by Fred McMillin
for November 6, 1998

 

Winery of the Week

What's a Negociant?


Prologue

"We are not plagued by high-interest-rate loans for vineyards and winemaking equipment."

...Letter from Stone Creek, Sonoma Valley, CA.


The Rest of the Story

Stone Creek Winery Stone Creek is a negociant (French for "merchant"). That is, they buy wine in bulk from others. Then they age, blend, bottle and sell it under their own label. How did this practice develop? Let's go to Burgundy, France.


Negociant Milestones

Early 1700's—Several large firms evolve in Burgundy, buying wine from producers in northern France and marketing it. A leader was Bouchard Pere & Fils, founded 1731.

1800's—The large increase in the production of quality vintage wines required much capital for their storage, both in Burgundy and Bordeaux. Negociants provided most of the capital required for these facilities. (by Prof. Tim Unwin)

1853—German musicians Charles Kohler, violin, and John Frohling, flute, arrive in San Francisco. They abandoned their entertainment plans and become California's first successful Negociants. Before long their wines were selling well on the Atlantic seaboard, South America, Europe and even Asia. (by Teiser and Harroun)

1990—Stone Creek is California's largest Negociant. They purchase wines and move them to their bonded winery in Geyserville. There they are held in storage (stainless steel tanks, French oak barrels, etc.), blended, bottled and sold nationally.


Stone Creek Wines

Not so long ago, the Wine & Spirts trade journal gave the Stone Creek Cabernet Sauvignon a resounding rating of 93! Little wonder, since they draw both Cab and Merlot from the renowned Rutherford Bench of the central Napa Valley.

Similarly, the prestigious, gnarled old vines of Amador County are a major source for their Zinfandel.

Stone Creek Winery In my last large, blind tasting the RUNNER-UP BEST BUY was none other than the Stone Creek '95 Zinfandel. Furthermore, the WINNING BEST BUY was the Stone Creek '97 Sauvignon Blanc. That's the first time this year that both honors have been won by the same winery. All the prices are well under $10. For more, phone Cynthia Slayton at (707) 833-4455.


Postscript

In spite of their considerable achievements, not all negociants have been appreciated. Accusing them of using forbidden wine in champagne, thousands of vintners demolished negociant cellars on April 11, 1911, requiring 15,000 French troops to restore order.

 
About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. He currently teaches wine courses at San Francisco State and San Francisco City College. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers.

 

 

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