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Climate Change

Columnist: Richard L. Thomas
Dec, 2014 Issue

Will our warming temperatures become the norm?

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Sonoma County’s Agricultural Roots, Part 2

Columnist: Richard L. Thomas
Nov, 2014 Issue

Rich continues a look back on our agricultural/viticulture roots, then takes a look toward the future.

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Sonoma County's Agricultural Roots

Columnist: Richard L. Thomas
Special Wine Issue, Oct, 2014

Rich takes a look back at history and at the beginnings of SRJC’s agriculture program.

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Big Drinkers

Columnist: Richard L. Thomas
Oct, 2014 Issue

Where all the drinking is going on.

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Don't Be Tricked

Columnist: Richard L. Thomas
Sep, 2014 Issue

Perception can easily be persuaded.

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How It's Made

Columnist: Richard L. Thomas
Jul, 2014 Issue

Don’t believe everything you read on the wine label.

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As the Story Goes

Columnist: Richard L. Thomas
Jun, 2014 Issue

Don’t judge a wine by its label.

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Environmental Mayhem

Columnist: Richard L. Thomas
May, 2014 Issue

We’re not as green as we think we are.

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Water and Spirits

Columnist: Richard L. Thomas
Apr, 2014 Issue

Rich Thomas says good-bye to a friend and frets about the North Bay’s lack of water.

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Dirty Little Secrets

Columnist: Richard L. Thomas
Mar, 2014 Issue

Things most wineries don’t want to talk about.

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The Bottom of the Barrel

Columnist: Richard L. Thomas
Feb, 2014 Issue

Big wineries don’t always want to admit how they make quite a bit of their money.

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Marketing Works

Columnist: Richard L. Thomas
Jan, 2014 Issue

In wine marketing, it’s all a numbers game.

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The Real Winners

Columnist: Richard L. Thomas
Dec, 2013 Issue

The consumer is the best wine judge.

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Do You Get It?

Columnist: Richard L. Thomas
Nov, 2013 Issue

What does a wine label really say to you?

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Man vs. Machine

Columnist: Richard L. Thomas
Special Wine Issue, Oct, 2013

Rich discusses machine harvesting and stupid wine labels.

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Mother Nature's Helpers

Columnist: Richard L. Thomas
Oct, 2013 Issue

Rich discusses bottling woes, organic farming and GMOs.

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Best Harvest Ever

Columnist: Richard L. Thomas
Sep, 2013 Issue

Wine competitions and how expansion of an appellation can cause mediocrity.

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Crazy Things in Small Towns

Columnist: Richard L. Thomas
Aug, 2013 Issue

Let’s try to learn to support each other.

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Who's on Top?

Columnist: Richard L. Thomas
Jul, 2013 Issue

There’s more to brand recognition than putting the appellation on the label.

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Are You Game?

Columnist: Richard L. Thomas
Jun, 2013 Issue

Go ahead…enter some wine competitions!

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Tips of the Trade

Columnist: Richard L. Thomas
May, 2013 Issue

Rich discusses the inaugural North Coast Wine Challenge.

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More Winners

Columnist: Richard L. Thomas
Apr, 2013 Issue

Rich spots some newer trends in the wine industry and hold out hope for Mendocino County.

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The Sweet Life

Columnist: Richard L. Thomas
Mar, 2013 Issue

Rich Thomas talks trends and chances to shine.

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Wine: High-Calorie and High-Tech

Columnist: Richard L. Thomas
Feb, 2013 Issue

Rich provides weight loss tips for the New Year.

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Stiff Competition

Columnist: Richard L. Thomas
Jan, 2013 Issue

Wine competitions are getting more interesting.

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Water and Wine

Columnist: Richard L. Thomas
Dec, 2012 Issue

Political turmoil and wine for the ages.

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New Wines on the Block

Columnist: Richard L. Thomas
Nov, 2012 Issue

Now that we have some time to relax, let’s enjoy ourselves a bit.

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Won’t Back Down

Columnist: Richard L. Thomas
Special Wine Issue, Oct, 2012

Rich Thomas takes the fight back to Mendocino County.

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Trendspotting

Columnist: Richard L. Thomas
Oct, 2012 Issue

What’s new in the wine world—and what should be.

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Gold Country

Columnist: Richard L. Thomas
Sep, 2012 Issue

Wine competitions: You can’t win it if you ain’t in it.

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Growing Backward

Columnist: Richard L. Thomas
Aug, 2012 Issue

Mendocino County needs to get its act together if it wants to properly market its wines.

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If You Like It, Drink It—Responsibly

Columnist: Richard L. Thomas
Jul, 2012 Issue

Whether you’re a bicyclist, driver or wine tasting enthusiast—be careful out there.

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East Meets West

Columnist: Richard L. Thomas
Jun, 2012 Issue

And now to drink something entirely different.

