Are "Cult Cabs" outsmarting us?

The California cult cab is a recent wine phenomenon, or perhaps trend, that appears to defy gravity, and even more startling, this down economy. Beppi Crosariol, who I’m guessing was in Napa to attend the Symposium of Professional Wine Writers, wrote a nice piece in the Globe & Mail, calling it “crazy juice”, describing some of the frenzied bidding action on a lot of Scarecrow wines as “cult-cabernet sticker shock”. 

So outlandish are the names, the prices, the mystery, that you’d almost suspect it to be the work of a Hollywood writer.

More likely, though, that writer is actually an astute marketer. After all, how can you really justify selling a bottle of wine for $1,300? It has to be good wine of course. But do you mean to tell me that a single bottle of Scarecrow, in this example, is worth 13 bottles of, say, a quality Napa Cab like Cakebread? Really?

But marketing can spin a wonderful tale. Small batch production becomes “limited availability”. Hard to buy becomes “exclusive” and “must have”. Want some magic, crazy juice? Get in line, and we may (just may, depending on the Napa stars) grant you the right to buy 6 bottles (but no more!) for $7,500. 

Every time I pick up the mail and see a glossy insert with fancy packaging I know it’s either the marketing engine of Porsche or a cult winery at work.

Economics, though, will tell the story differently: it’s supply and demand. Pure and simple. People want it. There isn’t much supply. So the price goes up. 

Then there is the mindset of the collector, who must have it. For matter of completeness, or bragging rights, or because it provides peace of mind. Regardless, once you have the committed collector in tow, you’re bound to witness spectacular price appreciation. And so it is, with these California cult wines.

But I wonder, what kind of person is a cult collector? And, perhaps most importantly, do they ever dare open a bottle, or merely “age” it for a mystical day that never comes, instead auctioning it off some other savvy soul who in turn repeats the process?

Then I realized, I had one of the best sources in town to ask: my wife.

Loni, starting young with erasers, has that collector mentality at times. So when a winery suggests we get in line for something, she almost aways does it… “got to get in early!” It wasn’t long before we were on wait lists that turned into actual order forms, that turned into actual deliveries of actual supposed cult wines. Alas, no Scarecrow (soon) or Screaming Eagle (probably never), just some Harlan Esate for cult-cab starters.

This marriage is wine compatible. Loni likes to collect. And I like to open.

On some occasions my enthusiasm for my role can cause  issues. Aging and drinking a wine, I’ve discovered, are mutually exclusive. Drinking windows and peak time to open can only get me so far. Which is why I suppose I’ve found the ultimate out: this Blog. How can I possibly write about a wine, if I can’t drink it?

[Globe and Mail: California’s cult cabs]

Clinton shoots videos for Stark Insider. San Francisco Bay Area arts, Ingmar Bergman and French New Wave, and chasing the perfect home espresso shot 25 seconds at a time (and failing). Peloton: ClintTheMint. Camera: Video Gear