Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Savage Grace

On my last trip to Washington in March, I visited many of the state's AVAs and tasted many great wines, with the further good fortune of meeting the makers of those wines. One winemaker in particular stood out, for his wines seemed both typical and atypical of Washington. The wines of Savage Grace have astonishingly high acidity - a characteristic I associate with the cool nights of Washington - but their fruit profile is much more restrained and reserved than much of the other wine I've tasted from the state. In March, I tasted his Sauvignon Blanc - which has an acidity I've rarely tasted outside the Loire Valley - Chardonnay, and Cabernet Franc - the latter two wines being among the highlights of the trip. So when last weekend I returned to Seattle to visit my good friend Matt Hemeyer of @drinkaddition, I made sure that I visited winemaker Michael Savage in his tasting room in Woodinville.

Woodinville


With hazy smoke drifting from Washington's forest fires on a warm Saturday afternoon, the atmosphere was warm and oppressive. I was also slightly hungover, the clanging in my head augmented by an outdoor pub-punk-metal band playing a block away from Woodinville's tasting rooms. These rooms are on an industrial estate, with dozens and dozens of sandwich boards pointing hopefully from the car park to a series of anonymous units. In the car park, there was a tour bus and a limousine, out of which staggered a high-heeled bachelorette party, as if they'd taken a very bad wrong turn from Napa. We wandered through the estate looking for a sandwich board to point us in the right direction, until we finally found Savage Grace, the estate's very last tasting room.

the tasting room experience


I really wasn't expecting to find Michael Savage, quiet and diffident, in the middle of an industrial estate visited by tour buses and bachelorette parties. Even though he's at the end of the estate, one of each came in while we were there, and he dealt with them nervously but efficiently. The tasting room is small, an industrial unit very tastefully converted into an intimate, stylish area.

Woodinville serves as a base for many wineries who source their grapes from distant, desolate eastern Washington. Like many other industrial tasting rooms, the wine is made on site, a tiny 'cellar' right next to the tasting experience. Michael took us into the cellar to show us the Sauvignon Blanc that had just been picked two days previously. He was ready to pour cultivated yeast into the tank - he described how he had experimented with native yeasts for Sauvignon Blanc and believed it made an inferior wine - and gave my friend Matt the opportunity to do it for himself. We all await with baited breath to see how the 2015 Sauvignon turns out: Michael thinks it will be bottled in February.


video


Michael Savage

Nervous, shy, and awkward, Michael Savage is not dissimilar to a quieter Woody Allen. Every question is received with a long pause as he considers the several different answers he could give. The answer he eventually decides to share is not likely to be the one expected, and it can take a while to follow his train of thought. Each answer takes a certain direction, however: his very particular take on how he thinks wine should be made and how he makes it.

Acidity is absolutely important. He picks his grapes earlier than anyone else does in the same vineyard, resulting not only in high acidity but wines with a very subtle, less fruity nature. He also chooses vineyards and growing regions that are cool, particularly Columbia Gorge, a wet AVA that straddles Washington and Oregon. The wines are generally released very young, giving the wines a raw just out of the barrel feel. This gives consumers the rare chance to taste quality, young wine near the beginning of its life. Although Michael is only into his fifth vintage with Savage Grace, the acidity and complexity of the wines offer definite ageing potential. Michael says he doesn't care when people drink his wines, though, just as long as they drink them.

the wines

just-picked Sauvignon Blanc
Having tasted eleven of his wines over the weekend, I just want to highlight some of my favourites.

Grüner Veltliner 2014 ($20)

Grüner Veltliner is a late-ripening grape with naturally high acidity (the grapes were picked in early and then late October), not always suited to the warmer climates of the US. Like many of the Savage Grace wines, the grapes come from Columbia Gorge's Underwood vineyard, the cool climate allowing a slow ripening of the grapes. This Grüner has typically floral and spicy notes of jasmine, ginger, and white pepper, with lightly tropical fruits. ✪✪✪✪✪

Chardonnay 2013 ($30)

I have written about this wine before, and I still think it's an exceptional example of a cool-climate Chardonnay not often found in the US. It's again from Columbia Gorge, though from Celilo vineyard, considered one of Washington's finest for Chardonnay. Grapes picked from the higher part of the vineyard give the wine its bracing acidity and are aged in tank, while those from the lower part are picked earlier, are aged in neutral barrel, and lend the wine its lightly spicy, cinnamon, and lime flavours. ✪✪✪✪✪✪

