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Let’s hear it for emerging wine regions



It’s gratifying to see such a well-written and informative article about Sonoma County written for a Chinese audience (albeit an English-speaking one?).

While there are some technical inaccuracies, writer Euan McKirdy largely got the details correct in her story, which was published yesterday in the South China Morning Post. (It’s funny that, there as well as here in the States, wine articles are relegated to the Lifestyle section. What’s that all about?)

We hear often about a certain naivete when it comes to Chinese comprehension of California wine; they are supposed to know the Big Names, and Napa Valley, of course, but in the conventional wisdom, the Chinese are woefully ignorant of the rest of California.

That may have been true in the past, and may still be the case among millions of Chinese emerging into the upper-middle classes. But McKirdy’s article proves that the level of journalism provided to Chinese wine lovers is on a rapid upward trajectory. If you’re reading this blog, chances are you know that Sonoma is not exactly an “emerging” premium wine region; it emerged some time ago. But these things are relative; it depends on your knowledge base. One person’s local wines are another’s emerging discoveries.

I Googled “emerging wine regions” and got interesting hits. From askmen, which seems to be an online pub for all things guy, I got this list: England, Brazil, Canada, Greece, Romania, Ukraine and Switzerland. A few years ago, another online pub, Food Republic, published this list of emerging wine regions: Istria (Croatia), Guerouanne (Morocco), Virginia, Montevideo (Uruguay) and Sopron (Hungary). I like the regional specificity. The International Business Times wrote an article called “Beyond Napa: The Best Emerging Wine Regions in America,” and on their list are Walla Walla, the Texas Hill Country, Traverse City (Michigan), Loudoun County (Virginia) and the North Fork of Long Island. That also is a very interesting list. I’d love to do comprehensive tastings of these regions, if only I had the time!

Are there any emerging wine regions in California? I don’t think so. We know which appellations do the best, which provide good value, etc. I don’t see anything out there just waiting to be discovered. Anyway, it’s wonderful that so many countries in the world are tinkering with wine. It’s also wonderful that consumers are getting interested in them, and writers are writing about them. The world is rapidly shrinking, which is good news and scary news: scary for wineries, because competition, already fierce, is only getting fiercer.

  1. As president of a Ballard Canyon Winegrowers Alliance, I invite you to discover a new emerging California wine region. Ballard Canyon AVA was officially recognized just a few days ago by the TTB (luckily before the shutdown). Comprising of only 7,800 acres it is the smallest AVA within Santa Barbara County and currently is home to 18 vineyards, average size around 30 acres. Most planted grape is Syrah, which grows far superior than the rest of the neighboring regions, and will prove to be of equal and in many ways better quality and prestige than the northern rhone.

  2. Hi Michael, didn’t you know I wrote about Ballard Canyon months ago? I’m pretty familiar with it, and congrats on getting the AVA. I suppose BC could be considered “an emerging region” but when I think of emerging regions I mean regions not contained within well-known AVAs. The wines from Ballard Canyon (Stolpman, Rusack, Larner, Jonata, etc.) have been famous for years as Santa Ynez Valley, so you can’t really call BC an emerging region. Ditto for those 11 Paso Robles AVAs. When and if there’s a Templeton Gap or Paso Robles Highlands District, I don’t think they’d be considered emerging regions.

  3. Keep an eye on Redwood Valley (inland Mendocino County)and Lake County. I see some interesting experimentation going on there with lesser known (or at least less planted) varieties by some exciting young wine makers.

  4. I would suggest Humbolt Cnty as an “emerging region” in Calif. And Nevada Cnty as well. Areas that have barely been scratched. And probably Placer Cnty as well.
    And there are a number of areas in Calif who, though they have been growing wine for quite a long time, are underperforming for quite some time. As Deb mentions, the RedwoodVlly and LakeCnty. Those areas have and can, from time to time, make wines as great as anywhere in Calif. And I would also add to this list Calaveras Cnty and Suisun Vlly/Solano Cnty. MattRorick has made some exceptional wines from Suisun Vlly and is now segueing into Calaveras Cnty w/ his recent purchase.
    Will the planting of Nero d’Avola or Teroldego in these areas suddenly bring them to the forefront of wine growing Calif??? Probably not…but it will allow them to stake out a niche.
    Maybe the CienegaVlly should also be added.

  5. I would be remiss if I did not mention our eastern Madera County foothills near Yosemite as an area in the embryonic stage since we first planted in 1997. With Three acres in twelve clones of seven of the eight Bordeaux reds and twenty acres of seven Rhone varieties and one acre of Charbono/Aglianico/Petite Sirah and three artisan wineries, we are very close to reaching critical mass, yes?

