Californian wine enjoying a ‘golden age’

8th August, 2017 by Arabella Mileham

California has entered a “golden age” of wine production, one producer has claimed – with the state’s wines being more readily embraced by the UK market.

Vineyards in California’s Napa Valley (Photo: Wiki)

Chuck Cramer, director of European sales and marketing at Terlato Wines told db it was “a great time for California in general”, with more US wines available in the UK on- and off-trade, and a growing awareness of the quality and value among consumers.

“The wines are good value for money, but what opened the door to Californian wines two years ago was the prices in Bordeaux and Burgundy escalating, so all of a sudden, French sommeliers were taking notice of the category,” he said.

As a result, people started to recognise what good value Californian Pinot Noir offered.

“Obviously the UK has a long history with French wines and Californian Pinot Noir doesn’t have the same earthy notes as those from Burgundy, but they are a bit more fruit-forward and you do get that complexity, as the ocean is not far away, so you get that cold influence of breezes,” he told db.

“In terms of value for money, something like Terlato’s Chimney Rock is at the higher range, but compared to a left or right bank Bordeaux, it is good value,” he argued. “California really over delivers, especially the 2013 vintage, which was a great year in California.”

Cramer said California was performing well in the UK, appealing to both the on-trade and independent and fine wine retailers, particularly at the higher end. “The category is developing and growing and very interesting, but the premium Californian wines are being well-received at £20-70,” he said.

“If you’re looking at the last 18 months-two years, especially at the premium and super-premium end, listings have doubled easily in the on-trade, driven by the US-style restaurants, such as steak house Smith & Wollensky and Hawksmoor and bbq and burger restaurants.”

“Five years ago you would maybe get a few Californian wines in a fine wine merchant, but now they have their own section in places like Oddbins, Eagle’s, Philglass & Swiggot, Hedonism Wine and the Last Drop. And those sections have grown dramatically,” he added. “If they don’t know their wine regions, they are still buying into a lifestyle, the sun, the sea, the beach, Hollywood, Mustangs – they can get a piece of the American Dream off the shelf or off the wine list, so that ‘picture’ is there.”

Shifting attitudes

The had been a discernible shift in attitude over the last five years, he noted, which represented the next big development for Californian wine – a greater recognition of the diversity and variety of wines that are made across the state, due to its size and diverse terroirs.

“You have mainstream California and IPOB wines [referring to In Pursuit of Balance, a non-profit organisation running from 2011-16 to promote dialogue around the meaning of balance in California Pinot Noir and Chardonnay], which brought great noise to the category but the two were almost competing with each other. But now people are buying Californian wine because it is good quality, whether that is something big and fruity like Terlato’s Federalist or something more restrained.”

“But California is so diverse, that is what people don’t understand here [in the UK] fully,” he said.

Terlato’s wines include ‘honest red blend’ Federalist, which Cramer said was the second faster growing brand in the US, and which is available in the UK through Matthew Clark.

“We wanted to create a brand that proclaims its American heritage, so it has Abe Lincoln on the label, and you can have a bit of fun with it,” he said.

The blend comprises Merlot from Mendocino County and Sonoma, Zinfandel from Napa Valley and Mendocino Cabernet Sauvignon to give “smooth easy tannins and everyday drinking”.

Red blends were currently “a hot category” in the US, Cramer noted. “You can offer more complexity in terms of styles, where evolved, smooth tannins and fruit is approachable, and when you’re going for finesse,” he pointed out.

The value of California wine shipments to the US market hit $34.1 billion in 2016, up 4.6% on the previous year and a record for the golden state’s winemakers, The Wine Institute revealed in May

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