The crunched down global economy has set a world stage to celebrate the work of wine personalities and producers that have focused on quality and authenticity at sensible prices even during the headiest economic times. Collectors targeting high profile horizons in Bordeaux, Burgundy, and California have overlooked these wines, leaving them to oenophiles seeking bottles that capture the earth, sun, and cellar intricacies of farmers off dusty paths in unsung regions of France, Spain, and elsewhere in Europe.
A handful of passionate and harworking importers actively scour the European countrysides for winemakers that recreate their vineyards’ unique terroir to be produced, bottled, shipped, and distributed for less than $15 bucks. So what are the reasons the United States wine industry (save a few producers, note recent post Castle Rock Rocks), capable of making world class wine in proximity to the domestic market, fails so miserably in comparison.
Robert Kacher is a good person to follow for answers. As an importer of wines from all over France at every price point, he specializes in wines from the Costieres-de-Nimes which covers an area between Nimes and the Petit Rhone River that is influenced by the Camargue’s pebbled earth. Kacher is a passionate wine lover that has spent a better part of his career working with selected French growers, pushing them to ferret out the true greatness of their vineyards by helping to tweak their approaches with the US wine market as their prize. He was justifiably named one of the twenty most influential wine personalities over the last twenty years by Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate.
In a new Dr. Vino post., Tyler Colman shared a question he posed to Kacher:
Colman: “Why are there so few good American wines under $10 while there are many more imports at that price point?”
Kacher: A related question is why do so many American wineries make such expensive wines? So many American wineries have developed new, highly-allocated wines from very young vineyards that sell for $150 or more a bottle. They are trying to sell you the spin of romance and lifestyle. I visited a winery in California once and calculated just how much it cost to make the wine using expensive techniques–new barrels, farming technique, plant material, labor–and figured it was about $10 worth of wine they were selling for $300. Sure, the land was expensive and they spent millions on the winery that is a shrine to themselves so all that comes to play in their corporate profitability objectives.”
And these are the wines that the new collectors of the nineties discovered on their limo excursions through Napa as they stopped, tasted, learned of the highly limited and allocated wines in short supply while drinking in the aura of the new $10M winery facility. Of course, they just had to have some, at any price. And, out went the $20 cabernets that were capable of knocking down Bordeaux first growths in head on competition.
Kacher explains a sentiment and lifestyle he gravitates towards:
“But I actually like to drink wine, not worship it. Do you think a farmer in the Cote Rotie wants to put a bottle of his $50 wine on the table every day? No, he is buying a $5 wine for drinking every day…I went out to a restaurant with one of my producers who was visiting recently. The restaurant had his wine on the list and he was going to treat me. But he saw it was $150 a bottle and he realized that he couldn’t afford to buy his own wine! And maybe, just maybe, there were other people who couldn’t afford to buy it either.”
So for now, Kacher and importers like him are getting more attention. Their wines might never find a market with Wall Street bankers or the Napa limo crowd since their collections are not usually driven by wines with unpronounceable labels and growing regions for drinking tonight. Undeterred, Bobby Kacher continues to follow his passion and mission:
“I try to bring in a lot of wines under $20 with a lot around $15. (Because of the dollar’s weakness, that’s really where the $10 wines from a few years ago are now). To find those wines as an importer, you’re going to have to go to some crazy places on the back roads. And sell the principle that “why shouldn’t you have a wine that represents value to the consumer–maybe something that sells for $13?”
Tonight, I am going to drink some $13 2006 Mas Carlot Les Enfants Terriblesand be thankful for the cadres of importers that make it possible to visit the far reaches of France’s wine-making geography for less than the cost of two hot dogs at Fenway Park.