Cali Wine, a spirit of innovation

California is more than Napa Valley. The golden state has a marine influence, a dry Mediterranean climate, many kinds of soils, and abundant sunshine that set up a myriad of microclimates.

 “Any great varietal will grow well somewhere in California” explains Christopher Beros, California Wine Institute’s Director in Asia who joined us on Bottled in China podacst last year.

Christopher has been living in China for the last ten years and has witnessed firsthand the substantial change in the market. Wine intelligence out of the UK estimated that there were 48 million wine drinkers in 2016 in China. Young, professional, cosmopolitan drinkers, that are curious to learn about wine. This is a consumer-driven market now.

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The California spirit is a spirit of innovation, a spirit of experimentation

Wine enthusiasts’ first experience with American wine is invariably the bold, high-end Cabernet. Then comes the subtle, fragrant Pinot Noir and the rich, coating Chardonnay. These flagship styles carry America’s wine industry reputation. But there’s more to discover. Lots more.

California wine producers grow everything, from Tempranillo to Vermentino. Look around, and you’ll find someone making excellent Syrah, Albariño, and GSM across the region. 

It’s unlikely that unpopular grape varieties will reach the Chinese market soon, but less common varieties, like Zinfandel, are finding their way through. Zinfandel, even in its dry versions, has a sweet palate and a ripe, bold, spicy nose. The fruit-forward red might just rise as a new Chinese favorite, especially for its ability to pair well with spicy food, like the Chinese hot pot, a pairing Christopher swears by. 

Importing anything to China is hard, and it’s no different for American wine. Christopher knows all about it; he devoted many years to the wine trade. In 2016, before the trade wars began, American wine imports have increased 11% by volume and 50% by value, but political differences, trade wars, and economic disputes add up. This means Chinese people might have to travel to expand their knowledge, at least for now. 

The good news is that Chinese people are traveling more than ever. They want to see the world. The sunny California vineyards are a popular destination, and through their travels, Chinese realize now that diversity is based not only on grape varieties but in terroir differences.

 Christopher takes Pinot Noir as an example, “If you go to Anderson Valley, Russian River, Carneros, Santa Lucia Highlands, Santa Rita Hills, Santa Maria, or Santa Barbara; each one of these regions has a distinct Pinot Noir. It has a distinct and unique style.” 

As Chinese return from their travels, they become ambassadors for the distinct regions, wowed by diversity. 

“The California spirit is a spirit of innovation, a spirit of experimentation,” says Christopher. “For a lot of California winemakers, it’s like -Hey let’s try it, let’s see what happens, let’s give it a shot-.” Biodynamic farming, natural wines, small boutique projects, unknown varieties, California is still evolving. There’s plenty to explore, and who knows, maybe, the best is yet to come.  

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Author: Franco Salzillo, Certified Somm & Wine Writer