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Message to China: California isn’t just Napa Valley



I have a friend in China, Steven Yuen (Hi, Steven!), I met through my blog (I never met him in person) who occasionally translates my posts into Chinese; here, for example, is his rendition of my recent piece on the World Wine Guys.

It’s been an interesting process, as Steven sometimes has to ask me to explain certain terms I use, in order for him to translate. For example, a while back I used the words “terra rauncho” and Steven, being entirely mystified by this neologism, naturally enquired. He also asked about “fruitily-extracted,” as well he might; it’s a bizarre phrase that, if you Google it, results in no hits at all, except for my Aug. 2012 post (and Steven’s translation of it). (I may actually have the honor of having introduced a brand new phrase into wine-speak!)

Steven has shown a high interest in “cult wines” because, as he wrote, “the terroir about their vineyards, the philosophy of their winemaking, and the character about their wines” fascinate him. He asked for certain information. I replied that, first, he would have to define “cult wines” and give me some examples. He did: Harlan Estate, Screaming Eagle, Shafer, Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, Joseph Phelps, Duckhorn, Hall and Diamond Creek Lake [Vineyard]. These wineries, Steven called “bench-mark.”

I tried to put myself into Steven’s shoes and figure out what this fascination is, before realizing that it’s not endemic just to China, or to emerging wine cultures, but to the nature of wine itself. Mankind always has hierachized wine; as far back, practically, as we have historical records, there have been rare wines for Caesars and common plonk for everyone else.

Readers of this blog know that one of the questions that interests me is where the tasting experience actually occurs: In the mouth, or in the brain? Or can we even separate the two? I have written many times that blind (or double blind) tasting is a way to eliminate the brain, or, rather, the thoughts, expectations and biases that it manufactures, from the tasting experience. If you do that, no wine in the world is worth more than a certain amount–certainly not the hundreds and thousands of dollars some wines fetch. Blind tasting is the great leveler.

So to justify spending $400 on a bottle of wine, it had better appeal to the brain, not just the palate.

Of course the Chinese are curious about these cult wines. We should be glad: it means they (or some of them, at least, such as Steven) are paying attention to California, not merely to Bordeaux. They understand that California is a very great wine region. What we need to convey to them is that Napa Valley is not the be-all and end-all of California. That will take time. But at least, this fascination with Napa Cabernet is a start.

  1. It’s not just the Chinese. Our own domestic wine bloggers suffer from the same issues. I don’t know how many times when mentioning to a wine blogger friend that I am going to California they ask, Napa? No, how about Santa Barbara, Monterey, Sonoma or a host of other great wine destinations in the state? With all of the options what are the chances that a smart, adventurous wine lover would end up in Napa each time they are in the state?

    The problem I see is that the wines that made Napa’s image were taken outside the realm of where wine is best enjoyed and people are expecting something of a once in a lifetime experience. If it wasn’t for the cost the experience would be much more mundane, that is if you’ve enjoyed wine broadly enough to be able to really consider how wine fits into your own life.


  2. Emilie S says:

    Newer buyers feel a sense of reassurance when they purchase an expensive bottle of wine. Hopefully from there, they can experiment with different tiers and brands from the same region, having known that they enjoyed premium examples.
    I also agree on your final point, I hope that recognition for Californian wines grows beyond Napa Valley.

  3. Thanks, Steve.I will learn some other CA wines.

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