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California: Wine Month

California: Wine Month
California is well known for wine production- responsible for 90% of the U.S. output, from almost 400 different crops.
Last year, visitors to California spent a lavish $21.3 billion on food and drink placing California as the leading destination for wine and food travel in the U.S., with local wineries accommodating 21 million visitors annually.
With those impressive statistics in mind, Foodtripper's Zoe Perrett posed a few questions to luminaries, Caroline Beteta, President and CEO of The California Travel & Tourism Commission and Nancy Light, Director of Communications for The Wine Institute.
FT: Just what is it about California that generates such great wines?
CB: California is a Mecca for wine lovers in the U.S., producing 90% of American wine. We’re blessed by an incredible diversity of soils and climates that produce a vast array of agricultural crops, including winegrapes. This creates an attractive playground for innovative winemakers- as well as chefs. California has one of the most widely adopted sustainable winegrowing programs in the world, which is also appealing to more and more consumers.
FT: What special events are taking place throughout wine month- and what are your 'must dos'?
CB: In addition to the more than 100 California Wine Month offers, many of which include special events such as tours, blending classes and winemaker dinners, our “partner in wine,” the Wine Institute, has compiled a list of more than 30 events going in our many regions throughout the state- from Temecula, Paso Robles and Santa Barbara in the south, up to Napa, Sonoma, and Lodi in the north. “Must dos” depend on your style. Events range from intimate tastings and classes at wineries in emerging and established regions to major wine and food festivals.
FT: What is, in your opinion, the best way to discover Californian wine country?
CB: There are different and great ways to explore California’s wine regions that depend on your mood. I personally enjoy driving with the top down, especially during harvest season, when I can smell the grapes and feel the excitement of everyone preparing for the big crush and stopping at a winery here and there for a tasting, (with a designated driver, of course!) followed by a winemaker's dinner. I recommend doing some research in advance before, to make sure the wineries you’re interested in are open on the days you will be there. Some regions have a popular wine trail where you can just follow the trail and experience the best in the region. Another great way to explore wine country – especially if you just want to relax and let someone else drive- is to take advantage of the many escorted wine tours going on in the various regions, from luxury limousine tours of upscale boutique wineries to biodiesel tours of green wineries.
FT: Which local restaurants showcase the best of California wine and cuisine?
CB: No matter what wine region or big city in California you’re visiting, you will have more restaurants featuring the best local wines and cuisine than you can possibly experience in one trip. Because California is one of the largest agricultural producers in the U.S., growing more than 400 crops, it’s part of our lifestyle to source local ingredients and have a deeper connection to our food and drink. Some vineyards and wineries even have their own restaurants. We’re spoiled because some of the world’s greatest chefs some here to take advantage of the abundant and diverse local produce, meats, seafood, cheese and wines.
FT: Amongst Californians, what are the most popular wines and vineyards?
CB: Since we’re the Wine Capital of the U.S., Californians are very serious about their wines, and everyone has strong opinions about what are the best wines and regions. Right now the highest profile regions are Napa, Sonoma and Paso Robles, which are fabulous, but more and more consumers are going off the beaten path to experience lesser known but wonderful regions such as Temecula in the South, Santa Cruz Mountains on the Central Coast, Lodi in the Central Valley, and the Sierra Foothills and Anderson Valley to the north. There are too many to mention but all unique and worth exploring.
FT: How many visitors are expected to visit California for wine tourism next year?
CB: Each year more than 20 million consumers visit California wineries and vineyards.
FT: What else would you recommend visitors do, see and eat in the local area?
CB: Aside from wine tasting and tours and checking out great local restaurants, there are many other fun activities you can do in wine country, such as hot-air balloon rides, train rides, biking tours, spa getaways, farmers' markets and shopping. If you’re close to the coast you can surf or take a boat tour. If you’re in the Central Valley you can visit local farms and ranches. In the High Sierra you can go snow-skiing or hiking in a national park. California is the only state in the U.S. where you can actually surf, go wine tasting and ski in the same day!
