Thursday’s class was about how luxury winemakers use comfortably priced wines to simultaneously attract public attention while promoting name brand.
Although earlier examples might exist, the creative team of Ernest and Julio Gallo mastered promotion in the early ‘30s by carefully observing the drinking trends of every era. Winemaker Julio simply made his wines in the style his business-minded brother Ernest suggested. Thunderbird – “tasty, tasty high octane swill,” according to urbandictionary.com – was a citrus-driven offering created during the Great Depression with a whopping 20% alcohol to increase feelings of drunken euphoria. Ripple, a sweet red wine best served cold, followed soon after, and the two were among the best of the Bum Wine Era. Raising quality in the ‘70s, the brothers successfully marketed jug wines like their “Hearty Burgundy” and “Chablis,” both readily available in grocery store markets. Then, in the ‘90s, they raised the bar again, creating Gallo Sonoma, a new wine whose label reflected varietal rather than style of wine. Their empire assured, the two passed the reins to Gina Gallo before they passed away, and she has since moved into the world of luxury labeling with her Gallo Signature Series.
A second master of promotion was Robert Mondavi. Starting his own winery in 1965, he founded the Robert Mondavi winery with sons Michael and Tim the following year, intent on creating wines to compete with Europe’s best. A decade later, in 1979, he created Mondavi Woodbridge, a side venture with affordable wines that could be stocked on grocery shelves. When Michael was named president of Mondavi Corp. later on, his interest in the affordably priced wine market led to contracts with several companies to further this goal while still making money. Even today, the CK Mondavi line – named for Cesare Mondavi, Robert Mondavi’s father – and Private Selection wines, fill the same shelves, while more prestigious Mondavi wines are available by the tier, vinified from Napa and Oak Knoll District fruit.
These examinations preceded the evening’s focus, Duckhorn Vineyards, operating out of the Napa Valley since 1976. Expanding upon a menu that focused on Merlot originally, the Duckhorn team consists of six imprints now, each satisfying a certain taste or price point. Last week the Decoy line was discussed – delicious, well-made wines that are readily available and offered at friendly price points. Other imprints are Paraduxx, GoldenEye, Migration, and Canvasback.
This week, discussion fell to the original Duckhorn line in addition to Red Blend-focused Paraduxx. On the table? Duckhorn Sauvignon Blanc (79% Sauvignon Blanc, 21% Semillon, aged in French Oak) and Paraduxx Red Blend (73% Cab Sauv, 13% Merlot, 10% Zinfandel, 4% Petit Verdot). The first was unlike many Sauvignon Blancs. Plenty of tropical fruit and white flowers gave the nose character, and the taste was smooth and pleasant, without the varietal’s characteristic acidity. Similarly, the Paraduxx showed well, too. With black cherry offset by a whiff of earth on the nose, its flavor was filled with upfront black fruits and its aftertaste, anise-like and long, a perfect complement to ribeye.