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Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Cult Wines

Why are there Cult Wines?

You don't hear much about cult products other than wine. Okay, that's not exactly true as you maybe don't use the word "cult" in describing them. There are cult beers--ask any beer geek about Pliny the Younger. There are actually cult cars. These are ones that are so expensive that you don't usually see them, such as a Mercedes SLS or Bugatti Veyron.

Wines have a certain mystery, it's very complex to learn about the wines of the world, and there's a snob appeal to being an expert on wine. And trendiness--wines are very trendy--whether it's a winery or a certain type of wine.

So a cult wine can be defined as hard to get and very expensive. It's a trophy. It's purchased for bragging rights. So I guess it could be compared to a trophy wife. :)

Pre-cult Wine

Several years ago in a St. Helena (Napa Valley) wine shop I overheard a couple asking the shopkeeper about getting some pre-cult wines. I have to assume this means getting on the list for the latest expensive Napa Cabernet before everyone else finds out about it.

I find this need for pre-cults really funny. So I just have to make 100 cases of a Cab and charge $400 and I can be a pre-cult because no one's heard of me yet?  I think to get the formal status of a cult wine a score of 98 or better is required, but if I can sell it to the pre-cult crowd first who cares!

So does the wine actually have to be good? No, I think it just has to be in demand.

When I Googled "cult wine" I found an article from the San Francisco Chronicle written in 2008 titled "The new cult wines: ten wineries to watch." Well, I've heard of one of them, but then I admit to not being very trendy. Article

California's First Cult Winery

There's a fairly high-priced Cab producer that still makes their wines that way they did 30 years ago. The grapes are maybe picked less ripe than many and the wines are aged for quite a while in American oak barrels. This isn't very trendy at all. These wines are despised by a lot of wine geeks. I'm talking about Silver Oak. They are what I'd call our first cult winery. They had a very loyal following and actually still do.

Several years ago when I was working at a winery in Napa Valley the Silver Oak new release weekend was a big deal. It was a big party at the winery for the guests. For the rest of us it meant a lot of high-rollers were coming to town. and we hoped for a bit of overflow.

Cult Examples

I suppose Screaming Eagle is the one that comes to mind first. Don't even try to get on their mailing list. When you look up resellers that somehow got their Cabernet you see it going for well over a thousand dollars--a bottle. Cripes my first (and second) car cost less than that!

Harlan Estate is another high-end Cab producer out of Napa that is a cult winery, but their prices aren't as astronomical as Screaming Eagle's. At somewhat more normal prices folks like Dehlinger and Kosta Browne might be considered cult as they've gotten good scores for some of their wines and the waiting list to just have the opportunity to buy the wines is long. Or maybe they are boutique wineries.

Some of the Frenchies might be considered cult wines also. Chateau Petrus is certainly famous and the wines are very highly rated, but I don't know if there's a waiting list to put down a couple thousand dollars or more for a bottle. Okay, I suppose there probably is a feeding frenzy when the next release becomes available. I mean, if it costs that much it must be really good!

The Future

Will there be cult wines in 30 years? Well, will there still be people wanting to show off? Will there still be rich guys who want to make $500 bottles of wine as a hobby? Will they all be going to China?