Cabernet Franc 2014 ($26)

Another wine I have written about before, and the one that I think is truly outstanding. To taste a red wine this young yet complex is very rare, with firm tannins, red fruits, and green, padrone pepper, rhubarb aromas. Michael told me that he accidentally aged a couple of the bottles in the warm back of his car for a couple of months. On opening the bottles, the wines tasted just as good but as if they were a year older, convincing him that this Cabernet Franc has great ageing potential. I suggested he should make a Madeira out of the grape in the future. ✪✪✪✪✪✪

Cabernet Sauvignon 2014

From Red Willow vineyard - one of Washington's greatest - this Cabernet has only just been bottled. It may seem a surprise that Michael should be making wine from a grape as bold as Cabernet, but the wine is quite different from most. Despite being so young, there are gamey, animal aromas, with intense black fruits and gripping but not dominant tannins. This is a restrained, yet intense Cabernet Sauvignon that's difficult to classify - its experimental nature is emphasised further as it's made from a new clone planted in the vineyard. ✪✪✪✪✪

Riesling 2013

The Seattle Times named this Riesling as the best Washington white of the year, and it's sadly already sold out. Michael described the wine as having a magical quality that he couldn't define. The grapes hung longer than they normally do, but still had a higher than usual acidity which is able to balance the residual sugar in the wine (29g/L). There's a wonderful complexity, with smoke, petrol, mineral aromas, together with lemon, lime, and orange blossom, given further depth by a honeyed sweetness. Once again, the grapes are from Underwood vineyard, where late ripening can cause issues: the terraces are so steep that the seventy-something vineyard owner can't access them on his tractor come wet November. He even once overturned the tractor trying to do so. Even Michael Savage's search for perfectionism falls short of asking the grower to do that again. ✪✪✪✪✪✪




Thursday, 20 August 2015

Summer Drinking

Last weekend, the sun beat down on Napa and Sonoma, hitting highs of nearly 40 degrees. Temperatures are normally in the low 30s, cooling down at night to pleasantly moderate temperatures (which is why the two counties are such good grape-growing areas), but when it's that warm the heat stays, making the nights very uncomfortable. There have been a few, brief heat spikes like this over the summer, which is one of the factors (including the lack of rain) that has made 2015 such an awkward vintage.

the different stages of Zinfandel all on one bunch
In many parts of Napa and Sonoma, the harvest of the white grapes has already begun, with the black grapes not far behind. The stress the vines have been under this year is likely to make the quality of the 2015 vintage good, but production is going to be relatively low - which is a good thing after some bumper vintages.

Aside from the effect of the hot weather on the grapes, another pressing question arises. What to drink? I need wine that's refreshing but complex enough for food, beer that's light and summery but not bland, or a cocktail that's not too intense and hot. Here are a few of the things I've been drinking to combat the hotter days.

Deschutes Fresh Squeezed IPA (6.4%; $9.99 for a 6-pack)

new label on the left, old on the right: same great beer
Not surprisingly, the warm weather has seen me drinking beer more often, particularly IPAs. American IPAs are much hoppier and drier than their malty British equivalents, which makes them perfectly refreshing for this warm weather. From San Diego to Seattle, the West Coast has a host of options to choose from, of which Oregon's Deschutes is a great example.

The first time I tried this beer was two years ago in Portland, on a rainy September evening. As delicious as it tasted then, it takes on another level in the summer sun. Most beers are made using dry hops, which give beer that recognisably dry, bitter taste. For the Fresh Squeezed, Deschutes also use fresh hops, which provide green, herbaceous aromas - almost the beer equivalent of a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. To add to this green freshness are pungent citrus, grapefruit aromas that come from the Citra and Mosaic hops, all together creating a lively, refreshing IPA.

El Maestro Sierra Fino ($15.99)

It will come as no surprise to regular readers of this blog that I recommend a sherry for some summer supping. A fino - or its close equivalent, manzanilla - is an ideal counter to the heat: light, pale, and dry, but with enough complexity and weight to be satisfying on the finish. Finding good sherry in Napa is not the easiest of tasks, but El Maestro Sierra are a producer widely enough available. Their fino has a nice nutty salinity to it, with lightly baked apples and a woody backbone from four years in old American oak barrels. It's wonderfully refreshing, yet subtly sophisticated, a drink to sip on the porch while watching the world slowly go by.

