Monday, December 17, 2007

Past, Present, Future

For those who drink wine regularly it seems as if California wine, in its present state of world-class quality, has been around forever. The truth is, though, that it wasn't really until the late 1970s, early 1980s that California wine earned the "but, of course" status when high quality was the issue. And California wine as an industry is only nearing its 100th birthday. Compared to Europe, our wine industry and culture are still in their infancy.

A few decades can seem like forever and when a strong moment of inertia meets a critical ossification of thought, a sense of inevitability is the end product. All truthful winery owners (me included) would love to have the built-in "Napa premium" that our neighbors to the north enjoy when it comes to the critics and to the wine shop owners. Plenty of great wine is made in Napa, and no region has done anywhere near as good a job at telling its story than them.

And while this is true, it does not mean anything else but that. The fact is that there are more good wine regions than are dreamt of in your philosophy, Horatio. The difference is that they are in the process of living up to their natural gifts and being discovered.

My appellation - the Livermore Valley - is just this sort of area. One of the oldest wine growing regions in California, blessed with warm days and cool evenings (there's your ripe fruit and acid retention), a wide variety of soil types, a bunch of micro-climates, etc. All the things that one needs to grow great fruit. What Livermore is discovering now is the real hard work of making really good wine..the slavish attention to detail in the vineyards, the farming for small yields, the buying of the best barrels, etc. This is a work in progress, and the progress is picking up pace every year.

Napa Valley produces great wine. And it will never produce anything surprising or exciting again. It has had its time. Areas like Livermore, Paso Robles, Santa Lucia Highlands, these are the areas where the excitement will be created. Our growing number of visitors each year are getting it. Some day the wine press may too.

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