I recently had the pleasure of speaking with the Chuck Wagner, the owner and winemaker of Caymus Vineyards, which produces some of my favorite wines.
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Wagner was 21 when he started Caymus with his parents in 1972. And today, their iconic "everyday" Caymus Napa cab, is not only one of my favorites, but a best seller everywhere.
The family has been making wine in the Napa Valley for more than 100 years, and Caymus Vineyards celebrates its 40th anniversary this year.
The Wagner Family of Wines has grown to include three of Wagner’s four kids, and they’ve expanded out of the cabernet world. They’re now producing pinot noirs, (the Meiomi pinot noir is my other fave!), Mer Soleil chardonnays and their Conundrum white blend with grapes owned or sources from several different California appellations.
Wagner is adamant about keeping the vineyard in the family but they’ve had to make adjustments over the years. “If we don’t sell our wine, we don’t survive. We’ve had to become more agile in sales and marketing to respond to the various demands of each market and region.”
But let’s not forget, the beautiful wine-producing Napa Valley is in California, the 9th largest economy in the world. But the state is currently dealing with a $24 billion budget deficit and we all know that Governor Jerry Brown is talking about raising taxes. And Wagner is concerned. You can’t pick up and move a vineyard when the business environment gets bad, he says. So what will the economic environment do to the wine industry?
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It can only make it that much harder to compete. So let’s hope Governor Brown likes his wine as much as we do and considers the vineyards before goes forward with his proposed tax hikes.
Questions for Our Wine Pro
What is your death row wine?
It would be a bore to place one of our wines as my last and final. The meal would be split pea soup matched with a 2008 Rocchioli Sauvignon Blanc. The main course would be seared rib eye with grilled jalapeno and grilled spring onions served with 1999 Joseph Phelps Bacchus vineyard Cabernet. Final course is a Padron cigar 1926 series and a circle of good friends.
What region produces the best wine?
I am always excited to see how the Napa Valley continues to innovate and lead the world in wine quality. As a grape growing region, its reliability of climate and quality are unmatched. But just as important is the competitive environment of wineries that push styles and production to evolve. I am particularly excited about the red wines of Paso Robles and the Chardonnay of the California coastline
What is the best wine and food pairing you’ve ever had?
I’ve been privileged to have sampled creations from some of the best chefs in the world who’ve created food pairings specifically for my family’s wine. I also like to cook my own meals and experiment with wine pairings like Cabernet, Scallops and Chardonnay, Wild game and Pinot. The best pairing is the one where the flavors and texture of the food and wine compliment each other perfectly. It’s a beautiful thing when they come together.
What will the U.S. wine industry look like in 10 years?
I think that the state of California is just catching its stride and that trend should continue for the foreseeable future. Napa does seem to have a lock on the production of making the best cabernet, but I think that Sonoma makes the best wines in many other varietals such as Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Zinfandel. The Central Coast in Santa Barbara and Monterey are producing some extraordinary Pinots and Chardonnay. In 2010 a Paso Robles winery named Saxom received Wine Spectator’s wine of year award, indicating that Paso Robles is now an important world producer.