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"California vs The Imports
"

  by Fred McMillin


Prologue

Englishman Thomas Hardy was in jail in Australia. He had arrived in Australia 14 years after it was founded, and now had been arrested in the heat of the Victoria gold rush for digging without a miner's license. So, he abandoned the shovel, turned to supplying the miners, planted the vine, and became Australia's most important wine pioneer.

In 1883 he came to check out California competition. He concluded that Australia need not worry about California competing successfully with Australia for the European wine market. The "vines are too young...they are planted in land too rich to give anything but poor wine"...and there is a market of 50 million in the United States that has yet to be developed. However, as to the future he wrote, "I have no doubt that there is a great future before the vine-growers and wine-makers of California. They can produce every class of wine required by the world in some part or another [of the state.]"

A century later it seems that "great future" has arrived. In our last blind tasting, we paired nine California wines with equally-priced wines from five other countries. For example, a $13 California Cabernet Sauvignon was matched against a $13 Australian Cab. Here are the winners; we'll omit the losers.


The Results of California VS Imports
(10 tasters)

Price Winner Varietal Winery, Vintage & Country
$9 Import Malbec Argentina, Mariposa, '97
$11 Import Chasan France, Vichon, '96 (pictured)
$13 Calif. Cabernet Sauvignon Renaissance, No. Yuba, '95
$14 Calif. Sauvignon Blanc Cakebread, Napa Vly., '97
$16 Calif. Riesling (Late-Hrv) Herzog, Monterey County, '97
$20 Import Chardonnay France, Fortant Rsrv., '96
$25 Import Merlot France, Fortant Rsrv., '96
$28 Calif. Pinot Noir Steele, DuPratt Vd.,
Mendo., '95 (pictured)
$30 Calif. Chardonnay Grgich Hills, Napa Vly., '96


Comments

Bargains—Imports won the two lowest-price matches. California had small crops in 1995 and 1996. This provided an opening for low-cost imports. Will they now fade away as California yields have come back?

Bargain hunters will be glad to know that at a recent International Symposium coordinated by Brown-Miller Communications, the experts concluded the new imports are here to stay. A featured speaker was Philippe Giraudon, development director of Fortant de France; his wines come from the Languedoc region. Since the district produces one third of all French wines, he feels he has plenty for the U.S.A.

Viva la France—Three of the four winning imports were from France. Philippe certainly would be happy to know that all three were from the Languedoc (lahn-guh-doc), and two were his Fortant Reserves.


Postscript

We mentioned that a century ago English-born Thomas Hardy predicted that California had the potential to "produce every class of wine required by the world." Today, what foreign country most appreciates California wine? Answer: The leading importer of Golden State wines is none other than the U.K.. And they are growing fast; 1997 figures were 33% higher than the prior year's.

Best of Tasting—The winner was Jedediah Steele's DuPratt Vineyard Pinot Noir (pictured), which just edged out Mike Grgich's latest super-Chardonnay.

 


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