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Thinking Inside the Box

Columnist: Richard L. Thomas
May, 2012 Issue

Alternative packaging offers a flexible way to enjoy your wine.

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Everything's Better With Wine

Columnist: Richard L. Thomas
Apr, 2012 Issue

Rich Thomas continues his close look at Aussie culture.

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We’re Still Treading Water

Columnist: Richard L. Thomas
Mar, 2012 Issue

U.S. wine sales have improved, but not because prices are any lower—especially in restaurants.

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Fast Cars, Fine Wine and Fat People

Columnist: Richard L. Thomas
NBB Top 500, Feb, 2012

Rich Thomas reflects on the similarities and differences between the United States and Australia.

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Australians Know Shiraz—Why Don’t We?

Columnist: Richard L. Thomas
Feb, 2012 Issue

Rich Thomas discusses Australia’s wine market.

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What Do You Do With Wine (Besides Drink It)?

Columnist: Richard L. Thomas
Jan, 2012 Issue

Rich Thomas weighs in on the finances and quality of organic wine and bargain bottles.

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Terroir Is a Dirty Word

Columnist: Richard L. Thomas
Dec, 2011 Issue

Rich Thomas wants winemakers to stop playing in the dirt.

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Cool, Clear Water

Columnist: Richard L. Thomas
Nov, 2011 Issue

When the most beautiful place in the world gets a little chilly, what can we do to ward off the frost? It’s all about water.

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Who Wants What?

Columnist: Richard L. Thomas
Oct, 2011 Issue

Rich Thomas discusses what wine consumers are looking for as well as provides tips regarding what they should be looking for.

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The Coming Harvest

Columnist: Richard L. Thomas
Special Wine Issue, Oct, 2011

Only Mother Nature can control what harvest will bring, but wineries can control a lot of other things.

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The Nose Knows

Columnist: Richard L. Thomas
Sep, 2011 Issue

It’s been a long year already and much anxiety still exists in the vineyards.

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Dodging Bullets

Columnist: Richard L. Thomas
Aug, 2011 Issue

It’s been a troublesome year so far in Wine Country.

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The Birthday Boy Reflects

Columnist: Richard L. Thomas
Jul, 2011 Issue

Rich Thomas remembers the past and looks forward to a brighter future.

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State of Intoxication

Columnist: Richard L. Thomas
Jun, 2011 Issue

Will relaxation of Pennsylvania’s alcoholic purchasing rules benefit California wineries?

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Put a Straw in It

Columnist: Richard L. Thomas
May, 2011 Issue

What’s in your wine? And in what type of package does it come?

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It's Good for YouAnd Tasty, Too

Columnist: Richard L. Thomas
Apr, 2011 Issue

Rich Thomas loves Coppola’s winery, discovers alcohol is good for you and wonders if smart phones will be able to taste wine themselves some day.

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The Winners Circle

Columnist: Richard L. Thomas
NBB Top 500, Mar, 2011

Rich Thomas offers a few thoughts about the meaning of wine competition results.

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Image Is Everything

Columnist: Richard L. Thomas
Mar, 2011 Issue

What’s worse: cheap, high-octane wines that have no pretense, or expensive, ego-driven releases that aren’t worth the price?

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The Wino and the Brown Paper Bag

Columnist: Richard L. Thomas
Feb, 2011 Issue

Rich Thomas has a thing or two to say about overindulgence.  

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Cheers to the New Year

Columnist: Richard L. Thomas
Jan, 2011 Issue

Wine guy Rich Thomas looks for brighter skies and greener views in the year ahead.  

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Know Your Limit

Columnist: Richard L. Thomas
Dec, 2010 Issue

Rich Thomas' latest crusade targets wine tasters who go too far.

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There Will Be Blood

Columnist: Richard L. Thomas
Nov, 2010 Issue

Between the weather and the economy, things could hardly be much worse.

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A Gloomy Forecast

Columnist: Richard L. Thomas
Oct, 2010 Issue

NorthBay biz wine writer Rich Thomas surveys the vineyards—and the news isn’t good.

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Sticker Shock

Columnist: Richard L. Thomas
Special Wine Issue, Oct, 2010

Rich Thomas discusses the price of wine—and who’s paying the most for it.

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All Around the World

Columnist: Richard L. Thomas
Sep, 2010 Issue

Is it possible that the high-end wine industry ($40+ bottles) needs to rethink its whole marketing scheme?

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It Takes Two

Columnist: Richard L. Thomas
Aug, 2010 Issue

NorthBay biz wine writer Richard Thomas discusses the petition to create a Sonoma County conjunctive labelling law and the opportunity to renew the Sonoma County Winegrape Commission for another five years.

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Alcohol Tax Gone Awry

Columnist: Richard L. Thomas
Jul, 2010 Issue

NorthBay biz wine writer Richard Thomas takes a look at the controversial new alcohol tax measure that may show up on California ballots this November.

