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Can You Say Canandaigua?

TIMES WINE WRITER

The wine industry’s top story in 1994 was the emergence of Canandaigua Wine Co. as the fastest-rising power in the wine marketing business and a sizable competitor to venerable E & J Gallo.

With CEO Marvin Sands and his son Richard negotiating a series of acquisitions, the New York-based, publicly traded firm took over the Inglenook and Almaden brands of Heublein Wines and vaulted squarely into the No. 2 spot among the nation’s wine producers. The firm now makes about 30 million cases of branded wine annually and has estimated revenues in the $900 million range for 1995.

E & J Gallo Wine Co., the world’s largest winery, marketed about 50 million cases of wine products in 1994.

In addition to Almaden and Inglenook, Canandaigua also markets wines under the names Cook’s, Dunnewood, Paul Masson, Manischewitz, Mateus, Codorniu and about a dozen more.

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Wine lovers in 1994 saw a flattening of prices for all wine, especially popularly priced varietals, due in part to the influx of wine from other countries. What drove prices down was mainly the flood of wines from the south of France, notably from the huge Languedoc region, and from the Rhone valley.

Moreover, consumers began to see wines from South Africa (now that apartheid-based trade restrictions are off) as well as Eastern Europe (some from former Soviet bloc countries). Add to that the dramatic rise in imports from Chile and Australia--combined shipments for those two countries are nearly triple what they shipped here in 1989.

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The world of wine lost one of the greatest winemakers of all time in 1994 with the death of 92-year-old Andre Tchelistcheff, a major force for fine wine and a symbol of wine’s benefits for a happy and long life. Other wine industry passings included Paul Masson’s brilliant blender Otto Meyer, 90; wine pioneers Hanns Kornell, 83, and Charles “Carlo” Rossi, 90; winery owner Stanley Anderson, 67; Max Schubert, 79, longtime chief winemaker at Australia’s largest winery, Penfolds; and Terrence Clancy, 60, chairman of Allied Lyons’ four California wineries.

In other developments, 1994 was the year that:

* Bag-in-box wine came into its own, selling faster than all expectations: nearly 40% over 1993. In 1994 more than 16% of all supermarket wine sales were boxed.

* Steve Boone, founder of the Liquor Barn chain, opened the first six of a planned 100 Beverages, and More! super-stores in the San Francisco area. A number of Los Angeles-area stores are scheduled for 1996.

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* John Parducci was thrown out of the winery bearing his name by Teachers Management Investment Corp. of Newport Beach. The investment partnership that owns the winery claimed Parducci created a hostile atmosphere.

* Viognier came of age as a grape variety with a conference of its own. Some three dozen producers showed off their wares.

* Gallo and Jos. Seagram sold more coolers based on malt-based alcohol than wine-based alcohol. Both firms switched to take advantage of a lower tax on malt products than wine products.

Following are a few items that never made the news wires, for obvious reasons, and which never fit anywhere else either:

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The Yves-Ho: You can buy Yves Saint-Laurent’s new perfume, Champagne, in the United States, but if you want that same scent in France, you’ll have to ask for “Yves Saint-Laurent,” the name it goes by there. The firm making the perfume lost a lawsuit, filed by the French trade association that represents the Champagne region, that demanded that the company be barred from using the name Champagne in France.

Confusing the Experts: Royal Wine Corp. of Brooklyn, N.Y., imported a white wine from France called Chateau Chateauneuf. Sounds like the wine comes from Chateauneuf-du-Pape in the Rhone Valley? Apparently not to someone at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, because he or she approved the label even though the wine is from Bordeaux and the BATF has a rule prohibiting terms on labels that could cause confusion.

Get a Map: A New York-based public relations company, announcing a London hotel’s dinner with the wines of Jordan Vineyard and Winery, sent a letter to members of the media that said: “I’m sure you recognize Jordan as one of the best out of Napa.” Jordan is in Sonoma County.

A Perfect Tribute: Courtney Benham of the Cordero Wine Group bought the entire wine cellar of the late Martin Ray, the eccentric Santa Cruz mountain winemaker, from Ray’s son, Peter Martin Ray. Included in the deal was the right to use the name Martin Ray on wines, so Benham decided to “make the best possible wine in the style that Martin would appreciate.” The first wines in the program, a Cabernet Sauvignon and a Chardonnay, were--true to Martin Ray’s style--bizarre and overpriced ($25 each).

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Advertisement of the Year: In the beer publication Celebrator News for Winter 1994 was the following ad for Cider Jack hard cider: “Research shows that each drink you have kills hundreds of brain cells. Make sure they don’t die in vain.”

Creative Sales Tactic: Sterling Vineyards winemaker Bill Dyer was shocked when his 1992 Chardonnay from the Winery Lake Vineyard in Carneros ($18) earned only a 67 in the Wine Spectator Magazine’s 100-point ratings--a score considered to be the kiss of death. So what happened? The wine sold out two months earlier than sales projections said it would.

