Let’s face it with so many major wine tastings taking place every week it can be had to find and justify the time to go to even the most worthy. So how do you stand out from the crowd, even if you are much sought after wine region such as California? Well the answer is to put yourself into the minds of your target buyers and customers, says California Wine Institute UK and Ireland’s Damien Jackman and Justine McGovern, and that means having an event that really is Essential to attend. Which is why its March 12 tasting is focused entirely on wines that cost up to £50.
The key for any successful wine tasting is not just the country or the region where the wines come from, but the theme, the reason why they are there. Which is very much at the heart of the new series of tastings from the California Wine Institute UK and Ireland.
You are focusing your next tasting on Californian wines below £50 – why?
Focus at tastings is a concept we hear time and time again from the trade so we wanted to show that we are listening and acting. We have moved away from a single, large trade tasting each year and divided this into two more focused events – Essential California for wines that retail up to £50 on March 12 at the Yard Shoreditch, and Collectible California for wines that retail above £50 on September 26 at The US Embassy.
Dividing the large trade tasting into two events like this allows exhibitors and tasters to focus their time and attention at these events more effectively. Of course, we will also have many smaller tastings and events throughout the year, most notably where we focus on individual regions or AVAs in masterclass style tastings with winemakers, sommelier sessions focusing on sommelier education, and precise tastings on areas like sustainability.
Is the price issue one that you feel needs to be addressed with buyers and perceptions?
In the past people may have spoken of Californian wine carrying a high price tag, however, these days we hear more and more how the prices are justified for the outstanding quality offered. For example, many trade and press commentators tell us they see high-quality California Chardonnay and Pinot Noir as excellent value compared to the rising prices of many Burgundies.
With Essential California, we are excited to be shining the light on wines that would have a retail price from under £10, all the way through to £50, without the ‘distraction’ of some of the most expensive wines from California. We believe everyone will see the outstanding quality for money on offer at Essential California.
So you think the price perception is changing?
Yes, absolutely, given the shift in consumer opinion and in the trade that we are seeing, California is increasingly seen as their go to special occasion wine and we think it deserves this place amongst the highest-quality wine regions of the world. So like Burgundy or Bordeaux, some will always talk about the price, but we believe in the quality and value in California’s premium wines. This is a very strong position for us to be in.
What changes have taken place in California in order to see more of these below £50 wines in the UK market?
The UK market has always been the most highly desirable export market for Californian producers, and the Wine Institute prioritises the UK as its Tier 1 region. Of course, the US domestic market is the largest wine consuming market in the world, so there is enormous competition for the world class $5-$15 per bottle wines just from the US alone. Many California producers could earn the same, or more, by selling their wines at home, however, they want to see their wines on the shelves and tables of the UK’s wine retailers and restaurants, and they certainly still see London as the epi-centre of world wine. Californians haven’t shifted their export focus from the UK to China in the way that some other countries of origin perhaps have in the last few years, so this market remains the priority.
We are also seeing new interest in export from new producers often from lesser-known AVAs which is exciting. At Essential California we will have wines being poured from over 50 AVAs.
Where do you think the best value is to be found for wines below £50? In terms of style/ region/area?
It’s possible from all regions of California because of the incredible diversity of the landscape and the variety mix available to winemakers. Lodi has many micro-climates and is now producing outstanding wines of freshness from varieties like Albarino and Cinsault to go alongside their stalwart Zinfandels and Cabernets, all at great value price points. High quality Chardonnay and Pinot Noir is going from strength to strength in all price points, with value being particularly strong from Central Coast and parts of Santa Barbara and Sonoma.
Can you think of restaurants/merchants that are doing a particularly good job with wines below £50?
The Wine Society and Majestic are doing a great job and offer many wines in the under £20 space. Independents who have a deep belief in California like Bottle Apostle have also grown their range with many of the wines you will see at Essential California.
Berry Bros & Rudd has 37 California wines under £50 listed on its website currently and they are all such exciting, diverse and high-quality wines. From legends like Jim Clendenen’s Au Bon Climat through to the new generation of superstars like Morgan Twain-Peterson and his Bedrock wines. If you want to shop the true California icons then Hedonism and Harrods both have remarkable collections of California’s greatest wines.
On-trade buyers from like Le Caprice Group and the whole team from 67 Pall Mall have also thrown their support behind California. Terry Kandylis in particular has driven an incredible array of California wines by the glass at 67 with over 100 on offer. This is such a unique and exciting showcase and we are thrilled with that kind of support.
What sort of wines can we expect to see at the tasting?
With over 500 wines from 50 AVAs there really is a huge range of styles, varieties and price points on offer. Winemakers like Jim Clendenen from Au Bon Climat will be on hand to hold court, along with Alex Krause and John Locke from Birichino and Jason Haas from Tablas Creek. By focusing exhibitors on the up to £50 range we have much greater depth in key price points and we are very excited for the tasters to explore what is on offer below £20 in particular.
We are delighted to have partnered with Roth Bar and Grill for Essential California to bring a live-fire California cuisine element to the afternoon. Roth will be slow-cooking and grilling over wood all day and will be offering grilled salads, oak-plank salmon, chicken, lamb and beef tasting bites throughout the day – the perfect partner to those Essential California Wines.
- The Essential California tasting takes place on March 12, 12:30pm-5pm at The Yard, 891 Worship Street, London, EC2A 2BF. It will feature over 500 wines all costing £50 or lower and will include live-fire California cuisine cooked on the pit by Roth Bar and Grill and live music from the Alter Eagles. To find out more and to register click here.