Good News, Bad News, Good News

First, the good news.

The holiday season is in full swing and there will be lots of opportunities to celebrate with some excellent values from all over the wine country.

The bad news?

The economic crisis has hit the wine business squarely in the bank account. There’s a surplus of wine available  — from here and abroad — and the 2009 vintage is bubbling along in preparation for joining the already crowded marketplace.

Mike Grgich, founder, Grgich Hills Estate

Mike Grgich

In a recent Napa Valley Register article, Mike Grgich, founder of celebrated Grgich Cellars, bemoaned the backlog of unsold wines in his warehouse. He’s not alone. Many wineries are scrambling to reduce inventories any way they can.

Now, some good news.

Wine prices are melting down across all categories — from vin ordinaire to formerly triple-digit  “collector” cabernet sauvignon from Napa and Sonoma.

There will always be exceptions, but the laws of supply and demand will dictate an almost unstoppable craving for any exceedingly rare, miniscule production wines that have developed cult status among deep-pockets collectors.

You won’t find Screaming Eagle in anybody’s discount bin.

An empty (yes, empty) Screaming Eagle wooden wine box is offered on eBay for $75. A single bottle of this highly-allocated cabernet-based wine from Napa, depending on vintage, commands four-digit and even five-digit prices.

That kind of mad pricing scheme won’t stop, no matter what the general economic climate, is, but any winery without sold-out inventory is definitely looking for ways to attract attention from a skittery consumer and the simplest way to do that is with price.

Clearing Out the Cellar

I’ve noticed several wineries across the region are clearing out their cellars and offering bargains on even older wines.

If you belong to any winery-sponsored wine clubs, check your mailbox for special offers that include even greater discounts.

A good example is a recent mailer from Rosenblum Cellars in Alameda, offering 30 percent discounts to wine club members during the holidays. Rosenblum is owned by Diaego Brands, a multi-billion-dollar wine and spirits corporation.

But much smaller operations, like zinfandel specialist Robert Biale Vinyeards in Napa, are also reaching out with special offers.

A holiday mailing from Biale offered special sets of library wines and pre-release pricing for the 2006 Hill Climber  Monte Ross Vineyard syrah ($36 for wine club members, $55 to non-members).

Budget Wine Country Destination

Heringer Estates, a family-owned winery in Clarksburg, is offering a two-for-one special on wines purchased at its tasting room on Black Friday (Nov. 27). Go early because the sale price is only good from 9 a.m. to Noon!

Heringer’s main business is farming 105 acres of  their own vineyards and managing another 350 acres for customers.  Most of Heringer’s crop goes to other wineries, but the family keeps some of the fruit to make a few thousand cases of its own brand.

Mike Heringer, winemaker, Heringer Estates

Mike Heringer

I met Mike Heringer, a sixth generation member of his California farming family, at a recent wine event. The talented winemaker told me they grafted over about 25 acres of chardonnay vines to eight more unusual strains of grapes to supply the family winery with fruit that will help differentiate their wines from the competition.

We tasted a 2005 Heringer petite sirah and, after a little airing out in the glass, it shed its rustic tannins enough to expose a vibrant core of rich, black and red  fruit. I’d call it a bargain at $21.

I’m also a big fan of the “bargain” wines produced by Bogle, another Clarksburg winery with a strong petite sirah program, including the latest release (2007) in a string of vintages going back 31 years. This wine is all about juicy blackberry fruit with a spicy edge. You can find it at grocery stores for less than $10.

Bogle’s holiday schedule includes daily tastings at the winery’s light and airy tasting room overlooking the Home Ranch Vineyard — about a 90-minute drive from San Francisco.

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