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It's the Water

Columnist: Richard L. Thomas
Jun, 2010 Issue

NorthBay biz wine columnist Richard Thomas discusses the implications of the wine industry’s recent water woes.

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Where Are You?

Columnist: Richard L. Thomas
May, 2010 Issue

With wine judging season underway, NorthBay biz vine expert Richard Thomas talks about the importance of appellation marketing.

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Getting Better All the Time?

Columnist: Richard L. Thomas
Apr, 2010 Issue

Just to get you off to the right start, how about hearing what’s happening in Australia that would be great here? The headlines read: Wine Cheaper than Coke and Water! Doesn’t that sound great?

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Don't Judge a Bottle By Its Label

Columnist: Richard L. Thomas
NBB Top 500, Mar, 2010

NorthBay biz wine expert Richard Thomas considers the future of high-end wines—will consumer demand return to the glory days, or will producers have to adopt new practices?

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It's About Time

Columnist: Richard L. Thomas
Mar, 2010 Issue

NorthBay biz wine expert Richard Thomas explains why the Sonoma County Vintners’ “conjunctive labeling law” is a great idea for the future of wine marketing and branding in the North Bay. 

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Wine Cheaper than Coke and Water

Columnist: Richard L. Thomas
Feb, 2010 Issue

NorthBay biz wine guy Richard Thomas details his recent family trip to Australia—it’s a tale of high tariffs, food store monopolies and, of course, great wine at surprisingly reasonable prices.

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The Law of Averages

Columnist: Richard L. Thomas
Jan, 2010 Issue

NorthBay biz wine expert Richard Thomas breaks down Restaurant Wine magazine’s list of the top 20 wine brands sold in restaurants in 2008 and what the results mean for our notion of the “average consumer.”

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Don't Leave Me Hangin'

Columnist: Richard L. Thomas
Dec, 2009 Issue

NorthBay biz wine expert Richard Thomas discusses the complicated relationship between grapes and their buyers—in this case, extra fruit can be a bad thing. Also on topic: Australia’s booming Shiraz industry and the plight of high-end wines in the current U.S. economy.

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Local Heroes

Columnist: Richard L. Thomas
Nov, 2009 Issue

NorthBay biz wine guy Richard Thomas wonders if, through oversaturation, wine competitions and fairs are losing their significance.

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Harvest Meditations

Columnist: Richard L. Thomas
Special Wine Issue, Oct, 2009

It’s harvest time, and NorthBay biz wine expert Richard Thomas is in a pontificating mood—this year, it’s all about precision farming, wine quality, grape supplies and the objectiveness of taste.

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Wine Market Savvy

Columnist: Richard L. Thomas
Oct, 2009 Issue

NorthBay biz grape guy Richard Thomas talks about marketing changes in the wine industry and what they mean for the future of vino consumption in America.

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The Wine List

Columnist: Richard L. Thomas
Sep, 2009 Issue

NorthBay biz wine consultant Richard Thomas helps readers (and drinkers) wade through the confusing muck of restaurants’ corkage fees and convoluted wine lists.

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The Results Are In

Columnist: Richard L. Thomas
Aug, 2009 Issue

The 2009 West Coast Wine Competition has come and gone, and NorthBay biz vino expert Richard Thomas goes over the list of winners and losers.

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Conflicts and Solutions

Columnist: Richard L. Thomas
Jul, 2009 Issue

NorthBay biz grape guru Richard Thomas explores the European Union’s ban on certain American exports and ponders why some people act like drunken buffoons when visiting tasting rooms.

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Water Works

Columnist: Richard L. Thomas
Jun, 2009 Issue

NorthBay biz wine authority Richard Thomas switches liquids for his latest column and deconstructs the effects that water shortages will have on local industries.

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The Wish List

Columnist: Richard L. Thomas
NBB Best Of, May, 2009

Richard Thomas lets NorthBay biz readers in on his wine industry wish list for the rest of 2009.

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A Box a Day

Author: Richard L. Thomas
Columnist: Richard L. Thomas
May, 2009 Issue

NorthBay biz wine authority Richard Thomas takes a look at the twisted world of wine judging.

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Consistent Competition

Columnist: Richard L. Thomas
Apr, 2009 Issue

NorthBay biz wine authority Richard Thomas contemplates the value of judging in the wine industry.

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Wine for the Times

Columnist: Richard L. Thomas
NBB Top 500, Mar, 2009

NorthBay biz wine authority Richard Thomas discusses how, despite longstanding beliefs to the contrary, the wine industry is discovering that it’s not exactly recession-proof.

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The Cost of Good Taste

Columnist: Richard L. Thomas
Mar, 2009 Issue

NorthBay biz wine expert Richard Thomas discusses the perils of COPIA, the controversial appellation plans of Gallo and the strange correlation between the price of wine and its enjoyment.  

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Venues and Variations

Columnist: Richard L. Thomas
Feb, 2009 Issue

NorthBay biz wine expert Richard Thomas looks for 2009 to bring fun to tasting rooms, reasonable corkage fees to restaurants and clarity to the organic wine movement.

