The California List unveiled in London
The first ever record of Californian producers whose “quality, availability and impact” have left a lasting impression in the UK was unveiled in London on Tuesday 22 March.
The California List was determined by a panel of experts including Jancis Robinson MW, Mark Andrew MW, Sarah Knowles MW, Ronan Sayburn MS and Stephen Brook. More than 200 producers were considered, but, after a detailed process of evaluation culminating in a “robust” zoom discussion, just 51 were approved for inclusion.
Although Robinson said that she could not recall “any other time in London to try so many iconic Californian wines”, the list itself is not concerned with individual wines, but the “reputation and performance” of the producers, Robinson said.
The launch of The California List is the culmination of two years’ work by the California Wine Institute’s UK Trade Directors Damien Jackman and Justine McGovern who devised the concept and selected the judges.
“We drew our inspiration from the fact that the wine world is full of classifications. They may be hierarchical rankings of vineyards, or ratings of historic performance in the secondary market, but these classifications can help shape how consumers and the wine trade engage with a region,” Jackman said.
“When it comes to California, we wanted to create a list of our own. A list that did not focus on individual wines, but on the producers that have been the most important in creating and driving the California wine category in the UK,” added McGovern.
Graphic design was also critical to the project. “Our hope in creating The California List was to create a collectible artwork that will hang on the walls of fine wine retailers and consumers homes to reinforce the status of California wine,” he said.
When we asked why the list featured 51 producers, rather than 50, we were informed that the judges could not reach an agreement on which producer did not make the cut. McGovern and Jackman said “we had no preconception as to the final number of producers who would make the list, just a commitment to the process and respecting the decision of the judges.”
One of the producers to make the list was Ramey Wine Cellars, from Sonoma County, producers of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. Alan Ramey described it as “a real honour to be amongst those great producers representing California on the world stage.” For Paul Michael of Peter Michael Winery, this record of 51 producers is momentous. “A region needs its list of iconic names to place it in the consumer’s consciousness and act as the gateway, the compass and the goal, on that wonderful lifetime journey of discovery that wine can be.”
Given California also boasts of Hollywood and the Academy Awards, the launch event on Tuesday evening in London felt appropriately like a blockbuster occasion. The assembled lineup of star bottles serving as a showcase of the talents of the winemakers behind the scenes of prestigious names such as Opus One,Harlan and Ridge. The quality of the wines was not lost on the UK wine trade VIPs in attendance who were treated to an immersive art gallery experience which brought The California List to life.
It begs the question, what is the future of Californian wine in the UK? Following the unveiling of The California List, Ramey expressed hope that it would shatter the perception of California as a “monolith”, with consumers appreciating the wines as reflections of the geographical, geological and climatic diversity of the state.
“Take…Sonoma, as an example – from sunny, boulder-strewn mountain ranges to bucolic, river valleys to chilly, forested hills abutting the Pacific Ocean – there are too many unique microclimates to stereotype it as having one distinctive style.”
Although The California List was devised and launched in the UK, the global renown of the judges and producers who were successful in making Edition 1 mean it will have a global impact. Furthermore, this Edition 1 of The California List is not the end of the story. Instead it is, as the California Wine Institute puts it, “a snapshot of…the current state of play”. In years to come it will evolve, with Edition 2 already planned for 2024.
The full list is below:
Santa Cruz Mountains