Which are the boutique wineries of California, what do their wines cost and what vintages are on the market?
In general they are small, independent, craft-oriented wine production plants that may or may not have their own vineyards. Their output is between 10,000 and 25,000 cases a year, although several wineries have outgrown the limit and still retain the image of handcrafted quality.
The Robert Mondavi winery is a good example of this pattern.
White wines from vintages 1975 through 1977 are now on the market, with reds spread from 1973 to 1976. There is so much difference in climate and growing conditions and so much experimentation in California that any blanket rating of these vintages would be meaningless.
California wines sell at retail from as little as $1.40 a fifth (by dividing the jug price) to $10, or even higher in a few instances. Collectors' bottles of older vintages have increased dramatically in price, though it is now fashionable to say that California reds are not particularly long-lived.
The most esteemed wines are made from pinot chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon grapes. The riesling, zinfandel, petite sirah, sauvignon blanc and gewurztraminer have benefited from experimental planting growing and havesting techniques and are steadily increasing in popularity. Even the pinot noir (the red wine grape of Burgundy), once though to be a failure in California, is being reassessed.
Limited production wineries already represented by the three largest wholesale houses include:
Beitzell: Stirling. The Monterey Vineyard and Simi (a "big", boutique).
Forman: Sitter Home, Callaway, Cuivason and Chateau St. Jean.
Kronheim: Freemark Abbey, Clos du Val, Trefethen, Rutherford, Rutherford Hills and Chateau Chevalier.
Among those offered at Morris Miller and/or Harry's are Chateau Monthelena, Spring Mountain, Joseph Phelps, Stag's Leap, Caymus, Liberty School, Veedercrest, ZD, Kenwood, Dry Creek, Davis Bynum, Ridge, Carneros Creek, Stonegate. Some may be found at other retail shops as well.
A quartet of limited production, high quality vineyards seldom seen outside California are Stony Hill, Hanzell, Chateau Chalone and Mayacamas. Add to that the Martha's Vineyard cabernet sauvignon of Joseph Heitz and you would have a collection no one could refuse an offer to sample.