Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Lighter California wines go mainstream

California wine is undergoing a shift from heavy hitters to lighter, lower alcohol wines. You know this because you are by definition the kind of person who reads about wine. The question has always been, how much does the rest of America know, care or support the new quest for balance?

Here's your answer: there's a story in this month's Hemispheres magazine titled "A Little Bit Softer Now: Northern California winemakers tone down their approach."

Here's the first paragraph, which is fully 20% of the story, so hopefully this is still fair use:

DRIVE DOWN THE BYWAYS of the Napa and Sonoma valleys at the right time of year, and you’ll pass vines heavy with glistening grapes just waiting to be turned into the big, tannic, high-alcohol wines—generally cabernets and zinfandels—that have made the region famous. These days, though, you’re also liable to spot a few vines that have been stripped of fruit early. These point up a new movement afoot in Northern California— a burgeoning faction of vintners interested in making more balanced vintages (read: less jammy, sun-ripened and strong).

Hemispheres, the inflight magazine for United Airlines, is about the most mainstream media that an inteligent wine story can be published in.


You'd be surprised how many people read it; I think they claim 2 million circulation, and I wouldn't doubt it. I have written for Hemispheres, and people I hadn't heard from in years would tell me, "I saw your story on the plane."

Some airline magazines barely write about food and wine at all, concentrating on stories about business, because those are the fliers that matter to them. Hemispheres is more general-audience focused, but it's not a food-and-wine specialty magazine. It doesn't run stupid stories, but it's not exactly cutting-edge either.

The writer, a Brooklyn-based general feature writer named Michael Kaplan, interviews Jamie Kutch, Kathleen Inman and Chris Howell of Cain Vineyards.

Here's a half-paragraph about Kutch:
Asked to describe what he likes about his new, lighter, less oaky vintages, Kutch says they’re cleaner and more precise. They’re probably also easier to sell. Well-structured wines like these have been experiencing a renaissance among restaurateurs and wine buyers, who find that they pair well with a vast array of foods rather than just the traditional charbroiled slab of rib-eye.
Granted, this is not news to us. But the fact that this kind of story is in Hemispheres, well, that's bigger news than you think.

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12 comments:

SiduriWines said...

Blake,

You do know that in the 2012 vintage Pinot Noir sugars at harverst in Sonoma County were higher than in 2011, 2006, and 2002 (and the same as the "big" 2007 vintage).

Napa Cab sugars in 2012 were higher than in 2011, 2010 and 2003 (and the same as 2009).

There are plenty of other examples as well (just picked two obvious ones). And those numbers are with a huge crop (which slows sugar accumulation).

Not trying to dispute the Hemisphere's article....just temper it a bit with actual numbers.

Adam Lee
Siduri Wines

Mark Andrew Sinnott said...

Adam, it seems to me that Blake was pointing out a trend that is taking place in many (not all, or even a majority) of wineries, not an assessment of what is physiologically happening in the vineyard.

I bet if Blake said the earth was round, you'd remind him it's an oval.

SiduriWines said...

Mark

I was actually commenting on the article itself which Blake quoted about grapes being picked earlier.

Adam Lee

W. Blake Gray said...

I'm just writing about the article itself, which is news. We can debate the 2012 harvest another day. The point isn't what 2012 will give winemakers: the point is what the very mainstream, non-food media is starting to tell consumers about California wine.

That may affect when you pick in the future, Adam.

Pietro Buttitta said...

From a ground level view I feel quite confident stating that the darker wines still outsell the lighter ones in our tasting room by a good margin, and wine judges still usually award the highest oaked, non-typicity wines in California competitions. I love championing the lighter, delicate side, and it is my personal preference and strongpoint in out winery, but in my corner of the North Coast world bigger and darker still sells more, and aside from a few highly-tuned pockets of knowledgeable enthusiasts, it may be a while before that dominates the market. Haven't heard of any barrel purveyors going out of business lately either...

SiduriWines said...

Blake,

I guess I am confused. The article, the part you quoted, talked about vines being harvested early. I simply commented about the fact that, numerically, the vines were harvested later (at higher sugars) than in a number of previous years. We were both writing about the article.

And I have no clue at all why or what you mean by having an effect on when I pick in the future. Help me out with that one, please.

Adam Lee
Siduri Wines

Jonas Landau, everydaywineguy said...

In the retail establishment I moonlight in, I've definitely seen growing interest in lighter style reds, especially Pinot Noir, and in unoaked, more balanced Chardonnays. Concentration is probably still king but I think there is some balancing out going on in terms of our customer's tastes.

Pete said...

Funny, I saw this post and then the new Wine Enthusiast arrived and when I flipped it open the first thing I encountered was a full page winery ad with the big headline, "RICH IS ALWAYS A GOOD THING"!

W. Blake Gray said...

Pete: An ad, huh? Thought that was the editorial policy.

Pinotgraves said...

I was pulled up short by the geography--a poor representation of Sonoma County.....

Pinotgraves said...

I was pulled up short by the geography--a poor representation of Sonoma County.....

Ross said...

Adam Lee is the Michael Savage of the wine world(the Gray Report), and I mean that in the most sincere way possible.