Bobby Kerr visits Napa Valley to find out what makes US wine different

Down to Business is in California this week for the EY World Entrepreneur Of The Year 2017 Forum

When I was in my final year in DIT in 1982 I was required to submit a thesis as part of my final exams and for some mad reason, I choose Californian wine.

I had great fun doing it and I remember going out to the Gilbeys factory (they used to distribute wine) and having a four-hour liquid lunch tasting the wines with the manager. Little did I know that I would find myself back in the land of Californian wine some 35 years later as part of an industry visit with the 24 Finalists of the EY Entrepreneur group visit to San Francisco.

We travelled north to the Napa Valley to the Artesa winery in The Napa Valley. The first thing that strikes you is the change in the weather from San Francisco. Even though we were only one hour north of the city the temperature was at least 10 degrees warmer. Warm and sunny, ideal for winemaking I’d say.

This was a modern vineyard set in 350 Acres of rolling hillside. The family are originally from Spain and have produced wine since 1551.

They set up in the Napa Valley in 1991 and built a modern vineyard and visitor centre. In addition to the 350 acres of their own grapes, they take grapes from about another 150 acres operated under contract by a local farmer.

They produce mainly Pinot Noir and Chardonnay as well as some deeper Cabernets and Malbec’s. The winery was designed by a famous architect Dominga Tria and he cut the top off a hill and built the production facility into a hill so most of the production happens below ground.

I met Freddie Lambert who gave me a tour of the facility and told me that their production methods were very much 'New World' and they had the ability to blend high-quality grapes together to come up with some really fantastic blends of wine. We got to taste quite a few of the wines and I can absolutely testify to the premium quality of their wines.

He said that Californian wine came of age when at an international wine blind tasting in 1976 Californian wines came out much better than many French wines. This event was a game changer for the sales of Californian wines internationally.

I asked Freddie why more Americans didn’t drink more wine (The country's per capita consumption figure is much lower that Europeans). Was it because of the price or because relatively speaking American Wine is quite expensive? He said that a lot of the price was because of the high land cost associated with the Napa Valley. When challenged that land prices had little to do with every day production costs he admitted that they enjoy very high profit margins on their wines.

If you ever get a chance to visit this part of the world a trip to the Napa Valley is a great way to spend a long lazy afternoon basking in the Californian sunshine drinking excellent local wine.

Oh, I forget to tell you. I got an A for my thesis in Californian wine, an absolute academic first for me, I must have liked the taste of it after all.


Hear all about Bobby's adventures on  Down to Business from 10:00 on Saturday morning