FT: Just what is it about California that generates such great wine?
NL: Four things: climate, soil, topography and talented people. California is such an outstanding wine producing area because it has consistent sunshine, a dry growing season and a long mountainous coastline moderated by ocean breezes and fog that create an ideally mild climate. The valleys, deltas and hillside created by our diverse landscape create dozens of distinctive winegrowing regions to create wines with different characteristics.
FT: What up-and-coming grapes and styles should consumers be looking out for?
NL: They should look at again at California Chardonnay, America’s favorite white wine, since many wineries are moving away from oak-prominent styles and even to no-oak versions making them more crisp and food-friendly. Sauvignon Blanc, also known as Fume Blanc in California, is another white that’s versatile with many foods. Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris/Grigio and Riesling are all growing in popularity right now, as are Petite Sirah (a hearty red wine not to be confused with Syrah) and Tempranillo, the grape on which most Spanish red wines are based. Rosés and sparkling wines/Champagnes are often thought of as seasonal, celebratory beverages but are actually great matches with many spicy ethnic foods…and just fun to drink.
FT: Has climate change had an effect on wine production in the area- if so, have the changes been beneficial or detrimental?
NL: Winegrowers and farmers in general are extremely adaptable and continue to produce outstanding wines with changes in growing conditions in California. Although climate change is a long range issue, California vintners and growers are proactively working together on the California Sustainable Winegrowing Program, with other agricultural associations and with the academic/research community to better understand the issues surrounding climate change and ways in which wineries and vineyards can both adapt to and mitigate effects. Climate change involves a number of potential impacts that are of particular consequence to the wine and grape sectors and other perennial crops. Wine Institute worked with international partners from Australia, New Zealand and South Africa to develop a greenhouse gas (GHG) protocol for measuring winery and vineyard greenhouse gas emissions. It will take worldwide co-operation to address potential warming predicted by the end of the century that might affect vineyards, other crops and various industries across the globe. Wine production’s contribution to air emissions in California is minimal; nonetheless, the industry it is striving to do its part to enhance air quality and respond to climate change.
FT: Which vintages are drinking particularly well at the moment?
NL: California has had a string of good to outstanding vintages this decade. More importantly, because of our moderate climate, the protective effect of the state’s coastal mountains and the size of the state with literally hundreds of microclimates running from the Oregon border to Mexico, there is never a statewide weather disaster. For all these reasons, we say every vintage is a good year although the vintage characteristics may vary somewhat from year to year.
FT: Can you tip us off about any talented winemakers worth keeping an eye on?
NL: With a membership of nearly 1,000 wineries it’s impossible to pick favorites. And the good news is that there are simply too many great winemakers to name. In terms of up-and-coming winemakers and winegrape growers, we did an event highlighting some of the “New Generation Vintners and Growers” that your readers might want to look at to learn about up and coming talent:, although there are many more new generation industry people. Also, sustainable winegrowing is a very major trend in California and many vintners and growers are involved in using these earth-friendly practices for social and environmental reasons as well as enhancing wine quality. We are also finding that consumers are increasing interested in wines and wineries that are using these practices. A list of the wineries involved in these green practices and our sustainable winegrowing program is online at:
FT: Which is the best growing region?
NL: Every wine region in California has its strengths and unique visitor attractions. For some wine and food trip ideas, check out
One way to find out each wine region’s strengths is to go to and do a search of California wineries and their specific varietal wines and amenities. You can search wineries by 21 different amenities from wineries that have art galleries, gardens, unusual architecture and concerts to tours, picnic areas, classes and food for purchase. One can also search the wineries by 43 different varietal wines, which can help identify which regions have numerous wineries producing a particular varietal. One major trend in California is the diversity and wide array of varietal wines in the state. California has 3,000 wineries and 48 of the state’s 58 counties grow winegrapes.
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5 September 2010
By: Zoe Perrett
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