Is a new Revolution taking place in California or has its Wine Culture finally matured?
(An editorial written by Guillaume Jourdan)
After having survived an awkward adolescence, California Wine is becoming "a beacon of the possible". This is how Jon Bonne, wine editor of the San Francisco Chronicle, describes the new California Wine landscape in his book called "The New California Wine: A Guide to the Producers and Wines Behind a Revolution in Taste." Renowned internationally since the wine boom of the 1970s, when Cabernet and Chardonnay - not Pinot - were leading the revolution, California is now moving to a new era.
Adieu to those flashy style California wines...I remember a time when people were angry at me when I was saying "Thanks but no thanks" when I was proposed a "big wine" from California. Now I have a good reason: I will simply refer to Jon Bonne's book. I still remember what we were told when we were proposed those flashy wines: their aging potential was exceptional and we had to wait long before the oakey taste and the dreadful tannins would soften to finally get the balance only great wines could offer. Now, with a little perspective (20/30 years) we can say that most of these wines failed to deliver.
Even if we are not talking here about the middle ages, a nice definition from Jon Bonne (read the article) may refresh your memory: "The riper the wines became in the 1990s, the better they fared, never more than in the ripe 1997 vintage. Vintners asserted their own new theory - that ripeness was in fact the mark of California's terroir. Those who followed that line were critically rewarded for at least the next decade; those who didn't were punished." Hard to be a "contrarian" winemaker at that time...In fact, California was offering what people were looking for at that time and Jon Bonne defines this consumer trend."Big Flavor wines undoubtedly spoke to the American mass market and, crucially, to a generation of newly monied collectors who began buying wine in the 1990s. Newly curious palates love sweeter, familiar, robust flavors - no different in wine than in cooking."
We are now entering a new era in California that brings new names.There were pioneers in the past who did a great job as Jon Bonne explains: "The pioneering spirit among today's small producers is as revolutionary as what took place in the 1970s. Forty years ago, the world came to know California through names like Mondavi and Ridge, Montelena and Stag's Leap. Now a new generation has emerged to play on a global stage." Jon Bonne gives names like David Hirsch and Ted Lemon that are not new to wine experts, but that are, in fact, still in the "new generation" category.
So...Is a new Revolution taking place in California or has its Wine Culture finally matured? If we could use the term revolution, this new revolution is not about coming down about the trend toward making fruit bombs, those big, jammy, fruit-forward wines full of alcohol and sugar. That is "old story", many winemakers have already moved that way for a long time now. This new revolution is more profound, it is about re-discovering neglected plantings, trying "Vendanges entieres", using old techniques for Head-trained vines, rethinking oak-use....Winemakers understood that they still have to do their work to find great places in California and do their best to express the specific sense of place. As Jon Bonne shows, some have already done great things. In fact, what is happening now in California is truly exceptional and exciting. And we haven't seen it all. Some projects I am aware of, with some new guys coming in, will offer delicious wines and give Jon Bonne an opportunity to pursue his search for new terroirs and new talents.
Here is another nice article on Jon Bonne's book.
(Write to Guillaume Jourdan firstname.lastname@example.org)