Dicey outlook for 2020 West Coast wines, but don’t count them out yet

October 10, 2020

This week it’s a mixed bag. Joel wrote, “Do you have a list of the most expensive wines?” I didn’t but Don Kavanagh, in an August article titled The World’s Most Expensive Wines, did. I kept it on file. After reading the rest of the paper, if you are interested, go to

I won’t dwell on the West Coast disaster other than to tell readers it looks like 2020 wine is going to be in extremely short supply, and a lot of wineries’ cellared/barreled wine is at risk also. Growers and producers are informing us that, in addition to the fires burning large swaths of the crops, the smoke damage is severe. I’m wondering if some of the innovative risk takers will take a chance on producing wine with a disclaimer, or couple with the Madison Avenue and computer marketer claque to promote “the latest rage.” I’m also curious how many would be game for trying wine that has “smoke taint.” Regulars are well aware that wine has long been produced using toasted barrels, and in some cases, smoky aromas and flavors are extolled. Since most of the smoke would be contained in the skins and stems, color and tannin would no doubt be at issue. That typed, my winemaker acquaintances are pretty darn innovative. The problem would be market risk and the it’ll-neva-werk attitude that often occurs with the Cab, Chard, PN, Riesling or Pinot Grigio-only audiences. Who knows? Maybe smoky wine could turn into a white zin-like phenomenon, which exploded in the ‘70s and ‘80s, or the hard seltzer mania that is rapidly gaining traction today. Perhaps some of you would email me with your thoughts on that. 

Last week’s article prompted Francis to ask me to check out Gran Moraine Yamhill-Carlton Oregon Pinot Noir 2016. I had my cousin mail me a bottle in a newspaper-packed uninsured cardboard box from Poughkeepsie. USPS did a great job cheaply, as usual. Set me back $31. I rate it McD 92, ready now, but a year in cellar would improve it. GM is a Jackson Family Wines project. Look for black cherry nose with cocoa and floral notes. Very smooth on the palate with more black cherry and hints of tanned leather; it rides a nicely balanced tannin/acidity frame though a long mineral finish. Suckling loved this at 95 points. The wine is sold in New Jersey, so it may be possible for your local wine store guide to bring some in. The GM label also has a very nice Chardonnay that I’ve rated 91-92 points the past few years. It is a bit pricey around $40. 

Big props to Willamette Valley Wineries Association. In a very difficult time they managed to raise, by auction, $503K, of which $100K went to James Beard Foundation Food and Beverage Investment Fund for Black and Indigenous Americans, part of the broader JBF Open for Good campaign to rebuild an independent restaurant industry that is more equitable as it reopens post-pandemic. The balance went to support Willamette Valley Wineries Association’s education and marketing initiatives. Virtual bidding happened Aug. 11-13, and the auction offered 74 lots of one-of-a-kind Willamette Valley Pinot Noir from the 2018 vintage, as well as six lots of collaboratively produced Chardonnay made by current and former auction chairs. All wines were produced in quantities of just five, 10 or 20 cases, which were exclusive to the auction. Thanks to Monique Geisen of Jarvis Communications for informing me. 

RRs are well aware I enjoy W. Blake Gray. He writes a nice hand and chooses wonderful topics. Seems like a cheap out for me to refer another article, hot off the press Sept. 28, and full of Cali wine history. Those Chardonnay aficionados who only know The 1976 Judgment of Paris, Chateau Montelena Chardonnay, Jim Barrett and Mike Grgich from the movie “Bottle Shock” will learn quite a bit. Others will be entertained by a really interesting, fact-laden, informative story that also includes a short description from 97-year-old Grgich, whose memory is firmly intact. Please read this when you have time: Those who don’t won’t know Bacigalupi from Geppetto.

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