Dirty Dick's Downfall

This is my own take on a variation of the classic Negroni. It's 60ml gin (in this case, Sipsmith's London Dry Gin), 15ml dry vermouth, and 15ml Punt e Mes (which I use instead of Campari), with a lemon twist. That's a lot of dry, bitter flavours, but that's what I like to drink in the summer - drinks that are too sweet, no matter how high the acidity, can feel a bit too weighty. It also provides an always welcome opportunity to toast the fall of Richard Nixon, referred to in the drink's name.

Tascante Ghiaia Nera 2012 ($20)

 

The obvious and common thing to do in the summer is to drink white wine, but somehow the tannins and fruits of red wine are what I often turn to in the evening. Maybe all the times I've visited the south of France, Italy, and Spain, where red wine dominates despite the climate, have led me to associate drinking tannic, drying red wines with hot weather. I drank this Sicilian wine (made from the high-quality grape Nerello Mascalese grown on the slopes of Mt. Etna) last weekend as the evening very slowly cooled, together with a delicious pizza. The high acidity makes the wine extremely refreshing, while the integrated tannins and red fruits paired perfectly with the pizza's sauces, cheese, and meats.

The key to any drink that works in the summer is having an almost bitter dryness, together with a refreshingly high acidity. That acidity and complexity is also necessary when pairing with food - and we need to eat in this heat too. The temperature of the drink is, to some extent, less important - if you're stuffing ice into a cider to cool you down, you may as well be drinking apple juice.





Monday, 3 August 2015

A Ridge Pilgrimage

Since moving to California, I've made lots of new discoveries but just as excitingly I've visited wineries I'd grown to love back in the UK, especially Tablas Creek in Paso Robles and Au Bon Climat in Santa Barbara. This week I finally made it to another iconic California winery, Ridge. Based south of San Francisco, Ridge are most famous for their Monte Bello - one of the world's greatest Cabernet Sauvignon blends - but also make wines rich in California heritage from old Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, and Carignan vines (just to emphasise their attachment to California's history, Ridge continue to spell it Carignane).

pilgrimage


Visiting Ridge's property near Cupertino/San José really felt like a pilgrimage. The winery is at the top of a steep mountain, reached by a long, narrow road full of hairpin bends that takes twenty minutes to drive up. Wild, isolated, and nearly 900m high, rattlesnakes slide through the grass, vines work the hard, rocky soil, and the views of Silicon Valley reveal a different side of California's culture.

history


The Monte Bello property dates back to 1882, but its modern history started in 1959 when three Stanford graduates made wine from Cabernet Sauvignon vines planted in the 1940s - still the basis of the Monte Bello Cabernet. They were joined by another Stanford graduate, Paul Draper, as winemaker in 1968, whose winemaking philosophy involved as little interference as possible. As well as Cabernet Sauvignon, since the 1960s Ridge have made Zinfandel planted on the property in the 1890s as well as more old-vine Zinfandel from Geyserville and Lytton Springs north in Sonoma County.

The 1971 Monte Bello Cabernet was one of the California wines featured in the 1976 Judgment of Paris, the American wine that organiser Steven Spurrier thought most likely to win. Although it did not do so, the more professional 2006 reenactment of the tasting featuring the same wines saw the wine unanimously come top.

zinfandel


I love Ridge's range of Zinfandels - probably the best in California - most of them single-vineyard wines from old vines. They represent an older side of California far removed from the modern style of winemaking that has emerged, particularly in Napa. Ridge call their winemaking "pre-industrial," making wines that have as little chemical or technological influence as possible, as they would have been made in the nineteenth century. This is certainly reflected in the Zinfandels; there is a raw, rustic quality to the wines, with fruits ripe but wild, tasting like they have just been picked off the ground. The tannins are dry and gripping, rather than overripe, giving the wines a structure not always found in other juicy, alcoholic Zins. And each Ridge Zinfandel is quite different, representative of the climate and soils of the vineyard. To add further to the individual character, the Zinfandels are most often a blend, changing each year, using other historic grapes such as Carignan, Petite Sirah, and Mataro (an old California and Australian name for Mourvèdre) to structure the fruity tendencies of Zinfandel.

wines tasted


2013 Estate Chardonnay ($50)

Although Ridge are known for their red wines, they also make a small amount of Chardonnay. For the estate wine, the grapes are grown lower down the hillside. The wine goes through full malolactic fermentation and is aged in oak (most of it used and American) and is aged on its lees, giving the wine rich, full flavours of butter, yoghurt, and dill, but there's a pleasing floral elegance to the wine as well as integrated ripe apple, lemon, and pineapple fruits. ✪✪✪✪

