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Silicon Valley executives, awash in millions of dollars of equity in 1990’s, took a shine to small-production Napa Valley wines. All were produced in small quantities (200 – 1500 cases) by wineries specializing in superbly crafted wines, designed to be bold, dark in colour, soft in the mouth, with a concentration of fruit and ease of access.

Wealthy young and adolescent individuals took to these wines with a vengeance as much for their rarity as for their drinkability. Some invested in them hoping to resell, and many did, enriching themselves in the process.

California cult wines are all Cabernet based, and admittedly very good. More importantly they appeal to the American palate with their overabundance of alcohol, extract and immediate sensory appeal. Some sell for  $ 600 up to $ 2,000.- a bottle on auctions. Collectors bid their prices to dizzying heights, and then purchase them along with bragging rights.

Cult wines are mostly sold by mail order and only to those on the mailing list of the winery. Some wineries have waiting lists for hopefuls to get into the mailing list. The process may take a few years or a decade.

A few restaurants particularly in the Napa Valley, San Francisco and Los Angeles and Las Vegas buy a few bottles either directly through their contacts, from lucky individuals who were able to get a case, or in auctions, just to cater to their well-heeled customers who demand such rare wines.
However, the high-technology melt-down coupled with the September 11 tragedy have slowed down demand, as fewer people seem to be inclined to spend enormous amounts fore egotistical purposes.

Interestingly enough, high rollers of Las Vegas casinos with thousands dollars of winnings tend to ask for classified cru Bordeaux when celebrating their good fortune.

In addition to Napa cult wines there are some from the Sonoma county.
Napa’s cult wineries are: Araujo, Bryant family, Colgin, Dalla Valle, Grace Family, Harlan, Screaming Eagle.

In Sonoma county Dunn and Shafer are two of the many. In Oregon William Selyem’s Pinot Noirs and Mackenzie’s Cabernet Sauvignon.
Most of the wineries have been marketing for a decade now; some have been grape growers supplying quality-wineries for a long time.

Joseph Phelps, a rich contractor turned winemaker, produces a superb Cabernet Sauvignon blend with fruit from Eisele vineyard, which originates in the Eisele single site owned and operated by Araujo.

Presently wineries sell their wines for US $ 175.- but Opus One (Mondavi-Rothschild super Napa) sells for US $ 150.- and Stag’s Leap Wine Cellar’s super Cabernet blends go for US $ 125.- at the winery.

No one knows how these wines will age and some restaurateurs are reluctant to ante up $ 2,600.-  to 3,600.- for a case in auctions, oblivious of how they will evolve and who would be willing to pay $ 500.- to $ 1,000.- for a bottle.

How much a sluggish economy will affect the sales is anybody’s guess, but my guess is not much, simply because quantities involved are minute and the US economy is capable to keep the super rich as they are.
Americans like to indulge in expensive, and rare libations. Bragging comes along with it. Imagine wanting to impress your business associates, or golf buddies, or a foreign friend – what better way to impress them than with a superbly crafted rare wine at an ethereal price!

Article contributed by Hrayr Berberoglu, a Professor Emeritus of Hospitality and Tourism Management specializing in Food and Beverage. Books by H. Berberoglu

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