Napa VS Sonoma

 

Greg Martellotto

Hey everybody, this is Greg Martellotto with Big Hammer Wines. Happy to be here today. Hope you guys are enjoying some wine, as I am, here in St. Helena.

 

Greg Martellotto

I'm in the Napa Valley, Northern California. I want to talk to you a little bit about some distinctions between Napa and Sonoma and some of the insights I've picked up. Share with you some of the insider tips.

 

Greg Martellotto

Many people often ask about where to go in Napa versus Sonoma. I just want to give me some general ideas about insights on benefits of one region versus the other. Napa Valley is only 30 miles north to south, five miles east to west. It's pretty small, but compacted and loaded with so much great wine. There's vineyards, everywhere on the hills surrounding us in the valley. It's also wine that I think, as a result of the cost of grapes and the cost of doing business, has become quite expensive. It's quite hard now to find high quality wine under $75. You can find a handful of Napa cabs in the under $50 price point, and when you do, you should probably snap them up, especially if we scored a deal for you.

 

Greg Martellotto

What I'm finding is, and what I'm hearing and learning, is the average price of grapes now is well over $7,500 a ton. Some of the quality vineyards are $10,000 to $15,000 a ton and some of the Marquee brand names, To-Kalon, the Beckstoffer Vineyards, $20,000 or more for a ton. And when you think you only get about 65 cases per ton of grapes, you can imagine it's pretty hard to bring a wine to market for less than $50 to $75 a bottle.

 

Greg Martellotto

So, one of the things about Napa Valley is driving up and down Highway 29, at Silverado Trail, which are the two main streets that run north, south. You're going to see all these big names, big chateaus. We don't call them chateaus here, we call them wineries. But wineries with big money behind them. You see these amazing art collections, you see these amazing architecture houses, manors, mansions, castles. It's really stunning and I highly recommend you come visit.

 

Greg Martellotto

However, just know that many of the wineries are now charging $40, $50 or $150 or more dollars for tasting four or five wines. Many of the the estates are now doing experiences. They're offering private tastings, small groups, maybe four, six, eight people. They even have private chefs. They do tasting menus to pair their wines. Very great experiences. Some of these experiences are now running $75 to $150 or more. I liked that experience. It's very intimate. It's a great way to get to know a winery and the products. Just know that it comes with a fee. Many of the Napa cabs now are going for $150 plus.

 

Greg Martellotto

I think there's some sticker shock going on there, which makes me as a winemaker of Cabernet and Bordeaux blends in Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara feel very good about the quality of the wines I'm making, and the value that were delivering. I know a lot of people are starting to look afield a little bit, elsewhere outside of Napa, for value. And one of those places is right on the other side of the Mayacaymus Range in Sonoma.

 

Greg Martellotto

Sonoma has always been much more of an owner operator area. Sort of a distinction that they find in Burgundy and Bordeaux. Burgundy has much more farmers, owners farming small plots of land, making small amounts of wine. They're hands on. Napa much more, let's say, big business corporate, a bit of the nouveau niche combined with the old, rich estates. Sonoma, I feel has great diversity and nuance in the breadth of grapes and wines they offer.

 

Greg Martellotto

You think about the far west Sonoma and Occidental area of Sonoma County, which is quite a large county. I'm also reminded how similar Sonoma is to Santa Barbara County, where Martellotto Winery is located, because on the far west you have this cool climate covered in the Pacific fog, perfect for pinot noir chardonnay, very similar to the Sta. Rita Hills.

 

Greg Martellotto

On the far east side of Sonoma county, you go up the mountains, you get quite warm days, quite hot, as it is right now, sweating under the sun, and you'll find Bordeaux blends, cabernet. And such good wines are coming out of Moon Mountain now and these areas in Sonoma, many of them are besting some of the wines in Napa. I would argue Mountain fruit offers better value. Some of the wines that I'm finding in Sonoma, retailing from $40 to $120, those same wines with a Napa appellation are going for $80 to $300. So, if you're a value buyer, which almost everyone is, continue to look to Sonoma, including for Bordeaux blends.

 

Greg Martellotto

The other thing about Sonoma is up north, in Dry Creek AVA, you're going find some Rhone varietals. Of course, you got great old vine Zins. I’m starting to see some real elegance in some of the zins. We had a chance to visit Repris winery. That's a winemaker who described his zinfandel with a pinot noir touch. He really did it. He picked it a little earlier. It was only about 14% alcohol, maybe a little less, and really pretty, elegant, not heavily oaked, not sweet at all, bone dry, and man, it was so refreshing.

 

Greg Martellotto

You know, some of those zinfandels are just bruisers. When you see some of those old vine guys going up to 16%, 16.5%. Essentially port wine classification starts at 17%. Now, I feel like that takes away the beauty of an old vine and just masks it, with too much makeup, oak and fruit and sweetness. So, handling a zin this way, that the winemaker at at Repris is doing, I think, is a great testament to restraint.

 

Greg Martellotto

Other things that you'll find when you come to Napa Valley versus Sonoma. Napa, of course, has more hotels, more of the bed and breakfast. The Meadowood resort, the great fine restaurants in Yountville, the cute little towns in Calistoga and St. Helena, and even Napa now, is a lively little downtown.

 

Greg Martellotto

So, it's nice. I think it's easy and accessible, but for more of the intimacy and the diversity, I think Sonoma is also quite interesting. One of the conversations I had with a tasting room manager revolved around ... She felt that Napa was the top of the funnel. It's the Cabernet that brings people to the region and north coast, because that's what's widely marketed. That's what's widely recognized and known as great for people who are familiar with the brands that are well distributed. But, at some point, I think we all start recognizing we don't eat steak every day and we might not want to be drinking big, bruiser, expensive cabs every day. And we start finding some distinction and nuance on the other side of the hill in Sonoma. Some of these other varietals include pinot noir. The pinot noir is such an amazing grape. So many of these small wine makers, who made a name for themselves at other wineries, got high scores, got recognized, started their own little brand, I would say 2,500 cases or less.

 

Greg Martellotto

And they only sell those wines at their tasting rooms on the Sonoma plaza or in the area. And these are great wineries to visit. And I'm finding that several of them are doing pinot noir with vineyard specific wines. And you can see that they're handling the fruit in a very similar way, with similar barrel regimen, oak and bottling. And yet, you see this distinction, and nuances in each of those pinot noirs.

 

Greg Martellotto

The conversation we had was around how people, kind of, graduate from, maybe the cabernet profile to something that's a little more diverse and distinct. And I hope you can have that experience. I hope you can make it up here to taste some of these wines and visit some of these small producers that aren't widely distributed because it would really be insightful and educational for you to learn about wine, and in your own journey, the wonderful world of flavors that keeps us all passionate and keeps us coming back here for more.


Greg Martellotto

So I'm off to do more tasting today to bring you guys more great wines in the fourth quarter. And cheers. Keep on drinking some wine.

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