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Winemakers' Gloom, Winebuyers' Boon?

The Wall Street Journal just ran this interesting news video on the state of the grape economy in California this harvest. It bears some good news and some less good.

The first good news is that a surprise cameo towards the end has SF's resident young pinot noir star and 7x7 Hot 20 Under 40 member Jamie Kutch talking about his good fortune in getting access to some high quality grapes he never could before.

The bad news is that his good fortune results from the shabby state of the economy and that other producers (who had previously purchased the grapes) have fallen on hard times.

The bad news is that this economy's tough times have made it hard for grape growers to sell their grapes.

The good news is that this will mean cheaper, higher-quality wine for us!

You see, grapes are perishable. It's not like they can just be harvested and saved for a later date. Even after being made into wine, the wine can only be stored as long as there's room in the warehouses. And many wineries still have unsold wine from last years' harvest. This grape glut means that wine is getting dumped on an already anemic market. I've already heard lots of stories about grapes from some pre-eminent producers who sell their Napa cabs at stratospherically high prices having to sell a good portion of their grapes to bulk re-sellers at  deep, almost pedestrian rates. I've even heard tell of producers selling off already-bottled (but unlabeled) wine from previous years at ridiculous prices to be sold by other wineries as their own wine.

How do you find this wine? Well, it's hard to know. Keep your eyes open for new labels that you've never seen before hitting the shelves. High-end wineries sometimes create new brands to sell off juice at cheaper prices so they don't have to lower the prices of their flagship brands. Also, keep your eyes on well-connected negociants like Cameron Hughes. His business--reselling high quality juice under his own label--thrives in times like these. I have no doubt he's going to have a string of great wines coming our way over the next year.

It's a shame that life is tough on the growers these days. But, hey, it's been tough on us too. And a good, cheap glass of wine can take some of the edge off.