2013 was a good year for small-scale, domestic producers like Arnot-Roberts, Massican, Matthiasson, and many of the other winemakers featured in Jon Bonné‘s book, The New California Wine. Despite making a rather modest amount of wine, these winemakers have garnered a significant amount of attention from traditional media (including the San Francisco Chronicle, the New York Times, and Decanter magazine) and online content providers.
Moreover, these wines have developed a solid fan base in important markets beyond San Francisco. Patrick Capiello, Jordan Salcito, and Mike Madrigale (noted NYC wine professionals) have all proclaimed California as a wine region to watch over the next year. In short, “New California” is having its moment in the spotlight.
But there is a challenge looming. You can only be “new” once. The wine world can be ridiculously fadish. Witness Grüner Veltliner. “Favored by seemingly every sommelier in America in the late 1990s, Grüner Veltliner (nicknamed Groovy) was subsequently discarded by those very same professionals when they began looking for something new to put on their lists.” Lesson learned: you can’t rest on your cool kid creds for too long.
So how do you avoid being a fad? How do you transform a moment in the sun into something more permanent?
It’s not enough to be new or different — the long play is to make quality wines that are an indispensable part of any wine list or cellar. Many of the producers lumped into the “New California” category are doing just that. They are making wines of distinction that deserve a spot on the dinner table. They are making wines that make you want to keep reaching for your glass and leave you hankering for a second bottle. At the same time, they are pushing California to explore its great diversity of soil and climate and embrace the fact that it is still a (relatively) young wine growing region.
My concern is that if these wines are simply marketed as “new,” it’s too easy for them to be cast aside when The Next Big Thing comes along (“new Australia” anyone?). I’m also worried that these wines are done a disservice by being pegged as “new” when in reality many of them are classic examples of well balanced wines.
This is not meant as a criticism of Jon’s book. If anything, I think his praise of producers like Ted Lemon and Paul Draper makes me think he might agree with these points. Instead, this post is meant as reminder for those of us out there pouring these wines for friends or championing these wines out in the market that, at some point, we need to get beyond the “new” label if we want these producers to have long term success.