Californian Pinot can rival premier cru Burgundy

1st July, 2013 by Patrick Schmitt - This article is over multiple pages: 1 2 3 4 5 6

Californian cool-climate Pinot Noir can compete with premier cru Burgundy on quality and price.

California Golden GateThat was the conclusion of a seminar hosted by the drinks business and The Californian Wine Insitute in March this year, which saw Gerard Basset MS, MW, OBE; Vanessa Cinti; Claudia Schug-Schütz and Keith Isaac MW discuss the character of Californian cool-climate Pinot Noir.

“California has an image of being very expensive but personally I think Pinot Noir from California is very good value,” said Basset, who is a sommelier, commentator and owner of Hotel Terravina in England’s New Forrest, speaking at the event, which was held in London during the Californian Wine Institute’s annual UK tasting.

Having discussed a price band of £20 to £50 for good quality Californian cool-climate Pinot Noir Basset added: “If you wanted a quality example from Burgundy at village or premier cru level, that’s what you would pay, so for me Californian Pinot is good value.”

Speaking about the natures of wines, he continued, “The wines display a lot of elegance and character, and they have a great image.”

He also stressed the reliable quality from California. “They are very consistent in what they propose, so it is very rare that you take a bottle from a good producer and find something disappointing.”

California seminar

Rex Pickett addresses the room from the big screen.

Rex Pickett, author of Sideways, also offered his views via video link-up, and for him, Californian Pinot is moving in a positive direction.

He drew attention to wines that are lower in alcohol, higher in acidity, and in general showing more elegance. “We are seeing wines with more finesse, less interference… a more Old World style,” he said.

In terms of location, he picked out the wines from the Sonoma Coast close to the ocean, west of Highway 101, as well as those from the Santa Ynez Valley in the Central Coast region.

For another presenter during the seminar, Keith Isaac MW, it was important to stress what defines cool climate in the Californian context.

Isaac, who is general manager at Patriarche Wine Agencies, which, despite its Burgundy bent, imports wines from Monterey’s Hahn Winery, began by stressing the particular traits of California’s coastal climate.

According to Isaac, it wasn’t altitude or latitude that was the main influence on creating cool-climate Pinot in California, but fog and wind. Considering the Santa Lucia Highlands in Monterey, such moderating influences mean the area is a Region 1 climate on the Winkler Scale.

“The wind in the Santa Lucia Highlands often reaches speeds of up to 30mph in the afternoon causing the vine to shut down,” he recorded. “Like drought conditions, it thinks it must save energy, and this means a longer, slower ripening.”

3 Responses to “Californian Pinot can rival premier cru Burgundy”

  1. yuki saito says:

    I have followed California Pinot Noirs as I fell in love with PN in Sonoma Coast (as many say “true coast” west of highway 101) some decades ago. As many main stream coverage focuses on Sonoma (Coast, Russian River and Carneros), Santa Lucia (great spot as well) and Santa Barbara neighbors for good reasons which all deserve attention, I am most impressed with many boutique/small wineries’ PN in the Santa Cruz Mountains at this moment.

    They are characterfull with reflecting each microclimate and soils (shall I call it terroir?) and have high mineral and acid contents and just enough fruits but not to bright/fruit-forward as in other California examples. I find good Santa Cruiz Pinot Noir the most interesting and great value, say a midway between California and France but still different from Oregon PN.

    I am writing a series of wine articles in Japanese magazines on California wines and would love to focus on more ‘terroir driven’ wines such as Santa Cruiz Pinot.

  2. Marlene Rossman says:

    This is old news. California has become a premier cru producer of Pinot Noir. Anyone who turns up their noses at California wine (in general) is misinformed. Of course, there is substandard wine–in EVERY country. But CA wine not only has become first class, it IS first class.

  3. Can we stop trying to legitimize CA pinot noir with a French accent? Time to forget Burgundy for a few centuries and show the world Pinot Noir is about place…and not a place 6000 miles away that has little to do with California.

    CA is not Premier or Grand Cru. It is a wonderfully sunny place to grow pinot noit, and areas like the Sta Rita Hills are revolutionizing what pinot noir can be on the West Coast of the US!

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