POSTED ON December 27, 2009 | IN Wine News | BY Joe Becerra

The “Less is More” Era Arrives in 2009
This is not so much an event as it is a pervasive feeling that I think is the biggest factor of the year affecting the wineries and related businesses in California and Napa Valley wine country. I hear about it from my friends, my adult children, financial wizards, etc. Our spending habits were out of control and the recession rocked us back to sensible saving and spending behaviors. The recovery may be underway, but this feeling is likely to stay a long while. It is why people are buying wines under $20 or ordering a glass of wine for dinner rather than a full bottle. It is why folks decide to stay at a budget motel instead of an expensive B&B or why they decide on a day trip to the Napa Valley rather than a weekend visit. It means dropping out of that wine club that sends out those expensive wines every four months.

Grapes go unsold
grapes-saleJust a month before harvest we saw something that we have never seen before in the Napa Valley, a “Grapes for Sale” sign. It was posted on Highway 29 near St. Helena for all to see. More than anything, that sign symbolized the woes of the Napa Valley.

Great harvest ends in a question mark with the big rains of October 12
Just when things were going smoothly with a great harvest, the Napa Valley and Northern California was drenched by some 4 inches of rain. Most of the harvest had been completed with everyone excited about the prospects for this vintage. Late-harvest varietals, especially Cabernet Sauvignon, remained on the vines when the rains approached. Some decided not to risk the rain and harvested grapes a tad before they were ready, and others chose to ignore the rain. There were said to be winners and losers among both of these groups.

Napa Valley cozies up to wine bloggers
In 2008, the Napa Valley seemed to ignore wine bloggers but not in 2009. At the second annual Wine Bloggers conference, the Napa Vintners’ Association rolled out the old red carpet. They hosted a wonderful day of touring of the Napa Valley that included lunch and dinner at wineries and, of course, tasting lots of good Napa Valley wine. Throughout the year, several wineries hosted small groups of bloggers for tours and tastings. Wine bloggers’ status has arrived.

Wineries adopt social media
“You snooze, you lose.” Should we or shouldn’t we get into the social media scene? Who will blog, tweat, or Facebook for us? Some wineries went to the max and hired a full-time social media director. Others tiptoed, assigning various staff to blog, join Twitter, and start a Facebook page. No one really knows if this will pay off, but if you’re late to the party…

More greening of Napa Valley — Solar Panel Problems
2008 was the start of wineries going green and this continued throughout 2009. Most wineries did this because it was the smart thing to do. Save your land, the environment, and perhaps save on operating expenses by installing solar. Unexpectedly, solar panels provided a boon for thieves, as many panels were stolen at night.

Calistoga finally gets their AVA
After a five-year battle, the TTB approved the Calistoga AVA. The big winners were the wineries in Calistoga that have vineyards in the Calistoga AVA. Biggest losers: Calistoga Cellars and Calistoga Estates who get their grapes from the Central Valley.

A few wineries close shop
Sad to say, these are the wineries that I know that closed shop in 2009: Havens, Diamond Oaks, and Lorca.


  1. Paul Mabray says

    Great summary – here are a few other key additions that may warrant consideration:

    Amazon gets out of the wine biz.

    NVL collapses in a blaze of glory.

    Wine Tasting Network launches (disclosure – that project was one VinTank worked on).

    Even more wholesaler consolidation.

    CA ABC warning about revenue share, marketing agents, et al.

    $40M invested in Kosta Brown from VinCraft

    Twitter starts their own wine with Crushpad.

    The web becomes more important to wineries as traditional channels become more challenging.

    The launch of for free to the entire wine industry to help wine succeed online.

  2. James McCann says


    Perhaps you better let the owners of the two Calistoga wineries that their grapes come from the Central Coast, as their websites indicate otherwise.

    What gives? Did you not look at their wine offerings before writing this?

    • joe says


      I went by what I read in the St. Helena Star and what the supporters of this issue were after. You’re right, I should have checked a little more into the details. One thing, these two wineries have a three year grace period to make sure their label confines to the AVA regs.