Observations from a Longtime Visitor (and Wine Club Member)
Another Napa Valley trip has come and gone entirely too quickly. As we think about the inevitable return to the hustle and bustle of chilly Chicago, we are happily recalling all of the wonderful things we experienced this visit. Fortunately, we arrived during one of the unseasonable warm spells and were able to soak up 70+ degree temperatures and sunshine, when we usually brace for February rain. We also enjoyed some best-ever meals and had the pleasure of trying many new-to-us wines and wineries. Mixed in with all of this emotion is a tinge of a new feeling as longtime visitors: disappointment. Not in the wine, not in the serene surroundings, but in the way some wineries seem to be evolving.
My husband and I began taking quarterly trips to Napa Valley in early 2009, which was in the depth of America’s economic crisis. As newish visitors, we were floored by the terrific service and wine we had at each turn – especially since we made our first serious visit in February – a typically slow point in the year, characterized by empty tasting rooms, “bad” weather, and, at that point in our country’s history, a “we will do anything to gain new wine club members” mentality. This escape from the doldrums of our hectic, big city routine is what drew us back season after season. We got to know wine educators who would remember to ask about our jobs and families and highlight wines added to the list since our last vacation. During slower winter months, some hosts would sneak us into a cave or barrel room to give us a taste of something special. And, generally speaking, we were presented with a tasting menu that allowed for a representative sampling of all available wines. (Depending on the winery, maybe two menus.) As a result of this impeccable attention and quality wine, we joined a handful of clubs that have ranged from three to 10 in quantity at any given time. While some have maintained a consistent approach with their club members over the span of our tenure, others have taken an unfortunate nosedive. From what we can deduce over these four years, the economy must be on an upswing. We also know that the 2011 vintage was one of the most challenging, leaving wineries and tasting rooms with a limited supply to sell and taste. Both of these factors, coupled with the freakishly warm, Valentine’s Day weekend crowd, contributed to what seemed like a very different experience this time around. Read more →