As the entire wine business struggles, good buys emerge — including those from Cline Cellars Ancient Vines and Jacuzzi lines.
I STAY IN close touch with people from all sides of the wine business, and they are all having to make difficult adjustments. Whether they are growing grapes, buying grapes, selling barrels or selling wine, they’re facing tighter budgets, fewer customers, delayed purchases, tougher competition.
This is good news for consumers. Name almost any wine you like and it will be cheaper today than it was a year ago. Often a lot cheaper. Some Washington boutiques are cutting prices in half on their best wines. You can argue that they were overpriced to begin with, but the best Washington wines were — and certainly still are — relatively undervalued compared with cult wines from California, France, Italy and Spain.
I sat down recently with Michael Ginder, the Northwest regional sales manager for Cline Cellars, a large, family-owned, Sonoma-based winery. Ginder is an affable industry veteran who has been selling wine long enough to have seen prices rise and fall, as they do so often in this cyclic, trendy and unpredictable business.
“I have some ridiculously affordable, handmade, Green String Certified, Solar Powered, over-the-top wines and now at very low prices,” he wrote me. “We are undercutting our California pricing!”
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That caught my eye. More often, California pricing seriously undercuts what we pay up here, given the taxes placed on alcohol in Washington state. So Ginder and I sat and chatted and tasted through a broad spectrum of wines from both Cline and its sister winery, Jacuzzi.
The wines were generally pleasing and the prices much reduced. The stories that went with them were entertaining enough to fill a book. I recognized the Jacuzzi name, thinking immediately of jetted tubs. But I did not know that Fred Cline’s grandfather, Valeriano Jacuzzi, had emigrated to the United States a century ago, one of six brothers who settled in California just before World War I.
Together, the Jacuzzi brothers invented the first toothpick propeller — a wood laminate that established the family fortune. They went on to build planes after the war, until a test plane crashed and killed the youngest brother. Otherwise, we might all be flying on Jacuzzi 737s.
The brothers turned their propeller technology toward agriculture, creating jet pumps and wine-filtration systems that ultimately led to the Jacuzzi whirlpool products (now under corporate ownership). Cha-ching!
Fred Cline, Valeriano’s grandson, entered the wine business in the early 1980s. For a long while, Cline Cellars was best known as a producer of old-vine reds, many sourced from the family’s Oakley ranch.
Although the Cline lineup has grown, and the vineyard holdings now include hundreds of acres in Carneros and the Sonoma Coast, the wines labeled Ancient Vines are still the ones that stand out. These are made from vines that range from 80 to more than 100 years old. Retail prices have been dropped from $18 to $13; some retailers are even lower. Among the 2007 vintage Ancient Vines offerings are an earthy zinfandel, a terrific carignan (California meets Priorat?), and a high-powered, 16 percent alcohol bomb of a mourvèdre.
These are not the less expensive California bottlings — they all say Ancient Vines. Cline also makes a Rhone blend called Cashmere ($14) that includes grenache, syrah and mourvèdre.
The Jacuzzi wines sport unusual bottles, historic photos and names honoring founding family members. But, says Ginder, the odd packaging has slowed sales, and prices have been cut in half. Best are the Jacuzzi 2006 Bianco di Sei Sorelle Chardonnay ($10); the Jacuzzi 2006 Giuseppina Chardonnay ($14); the Jacuzzi 2007 Sonoma County Pinot Noir ($18) and the Jacuzzi 2005 Valeriano Red ($20).
Paul Gregutt is the author of “Washington Wines & Wineries — the Essential Guide.” Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.