For the second year in a row, I'll be spending the 4th of July at one of Napa Valley's more local events: The BBQ and fireworks at Louis M. Martini Winery.
It's not exactly a well-kept secret anymore, as the event sold out even at $110 a ticket. (Click here for the waiting list.) But it isn't that well-known outside of Wine Country, and I would say it's an event worth traveling for next year. There's good hearty food, plenty of wine, and you're right underneath a great fireworks show. People dance, people chat, folks pour for their neighbors. It's a great way to spend a holiday.
If you want to mingle with folks in the wine industry, it's a great opportunity. Last year I ended up spending a pleasant hour in the company of a member of the Gallo family, only because neither of us knew who the other was. (The Gallos are notoriously press-shy.)
Speaking of which, as it's America's celebration weekend, before I get on with the business of deciding whether I prefer Germany or Spain in the World Cup (both make great wine, play a clean game and have regrettable histories), I want to pass along an observation from Nick Goldschmidt, who has been a lead winemaker for several corporations, including Beam Wine Estates, Constellation, Allied Domecq and LVMH.
"Corporate companies will not work in the wine industry," says Goldschmidt, a native New Zealander now making excellent Torrontes and passable Malbec for Argento in Argentina (Nyah nyah, no goals for you). "The return on investment is so hard for large corporations. It's not like you can make a car or a vending machine and you can see the product and know your return. You're talking about a product that's not going to be sold for three to five years. Family-owned companies like Gallo and Kendall-Jackson, they understand that the return isn't going to come tomorrow."
I don't often think about Gallo and K-J as family companies because they're so big. But there is a difference between them and Constellation or LVMH or The Wine Group. You have to hand it to Ernest & Julio Gallo, and Jess Jackson and Barbara Banke, for establishing wine empires from scratch through hard work and aggressive marketing; it is the American way.
Moreover, from all accounts, when Gallo buys a winery like Martini, they keep Mike Martini happy enough that he's still at the winery and representing the brand. Gallo respects wine. Ask Kent Rosenblum or Richard Arrowood how they feel today about the wines named after them.
I always drink American on July 4. When I lived in Japan, I usually drank Ridge Zinfandel -- a very American wine, but actually Japanese-owned. At home, recently I've celebrated the independent spirit with wines from good smaller-production wineries like Iron Horse, Donkey & Goat and Sobon Estate.
But this year, I'm going to raise my glass to (and possibly with) Mike Martini and the Gallo family, Italian-Americans who realized the American dream. I still believe in it.