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Truth in Labeling (Revisited)

Columnist: Richard L. Thomas
Jan, 2009 Issue

For Sonoma County wines, a region-identifying label has become imperative to gaining—and maintaining—worldwide recognition.  

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Dressed to Impress

Columnist: Richard L. Thomas
Dec, 2008 Issue

Despite 2008’s unpredictable weather and shaky economy, North Bay wine businesses look forward to a promising 2009, full of new labels and technology.

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How Much Is Too Much?

Columnist: Richard L. Thomas
Nov, 2008 Issue

As the harvest winds down—and it appears to be down 10 percent or more—we need to assess what the current economic conditions will do to wine sales. Will people buy less wine with their diminishing discretionary funds, or is wine really recession proof? This year’s short crop might be Mother Nature’s way of keeping things in balance. Grape prices haven’t fallen and, in some cases, have even risen significantly: Napa Cabernet Sauvignon started out at $4,100 per ton and may go up further. Just what we need: more $50 per bottle wine! Isn’t there some point where sanity will prevail?

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Don't Judge a Wine by its Label

Columnist: Richard L. Thomas
Special Wine Issue, Oct, 2008

It’s been a while since the Oakville Grocery changed hands, but I hope things will get better. I was with my harem (actually, my wife and several of her lady friends) and stopped in for a quick bite before going to the movies. Our dinner discussion revolved around trying to describe the service. We got hung up on “snooty,” “incompetent” or “just didn’t give a damn.” Whatever the cause, I hope it improves over the next few weeks.

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Make Room for Tasting

Columnist: Richard L. Thomas
Oct, 2008 Issue

It’s been interesting watching the metamorphosis of the tasting room. Back in the late 1960s and early 1970s, tasting rooms were few and far between. About the only one most people would remember was at the Italian Swiss Colony in lovely downtown Asti. Wines offered were state-of-the-art “beverage wines,” “pop wines” or “cheap drunks”—take your choice what you’d like to call them. Remember all of those lovely wines like Spinada, Tyrolia, wrapped Tipo Chianti bottles, Silver Satin, Thunderbird, Annie Green Springs and Bartles & James wine coolers?

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Bulking Up

Columnist: Richard L. Thomas
Sep, 2008 Issue

With the current status of the economy, has the wine industry felt anything negative or positive? It’s very difficult to tell at this stage, but the looming short crop (due to very abnormal weather patterns and major spring frosts in many areas) means grape prices could rise significantly. Spot market fruit—that is, grapes that are grown without a contract—will be in big demand, or so the story goes. Interestingly enough, just after the frost last spring, there was suddenly not a drop of wine available on the bulk market. Those wineries that had surplus wine to sell must have realized that the value would increase dramatically. And right they were.

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Penny Pinching

Columnist: Richard L. Thomas
Aug, 2008 Issue

The price of everything continues to go up (and up), but will the price of wine continue to rise also? And if so, will the growers be able to share the increase? I ask because wine price really has virtually no relationship to cost of production; it’s far more related to “what the traffic will bear” and “where will my ego be satisfied?” I mentioned in a previous column that, when price is known, tasters prefer the high-priced wines, and, when price is unknown or falsified, the less expensive ones are favored. This shouldn’t be a big surprise, since we’re all guilty of thinking something expensive must be good (and if it’s foreign, it must be even better—excluding the Far East).

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Picking on Pinot

Columnist: Richard L. Thomas
Jul, 2008 Issue

It’s a political year, and while I won’t get into politics, I do want to talk about spin. Politicians are famous for putting their “spin” on things, and I think it’s appropriate that “spin” can be put into our wines as well. Most of you know my spin for Pinot Noir: I’m not crazy about either its power or finesse style—but I’m also not crazy about different styles within any grape variety in general.

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Winners and Losers

Columnist: Richard L. Thomas
Jun, 2008 Issue

    Wine judging season is here, and I always find it interesting to see competition results and then try to interpret what they mean. Most of the time, there are no big surprises. As judges, I know we sometimes think we’re sending a message to the winemakers about liking this style or that, but in reality, the winemakers think we’re crazy. Very few winemakers agree with any results—except the ones that won big: “If I won, the judges were great, and if I lost, the judges were a bunch of idiots.”

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Totally Organic

Columnist: Richard L. Thomas
NBB Best Of, May, 2008

    I’ve written about wine judgings several times in the past. Can the results be trusted? Do they mean anything? One of the big questions is if there are too many, or if the industry can support more. Perhaps the real question is: Do we need more? Well, somebody thinks so, since I just read that a new judging, which will be held in Sonoma County, is in the offing.

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Whats in Your Bouquet?

Columnist: Richard L. Thomas
May, 2008 Issue

    Before we really get started, I feel the need to share my latest revelation. The other night, I started to read a new book and thought it sounded somewhat familiar but not entirely. As I continued to read, I found it very enjoyable and intriguing. I read the entire book before realizing I’d just read it a couple months before.

