March 25, 2008 / 10:10 AM / 9 years ago

Napa and Sonoma whine in vintners' duel

3 Min Read

<p>Spottswoode Estate Vineyard and Winery president Beth Novak Milliken poses in an undated handout photo. Just as there are great sporting rivalries -- Manchester United vs. Chelsea football teams, or the Red Sox vs. the Yankees -- such is the duel between Sonoma and Napa California wines.Spottswoode/Handout</p>

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Just as there are great sporting rivalries -- Manchester United vs. Chelsea football teams, or the Red Sox vs. the Yankees -- such is the duel between Sonoma and Napa California wines.

What started out as friendly kidding between the two regions just north of San Francisco has turned into somewhat of a marketing brawl with folks in smaller Napa looking down upon Sonoma's larger producers.

"They just think we're a bunch of snots, that we make wine only for the elite," said Stuart Smith, owner of Napa Valley's Smith-Madrone vineyards.

"I feel for them. I understand their frustration. They look at the pricing here and wonder what they are doing wrong."

Napa Valley wines, generally speaking, are pricier than those produced in Sonoma, and the valley is home to most of California's cult wines like Screaming Eagle, Araujo, and Colgin.

Part of what makes them so sought after is that so little is produced and when they are available collectors will pay anywhere from $400 to well over a $1,000 a bottle.

But for Sonoma wine maker Steve Reeder, it's not the cost of the bottle, but what is in it that matters.

"Wine is for the people. It is not for the elite," the 51-year-old Simi Vineyards winemaker said.

<p>Napa's St. Supery vinyard president Michaela Rodeno poses in an undated handout photo. Just as there are great sporting rivalries -- Manchester United vs. Chelsea football teams, or the Red Sox vs. the Yankees -- such is the duel between Sonoma and Napa California wines.St. Supery Vineyards/Handout</p>

"I grow a lot of fruit. My philosophy is drink all the wine you want, I'll make some more."

Reeder doesn't make wine to be collected; he makes it to be drunk - preferably with food and most are in the $15 to $20 range. Simi, a unit of Constellation Brands' Iconic Estates division, nationally distributes nine wines from Sauvignon Blanc to its reserve Cabernet Sauvignon.

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Reeder said his wines "respect the soil where they are grown. They are true to Sonoma...They are bottled sunshine."

He hates what he calls the over-extracted, over-oaked, over-done wines that are no longer driven by the soils.

"We don't all over-oak and let our grapes hang out there to shrivel," insisted Beth Novak Milliken of the family-owned Spottswoode Estate Vineyard and Winery in Napa.

Michaela Rodeno, head of Napa Valley's St. Supery, a vineyard almost synonymous with Sauvignon Blanc, had news for Reeder.

"I don't like over-extracted, over-oaked, over-alcoholic wines either and I don't think you can blame that on Napa. This rivalry has been going on for ages. It's just so Hertz and Avis, " she said referring to the leading rental car companies.

"They're No. 2. They're trying really hard. They should just face it. We make better Cabernets and they make fine Pinot Noirs," Rodeno said.

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