The Edinburgh Wine Club
| CALIFORNIAN WINES
Wine is produced in every state of the USA.
California accounts for 90% of wine production. More wine is produced in California than in any country outside Europe. If a separate country it would be the 4th largest producer after France, Italy & Spain. California is almost ¾ the size of France.
Viticulture history dates back to 18th century when Spanish missionaries planted vineyards to produce wine for Mass. The vine cuttings came from Mexico and were descended from the “common black grape” brought to the New World by Cortes in 1520. Dominant grape until the 20th century. The mid 19th century gold rush brought an increased demand for wine. New wine industry centred round Napa and Sonoma. First commercial winery in Buena Vista, Sonoma. Chinese labourers were involved extensively initially; building, planting, and digging cellars.
Late 19th century. Phylloxera. Grafting resistant American rootstock allowed rapid recovery of industry. By 1900 300 grape varieties being grown.
1919 – Prohibition. Some survived making sacramental wine or grape juice.
By 1933, when prohibition repealed, only 140 wineries in operation.
By 1960’s CA known for sweet port style wines. New wave of wine producers appeared. By 1976 British wine merchant Steven Spurrier set up blind tasting to compare CA wines with Bordeaux & Burgundy “ the Judgement of Paris” and CA won both white & red categories. California emerged as one of the world’s premier wine regions.
By 2010 sales were down as public less keen to spend high prices for their wines.
Some concern with return of Phylloxera in the 1990s and more recently Pierce’s Disease, a bacterium spread by a leafhopper.
Vary greatly even within vineyards.
Often divided into 4 main regions:
• North Coast
• Central Coast
• South Coast
• Central Valley
Over 107 AVA’S (American Viticultural Areas), 188 in total in USA.
Central Valley is the largest & produces bulk wines and box wines.
Napa & Sonoma dominate for quality but others to the south of San Francisco are gaining in reputation, such as Paso Robles, Monterey, Santa Cruz and Santa Maria Valley
• Disputes over land development
• Water usage. Irrigation expensive & required in Central (San Joaquin Valley). This area grows 75% of the state’s grapes. Rain mainly in early part of year so reservoirs required.
• Fog – The nearer the Pacific, the greater the risk. End on valleys to the sea allow fog to funnel in as far as 75 miles. At San Francisco, cold winds can affect as far as 150 miles inland (to foothills of Sierra Nevada)
• Cool areas – Sonoma and Napa can be cool due to fog and sea breezes. Also Santa Barbara further south on coast.
Grapes & Wines
Over 100 grape varieties are now grown. The 7 leading varieties are:
• Cabernet Sauvignon
• Pinot Noir
• Sauvignon Blanc
Until late 1980s industry dominated by Bordeaux varietals and Chardonnay. Italian wine makers then reinvigorated the industry (Cal-Ital) with different varieties like Syrah, Viognier, Sangiovese & Pinot Grigio.
Like most New World wines, tend to be simpler, fruit dominant, higher in alcohol and less earthy or minerally.
• Chardonnay often made by malolactic fermentation and oak aging to make buttery, full bodied wines. Dominant force since 1990s and most planted with 100,000 acres of vineyards. Far less oak being used.
• Sauvignon blancs are not so herbaceous as those from Loire or NZ but do have racy acidity and fresh, floral notes.
• Cabernet Sauvignon – lush rich wines
• Merlot – if produced on good sites produce plush, concentrated style. Got hammered in “Sideways”
• Pinot Noir – generally a more intense, fruity style, than the subtler, more elegant wines of Burgundy or Oregon. Fastest growing in popularity, thanks to “Sideways”
• Zinfandel – Recently traced back to Croatia’s obscure crljenak kastelanski grape ) an ancestor of Italy’s primitive). Red is fruity, rich, spicy, jammy & high acidity. Blush roseęs are sickly-sweet !
• Syrah – more popular in USA now. Petit sirah (aka Durif in Australia) is a dark, tannic variety producing very good wines.
• Champagne style wines – less yeasty and biscuit, more fruit flavours without being too “fruity” Strive for elegance & finesse. Optimal climatic conditions allow for a vintage dated wine every year.
SOME GROWING REGIONS
MENDOCINO & LAKE
Anderson Valley most distinctive area. In 1982 Roederer of Champagne set up business, producing very high quality sparkling wines.
Cooler than Napa and grows more grapes. Fine wine started in Sonoma. Petaluma Gap causes much cooler conditions with mists until 11 am and from 4 pm. Further inland Russian River warms up.
Chardonnay most planted grape. Russian River Pinot Noirs are notable.
Dry Creek valley cool so Sauvignon Blanc grown here whilst on hills Zinfandel grown.
SOUTHERN SONOMA AND CARNEROS (THE RAMS)
Fine wine stared here.
Bennett Valley – Merlot dominates.
Carneros – cool area, covering both Sonoma & Napa. Delicate wines such as pinot noir and chardonnay for sparkling wines. Chardonnay has excellent aging potential and Pinot is lighter than Russian River tasting of cherries and herbs.
20% of value of CA wine comes from Napa from only 4% of its volume. South much cooler than north. Wines taste richer and more tannic moving north. Moving into hills they have more structure.
Cabernet sauvignon is the Napa grape and some of the world’s most successful.
Chardonnay mainly from cooler Carneros area.
Cabernet sauvignon par excellence.
SOUTH OF THE BAY
Livermore Valley – Windswept, dry gravels –Sauvignon Blanc
Santa Cruz Mountains – scattered average vineyards, producing a variety of wines.
Santa Clara Valley – almost squeezed out by electronic revolution – Rhone wines.
Monterey – huge quantities of average wine from vey long area, dry and requiring irrigation.
Modern life started in 1990s as cheap expansion of Napa & Sonoma. Maritime climate. Western side of Paso Roles produces Zinfandel & Rhone wines.
Edna Valley – luscious chardonnays & white Rhone varieties.
Arroyo Grande – fine pinot noir & chardonnay
Santa Maria Valley – cool sea breezes. Both Santa Maria and Santa Ynez – cold ocean fogs. Santa Barbra more sheltered. Pinot noir, chardonnay and some Syrah grown above the fog belt. Au Bon Climat and Qupeę are the most exciting wineries in Santa Maria and produce excellent chardonnay & pinot noir. Also import grapes to produce pinot gris & viognier.
Los Alamos – unofficial area to the south – lively chardonnay
Santa Ynez Valley– Syrah & Bordeaux varieties.
Santa Rita Hills – recent AVA – Pinot noir, chardonnay & some sauvignon blanc.
SIERRA FOOTHILLS , LODI AND THE DELTA
Central Valley is a vast, flat extremely fertile, heavily irrigated tract of industrial farmland. Sacramento Delta is much cooler as near the San Francisco Bay.
Clarksburg – good honeyed Chenin Blanc
Lodi –higher & better soils – cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay & old-vine zinfandel.
Sierra Foothills – area being revived. Long history of Zinfandel
El Dorado – high, wet, cool, thin soil. -light wines
Shenandoah Valley – warmer, lower - Zinfandel
Fiddletown – similar – Zinfandel – some pre prohibition. Syrah, sangiovase & occas sauv blanc