.

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