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Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Sonoma County Wine in the Old Days

By "old days" I'm saying three decades ago. To some those were the old days. I mean look at those hairdos!

I ran across a magazine article on Google Books from the New York Magazine dated March 28, 1983. This article is titled "A Sip of Sonoma" with a subheading of "Most of Sonoma's wineries are new, but they're producing attractive wines at moderate prices."

Whoa. Seventeen bucks
for the fancy stuff!

First thing catching my eye was the prices. A 1981 Kenwood Sauvignon Blanc at $9.50 that really hasn't gone up that much today. The other Sauv Blancs were all under $10. Of the  Chardonnays the Chateau St. Jean at $15.49 was one of the more expensive. You can still find St. Jean's "grocery store" Chardonnay for the same price with their most expensive single vineyard ones going for about $30. The '78 Simi Cabernet Sauvignon went for $8.99 while the high-end '79 Jordan for $17. The Jordan Cab goes for about $50 today.

So the prices for most wines have increased substantially, but then the average price of a new car in '83 was about $6,000 compared to over $30,000 now. Of course, you get a lot more "stuff" on a new car today compared to 1983. The question will always be, "are wines generally better today than 30 years ago?"

One of the wines mentioned was Pedroncelli French Colombard at $4.35. What the heck is French Colombard, you ask?  At one time there was quite a bit planted in the county. What's left probably all goes into Korbel's Brut.

The other thing I noticed was there aren't very many different wineries mentioned in the article. It was pretty much Alexander Valley Vineyards, Chateau St. Jean, Clos du Bois, Dry Creek Vineyards, Gundlach-Bundschu, Hacienda, Kenwood, Iron Horse, Jordan, Pedroncelli, and Simi. All are still around though Hacienda is the same in name only as it's part of  Bronco Wine Company now. Alexander Vly, Dry Creek, G-B, Iron Horse, Jordan, and Pedroncelli are still in family hands. St. Jean, Clos du Bois, Kenwood, and Simi are now part of large companies that own multiple wineries.

The author of the article, Alexis Bespaloff, wrote the wine column from 1972 to 1996. He recounts being a wine judge at the very first Sonoma County Harvest Fair in 1975. There were fewer than 30 wineries in the county at the time. He said that now (in 1983) there are a hundred. That's quite an explosion over the eight years between '75 and '83. Today there are over 400.

In 1975 the acreage of grapes planted in Sonoma County finally returned to pre-Prohibition levels (about 24,000 acres). There are over 60,000 acres of grapes in the county today.

As far as the Sonoma County Harvest Fair Bespaloff says 16 wineries were awarded medals in 1975. At the 2014 Harvest Fair more than 150 wineries entered over 1,000 wines with 59 Double Gold medals awarded plus many more gold, silver and bronze medals.

We've come a long way, baby!