Now Playing in Napa & Mendoza: Wine and a Story

Wine is good. Consumed in moderation it can even be good for you. But wine and a story is better. Wine famously stimulates all the physical senses (sight, smell, taste, feel and even sound if you touch glasses). But wine a story unlocks your curiosity and imagination, which are arguably the most powerful senses of all.

Recent initiatives in both Mendoza and the Napa Valley suggest that the power of a good wine story is undiminished. Herewith two brief reports.

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The wines of Argentina have been big winners in North American wine markets in recent years. Argentinean Malbec is the wine category that has experienced the fastest off-premises sales growth according to Nielsen data.  To the displeasure of many, I have found this trend worrying. Not because of the wine, but because of the story.

The story that is most frequently told when it comes to Argentinean wine is about value. For example, Alamos Malbec (the best selling brand in this market segment in the U.S.) is a $12-$15 wine that you can buy for just $8-$10, according to my street-smart friends. What could be better than that?

Well, it is a good story, but there may be problems.  Chile was branded as a value producer back in the 1960s and has found it hard to shake that label. Consumers expect to spend less for Chilean wine and so producers have struggled at times to squeeze more from less — not an easy thing to do with worldwide competitors breathing down your neck. I would feel better about the future of Argentinean wine if the mainstream narrative was a bit more complicated and less value focused.

So naturally I applaud the efforts of Área del Vino and Wine Sur to draw out the story of Argentinean wine and create a narrative with greater upscale potential. Their just-launched website is called Wine Sur: My Wine Stories and it invites local producers to tell their own stories, creating a colorful mosaic of images.

Not all the stories submitted so far are very memorable — some do a better job than others of giving a sense of the people and places that are the wine’s origins. One that I especially like is from Winery Alto Cedro for its Desnudos wine. Family heritage is at the heart of this story and local art is highlighted, too.

Altocedro Our idea was to relate the Cedar Tree for two reasons: the first is that we are 4th generation of Lebanese descent in Argentina and for us the Cedar is a sacred tree. The second is that in our land of La Consulta, we have more than 27 old cedars planted in the middle of the vineyard.  Desnudos is a tribute and collection of female nudes made by Mendocinean artists that illustrate various crops where we release this wine.

The Trivento Eolo Malbec’s story evokes terroir and highlights history.

Eolo received from Zeus the power to evoke or annul the winds. He governs them with absolute dominion, seizing and liberating them, engendering great changes in the heavens, on earth, and at sea. The Keeper of the Winds was seduced by the refuge at the northern edge of the Mendoza River in Luján de Cuyo, a traditional winegrowing area in Mendoza. The EOLO vineyard, planted in 1912, is defined by its relationship to the river. Soil, wind and water –in conjunction with man– have cared for these vines over generations. The result is the authentic expression of Malbec.

My Wine Stories is a small effort, but a useful and encouraging one. The stories are very brief (meant to be short enough to be used in social media, where attention spans are apparently particularly short ). Hopefully they can be expanded and set into a broader context so as to contribute to a more complex narrative of Argentinean wine.

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California’s Napa Valley is much more advanced when it comes to telling its story. Robert Mondavi built a great winery, but I think he was even more influential as a story-teller. His story was that the New World (California/Napa/Mondavi) could compete with the Old World on equal terms. The famous 1976 “Judgment of Paris” completed the story by having French experts rule in favor of California wines.

Napa Valley has a great story and one worth frequent retelling. The Napa Valley Museum in Yountville is hosting an exhibition called “Art & Wine: Expressions of an Industry” through October 31 that does this very well. According to press materials it highlights “all things wine-related outside of the bottle” including the packaging and promotion of wine through displays of wine labels, cookbook photography, totes, wooden wine boxes, bottle tickets, decanters, corkscrews, heraldic banners, vintage posters, portraits of vintners and winery architecture. More than 100 objects are on display.

This is a very Mondavi-esque idea. Robert Mondavi tried to elevate the image of California wine by associating it with art, music, architecture and fine food. All it would take to complete the classic Napa story would be a link to the Judgment of Paris … and maybe something to nosh on. Well, OK, here it is.

Additionally, we are featuring the Judgement of Paris Revisited in conjunction with the closing reception of Art & Wine. The reception features a conversation with Warren Winiarski and Jim Barrett, moderated by George Taber commemorating the 1976 tasting revelation that brought worldwide prominence to California, and Napa Valley wines. This program is just $20 for members and $45 for non-members. Stag’s Leap and Chateau Monelena  wine and hors d’oeuvres will be served.

What a great event and what a great way to tell the Napa Valley story! A great model for other wine regions to consider as they try to develop their own stories or look for strategies to communicate the ones they already have.

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2 responses

  1. Hello!
    I’m Gonzalo, from Área del Vino / Wine Sur.
    I’m very happy to read your post.
    Sincerely, from Área del Vino we launched this game to get something new, something original, fresh, informal.
    I’m very impressed from the participation we’ve had from wineries and the excitement about it. We have many stories in line getting ready to be uploaded.
    Hope everyone get the chance to read some wine story they can then remember at the time they have a glass of that wine.
    Thanks a lot! And we expect many votes… so what are you waiting? Read the stories and vote for the one you like!

    Regards!

    gonzalo
    @gonzalojmerino (twitter)

  2. This Napa Valley Museum exhibit is one of the most ludicrous, self-referential, and irrelevant in our lovely museum’s history. There are several immeasurably better collections of packaging arts and wine utilities within 15 minutes drive of this pretender. The curator is clearly an outsider who doesn’t understand where he is exhibiting.

    Sorry, Mike. Wrong call here.

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