For years, it was believed that the best wine in the world could only be found in France. The theory was put to a test in 1976 by a British businessman who owned a small wine shop in Paris.
Steven Spurrier decided to pit the best wines from France versus the best wines from California in a blind taste test. The promotional event was called the “The Judgment of Paris” and coincided with the bicentennial of the American Revolution.
The French were confident that their wines had no competition in the world. Certainly, not from California where the wine industry was struggling and winemakers had to sell their products within 50 miles of their winery.
The French even volunteered to have their most experienced wine connoisseurs to sit in as judges.
California wines beat French wines in both the red and white wine categories.
The outcome of the “Judgment of Paris” sent shockwaves across the globe. A promotion stunt became a watershed moment for the California wine industry.
The blind taste test opened the eyes of the world to the excellence of California wines.
The California red and white wines that beat France into second place – the 1973 Stag’s Leap S.L.V. Cabernet Sauvignon and the 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay – put Napa Valley on the winemaking map and opened several doors of opportunity for small winemakers in California.
Today, California is the 4th largest winemaker in the world and produces 81% of all wine sold in the United States. 61% or 3 out of every 5 bottles of wine consumed in America comes from a California winery.
The U.S. wine industry generates on average, $1.46 billion in export receipts and California wineries account for 95% of global sales. 2017 was the biggest year for wine exports when the industry earned $1.62 billion from the sales of 50 million cases of wine!
And yes – more than 90% of total sales were California wines!
The Secrets Of Great California Wine
Terroir is a word that is associated with wine and cheese production, 2 products which require fermentation of ingredients to achieve the desired taste, fragrance, and texture.
Terroir refers to the interaction between the natural elements and conditions existing within a local topography that create the most ideal environment for growing and nurturing vineyards.
To produce amazing wines, the region must encourage a holistic interaction between its natural elements – soil, climate, terrain, and sun exposure.
In California, the wine-growing regions have their unique terroir which allows wineries in the Golden State to produce more varieties of grapes and consequently, more types of wine.
The wine growing regions of California produce a diverse mix of wine types and styles that include the following:
- Cabernet Sauvignon
- Sauvignon Blanc
- Pinot Noir
- Petite Sirah
- Cabernet Franc
When it comes to California wine, the first region that comes to mind is Napa Valley. The region has dedicated 20,000 acres for Cabernet Sauvignon, 7,000 acres for Chardonnay, 5,000 acres for Merlot, and 3,000 acres for Pinot among others.
However, as popular as Napa Valley is, the region accounts for only 4% of all wines produced in California.
Another important region for wine production is located in the Central Coast of California.
Paso Robles is nestled between Los Angeles and San Francisco. The region is home to more than 200 wineries and has dedicated in excess of 650,000 acres of land for winemaking.
A century after the first grapes were planted in Paso Robles by Franciscan friars in the 18th-century, the region has become an acclaimed producer of wines from the Bordeaux variety of grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc.
Paso Robles has also developed a reputation for producing some of the best wines from the Rhône variety of grapes particularly Grenache, Mourvèdre, and Syrah.
Wine Spectator Senior Editor Tim Fish hailed Paso Robles as one of the most exciting wine regions in California in December 2015.
The Modern Era Of California Wine-Making
Wine historians are quick to point out that the modern era of California started with the Mondavi family.
Shortly after World War 2 ended, the Mondavi family bought a winery that was owned by Charles Krug. The Mondavi family had an idea of producing wine using the techniques that were practiced in Europe, particularly in the French region of Bordeaux.
Applying these techniques in combination with the terroir of the California region, the Mondavi family quickly gained a reputation for producing some of the best varieties of Bordeaux wine such as Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.
The second stage of California’s modern era in winemaking can be attributed to an influential wine critic who passionately implored everyone to experience the opulence of California wine.
Robert Parker was a powerful wine critic. His critiques and reviews were game-changers in the industry.
Parker encouraged winemakers in California to look past commercially-available varieties of grapes and explore the possibilities in the terroir of their region.
In time, the small winegrowers who listened to Parker began producing wine that received better reviews than the vineyards with deeper pockets. The term “cult wine” is attributed to Parker’s influence in the wine industry.
A wine was labeled a “cult wine” if it received a great review and a high rating from Robert Parker. Cult wines were sold at higher prices in the secondary market than in the winery.
As cult wines became more expensive, demand slowly waned. However, you can still enjoy a few of the iconic cult wines that are available in the market such as Marcassin, Harlan, Sine Qua Non, and Screaming Eagle.
Fast-forward to the present and more than 2,000 wineries are producing world-class wine in California. Thanks to Robert Parker, more single vineyards are developing different types of wine.
It is estimated that the California wine industry produces more than 60,000 types of wine!
The “Judgment of Paris” left a bitter taste in the mouths of the French. 30 years after the watershed event, the French remained confident that their wine was better than California wine and threw down the gauntlet for another blind taste test in 2006.
The rematch yielded the same result. California wines trumped French wines yet again. This time the winning wine was the Ridge Monte Bello – the original 1971 variety and the 2000 vintage.
The point is not to declare California wines as indisputably superior to European wines. Rather, it is to emphasize that the best wines in the world are not produced in just one region.
California has grown to become one of the finest producers of different varieties of wine because the industry took it upon itself to harness the conditions – the terroir – that were available in its region.
When you visit your favorite wine store, your first stop should be at the aisle that features the best California wines.
Go ahead and pick out a bottle of Colgin IX Estate Proprietary Red 2014 or a Chateau Montelena Napa Valley Chardonnay 2015.
You can’t go wrong with California wine!
And let’s not forget to take moments to thoroughly unwind on occasion with your favorite bottle of wine. Wine is rich in healthy antioxidants that can fight off free radical damage which occurs during high intensity or long-duration exercises.
If you enjoyed this article, feel free to share it with your community. Also, check out our selection of fine California wines (www.wine4runners.com). You may want to gift a friend – or yourself – after a tremendous race event!