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Bring It Home

Columnist: Richard L. Thomas
Apr, 2008 Issue

    I read a line in a book the other day that I’m having trouble deciding if I agree or disagree with. It goes like this: “The only sin worse than drinking a cheap wine is wasting a good one on people who couldn’t appreciate it.” Is that why I get served Two Buck Chuck instead of a $50 bottle of Pinot Noir?

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Notes From Down Under

Columnist: Richard L. Thomas
Mar, 2008 Issue

With spring not far away, it seems somehow I’ve missed most of the winter. Actually I have, because I’ve been in Australia enjoying my second summer for the year—so I’ll spend some time here letting you know what’s happening 9,000 miles away. I’m sure you’ve all heard about the drought affecting both South and Western Australia. The news hasn’t really blown it out of proportion like it frequently can. Grape growers in the Riverlands (similar to our San Joaquin Valley) have been unable to irrigate, and many vineyards have already been deemed a disaster. This is one way to get rid of a surplus, but a tough one. Citrus growers are having the same problem, and fruit prices are sky high due to the short crops.

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Lapping Up Luxury

Columnist: Richard L. Thomas
Feb, 2008 Issue

    Following up on last month’s column about low-end and mid-priced wines, I better give the high-end or luxury wines their proper respect. What does it take to be considered a luxury wine, besides a big-ticket price tag? I’ll use any wine over $40 to fit this category, although you might have a different figure in mind.     At a seminar in Napa a few weeks ago (and reported in Wines and Vines magazine by Tina Caputo), several speakers on a workshop panel addressed the topic of how to reach the “modern upscale consumer.” What came out of the workshop was the opinion that there’s a new breed of buyers out there in consumer land. The old luxury buyers preferred Rolls Royce and Bombay Sapphire gin, according to panelist Taylor Bryant of Massachusetts-based Mullen Agency, whereas the new, affluent luxury consumer prefers BMW and Belvedere vodka. “They prefer to pamper themselves with high-end experiences.”  

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Really Cheap Wine

Columnist: Richard L. Thomas
Jan, 2008 Issue

Life can be so much fun. I was recently at a party with a lot of high-end wine consumers in the crowd, or at least people who think they know about wine. I loved their approach: “Hey Rich, we really enjoy your column in that magazine, but….” Here we go.

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Going for the Gold

Columnist: Richard L. Thomas
Dec, 2007 Issue

I've been pondering this column topic for some time now, wondering if my thoughts have any merits. I know, many of you are saying they never do. But here goes anyway: It's been a couple months since the Harvest Fair wine judging was completed and, by now, the effects of winning a gold have long since disappeared. The actual numbers are somewhat mind-boggling, with more than 1,000 wines entered and 90 percent receiving awards. The 1,000 entries is really no surprise, since wineries and/or new labels are proliferating like mushrooms after a warm fall rain. Many of the small wineries, which include most of them, don't enter very many competitions for various reasons.

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Perceived Markets

Columnist: Richard L. Thomas
Nov, 2007 Issue

My mother always said, "If you need to say something bad, you should always say something nice first." So here goes: Hats off to E&J Gallo and Donny Sebastiani for their mass media ads, especially on the radio (even aiming for a male audience on sports radio and news stations). I'm not sure about other venues, since I don't listen to them. Both companies have catchy ads with the idea of taking away the elitist attitude many people feel surrounds wine. Gallo's Dancing Bull ads directly state that wine is made to drink and enjoy without being intimidating.

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Bikes & Bottles

Columnist: Richard L. Thomas
Special Wine Issue, Oct, 2007

Stop the presses! I’ve actually found a winery in Sonoma County that’s proud to be here—they actually put the following phrase on their front label: “Proud to be a Sonoma County winery.” Can you actually believe the great people, Keith and Joanne of Quaking Hills Winery in Alexander Valley, put that on their label? A big toast to them!!!

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Beauty Is in the Eye of the Beholder

Columnist: Richard L. Thomas
Oct, 2007 Issue

The questions keep coming: How could “Two Buck Chuck” win a double-gold award at the California State Fair? The answer is quite simple, actually. The judges, that day, thought it was an extremely good wine and better than others in the class. I’ve already written about wine judging and how things happen. First, my guess is most of the other wines in the class were typically loaded with oak, and the wine in question wasn’t. Thus it was a refreshing change from the others.

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Drink What You Like

Columnist: Richard L. Thomas
Sep, 2007 Issue

With the Harvest Fair not far off, it’ll be interesting to see how many new releases have the words “Sonoma County” on their front labels. I realize I’ve been hammering away at this for several months, but I truly believe wineries that refuse to use the appellation are shortsighted and, in the long run, will lose market share to the other appellations in the state (and elsewhere) that are doing a great deal of promotion—and selling some very good wines. (Think Lodi and Paso Robles as well as Washington state). To quote Bill Turrentine (Turrentine Wine Brokerage), “The quality of wine from Burgundy, Bordeaux, Sonoma or Napa no longer automatically trumps the quality of a wine from Sicily, Lodi, Australia or Argentina.”