2007 Monte Bello Chardonnay ($85)

In exceptional years, Chardonnay is made from the Monte Bello vineyard (otherwise the grapes go into the Estate Chardonnay). This was a magnificent, mature wine, its slightly oxidised sherry aromas gradually subsiding as the wine opened up. The wine still had a rich, full creaminess to it, but with a nutty maturity added to the floral aromas. ✪✪✪✪✪✪

2013 Geyserville ($38)

As Zinfandel should be, this wine is aged in American oak (20% new) and is a blend of several different grapes just like the wines of the nineteenth century would have been: 73% Zinfandel, 17% Carignan, 9% Petite Sirah, and that all-important 1% Mataro. All the grapes come from old vines on the same three vineyards planted on a 30ha site. Dusty, dry, chewy tannins give a defining structure to the fruity black plums, cherries, and berries. ✪✪✪✪✪

2012 Merlot ($50)

Serious Merlot is becoming all too rare in California, so it was pleasing to taste this wine. The cool vineyards on the mountain lend the wine firm, gripping tannins, rather than the ripe, lush tannins often associated with Merlot. Beyond the tannins, there are ripe blackberries and blackcurrants, and subtle floral, herbal aromas. ✪✪✪✪✪

2012 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon ($50)

This is one of my favourite, good-value Cabernets (good value by California standards). Equivalent to a Bordeaux second wine, the grapes still come from the hillside vineyards, not quite good enough for the Monte Bello - which still means pretty damn good. The 2012 is still young, with the tannins a little too aggressive and drying. It needs at least another five years, when the tannins will have softened and integrated with the intense black fruits and floral aromas. ✪✪✪✪✪

2011 Monte Bello ($165)

The cooler 2011 vintage makes this more approachable than young Monte Bello often is. The tannins are a little softer, allowing a more immediate appreciation of the floral, herbal aromas on the nose and the balanced black fruits on the palate. The Monte Bello (the 2011 is 88% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Franc) is one of California's most distinctive high-end wines. Aged in American oak, with a tender alcohol level of 12.8%, nothing quite compares to the delicate yet substantial, complex layers of flavours that the high-elevation vineyard produces. ✪✪✪✪✪✪✪

All this may seem like unthinking, gushing praise for the winery. After all, that's why one embarks on a pilgrimage: to give worship. Not all of Ridge's wines are without fault (while I was visiting, I had to explain why I didn't like the Buchignani Carignane that much) and I think they make a few too many Zinfandels (16). However, the overall standard of Ridge's wines are exceptional and the commitment to land and quality beyond reproach. Their best Zinfandels (particularly the Lytton Springs) are the finest California has to offer and the Monte Bello is one of the three greatest American Cabernets I have tasted. On top of a mountain overlooking the madding modernity of Silicon Valley and far, far from Napa, there is nowhere quite like Ridge.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

A Year in the US

It's now a year since I flew into the US. A lot has happened in that time: I've got married, gained my green card, and started working. I've tasted several hundred California wines and partially finished in San Francisco the WSET Diploma I started in Manchester. And day-to-day I've lived the American life that I'd only briefly witnessed on holidays and TV. Here are some cultural observations on the US, and maybe how the US has changed me.

view from the Mayacamas mountains towards San Francisco

tipping


Getting used to tipping no matter what the service - though it's usually good - took some getting used to. Buy a beer and tip a dollar, even if you've been waiting five minutes and the glass isn't full. Go to a restaurant and all of a sudden the expensive meal becomes very, very expensive when you add a gratuity - again, regardless of whether the food was good or arrived on time.

After a month or so, it became second nature to me, adding on the 20% without even thinking about it. And now I find myself complaining about not being tipped. I'm working in a tasting room, where I serve five pours of wine, talk extensively about wine and the weather, and look after each set of customers for around 45 minutes. And receive next to no tips. This has always been my problem with tipping culture: in certain situations you are supposed to tip (bars, restaurants, the hairdresser, taxis) and so you do; in others, there is no expectation to tip, and so you don't. Somehow I need to integrate the concept of automatic tipping into tasting room culture.

wine and regulations


Tasting rooms are unlike most found in Europe. They range in style - some are big and ostentatious, others are small and intimate, designed to reflect the ethos of the winery. Especially in the Napa Valley, tour buses and limousines pour into tasting rooms, depositing drunken groups of visitors eager to spend lots of money.

every winery has a dog
This is part of a very different wine culture. For a start, it's still young, to a certain degree recovering from Prohibition. Many drinkers like their wines sweet (even reds); others claim to abhor sweetness in their wines and complain about dry wines being sweet. Understanding of wine is very much varietal driven which results in a lot of resolute prejudice - "I don't like Chardonnay. It's too sweet."

