by Raul P
Since decades, the California wines have been associated with distinct deep flavors, high alcohol level, forward fruit and a hint of oak. California wine makers have focused mainly on the cultivation of the Barbera grape, to cater to the demand for Italian styled California wine. Despite a great difference between the Italian and California styles, California wine tastes similar. The California wine industry owes much to the influence of the Italian immigrants. The long list of influences includes, Sebastiani, Mondavi, Martini, Gallo, Cribari, Parduci, Martinelli, Nichelini, Pedroncelli, Rafanelli and Rochioli.
American wine drinkers could never indulge in the California wine, till it flaunted the Italian style. The vineyard owners commenced a serious exploration of suitable sites to cultivate grapes of a better quality, after the rush to terroir movement in the 80s. They found the sites in the Sierra Foothills and Central Coastal regions. But, this too failed to attract the desired business. A new direction was noticed in the early 1990s and it began with a subtle educational campaign by the winemakers and wine industry representatives. They attempted to educate the people that Barbera was not the great red Italian grape, but from the family of Sangiovese and Nebbiolo. Still the Italian wines continued to be popular as food-friendly. Earlier, the Italian wines used to complement food and were not appreciated for their maturity.
Despite the Italian influence on California wines, the Italian wine industry developed very slowly in America. The wine makers of California used to spend most of their time trying to catch-up with their French counterparts. They focused more on the French varietals and convinced the Americans to a great extent that the best wines were Merlot, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
However, Barbera carved a niche for itself among the Italian style wines, in California. Though, Sebastani and Martini bottling was often considered the best and reasonably priced, the California Barbera achieved a breakthrough in the 1990s. This came from the wineries that had never even been associated with Italian style wines, such as Renwood in Amador County, Boeger in El Dorado County and Eberle in Paso Robles. These wines were made in the California style, thick and fruity, with around 15% alcohol. In spite of being more expensive than several Italian style wines, it became the favorite of many Californians. Eventually, it became so popular that dedicated writers on the Italian wines wrote several articles praising the vineyard locations in Piedmont, designated for Barolo and Barbaresco. This encouraged and forced the Barbera growers to settle for lesser sites, in time.
Barbera is grown mostly along the North Coast. However, Italians have also spotted the Sierra Foothills as one of the best cultivation spots for the Italian varietals. The packaging style adopted for California wines is quite similar to the Italian style. Some of the famous wine producers, like Boeger have made the regular and reserve bottling one of the specialties. Lava Cup released a splendid example of this. Montevina and Chameleon flaunt Barberas and have done quite well in blending the tastes preferred by the wine enthusiasts and the Beverage Testing Institute.
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From 1973 to 1999, when I had my own vineyard, I always loved to work in the field after the sap began to flow in mid-March. The barely sweet liquid would drip from the pruning cuts on every vine, intimating the surge of new life and a new vintage. Walking down the rows, feeling the [...]
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