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Roll Out the Barrel

Columnist: Richard L. Thomas
Aug, 2007 Issue

Last month, I talked about the myth of who is and isn’t making any money in the wine industry. News reports from the financial institutions monitoring wine sales say everything is peachy keen; sales are up—especially in the higher-end wines. If this is true, then wineries and growers are just bitching. And speaking of idle chatter…

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Rich Gets Richer

Columnist: Richard L. Thomas
Jul, 2007 Issue

So far this summer, I’ve tried analyzing a couple of perplexing problems that seem to have been around for a long time; one—money, as usual—is heating up again. I keep listening to winery principles saying they have to charge at least $40 per bottle to try to break even. Small boutique wineries, scattered throughout the North Coast, are learning the wine industry isn’t as much fun as they thought it would be. When you only make about 500 to 1,000 cases, no “business plan” can show a big profit. Selling to restaurants and getting on wine lists is great for the ego, but you generally don’t sell a lot through that channel. Also, you’re selling at about one-third less than full retail and that adds up to less gross—but at least you get the old ego stroked. Another real problem is that, just because it costs $40 or more, that doesn’t mean it’s good. It’s very difficult to make excellent quality wines the first few years (until the winemaker gets familiar with the fruit), so generally, the first few releases aren’t great. Sometimes I think they’re trying to pay off the winery in the first couple of years.

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Seeking Protection

Columnist: Richard L. Thomas
Jun, 2007 Issue

As many of you will remember, I’ve been very critical of wineries that are afraid or embarrassed to put “Sonoma County” on their labels. Sadly, I’ve noticed the trend continuing with some new releases. In the meantime, the Sonoma County Grape Growers Association has recently spent a large amount of time and money to form a winegrower commission that will assess a mandated fee to all growers on a per ton basis. A major portion of those funds are to be spent promoting Sonoma County as a world-class wine growing area.

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You Be the Judge

Columnist: Richard L. Thomas
NBB Best Of, May, 2007

The judging season is upon us again (if it ever really stopped) and it seems everybody wants in on the action. The latest organization to sponsor a judging is Women for WineSense; it’s called the National Women’s Wine Competition. It will take place at FountainGrove Inn in Santa Rosa, just as several other competitions have in the past few years. The judging is being completely organized by association members and completely judged by women. I don’t expect much difference in results—though women are much more sensitive to olfactory characteristics. The competition is open to all U.S. wineries, and there will probably be some foreign wines entered as well by the major wineries that import them. They had 1,800+ entries for the very first year, which is quite an accomplishment. Maybe they’re on to something.

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Still Kicking

Columnist: Richard L. Thomas
May, 2007 Issue

Well, a lot of water has passed under the bridge since the last issue of our wonderful mag. I spent more than two weeks in the ICU at Stanford Hospital and, after everything (including a 12-hour surgery), I’m still around to talk about it. I’m more than 50 pounds lighter and still don’t have much of a voice, but I do have a scar running almost half my body length and a 10-inch piece of Dacron replacing my dissected aorta. We almost waited too long to do the surgery, but in the end, all went well.

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Truth in Labeling

Columnist: Richard L. Thomas
Apr, 2007 Issue

Last month, I mentioned back labels on wine. You’re supposed to know about front labels already, and most of that information is controlled by the Feds. At TTB (the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau), it’s called truth in labeling, but actually it’s not enforced very well…or very often. Since I can’t drink any alcohol, I’ve taken to reading back labels on wine, where virtually no laws exist to regulate what’s printed, except that whatever it is must be truthful. So how do you know if it really tastes like bramble? Most TTB agents wouldn’t know cassis from manure.

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Happy Days

Columnist: Richard L. Thomas
Mar, 2007 Issue

Another spring is coming and, with it, another round for grape growers to see what curveballs Mother Nature will throw this time around. Last year, spring and fall rains resulted in a few thousand tons of grapes left rotting on the vines. That was coupled with an even bigger problem of many growers not having a contract with a winery to buy their grapes. As we say in the industry, they didn’t have a home for their fruit. Some would say, with some truth, that farmers are the worst salesmen in the world—even when it comes to selling their own product. No one really knows how many tons were left hanging. And we never will, since no grower is going to brag about it and there’s no one who gathers that type of information.

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Market Meanderings

Columnist: Richard L. Thomas
NBB Top 500, Feb, 2007

Now that the dust has settled and the water is risin’, I have to quote one of the best article headlines I’ve seen in years. It’s from sfgate and says, “Thriving middle-aged, overweight mice drive up red wine sales.” I guess you could interpret that to mean mice are buying wine. But it’s more likely you and I fit the category of middle-aged (or am I old?) and overweight, and we’re buying more red wine.