Regulations are another hangover from Prohibition. A winery cannot serve food unless the customer buys wine with it: a concept I kind of like. Wine, such an integral part of the California economy, cannot be shipped to many other states because those states (Kentucky, Oklahoma, Louisiana, New Jersey, Pennyslvania) don't want their people drinking too much booze. That's right, Louisiana, home of New Orleans, won't allow wine to be sent directly to people's homes.

driving


The US has one particular rule that makes driving a nightmare: you can both undertake and overtake cars. In theory, this opens up the road and makes passing slower cars easier. In practice, it leads to drivers hogging one lane because they're too scared to change lanes. And this often means four cars all lined up next to one another going the exact same speed. Roundabouts are scarce. Instead, there are stop signs at every junction at which every driver has to halt even if there isn't a car in sight. Outside a major city such as San Francisco, public transport is virtually non-existent. With this dependency on the car and rules which directly clog up traffic, driving in California is slow, often stop-start, even outside rush hour. It's the one negative aspect of living in this warm, sunny, wine-soaked state.

San Francisco


I've lived in some interesting cities - cocky Manchester, dirty Dublin, and mad Madrid - but my visits to San Francisco have revealed a city quite like no other. It's unforgettably beautiful, surrounded by water and mountains, rising on its own small peninsula. It's vibrant, each block revealing its own character, bars and restaurants driven by youthful enthusiasm. There are established, well-to-do areas and edgy quarters still emerging from industry and neglect. On one visit, a taxi driver described it to me as "beautiful but dysfunctional," which is very accurate. The city is full of roadworks and construction, trying and failing to keep pace with a constantly growing population, bringing traffic to a regular standstill. Rent prices are impossibly high, and commuters sit in rush hour traffic around the city for hours on end. For all its attractions, I'm not sure I could live in San Francisco.

the wine itself...


Napa Valley wine is uniformly expensive and uniformly Cabernet Sauvignon. There are some extremely good wineries in Napa, but I wish there were more variety and more affordable wines available. Land in Napa is so expensive, though, that it's difficult to make wine without having to charge high prices - which is why everyone sticks to Cabernet because that's what customers will pay money for.

The price of wine is not only a Napa problem. California wine is either dirt cheap or expensive. Far too few wines offer truly good value for money. Here in California, that doesn't matter too much as people are willing and able to pay, but if California is to compete on the global stage with Chile, Argentina, South Africa, or Australia it has to produce more competitively priced wines.

Outside Napa, there's wonderful variety. Name a grape and someone somewhere makes a varietal wine out of it. Sonoma produces everything from Pinot to Zinfandel, with obscure French and Italian varieties in between. Paso Robles has exceptional Rhône blends. Santa Barbara and around is known for Pinot and Chardonnay, but has perhaps the greatest potential in California for Syrah. And then there are the hippies in the Sierra foothills, sometimes - whether deliberately or accidentally - producing great wine at decent prices.

...and other drinks


I'd argue that California is still behind the rest of the States in its craft distilleries - although in Germain-Robin they have the original and best, producing brandies from cool, wild Mendocino as good as the greatest Cognacs. I am surrounded by great breweries, all producing very drinkable, hoppy IPAs as well as their own distinctive creations: Bear Republic in Healdsburg, Lagunitass in Petaluma, Sierra Nevada in Chico, and, best of all, Russian River Brewing in Santa Rosa, as well as a host of up-and-coming microbreweries. It's a good time for a beer drinker to be in California.

boo to the metric system


I've become so accustomed to fiercely dry, hoppy IPAs that on a brief trip back to the UK the malty bitters I'd been drinking all my life were quite a shock to the system. Other aspects of American life I've found more difficult to become accustomed to. The US is the only country I've ever visited which defiantly avoids the logical metric system: recipes call for cups and ounces; temperatures are only given in fahrenheit; the twenty-four hour clock is never used; and an American pint is smaller than a British pint, one unit of imperial measurement I am familiar with.

