James Suckling: Building His Brand

James Suckling believes millennials will change the way the world approaches wine. The members of his small staff of innovators are all under 30, and he relies on them heavily to influence the look and feel of his brand.  These days, James Suckling does more than write wine reviews, he produces wine-related documentaries, puts on international wine events, and collaborates with luxury designers to create new products for the wine industry.  

James divides his time between his homes in Napa Valley, Tuscany, and Hong Kong.  Napa Valley is the site of the premier wine scene in the US, so it makes sense that he has a base there.  He lived in Tuscany for over 10 years as the Senior Editor and European Bureau Chief of Wine Spectator – Italy is like a second home to him.  But Asia? He says it’s the most dynamic place for wine now, and it’s also the place where he spends the most time.  He’s holding his signature events like “Great Wines of the World” in Hong Kong and Beijing.  He’s working on [an undisclosed] deal with the Ministry of Agriculture in China.  And he’s possibly their best wine ambassador when he says things to journalists such as, “The future is in Asia.”

I suppose considering Asia as the wine frontier isn’t surprising when you realize the conglomerate luxury brand owner LVMH is now making wine on the border of Tibet.  In fact, their wine, a Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet-Franc, and Merlot blend – is the first Chinese wine that won over James.   

James is no stranger to the luxury world.  When in Italy, he lives on the Ferragamo Estate in Tuscany, and he collaborated with the family to create a leather wine briefcase to hold bottles and glasses.  He partnered with Lalique to make the “The 100 Points Collection” of crystal wine glasses.  The handmade briefcase and Lalique glasses combo retails for up to $8,500.

But these are his side projects, not his mainstay.  He’s focused on sharing his wine knowledge in every way possible.  “I didn’t spend 25 years in the business not to share it,” he says.  He began his post-Wine Spectator career with a website designed to offer wine education, as well as to critique wines. 

He wasn’t wowed by the experience. He quickly found that people were reluctant to pay for content because so much information on the internet was free, and he struggled with the rampant copyright infringement he battled.

Then Mike D. Diamond, of The Beastie Boys, told him that copyright infringement had caused his iconic band to go back on tour instead of selling music. This inspired James to do the same with wine.  The millennial wine event was born. “My goal is to host the best wine events, and to attract younger consumers who want to have fun and taste interesting wines.”

He’s brought a new approach to wine events.  He has a traveling DJ, Australia’s Surahn Sidhu, who was with Empire of the Sun for several years.  Sidhu’s music lends a fresh vibe to the events and crowds have been known to start impromptu dance parties–not exactly your average wine-tasting. 

These days, his event business takes up the greatest proportion of his time.  This year alone there will be “The Great Wines of Italy” event in four US cities, and the “Bordeaux Confidential” in Hong Kong will host barrel tastings from barrels shipped overnight from Paris to Hong Kong.

Other than global wine events, he’s keen on Napa.  “I’d like to taste more [Napa] wines and pinpoint some more of the [best] new producers.  And, I’d like to host ‘Great Wines of Napa Valley’ either this year or next – in either NYC or Hong Kong.” 

James believes there is an exciting movement happening with American wines.  He’s working on a documentary titled “American Wine Revolution,” which looks at “how wine began in America, all the way back to the pilgrims.”  It will be his third documentary.

He says that American wine companies tend to cater to the American market, which is not the same as catering to the global market.  “American palates tend to like super fruity, big, muscular wines,” he says, “which are less popular outside the US.”

But he sees that changing. “I left the US in 1985, then I started tasting American wines again in 2005-2006, and it was crazy how the style had changed.  [In 1985] people were picking at such high potential ripeness, and the wines were so alcoholic. Now, there’s more of a concern for drink-ability.”

The trend to the non-jammy, lower alcohol wines is promising to James.  He notes that “internationally those wines aren’t as coveted as they are in the US, they’re just too heavy.”  But he says that many of the top American winemakers are now making wine in the European-style. 

In fact, these days he’s so pro-American that he named the 2013 Opus One the global wine of the year in 2016.  “I gave it a perfect score.  2013 was a great vintage, the wine is great, and you can buy it around the world.  And that was exciting as an American, to be able to have an American wine as Wine of the Year for JamesSuckling.com.”    

Layne Randolph, Inside Napa Valley, Summer 2017

JCB Tasting Salon and Atelier by JCB

JCB Tasting Salon in Yountville, California.

Jean-Charles Boisset is known as a winemaker with inimitable style, and he’s curated some of his favorite things and put them on offer at the JCB Tasting Salon and Atelier in Yountville, California.

And the glamorous and decadent JCB tasting salon is not your average tasting room, either.  The room sparkles as brightly as the JCB bubbles, punctuated by a glorious chandelier over a gigantic extended table in the center of the room.  The myriad of gilded mirrors hung upside down on the ceiling set off the scene, including the Surrealist Boutique glimmering with fine luxury products such as JCB’s custom designed jewelry and L’Agent Provocateur lingerie (yes, you read that right).  It might take a moment or two to adjust yourself to the sensory overload  – and I suggest you have a glass of bubbles while you do.

JCB Tasting Salon in Yountville, California.

Jean-Charles Boisset

JCB comes from a French wine-making family in Vougeot, Burgundy where he grew up learning the business before he brought his skill, taste, and savoir-faire to Napa Valley.  He owns several wineries in the area and JCB Tasting Salon and Atelier is his latest venture and he has pulled it off with aplomb.

Atelier by JCB
Atelier by JCB in Yountville, California.
Atelier by JCB in Yountville, California.

The Atelier houses a highly curated choice of cheeses, meats, and other gourmet products that originate from Italy, France, and other prime spots for gourmet food, including Northern California.  There is no way you can leave JCB without making a purchase in The Atelier – it’s just all so tempting. 

The Wine

A lower caliber wine might get lost here, but instead, the wine – and especially No. 69, a Brut Rose based exclusively on Pinot Noir – accentuates the sumptuousness surrounding you.  Or does the room accentuate the wine?  Either way, it’s a gloriously unforgettable wine-tasting experience.

The JCB Tasting Salon and Atelier by JCB are open daily from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. at 6505 Washington St, Yountville. For tasting reservations or further information, contact them at (707) 934-8237 or at www.jcbcollection.com.

Atelier by JCB's display of gourmet cheeses from around the world.