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April 22, 2015
I'M GOING GOING, BACK BACK, TO CALI CALI
We travel a lot here at Cream. Wine drinkers are afforded the chance to visit far away places from the seats at their favorite wine bars regularly, in fact. And, as is the wont of the “moody” wine drinker, I tend to pack my bag in phases. Savennières here for visit, Lessona there for a long weekend, you get the idea. I notice I’m often looking rather far afield these days, and wondering why. So, after a delightful jaunt to Alsace last week with the tenderly powerful, even emotional, spring releases from the new guard Sophie et Max of Barmes-Buecher, I now find myself coming home and looking west.
It’s been so easy to keep the California blinders up all these years: Cabernet, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Zinfandel if I’m feeling wild. On the periphery of the usual suspects there’s always the odd bottling of some outlier varietal (Napa Valley Pinot Blanc, anyone?) to pique interest and serve as a smack in the head to stop being so damn lazy regarding domestic wines. An inspiring chat this week with Morgan Twain-Peterson and Chris Cottrell of Bedrock Wine Co. really opened my eyes to what I’ve been missing.
This Old Vine Zinfandel from Lodi was planted in 1901, some 113 Years ago and is still producing fruit of great intensity.
In short, I’ve had it all wrong. Looking to California as anything other than the cradle of American innovation and ingenuity in winemaking, a map to not just what we have done, but perhaps what we should consider doing again (a return to mostly dry farming and more cover crop planting, especially in light of California’s extreme water crisis is just one thought on this Earth Day), means missing out on some of the most exciting discoveries this side of Etna. Did you know that, according to the Historic Vineyard Society, there are over 230 producing vineyards in California eligible for their criteria, which is that the original planting date is no later than 1960? Have you read Jon Bonne’s excellent The New California Wine* - and do you agree that maybe-just-maybe it should be called “The New Old California”? And it’s not just the tiny guys who know this. Some of Napa’s deepest pockets (e.g. Robert Mondavi) source fruit from Oakville’s iconic To Kalon Vineyard, initially planted in 1868 to over fifty different varieties carefully brought over from Europe by curious and forward-thinking Hamilton Crabb and his associates.
The Old World will always captivate and guide the wine drinker on her journey, teaching history lessons in the glass, patiently instructing young winemakers the world over about terroir, technique, and tradition. But the New World, particularly California, where so many of us begin this long journey of loving wine, has been just as steadfast a tutor, just perhaps not as obvious at times. They say you can never go home again. Me and Biggie say they’re wrong.
Written by Erin Drain