Tired of California wines that are too oaky, too alcoholic and too fruity? Three important California producers have good news for you.
George Bursick at J Winery in Sonoma, Eli Parker of Fess Parker in the Santa Barbara area, and Dave Guffy at The Hess Collection in Napa, each told me, in separate interviews this spring, that they're re-examining how they make their wines. It's one thing to get high scores, they said, by making wines that the Wine Magazines like. It's another to make wine people want to buy.
“Whenever we made market visits, we heard the same thing,” says Guffy. “So it’s a conscious decision on our part.”
More, after the jump:
Don't expect earth shattering changes or anything to happen immediately. This is a process that will take place over several vintages, said the men. And the goal is not to turn California wine into something that it isn't, but to return California wine to a more accessible style. That means several changes, probably best typified by reducing alcohol levels to 13.5 and 14 percent alcohol for white wines 14.5 percent for red wines. Hess’ Monterey chardonnay, for example, is an un-whopping 13.4 percent alcohol, one of the lowest levels I’ve seen in California chardonnay in years. It’s a point less than many of the wines I taste, and that means you can taste the chardonnay character in the wine.
Why is this change in approach important? Because these wineries, though far from the largest in California, are three key, commercially popular producers. Their wines and mid-tier prices appeal to an influential segment of the market – one that wants something more upscale than Kendall Jackson but isn't all that interested in the more expensive wines favored by the Wine Magazines. J, best known for its sparkling wines, has hired the well-respected Bursick to increase its focus on still wines; Fess Parker is a leading pinot noir producer; and the multi-national Hess is a staple for retailers and restaurants across the country.
“We’re looking for a more low key, more elegant wine,” says Bursick. “It’s not what the consumer at the time wanted, but it’s what they want now.”
These changes demonstrate that the market place, and not the wine elite, still has a say in how wine is made the U.S. And that these three producers are looking at these kinds of changes because the market place wants them may well be the first sign that some sort of equilibrium is returning to the wine world. That is a welcome development.