A lot has changed in the winery landscape since 1985. Back then some 320,780 acres of California vines were producing grapes. Fast forward to now when the reported acreage is 496,313 and estimated to be at 615,000 acres. That is a lot of wine grapes!
While that sounds like an enormous amount of land committed to wine grapes, when you consider that California has 101 million acres, vineyards are merely a drop in the bucket when compared to the rest of California's agricultural largesse.
Because California is so vast, it is the home to many AVAs (American Viticultural Area) that encompass many different varietals and styles of wine. From the renowned Napa and Sonoma Valleys in the north to our own Temecula Valley, there is wine for every enophile's taste and budget.
Fine wine has become a popular beverage with Americans in the past two decades with 35% of those who drink alcohol in the U.S. stating that wine is their preference according to a Gallup poll done in 2013. While that is substantial, beer drinkers manage to edge wine out for the top spot with 36% preferring beer.
Interestingly, in 1992 beer drinkers led those preferring wine by 20 points. There can be many reasons for the switch however my opinion is the maturation of the American wine industry. Wine is now made in virtually every state in the Union, and the quality of the wine itself grows with every harvest as winemakers hone their craft.
Temecula Valley was once dominated by Bordeaux varietals with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot planted in many vineyards. Other varietals were also used – pioneers Gerry Wilson, and Joe Hart put out stellar Mourvedre, and Marshall Stewart was always able to get his hands on Zinfandel for his famous port.
As the Valley evolved with more wineries being built and more acreage was planted to vine, a subtle change occurred. While wineries still make Bordeaux wines, Italian varietals began to make their presence known as did Rhone-style wines. Hopping from one winery to the next, you're certain to come across a new grape you've never heard of before.
And it's not just happening in Temecula. Paso Robles that Zinfandel bastion has also expanded immensely and while still well known for their amazing Zinfandel, is also home to a chapter of the "Rhone Rangers" - a group of wineries and consumer “sidekicks” who delight in the grapes of the Rhone region in France which include Viognier and Syrah.
In addition to the introduction of new varietals, winemakers are outdoing themselves in releasing new blends. Over in France, this is commonplace, and it is rare that a bottle of wine will be comprised of just one varietal. California's wine industry was built on varietal labeling with only small amounts of other blending grapes so as to keep the wine true to the main varietal. TTB regulations state that an American winery may label bottles as a specific varietal only when at least 75% of that varietal is used.
Hence the birth of Meritage blends, (pronounced like “heritage”) which are comprised of at least 2 Bordeaux varietals. Meritages are wildly popular, and many have proprietary names to avoid using the word “Meritage” on the wine label which forces the winery to pay a fee per case to the powerful Meritage Alliance.
These days, winemakers experiment with all sorts of interesting combinations – some modeled after traditional French region blends, others purely unique. GSM (made from Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvedre) is a highly popular blend as are the Super Tuscans which are generally Sangiovese blended with Cabernet Sauvignon to give the wine boldness and structure. But even this is open to interpretation, as winemakers substitute a different blending wine for the Cabernet and some use a combination of varietals to blend.
American ingenuity has inspired many an excellent bottle of wine. Here at Craveyon, we strive to bring a range of flavors to our wine lovers and the best way to enjoy our wine, is with a Craveyon wine subscription. Our members participate in our wine selection each month at a Blind Ballot Bar™ event to help us choose what we bottle next. We invite you to be our guest at our next Crave Event.