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Grapes Left Behind

Author: Grapes Left Behind
Columnist: Richard L. Thomas
Feb, 2007 Issue

It was a wild and tumultuous harvest this year, but as usual, we all survived the “best vintage in years.” Botrytis bunch rot raised its ugly head in many vineyards—especially those where the growers either didn’t remove leaves or did so only minimally, early in the fruit’s growth cycle. Infection occurred at bloom time with the wet bloom time period we had with many varieties (even Cabernet Sauvignon, which is usually pretty tough and can usually survive lots of bad weather). We’ll probably never know how much fruit wasn’t picked, either, because of disease problems or no place to go.

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Harvest Ruminations

Columnist: Richard L. Thomas
Dec, 2006 Issue

Unfortunately, harvest isn’t over at the time of this writing—although things do seem to be going more smoothly than expected. At the beginning came the usual word games and worry. As per normal, “It’s going to be the best vintage ever because of the longer hang time (that is, the time between fruit set and harvest).” Remember then, in years of an early harvest, it’s the best of the century because of the short hang time. A normal year (if there is such a thing) is also the best harvest ever because of its normality. One good thing we’ve learned from the French is how to put a wonderful spin on each new crop.  It’s been a very cool summer, as those of you with non-heated swimming pools can attest. Early October brought some rain showers, moderate days and cool evenings, which are good for color development. And the ripening of different varietals is all over the board depending on where you live. Russian River Chardonnay, which has a big crop, is hanging very late, while some vineyards in Alexander Valley have already finished their Cabernet harvest (which is usually the last varietal picked). It’s very difficult to explain, and it raises some questions, like will the shorter hang-time Cabernet be better than the longer hang-time Chardonnay? The answer probably lies somewhere in between, with the Cabernet producers saying “great” and the Chardonnay producers saying the same.

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Three Bad Things

Columnist: Richard L. Thomas
Nov, 2006 Issue

As you’re probably aware, this is being written a couple months before you get to feast your eyes on it. Three major items have caught the news lately: First, a labor shortage is looming for harvest; second, the use of “Sonoma” on wine labels that don’t contain Sonoma wine is being addressed by the California legislature (similar to the Napa case earlier this year); and third, I’ve found “One-Buck Chuck.”

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Fair is Fair

Columnist: Richard L. Thomas
Oct, 2006 Issue

It seems hard to believe it’s really that time already. I thought we just finished harvest in 2005. Then I realized we’re still sitting on much of the 2005 crop, which is still in our tanks. This glut kind of snuck up on us, as they say, and suddenly there’s no place to put the 2006 crop. Many wineries are very unceremoniously letting growers know they have no room for any extra crop, with a good possibility of not even having enough room for what’s contracted. Are the wineries in this case the villains, or are there outside factors at play? The wineries certainly share in the blame. Maybe if they’d have put “Sonoma County” on their labels they’d have sold more wine! Wineries haven’t exactly encouraged—but also haven’t discouraged—either new vineyards or replanting.

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Spread the Word

Columnist: Richard L. Thomas
Oct, 2006 Issue

I need to cover a few items as we get started here. First, I need to dispel the rumor that I’ve died of a massive heart attack in Australia—although that is partly correct. As someone famous once said, “The stories of my death have been greatly exaggerated.” While visiting my daughter and family in Adelaide, Australia, I had (another) life-threatening aortic dissection. (Yes, the same nasty thing that claimed John Ritter.) I had already suffered one nine years ago, so that’s creating a problem on how to handle the current situation. Stents aren’t possible because of the one already in place from last time. Surgery is a possibility, but the risk of survival is pretty low so that doesn’t sound like much fun. Some decisions will be made early October, so keep looking for this column to see if I’ve made it.

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Friendly Competition

Columnist: Richard L. Thomas
Sep, 2006 Issue

Hold the presses! Late arriving news. Forchini Winery has seen the light and is putting Sonoma County, as well as Dry Creek Valley, on its label. Also the Roy vs. Turley case has been settled out of court with no details. Last month, I mentioned wine competitions are becoming as common as stars in the sky or cow pies in a pasture. Whichever one you can relate to, it’s a lot. It’s very interesting to note how most of them start. Frequently, it’s a group of people sitting around a table having a board meeting for some very worthy cause, and someone will say, “Hey, why don’t we sponsor a wine competition?”

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The World Continues Going Crazy

Columnist: Richard L. Thomas
Aug, 2006 Issue

The world continues to go crazy, part 4. The first three were: Why do we have traffic reports on the 5 o’clock news when the people who need it are in their cars? Why do most of the young baseball players who are making millions have facial hair? Is it to prove to themselves they’re old enough to deserve all those millions? And why do so many Sonoma County wineries shun their heritage by not putting Sonoma County on the label in addition to their smaller appellation? Is it ego, stupidity or that they just don’t give a damn? And now we have a new one, which proves the wine business has its own George Steinbrenner. Now we can officially exhibit how crazy we are.

