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September 20, 2011
The wine business has changed a lot since September 1992, when we first published our newsletter. Prices are higher, critics more influential, fine wine lovers more numerous, and there are vastly more merchants competing for their business.
And the way that wine is sold has changed fundamentally. Nineteen years ago, fine wine was sold in stores. Today, it's increasingly sold by email, over the phone, in auctions, and via internet search engines. And the idea of writing (and mailing) a newsletter each month became obsolete years ago, when it became clear you could sell even more wine with quick emails and spend a lot less money doing it.
We, too, send out emails these days; it's a fantastic way to share opportunities that come our way. But we believe that a wine merchant's responsibilities don't end with sourcing and selling wine; our job is also to educate, enlighten and inspire.
And so our newsletter has endured. And while we try to have something for everyone in each issue, it's also important to share perspectives on those wines, winemakers and winemaking traditions that occupy a special place in our heart.
Our first issue was mailed on Friday, September 18, 1992, from the Trancas Street Post Office in Napa. We had just leased an old sausage factory in Napa, whose thick walls were fantastic for the wine, provided the pallets didn't tip over. (The floor sloped towards a central drain.) The factory had only a small office, in which we were huddled the next day (Saturday), waiting for the phones to start ringing. And so they did.
How could they not? That first issue was packed with great wines at prices that today seem impossible. You could pick off 1985 Sassicaia for $130 (a $2,000 bottle today) and in magnum for $265. Or how about buying '89 Henri Bonneau Réserve des Célestins for $42.95?
There were eleven Guigal single-vineyard Côte-Rôties, ranging from 1976 to 1988; the '88s were $160. And if you loved Chave Hermitage, you could have the 1990 for $47.50 and the 1978 for $149.95. Even Pomerol's Ch. Lafleur was accessible to mortal wine buyers; our seven-vintage vertical included the 1982 at $225; today, it would set you back $4,000. Two Château Rayas icons were also there: 1990 at $65 and 1978 at $110 (both averaging $1500 today).
That first issue was our one and only “fold-out.” The second issue established the eight-page format we use to this day. In fact, the October 1992 issue looked very much like the 298 issues to follow. The front page featured an homage to one of the winemakers we most admire, the late Max Schubert, leading off a 19-vintage offering of his greatest wine, Grange (1966-1986).
By January 1993, we'd moved to our permanent home in Sonoma, starting the year with our first-ever Vega Sicilia feature, with vintages from 1948 to 1982.
April saw a paean to old Champagnes, another of our passions. And our May issue was entirely devoted to Italy: “The Red Wines of Italy: On the Verge of Greatness.” You have to remember that in 1993, Italian wine was still underappreciated in America, and it was not until the next year, 1994, when the 1990 Barolos made their first appearance, that the buzz really started.
June showcased Terry and Frances Leighton's wonderful Kalin wines. October featured Bartolo Mascarello and antique decanters—the latter an autumn tradition that continues to this day. And starring in our December issue were rare old Madeiras, including 1827 Quinta do Serrado Bual for just $175.
Will there be a 600th issue nineteen years from now? We can't even comprehend how our world, and the wine business, will look in 2030. But we expect to be here, sharing our passion with those who want to experience the full sweep of wine, with its rich history, noble traditions, and unique characters. That is how it should be.
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