The Best and Worst of 2017…with Happy Thoughts as we Welcome the New Year

January 2, 2018

Let’s get the bad stuff out of the way immediately and behind us. The worst has to be the devastating fires that ravaged the people and properties of Napa, Sonoma and Southern California.  While they may now be over, the effect of these fires will be felt in many ways for many years to come and our hearts go out to everyone affected.



As wine lovers we do not yet know the fallout in the future; such as how many wines in now in barrel will show smoke taint, or how will the smoke affect the vines and grapes for the 2018 vintage? When our winter rains finally arrive here in California, and as of today December 30th they have not, how will all of the fire retardant poured on the mountains surrounding Napa and Sonoma impact the valley floors vines when it drains down the slopes? We hope for the best…



A close second is the lost of three really great and classy wine friends of mine and K&L Wine Merchants, and we will miss them all dearly. Mr. Patrick Maroteaux was the owner of Ch. Branaire Ducru in St-Julien and it was always joy to see him at the Chateaux or at tastings because he always happy, had a warm smile and was a real gentleman.  For myself and K&L Ch. Haut Bailly holds a very special spot in our heart. American Mr. Robert Wilmers bought Haut Bailly in 1998 and smartly retained the previous owner/director Veronique Saunders and opened his checkbook for a complete renovation of the estate from top to bottom. Thanks to him, the wine went from good in the good years to great in the good years and very good in the difficult vintages, and now takes its place among greatest wines in all of Bordeaux.  In 2016 I had the pleasure of sitting next to him as he joined us for dinner on my tour with customers in his dining room. He had just arrived from the US that afternoon, but was excited to converse with his customers from America and he charmed the pants off all of us!



Those two gentlemen were known throughout the world; my friend and colleague Mr. Jim Barr was quietly famous and deeply respected here in the San Francisco Bay Area, and a really sweet man. For five decades Jim touched the lives of thousands of wine lovers thru his deep knowledge and passionate wine recommendations, which always brought them back to shop with him at all the wine shops he worked at and eventually at K&L Wine Merchants. Jim was the consummate wine professional; he loved wine! For decades Jim ran a tasting group with his friends here in Redwood City, and made wine with them also from grapes sourced from all areas of California at his Edgewood Canyon Winery. He eventually grew Pinot Noir grapes in the Anderson Valley and was a mentor to many of the young people that were lucky to work along side of him, I consider myself very lucky. Jim was very smart but never a snob; he loved his wife, his dog, his life and the San Francisco Giants. Thanks for everything Jimmy Barr and Cheers to you, you were very special to all of us, rest in peace.


Mr. Jim “The Master” Barr



The Good…



2017 did provide some great tasting wine experiences!


Starting with the outstanding 2016 Bordeaux vintage tasted in April, I also enjoyed many great bottles, the likes of … 1986 Ch. Leoville Las Cases and 86 Ch. Mouton Rothschild at Negociant  Barrier. Seeing and tasting at Ch. Carmes Haut Brion for the first time…really good and highly recommended! Tasting the white wines of Ch. Haut Brion and La Mission and not spitting much, as usual a fantastic pleasure! 1945 Ch, Grand Puy Lacoste at Lion’d Or in Margaux.  The 1945 Ch. Canon served with cheese at Canon and then getting to tour the amazing cellar and seeing all the old vintages. 1990 Ch. Latour in Magnum at a fine dinner at Ch. Suirac in Lalande de Pomerol was outstanding, but so was also a magnum of 1998 Ch. Leoville Poyferre! A fantastic magnum of 1989 Ch. Angelus served at lunch in the oldest restaurant in St. Emilion, La Cadane with Stephanie de Bouard-Rivoli. Tasting at Ch. Le Pin for the first time was very cool! A fantastic bottle of 1961 Ducru Beaucaillou followed by 1929 Ch. Doisy from Sauternes on our last night in Bordeaux. And lastly a perfect bottle of my beloved Ch. Cantemerle from 1949 at Jim Chanteloup’s retirement dinner.



Cheers to you and I wish you good health and many great bottles of wine in 2018.




Ralph Sands

Prime Cellar Consultant

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