Californians talk about the weather a lot, even though every sunny, warm day is the same as the last. A life of sunshine and no rain - now that's something I've begun to take for granted.




Sunday, 12 July 2015

Behind the Mind of Au Bon Climat's Jim Clendenen


­
In May, @kt_canfield and I met Jim Clendenen, one of the most charismatic and influential winemakers in California. Here's the account of our lunch with him.
 
Meeting with Jim Clendenen, “the mind behind” Santa Maria’s acclaimed Au Bon Climat, would be a difficult feat for any journalist hoping to come out with a clear argument to their story. This lack of clarity, however, only reinforces how integral Clendenen’s work is for California wine, still just a teenager in search of its place in the global industry.

California Pinot Noir is emerging as a serious wine category, particularly in Sonoma and Mendocino Counties, so it was enlightening to meet one of the original architects. Clendenen, who made his first vintage in 1982, is based in Santa Maria Valley and his iconoclastic and individual wines are standard bearers for California Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.


Katie Canfield meets Jim Clendenen

Clendenen wasn’t always considered so mainstream. Like many of the old guard of California wine – think Frog’s Leap in Napa – his wines were not especially fashionable in the 1990s and early 2000s: not brash, fruity, or alcoholic enough. “The concept of 16% wines is one I never understood,” Clendenen exclaims. “Are you so stupid with your palate that you’re paying $300 for wines from Napa that are undrinkable? … Do you want to fight with your wife every night?”
 

The global reputation of California wine has for many years been based largely on Napa Valley, which has succeeded in producing collectable wines at sky-high prices. “Some of the most disappointed people as they get older are collectors of [Napa wine],” Clendenen counters, as they realize that the $50 bottles of wine they had purchased before the 2008 crash were better and more drinkable than the $350 bottles they had bought to collect. 

The question posed in recent trade discourse has been whether or not California wine is changing, evolving into something more restrained and food friendly – and if this trend is just a passing fad or truly an evolution. If so, many California wineries are well placed to take advantage of these new attitudes toward food and wine.
Clendenen preparing lunch at his winery

“Food and wine pairing in America has simultaneously gotten more informed and more complicated,” Clendenen says. “Wine and food pairing is a slam dunk. If you’ve got food and you’ve got wine, that’s already good. If you’re drinking wine as a cocktail, that’s already bad. That was America in the ’70s and ’80s. The bigger, the more opulent, the more single, stand-alone statement the wine got, the more delicious it was.” For Clendenen, wine and food are ideally suited counterparts, an idea augmented by the home-cooked meals that he serves regularly to his staff, alongside a line-up of new and older vintages of the wines.
 

Part of Au Bon Climat’s reputation has been gained by their presence in restaurants across the US. Clendenen has long made house wines for many of the restaurants he supplies. This is also helping make Clendenen’s wines fashionable once again, even if he isn’t doing anything differently from what he has always done. His food-friendly wines link into the US’s sommelier-led wine culture, and are readily available on wine lists suddenly short of Burgundy.
 

Although Clendenen has a tremendous respect for others in the wine industry, he does not mince his opinions. “Oregon is the most confused place on the planet,” he claims. “The whackier you plant, the less chance you have of making any money. There are limits to profitability because of yields.” He does see Oregon providing competition to California in that the state is attracting elite French winemakers, especially due to the recent “nightmare” vintages in Burgundy: “What they don’t realize is that Oregon is always a nightmare.”
 

Burgundy itself presents an opportunity of a different sort. The 2013 vintage in Burgundy looked good “until greatness was snatched away at the last minute.” As a result of three consecutively difficult vintages, consumers have had to turn elsewhere and established producers such as Au Bon Climat are well placed to take advantage. “I believe that Burgundy and I peacefully co-exist. With yields so low there right now it’s a huge opportunity, but only because I’ve been doing it for thirty-three years.” 

Much of what Clendenen says applies to the winemaking scene throughout California. Brian Mast, of San Francisco’s Wait-Mast Cellars, also believes that, “I don't feel like we're competing with Burgundy, for example when we're trying to get our wines on a list at a nice restaurant. I think it is a little more compartmentalized, where some lists will have a mix of Burgundies and domestic Pinot Noir.” It is the vibrant food scene that will draw consumers to these wines “as winemaking and consumer tastes are starting to lean towards more balanced, food-friendly wines.” 

The dynamic of US wine culture is changing. With Jim Clendenen’s long experience making world-class Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, smaller-scale producers in California can follow his lead to put the regions in the global spotlight.