Maybe One Shoe, Kelly: Frog’s Leap Winery had just taken in a gondola of Zinfandel grapes when Kelly, the 6-year-old daughter of owners John and Julie Williams, walked through and asked, “What are you gonna do with all those grapes, Daddy?”

Said John: “Well, we’re going to dump them in that big machine over there and make juice with them, and then we’re going to ferment it into wine, and then we’ll age it in oak barrels and then we’ll bottle it and then Mommy’s going to sell it, and then we’re going to buy you shoes.”

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Replied Kelly, “Daddy, that’s a lot of shoes.”

Protecting the Public From Evil: A law that went into effect in November in Ohio prohibits persons under the age of 18 from buying or consuming nonalcoholic beer.

No Comment: Stu Smith, owner of Smith-Madrone Winery in the Napa Valley, was trapped soon after his small, Spring Mountain property had an initial public offering of stock. The Securities and Exchange Commission requires a quiet period during which business principals are prohibited from making statements about the winery. “But I’ve gotta sell the wines,” said Smith. “So instead of talking about ‘em, all I could do was hand people a glass.”

Ten little-recognized California winemakers who leaped to prominence in 1994, with an example of each one’s handiwork:

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* Eileen Crane, Domaine Carneros. This California project of the Champagne house Taittinger has made sublime sparkling wine under Crane. The latest release of Domaine Carneros Brut ($18) is a fine example of a bubbly that tastes better with food than without.

* David Schlottman, Napa Ridge. Schlottman is the force behind this Beringer brand’s stunning success over the last three years. Virtually every wine Schlottman makes is a winner, but none better than the 1993 Pinot Noir ($8).

* Marco Capelli, Swanson Vineyards: All Capelli’s red wines (including a dynamite Syrah and a stunning Merlot) are winners, but try the 1991 Swanson Cabernet ($20) for sheer richness, finesse and ageability.

* David Hastings, J. Fritz Winery. Shyness keeps Hastings out of winemaker dinners, but his dedication and sensitive palate make for delicate, perfectly crafted wines that show best with food. One great example is 1993 Fritz Chardonnay ($10), with lime, mint, spice and apple elements. NB: Not for fans of oak.

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* Ted Seghesio, Seghesio Winery. This family-owned winery was founded in 1902 but didn’t release wine under its own label until a decade ago. In the last year, Ted Seghesio has made a stunning array of quality wines, with his 1992 Zinfandel ($9) one of the bargains on the shelf.

* Dan Gehrs, Zaca Mesa Winery. Gehrs, formerly winemaker for Congress Springs Winery, has revolutionized this Santa Ynez Valley winery. His new Rhone program took a huge leap forward in 1994 with the release of 1992 Cuvee Z ($14), a stylish blend of Grenache, Mourvedre and Syrah.

* Dennis Johns, St. Clement Winery. Quietly, Johns has carved a niche in the Napa Valley with his lean, perfectly structured wines. I love his Chardonnays, but his 1992 Merlot ($18) hit high notes for character and intensity without sacrificing house style.

* John Williams, Frog’s Leap. Humor (a cork branded “ribbit,” a back label that says “open other end”) may make it seem that Williams is not very serious. To disprove that quickly, try his 1991 Cabernet ($16).

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* Erich Russell, Rabbit Ridge Vineyards. Russell, tired of the Chardonnay/Cabernet rat race, switched to southern European grapes. He has a Sangiovese on the market, a Nebbiolo ready to be bottled and a 1990 Barbera that has been in barrels for more than four years. Try his exciting new 1992 Carignane ($10) to see how fruit from pre-1900 vines works when handled by a master.

* Ken Deis, Flora Springs Winery. Deis has made great strides in honing his wines. His reds (notably his Cabernet and Trilogy) are better than ever, and his 1992 barrel-aged Sauvignon Blanc called Soliloquy ($15) is a good example of his delicate handling of white wines.

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Coming of Age Award: to California French-method sparkling wine. French Champagne continues to offer good flavor only at ludicrous prices; California bubbly remains the better wine on a bang-for-the-buck basis. Most of the best sparkling wines from California sell for between $10 and $20, and are far more interesting with food than Chardonnay.

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Where Are They Now? Award: To all the reporters who descended on the Napa Valley in 1993 to report the “disaster” of the phylloxera infestation. No one has been back since to report that all’s now well, and that the replanting required by the root louse infestation had its up side. It forced growers to do what they should have done all along--replant with grapes better suited to their locations.

Most Overrated Wine of the Year: Anybody’s “Reserve” Chardonnay.

Wine of the Week

1991 Napa Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon “Oak Barrel,” Central Coast ($9)-- Stylish Cabernet and oak with generous cherrylike fruit and a trace of tobacco in the finish. Wonderful balance and depth for a wine that will be discounted to the $6.50 range in many areas. This fall, Napa Ridge released a 1992 Cabernet with a North Coast appellation that is almost as good and only needs another year to develop similar complexity.

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Ask Dan Berger

* Talk Cabs and Zins with Times wine writer Dan Berger on the Wining & Dining bulletin board on TimesLink, The Times’ online service. For information on TimesLink, call (800) 792-LINK, ext. 274.


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