"Hello, hello, Monsieur Grandchateau? This is the California Find-A-Winery agency. We have good news for you. Rocky Bottom Ranch will accept your offer. Yes, they'll go 50-50 on everything. How about Domaine Derriere for the new name? We think it combines American practicality with French mystique.
"Now, as for the barrels, they'll ship half their third year Limousin to you, and you'll ship half your first year Troncais to them. Maybe you could send an old press at the same time. The bank just took their new Willmes bladder one.
"And uh, Mr. Brix thinks it's a little premature to plan the marriage of your daughter with his son. He understands that you'd like an American citizen in the family, but he thought you could discuss it when the boy's through high school."
The way things are in France and California, a get-together service could do well. Some reports say that there are between 20 and 40 California wineries that are so indebted to their banks that they'd love to sell --if only somebody would make them an offer. Others put the number higher. And then there are the French proprietaires who would love to invest in vineyards or wineries in California--anything to get their money, legally of course, safely away from the threatening clutches of socialism. Just match the seller with the buyer.
Not being an economist, I won't comment on French taxation, or on overcapitalized California wineries trapped by high interest rates. However, as a wine drinker, it seems to me that closer bilateral ties may be no bad idea. Perhaps the French could send some of their surplus acidity to balance big California whites, and Californians could send extra color and alcohol to flesh out the reds of the thin years.
Despite rumors, California is not in terminal trouble, but it is having growing pains, for which it should be all the stronger in the future. Already there are signs of changes in attitude to pricing. Faced with a slower market growth (in 1982, the smallest percentage gain since 1976), the California industry's reaction is healthy. When Gallo lowered its prices to grape growers, other large producers followed. And although prices for top-quality chardonnay and sauvignon blanc grapes stayed at the high 1981 level, mostly due to the spotty nature of the 1982 harvest, their turn will come. As the vineyards planted in the '70s come to maturity, there's bound to be resistance.
All is not gloom. Of the 575 wineries in California, many are doing just fine. Zaca Mesa, a first-rate producer in Santa Ynez, has announced big expansion plans. However, there can't be many who can say as Dick Stark does, "I don't owe a cent."
Stark's formula is to keep his winery so small that it's a one- man show. He started Page Mill Winery, in the Santa Cruz Mountains behind Stanford, in 1976. Owning no vineyards, he buys most of his grapes from the Napa Valley. With an '82 production level of 2,000 cases, a tiny drop in the California bucket, Page Mill is as mature as it wants to be: an unusual position in today's California. POST SIP
No Run of the Mill--Page Mill's wines have been consistently good and fair priced. The '81 Chardonnay, Napa, $11, is already smooth and full. A barrel sample of the '82 Chardonnay promised to be Stark's best yet. I also liked the '79 Zinfandel, $8. It has a lightish color and is soft, fruity, enjoyable drinking. The '81 Dry Chenin Blanc, $6, is indeed dry and crisp. All are available at MacArthur Liquors.--J.H.