There are but a few en­chant­ing places in The world such as The wine grow­ing re­gions of cal­i­for­nia’s north coast. With its pic­turesque land­scape of pure nat­u­ral beauty and an un­par­al­leled rich­ness of Ter­rain, cou­pled with a most en­joy­able and tem­per­ate cli

Town & Country (Philippines) - - CONTENTS / JUNE - By Ali­cia Colby Sy

The pic­turesque land­scape of Cal­i­for­nia’s north­ern coast is home to some of the world’s most cel­e­brated wine­mak­ers.

In 1769, a Fran­cis­can mis­sion­ary known as Fa­ther Ju­nipero Serra planted the first grape vine­yard at the Mis­sion San Diego de Al­cala (present-day San Diego) so he would be able to pro­duce sacra­men­tal and ta­ble wines for his church. As he and his fri­ars moved north to­ward Sonoma to es­tab­lish more mis­sions, es­tab­lish­ing what is now known as the 600-mile road called El Camino Real, he brought with him the cul­ti­va­tion of the mis­sion grape, and the rest, as they say, is viti­cul­ture history. To­day, wine grapes are grown on over 600,000 acres of Cal­i­for­nia’s most fer­tile land, in 49 of the state’s 58 coun­ties. As the fourth largest wine pro­ducer in the world, trail­ing only behind the Old World wine­mak­ing coun­tries of Italy, France, and Spain, there are now a to­tal of 138 fed­er­ally rec­og­nized Amer­i­can Viti­cul­tural Ar­eas or AVAs in the state, each with its own history, unique soil, cli­mate, and to­pog­ra­phy, and each one con­tribut­ing to Cal­i­for­nia’s ex­ten­sive range of high qual­ity wines and pro­duce. Of the listed 5,900 Cal­i­for­nia wine grape grow­ers and 4,400 bonded winer­ies, most are fam­ily-owned en­ter­prises and in­volve the par­tic­i­pa­tion and ded­i­ca­tion of mul­ti­ple gen­er­a­tions work­ing to­gether hand in hand. Here, busi­ness de­ci­sions are made not only for the suc­cess of the local food and wine in­dus­try, but more im­por­tantly, for the long-term ben­e­fit of the land and the com­mu­nity.

While less than 1 per­cent of Cal­i­for­nia land is planted with vine­yards, wine is still one of the state’s top agri­cul­tural prod­ucts with an es­ti­mated 230 mil­lion cases sold in 2015. The es­tab­lished Cal­i­for­nia Sus­tain­able Wine­grow­ing Pro­gram has put in place a strong frame­work of so­cially re­spon­si­ble wine­mak­ing prac­tices from “grass to glass.” A set of best and com­pre­hen­sive prac­tices with ac­cred­i­ta­tion, this pro­gram guides Cal­i­for­nia grow­ers and vint­ners with ways to farm the land and pro­duce wine in an en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly, eco­nom­i­cally vi­able, and so­cially eq­ui­table man­ner that ben­e­fits fam­i­lies, em­ploy­ees, com­mu­ni­ties, and wildlife. To­gether the Cal­i­for­nia wine com­mu­nity has suc­cess­fully adopted the green wine­mak­ing and wine­grow­ing pro­gram and has made Cal­i­for­nia an in­dus­try model for other wine re­gions around the world. This strong com­mit­ment to en­vi­ron­men­tally sus­tain­able agri­cul­ture is one of the main rea­sons why Cal­i­for­nia is the most vis­ited state in the U.S. for food and wine-re­lated ac­tiv­i­ties, and one that boasts 24 mil­lion vis­its to its wine grow­ing ar­eas each year.

Sup­ple­ment­ing its strong local mar­ket con­sump­tion, 90 per­cent of U.S. wine

ex­ports also come from Cal­i­for­nia. In 2015, the to­tal vol­ume reached $1.61 bil­lion, or 51.2 mil­lion cases, and set an all­time record for U.S. wine ex­ports. Af­ter the Euro­pean Union and Canada, Asian coun­tries in­clud­ing Ja­pan, China, South Korea, and Sin­ga­pore are the largest im­porters of U.S. wine. The Philip­pines alone im­ported $11.7 mil­lion worth of wine in 2015, a hefty 36 per­cent in­crease over 2014 im­ports, and more than both Tai­wan and Thai­land. “Cal­i­for­nia wines ap­peal to con­sumers across the globe who rec­og­nize the unique qual­ity and ex­cel­lent value of our wines,” says Robert Koch, Cal­i­for­nia Wine In­sti­tute’s pres­i­dent and CEO. “Con­sumers are also at­tracted to Cal­i­for­nia’s trend­set­ting life­style, in­no­va­tive cui­sine, beau­ti­ful wine coun­try des­ti­na­tions, and em­pha­sis on en­vi­ron­men­tal re­spon­si­bil­ity—all of which are re­flected in our wines.”

