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Local Restaurants a Letdown For Napa Valley Wines

Napa Valley restaurateurs are attracted by the region's reputation
© Jason Tinacci | Napa Valley restaurateurs are attracted by the region's reputation
W. Blake Gray taps into discontent over the state of restaurant wine lists.

If you want to drink Napa Valley wines, one of the worst places to look is some Napa Valley restaurants.

Oenotri in Napa, for example, has 19 wines by the glass, with only two from Napa Valley, neither of them red. 

Meanwhile, local Japanese restaurant Morimoto lists five whites and and five reds from the region out of a total of 23 still wines by the glass.

The valley's most famous restaurant, The French Laundry, does have 15 pages of "domestic reds" on its extensive bottle list. But it has 30 pages of French reds, and of the 25 wines offered by the glass, only three are from Napa Valley.

Bill Dodd, a member of the Napa County Board of Supervisors, recently went to eat oysters at Hog Island Oyster Bar with the mayor of Napa. He wanted a Napa Valley sauvignon blanc, but the extensive white wine list didn't have one.

"We were offended that so many other wines were available and not something from Napa Valley," Dodd said. "When I was in Bordeaux, I can assure you that in the restaurants there, they had Bordeaux wines. Whether it's Chile, Australia, New Zealand, Spain, Italy, when you're in the wine regions, you drink the local wines."

Rex Stults, government relations director for Napa Valley Vintners, thinks some local restaurants are forgetting where their bread is buttered.

"Our whole economy is based on the success of the Napa Valley wine industry," Stults says. "Just in Napa County alone, 46,000 of us are employed in the wine industry. Restaurants, hospitality and everything else thrives because of the Napa Valley wine industry. Restaurants choose to locate here because of our famous name."

There are exceptions to the failure by restaurants to embrace the region's wines: Press in St. Helena serves exclusively Napa Valley wine. But more common are restaurants like Farmstead, which brags of serving local farm-to-table food, yet only about half of its wines (86 out of 167) are from Napa Valley.

In past years, sommeliers have complained about the high alcohol of Napa Valley wines. But that's not universally true or as relevant now, after cool vintages in 2010 and '11, and with the emergence of lower-alcohol small producers like Massican and Matthiasson. 

"It's not because we don't have the right wines they need for pairing," Dodd says. "It's because they're overly focused on diversity of regions."

While the vintners organization might want a higher local percentage, some local winemakers are perfectly happy to drink something else when they go out.

"I like tasting wines from all over the world," says Napa winemaker Matt Buoncristiani. "It broadens our knowledge."

* NB: This article has been updated to show Morimoto's wines by the glass rather those on its main wine list.

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  • Comments

    Donald wrote:
    19-Sep-2013 at 02:43:00 (GMT)

    Exactly how many Napa Valley wines do you imagine are on wine lists in Bordeaux? In Burgundy? In any of the Italian wine growing regions?

  • Kevin wrote:
    21-Aug-2013 at 01:14:13 (GMT)

    Rex Stultz forgets that restaurants will be more likely to support regions that support them, not bash their choices in the press.

  • Paul Sequeira wrote:
    19-Aug-2013 at 16:53:03 (GMT)

    Cry me a river. Most Napa restaurants prominently feature Napa Valley wines, and buyers are constantly chastised for not buying enough of them (I know -- I used to buy wine for a prominent restaurant in NV). I think that featuring NV wines as only part of a global wine program illustrates that NV wines understand their important but also limited place in the context of world wines. Napa restaurants are on the world stage, and the better buyers (IMO) represent the world, not just their backyard, on their wine lists. Besides, NV vintners are notorious for bringing only their own wine to drink no matter where or how often they dine out, a habit that surely discourages wine buyers from featuring those same wines on their lists. Furthermore, perhaps if Napa made more wines that were food friendly they'd enjoy more representation on restaurant lists? Either way, I for one hope that wine lists in Napa Valley remain eclectic.

  • Dom wrote:
    17-Aug-2013 at 06:36:43 (GMT)

    Rather than have Napa Valley restaurants carry more local wines, why not make the region a BYOB for local wines. I've dined at the Dry Creek Kitchen in Healdsburg, and they waive the corkage for Sonoma wines.

  • Napa Valley Vintners wrote:
    16-Aug-2013 at 22:03:52 (GMT)

    Thank you for this article and wanted to point out that the Napa Valley Vintners recognizes local restaurants who DO prominently feature Napa Valley wines - you can view the list here: Morimoto is on this list and has long been a supporter of Napa Valley wines. Not sure what list you are referencing above, but the last time we checked, more than 50% of the wines on the Morimoto list were from the Napa Valley appellation.

  • Rich Reader wrote:
    16-Aug-2013 at 20:37:11 (GMT)

    If I were in Mr. Dodd's shoes, I might say to the beverage director at the Hog Island Oyster Bar something to the effect that: "the Napa County Board of Supervisors would like to do more to promote business for your eating establishment, which we would be happy to discuss with you when you begin to carry appropriate pairings for oysters using Napa wines". If you look at the example set by Sonoma County, there is a very active "Sonoma" co-marketing program among the restaurants, hotels, growers, and wineries which focuses upon this larger brand, and helps to assure basic representation of Sonoma wines at all Sonoma lodging and eating establishments. This might be a good challenge to offer to a PR agency, much the way that it was done in Sonoma county.

  • Weston wrote:
    16-Aug-2013 at 19:17:33 (GMT)

    Lazy Sommeliers? Too Cool for Napa? Hey Im all for the napa no love, in the sense I dont make them my #1 purchase, I do love french wines, but come on if your a local wine restaurant you serve local wines and you will do your Due diligence to find the wines that are balanced and good. for me if im at french laundry am i going to order a bottle of napa? most likly not as I am not rich, if im at french laundry im there for food so that means a nice medium body ish type of wine like a burgundy/oregon pinot for example

  • Susan wrote:
    16-Aug-2013 at 18:28:09 (GMT)

    Thank-you for writing this article. In the 23 years I have been in the wine business in Napa Valley it has been the same way. As a small Napa Valley winery, it has been almost impossible to get my wines into any local restaurants in any meaningful way. There are two reasons given for the lack of Napa Valley wines on wine lists: 1. We need to have a broader list because Napa Valley is an international destination (Wine Spectator Wine Awards) 2. Napa Valley wines are too expensive. While this is true for the cult wines, there are many well priced wines made in Napa Valley and if given a chance to be featured on a wine list, many of the lesser known Napa Wineries would be happy to offer our wines at competitive price points if given a chance. After years of working to get our wines on Napa Valley wine lists, we no longer feel it is worth the effort. FYI my husband did a tasting at Morimoto and knew from the get go, there was no chance to get our wine on the list. There were a dozen wine sales reps waiting for their opportunity to offer their wines. It is hard to compete with the numerous brands from out of the county (and country) that are offered so cheaply to our local restaurants.

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