This will be the first of a series of blogs on the subject of the changes in the Napa Valley over the last 40 years. The partners of Trivium have the distinction of tenures that go back well into the 70’s. Here’s the first of our reflections on our dramatic transformation.
In recounting our 40 year metamorphosis, one should start with the landscape of Napa Valley, both figuratively and literally. Those who visited the Napa Valley in the seventies know there was only one serious hotel in the Valley. The only other lodging was a modest motel in St. Helena, and the dated spas in Calistoga. Napa Valley had clearly not yet been discovered.
And neither had its wine business. In 1975, there were only 25 wineries in Napa Valley, whose production was dominated by 6 producers… Robert Mondavi, Louis Martini, Charles Krug, Beringer, Beaulieu and Inglenook. Today, there are 450 distinct winemaking facilities (complete with tasting rooms) well over 1000 brands, and well over 6000 distinct bottlings!
And back in the 70’s, the glitz and glamour of Napa’s wineries had not yet surfaced. Robert Mondavi’s Oakville facility and its hospitality focus was a breakthrough in this regards. The Mondavi facility (and Sterling Vineyards five years later) were in stark contrast to the production-focused and functional facilities of the time. Tasting rooms, in many cases, were located in dank cellars or refurbished barns. I remember well my first tasting at Louis Martini winery in the 70’s… where we sampled his highly touted Cabernet Reserve out of plastic cups! And Sutter Home’s tasting room at the time was a rustic barn along Highway 29. Perhaps most startling… tastings back then were free!
The landscape of the 70’s was a reminder that Napa Valley, just 40 years ago, was still in its infancy. We had just begun. It’s amazing how far we’ve come.
The wine business has changed significantly since the days my partners and I launched our careers. For one thing, back in the early 70’s, Napa Valley had less than three or four dozen wineries. Today there are over 650 licensed entities.
Back in the early 70’s, the notion of a ‘showplace’ winery was virtually unheard of. The reality was that wineries, 40 years ago, were production facilities first and foremost. Robert Mondavi Winery was the first to break out of that mold, although in a modest way by today’s standards.
Then along came Jordan Vineyards. The winery opened its doors in the mid seventies. It’s striking ‘Chateau’ design, and lavish appointments set the tone for a new generation of facilities. Consequently, as the number of wineries grew, and investors poured in from around the world, so the bar was raised.
Today, Napa Valley sports an impressive array of superbly designed and handsome wine making facilities. These have certainly enhanced the image of Napa, which has been good for all of us. Not surprisingly, this movement toward more grandiose wineries has mirrored the stylistic evolution of many of our wines. It is no coincidence that the trend toward opulence and extravagant enhancements in our wine, mirror the facilities in which they are being made.
If you’ve read our cabernet manifesto, you know we are ‘old school’. We think there is something to be said for a less extravagant style of wine. I guess we have a similar feeling about the changing landscape of the Napa Valley. The ‘ante’ has definitely been raised, with spectacular results. But the Napa Valley of the early 70’s was something special. Wines were as natural and uncluttered as the buildings in which they were made. The playing field was level, and the end product was all that mattered.
Whatever the allure the ‘glitter’ brings, it’s safe to say we have lost something of our golden age. All that glitters apparently… is not gold.