The forecast for Cal­i­for­nia wines con­tin­ues to look promis­ing and the 2016 wine grape vin­tage prom­ises to be a good one. With the harvest ar­riv­ing early last year due to slightly warmer tem­per­a­tures than the year prior, wine­grow­ers yielded ex­cep­tional qual­ity fruit from around the state as a re­sult of an even grow­ing sea­son, cooler than av­er­age cli­mate, and win­ter rains that helped nour­ish the soil and vines while al­le­vi­at­ing any pos­si­bil­ity for drought.


Ar­guably Cal­i­for­nia’s most in­flu­en­tial wine re­gion, and def­i­nitely its most pop­u­lar, the Napa Val­ley was Cal­i­for­nia’s first AVA and was es­tab­lished in 1981. Sit­u­ated 40 miles north­east of San Fran­cisco and set be­tween the Vaca moun­tain range to the east and the May­a­ca­mas moun­tains to the west, this 30-mile-long by five-mile-wide val­ley is one of the small­est yet most di­verse wine pro­duc­ing ar­eas in the world and is home to over 100 dif­fer­ent soil vari­a­tions. It has been blessed with a near to per­fect Mediter­ranean-like cli­mate that is per­fect for grape grow­ing—a grace be­stowed on only 2 per­cent of the Earth’s sur­face. Its di­verse to­pog­ra­phy in­cludes the flat val­ley floor where the county’s wine busi­ness is housed, as well as low slop­ing al­lu­vial fans, nar­row lin­ear val­leys, steep moun­tain

slopes and ridges, and high plateaus. Warmer in the north and east and cooler in the south and west, the tem­per­a­ture nat­u­rally drops as the el­e­va­tions in­crease.

Napa Val­ley’s first vine­yards were planted in the 1850s. By 1861, the first com­mer­cial win­ery was opened by Charles Krug, and at the end of the cen­tury there were over 100 op­er­at­ing winer­ies, in­clud­ing to­day’s fa­mil­iar names of Schrams­berg, Beringer, and In­glenook. In the early 1900s, how­ever, the in­dus­try’s rapid ex­pan­sion took a few tu­mul­tuous turns. First, the sur­plus of grapes led prices to plum­met. Soon af­ter, the ar­rival of phyl­lox­era (a grape-eating louse) left 80 per­cent of the val­ley’s vine­yards in sham­bles. But the great­est chal­lenge to the young wine in­dus­try was the gov­ern­ment’s en­act­ment of Pro­hi­bi­tion in 1920 which banned the pro­duc­tion and sales of al­co­holic bev­er­ages. Over the next 15 years, most winer­ies closed their doors and only a hand­ful con­tin­ued to op­er­ate by pro­duc­ing sacra­men­tal wines for the church. Af­ter the re­peal of Pro­hi­bi­tion in 1933, winer­ies be­gan to slowly re­cover, al­though many had shut down for good, and pioneer wine­mak­ers such as Louis Mar­tini, An­dre Tche­listch­eff, and Robert Mondavi, Napa’s great­est cheer­leader, made many great in­roads in the im­prove­ment of how grapes were grown and how wine was made in Cal­i­for­nia.

If a sin­gle event can be cred­ited for putting Napa Val­ley and Cal­i­for­nia wines on the world map, it would be the fa­mous Paris tast­ing also known as the Judg­ment of Paris in 1976 that was or­ga­nized by Bri­tish wine mer­chant Steven Spurier. In this blind tast­ing competition, Cal­i­for­nia caber­net sauvi­gnon and chardon­nay wines were put up head-to-head against the best red and white wines from France in a com­par­a­tive re­view. In the end, the vic­tors named in both cat­e­gories were Cal­i­for­nia bot­tles: Chateau Mon­te­lena chardon­nay and Stag’s Leap Wine Cel­lars caber­net sauvi­gnon. In­ter­na­tional recog­ni­tion and ac­cep­tance soon fol­lowed and wine ex­ports be­gan to in­crease. Less than a decade later, Robert Parker, the in­flu­en­tial wine critic, awarded the 1985 Groth caber­net sauvi­gnon a per­fect score of 100 points.

As renowned as the Napa Val­ley is to­day, it may come as a sur­prise that only 4 per­cent of Cal­i­for­nia’s wine grapes and .04 per­cent of the world’s wine grape harvest are grown here. In fact, only 9

per­cent of Napa County’s 505,000 acres are planted with wine grapes un­der cul­ti­va­tion. Now home to 700 grape grow­ers and ap­prox­i­mately 500 phys­i­cal winer­ies, 95 per­cent of which are fam­i­ly­owned, to­gether they pro­duce over 1,000 dif­fer­ent wine brands. Making up ap­prox­i­mately 40 per­cent of the to­tal fruit grown in Napa, with 90 per­cent of its rep­u­ta­tion rest­ing on it, caber­net sauvi­gnon is the heart and soul of the val­ley floor as the cli­mate and the soil are par­tic­u­larly well suited to grow­ing this va­ri­etal. Per­haps less aus­tere than its el­e­gant Bordeaux coun­ter­part, this Napa style red wine tends to be fleshier, fruitier, and friend­lier. With many mak­ers now fo­cus­ing on lighter, food- friend­lier wines that em­pha­size struc­ture and fi­nesse over power and ripeness, the range of pow­er­house caber­nets is only get­ting bet­ter.