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Pop Quiz

Columnist: Richard L. Thomas
Jul, 2006 Issue

OK, quiz time right off the bat. Question: What do the following wineries have in common? De Loach, Alexander Valley Vineyards, Pelligrini, B.R. Cohn, Fritz, Thurow, Forchini, Mauritson, deLorimer, Passalacqua, Preston, Patz & Hall, Robert Young, Murphy-Goode, Jordan, Kunde, Trentadue and Mill Creek. Right—they all have some good wines. But more important, what else do they have in common? (A hint: This list is not all inclusive. There are many others that could join, but I didn’t want to use my total column space listing them all.)

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A Sense of Place

Columnist: Richard L. Thomas
Jun, 2006 Issue

My world is getting turned upside down. Wineries are taking Sonoma County off of their labels in favor of lesser-known, smaller, but more ego-driven appellations. If that isn’t enough to give me a heart attack, Gallo, whom I’ve supported quite strongly, removed the word “Sonoma” from its brand name. Yes, they say Sonoma will stay on the label, just not as the actual brand name. Do you suppose it could just accidentally fall off when wines that aren’t from Sonoma appear in that jug? It’s certainly a possibility in my mind. And “Gallo of Sonoma” had such a wonderful ring to it. I suppose when it becomes convenient to use other grapes, it’s very easy to let the words “Sonoma Reserve” slip away.

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The Good News and the Bad News

Columnist: Richard L. Thomas
May, 2006 Issue

Things are getting busy in the grape and wine business. High-end wine sales are improving, and imports are struggling (with the exception of Australia—and even it’s suffering from oversupply). Wine ads from local supermarkets indicate wine is moving off the shelves, but there’s still some heavy discounting going on in the low- and mid-price ranges. Nonetheless, speakers at recent industry seminars are all very positive.

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What's in a Name? Everything!

Columnist: Richard L. Thomas
Apr, 2006 Issue

Clap your hands and say congratulations to our wonderful neighbors on the other side of the hill. I personally think the money (lots of it) was very well spent! So what am I talking about? I’m sure most of you at least heard about the Napa Valley Vintners’ fight to protect Napa’s name—which may be the single most important word in the wine business. The world knows it produces some of the best Cabernet anywhere.

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Use Your Best Judgment

Columnist: Richard L. Thomas
Mar, 2006 Issue

The annual ritual of wine judgings is gearing up again, with no less than five right here in our own backyard, more than two dozen others scattered throughout the state and another couple dozen throughout the country. All these opportunities raise the question: Do all wineries enter all judgings? The answer is a resounding: No! First there’s the cost, which can be prohibitive—about $50 to $80 per entry. Judging requires four to six bottles per entry, which all must be shipped to the judging locale. In other words a 10-wine entry would cost between $500 and $800 or more for entry fees alone—in addition to shipping five cases of wine.

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Time for a Change

Columnist: Richard L. Thomas
Feb, 2006 Issue

I’m sure that a month after the big holiday season we’ve all lost the weight we put on. But the more important question is: Did you consume your bottle-a-day to help us out of the big crop problem? Before we get to the heart of this column, I have a couple things that really make me feel out of step with the world. Maybe I’m just getting old, but someone please tell me when they started coming out with TVs in cars—no, not DVD “family entertainment centers,” but TVs. If they haven’t, then why on Earth are there traffic pictures and reports on the evening news programs? If you don’t have a TV in your car, then how are you going to see these reports? Maybe it’s to let the homemaker know when to put dinner on?

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Caught Off Guard...Again

Columnist: Richard L. Thomas
Jan, 2006 Issue

With the off-year election over I only need to say a couple of things: 1) Thank God I was smart enough to stay out of the fray, and 2) I need to apologize to the county’s voters for not giving them as much credit as they deserve. I would have sworn that Measure M, the anti-GMO initiative, was gonna pass, what with the West County mentality, but it did not. That means science is still alive and well with thinking Americans. Thanks to all of you who are really concerned about the future. I think the failure of Measure M is even worth a toast—let’s all have a big glass of Sonoma or Napa wine to congratulate ourselves. (Red, of course!)Well, the harvest is finally over, and the winter rains have started, so a quick review of this year’s harvest seems in order. With all of the supposed marketing expertise available within and without our industry, how did we get caught with our pants down again? Everyone says the fruit is wonderful and will make wonderful wine—the wine of the century, one winemaker said. If that is the case, how come we dumped a few hundred tons of sound fruit on the ground? With the great crystal ball that we think we have, how come wineries did not add tanks and barrels to meet this great need? If wineries were so sure that wine consumption is skyrocketing, why weren’t we prepared? Guess we didn’t get much out of those $500 per day seminars—although we did manage to put thousands of dollars into the organizers’ pockets.

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