  6. I think we should seize Jay Leno’s car collection and use it to give government grants to winemakers in these emerging regions. Totally agree with Steve that he has gotten to be too successful and needs to share more of his wealth with others.

  7. When considering new wine regions in California you might want to consider the region immediately east of San Diego California. The Ramona Valley received an AVA designation in 2006, revised the County laws concerning tasting rooms on ag land in 2010, and now has 24 wineries and over 70 vineyard in just this region. More wineries and vineyards are also appearing in the rest of San Diego County since the change in County law allowed it to happen.

    Wines that do particularly well here include Sangiovese (Brunello), Syrah, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and Zinfandel. The wines are starting to win both awards and a lot of favorable comments from many quarters.

  8. Perhaps we can extend “California” to Baja. I have been coming to Valle de Guadalupe since 2008 as a consulting winemaker (I am there now). It is just inland from Ensenada, so maybe 50 or 60 miles south of the Ramona Valley AVA mentioned above by Andy. Over the 5 years I have been an observer, and somewhat of a participant, in what I can attest is truly an emerging wine scene. Seat of the pants viticulture and winemaking is giving way to heads up practices without sacrificing regionality. Part of this is a move to Rhone and Italian varietals that are a good match with the area, though I must say that in the last 24 hours I have also tasted some very credible Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Petit Verdot.

    As with all emerging wine areas, there is an emerging food scene. Ensenada (20 minutes away) has long had great seafood, but now there are also very hip wine bars. Sophisticated restaurants are opening in the Valley: I had great lunches the last couple of days at Altozano, on a nice deck over-looking the valley, and at Latitude 32, in the brand new El Cielo Winery, which is embolic of the new capital coming into the area (clearly designed to be a destination winery with stainless steel tanks, sorting table, french oak barrels room, tasting room with food pairings). I will also put in a plug for the project I am working with, Villa Montefiori, which is increasingly putting a focus on Italian varieties–Sangiovese, Montepulciano, Aglianico, Nebiollo. They also have a restaurant open in the summer months.

    It is the Nebiollo which I am guessing will become the signature variety for the region. The wines I tasted from the ’13 harvest got my attention for their intensity and concentration. As this area emerges there are comfortable inns and B&B’s being established throughout the valley. There is a lot of energy in the Valle right now. They even have their own cult winemaker (Hugo Acosta). It would be a great destination for a wine and food adventure/vacation with an exotic feel (the cross-roads are still dirt, and watch out for wandering burros and goats). And yes, it is safe.

  9. Marin County, just north of the Golden Gate Bridge and south of the Sonoma Coast, had vineyards planted before Napa Valley and has had a renaissance of winegrowing over the last 15 years. With it’s frigid coastal climate and well-drained, sandy soils, it specializes in Pinot Noir, and it’s Pinot Noir viability was affirmed when legendary Burgundy house Boisset began making wine there a few years ago under its DeLoach label.

    Other notable vintners crafting delicious and balanced Pinot Noir from the 200 or so acres under vine include Sean Thackrey, Dutton-Goldfield, Pey-Marin, Kendric, Couloir, McEvoy, Skywalker, Easkoot, Bailiwick and others. Pey-Marin also makes a racy dry Riesling. Marin County will never be a large-scale enterprise, low yields born by the frigid temperatures make it particularly challenging, as do strict zoning laws. But what comes out of this unique region is of considerable interest, and getting better every year.

  10. george kaplan says:

    I second Bill Dyer about the Guadalupe Valley. I’ve tasted multiple varieties with very pure fruit in the wines made in Carlsbad by Witch Creek Winery .

  11. Hello Tom Hill,

    Regarding “staking out a niche” with Nero d’Avalo and Teraldego: at Villa Montefiora in Valle de Guadalupe in Baja California, an experimental planting of a few vines of each was promising, leading to recent planting of 10 rows of each. So we will soon have commercial scale wine lots to evaluate. This terroir seems to favor late ripening, thick skinned varieties. Stay tuned…


    From the Los Angeles Times “Saturday” Section
    (November 2, 2013, Page E3):

    “Veni, Vidi, Vino, Dude;
    Italian grapes are inspiring California winemakers to consider a dramatic change in their vineyards.”


    By S. Irene Virbila
    “Across the Table” Column


    From the Los Angeles Times “Saturday” Section
    (November 2, 2013, Page E3):

    “Nebbiolo May Be the Next Big Thing”


    By S. Irene Virbila
    “Across the Table” Column

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