The most cov­eted bot­tles, in­clud­ing those from Har­lan Es­tate, Scream­ing Ea­gle, Robert Mondavi, In­glenook, and Staglin, tend to come from the AVAs of Oakville and Ruther­ford while other highly sought-af­ter caber­net sauvi­gnon wines in­clude bot­tles from mak­ers such as Gr­gich, Spotswoode, Ray­mond, Cake­bread, and Mer­ry­vale from Saint Helena; Pahlmeyer in At­las Peak, and Cain Five from the Cain vine­yard in Spring Moun­tain. While most of Napa’s AVAs are con­ducive for grow­ing caber­net sauvi­gnon, Napa is cer­tainly not lim­ited to this grape va­ri­ety and many cab mak­ers list chardon­nay wines among their es­tate of­fer­ings. In Carneros, an AVA that is shared by both Napa Val­ley and Sonoma County, the cooler weather best lends it­self to pinot noir and chardon­nay and other va­ri­etals such as mer­lot, caber­net franc, and sauvi­gnon blanc, and many are also suc­cess­fully grown here.


Nes­tled in be­tween the Pa­cific Ocean to the west and the May­a­ca­mas moun­tains to the east, Sonoma County pro­duces dou­ble the quan­tity of wines than its more fa­mous neigh­bor, Napa Val­ley. The re­gion is di­vided into 18 AVAs across 60,000 acres of vine­yards with 500 reg­is­tered winer­ies in op­er­a­tion. In to­tal, there are over 60 types of grapes grown in Sonoma. This is largely due to the county’s var­ied to­pog­ra­phy made up of val­leys and plains, moun­tains, forests, riverbeds, and ocean

cliffs as well as to the num­ber of soil types avail­able (Sonoma has more soil types than France), and the prox­im­ity to the ocean coast­line. All of these fac­tors con­trib­ute to the nu­mer­ous mi­cro­cli­mates avail­able here for grape grow­ing that no other re­gion in the U.S. can of­fer. Of­fer­ing un­par­al­leled wine grow­ing con­di­tions, it is easy to un­der­stand why many grow­ers and pro­duc­ers con­sider Sonoma to be the most ideal place in the world to live and to make wine.

The history of wine­mak­ing in Sonoma traces its roots back to 1812, when Rus­sian colonists first planted grapes in Fort Ross along the county coast. By 1823, the Fran­cis­can mis­sions had found their way north, and Fa­ther Jose Al­tamira is cred­ited with plant­ing sev­eral thou­sand vines in the area. The first win­ery in Sonoma, Buena Vista, one that is still op­er­a­tional to­day, was opened in 1857 by the Hun­gar­ian count Agos­ton Haraszthy, also known as the fa­ther of the Cal­i­for­nia wine in­dus­try. By 1919, there were as many as 256 winer­ies with 22,000 acres of wine pro­duc­tion in Sonoma County. Un­for­tu­nately, by the time Pro­hi­bi­tion was re­pealed in 1933, less than half of the Sonoma winer­ies had sur­vived. Dur­ing the post-war years lead­ing up to the 1970s, Sonoma gained back its wine­mak­ing ground but it wasn’t un­til the 1980s, af­ter the sem­i­nal Judg­ment of Paris, when Sonoma County shifted from be­ing a dairy, grain, and fruit crop pro­ducer to a pri­mar­ily wine grape-grow­ing re­gion.

While Napa Val­ley has built its cul­ture around caber­net sauvi­gnon, Sonoma is home to some of the best Cal­i­for­nia chardon­nay and pinot noir wines. The most premier bot­tles have tra­di­tion­ally come from the famed Rus­sian River Val­ley and the Sonoma Coast, where the cool

coastal weather, early morn­ing fog, and low overnight tem­per­a­tures do won­ders for the fruit with­out run­ning the risk of frost. Some key play­ers in the AVAs are Ken­dall-Jack­son, Wil­liams-Se­lyem, DeLoach, Merry Ed­wards, Ramey, Kosta Browne, Kistler, and Free­man Vine­yards. In re­cent years, how­ever, the 15-mile long An­der­son Val­ley, once more known for grow­ing cannabis than grapes, has be­come Sonoma’s new hot spot for pinot noir with many new and old pro­duc­ers set­ting up shop. And where there are high qual­ity pinot noir and chardon­nay grapes, there will al­ways be top­notch sparkling wines as well. In Green Val­ley, the Ster­ling fam­ily-owned Iron Horse es­tate is one of Cal­i­for­nia’s great­est sparkling pro­duc­ers. Warmer ar­eas in the re­gion such as the Alexan­der Val­ley have been said to be more ap­pro­pri­ately suited for pro­duc­ing ex­cel­lent caber­net sauvi­gnon wines with many now ri­val­ing the Napa Cab, such as Sil­ver Oak, Segh­e­sio, Fer­arri-Car­rano, and Rod­ney Strong, while the nar­row Dry Creek Val­ley, just 16 miles long and two miles across, is home to pre­mium food-friendly and cel­lar­wor­thy zin­fan­del wines. «

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