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Californian wine industry lacks “leadership”

California is failing to fully promote the dynamic nature of its wine industry, but lacks the personalities to do it, according to Lieutenant Governor of California, Gavin Newsom.

Gavin_Newsom_Lieutenant_Gov
Lieutenant Governor of California Gavin Newsom began his career in the wine industry

Addressing attendees of last week’s first ever California Wine Summit in the state, Newsom said, “We are proud of this industry, but we don’t promote it as much as we should.”

In particular, he stressed that emerging markets, above all China, weren’t aware of the quality and diversity of Californian wines.

“I’ve just been to Hong Kong and China and there’s an opportunity there… we’ve been selling lower end wines there for years, but my impression is that consumers there have no idea of what we have to offer.”

When asked how California should raise awareness internationally for its range of upmarket wines, Newsom stressed that the region needed high-profile personalities.

“When Robert Mondavi and others passed away, there was a question of how we project our image… there’s got to be a new generation of energy around this industry,” he said.

Continuing he commented, “I argue that there is now a vacuum of leadership and we as an industry need to reconcile that quickly.”

However, president and CEO of the California Wine Institute, Bobby Koch stressed that there was a new generation of winemakers promoting the state’s produce abroad.

Bobby Koch
Bobby Koch says there is a new generation of winemakers promoting Californian wine abroad, but that they are not as high profile as pioneers such as Robert Mondavi

“It’s only natural that when you lose the pioneers like Robert Mondavi, Ernest Gallo or Joe Heitz you lose something important to our industry, and the next generation are not the founders so it is a bit different, but we will see more of the second, third or fourth generation stepping up.”

Nevertheless, he added, “It may be harder for them to get the attention because they are not the founders.”

Meanwhile, Newsom also expressed a need for California’s centre of vinous research, UC Davis, to gain greater international recognition for its work.

“UC Davis is the UN of the future of winemaking – everyone has a stake in what those professors are doing there, and we need to dust off that story,” he said.

Before entering politics, Newsom worked in the wine industry, having founded initially the PlumpJack wine shop and later PlumpJack winery with the financial assistance of his family friend and one of America’s richest men, Gordon Getty.

PlumpJack was the first Napa Valley winery to use screwcaps on its top-end wines with the release of its 1997 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, half of which was sold using the aluminium seal, while the other half was closed with cork.

Newsom told the drinks business that he hopes to release the results of a closure trial involving his wines and UC Davis later this year, or early 2014, having sent bottles of PlumpJack Cabernet Sauvignon sealed under cork and screwcap to the university for the past 10 years.

 

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