Although California produces more wine than all but three other countries in the world, and accounts for close to 82 percent of all wine produced in the United States, most people still think of California Wine Country as only being Napa Valley. This belief has left a sour taste in the mouth of many smaller next generation winemakers who live and work in Central California. They recognize that a state this big can have more than one signature profile, and they are making sure people know about it.
Anyone who is familiar with the wines and wineries of California is most likely familiar with the name of Robert Parker. Recognized by the Atlantic Monthly as the most influential critic in the world - not just from the world of wine, but as an estimation of his influence in relation to critics in general - he started The Wine Advocate while working as a lawyer in 1978. The most lasting influence he has created with his magazine, now read by over fifty thousand people each month, is the numerical rating system. A perfect wine scores a 100, and as the sole judge for most of The Wine Advocate's existed, his arbitrary judgements and harsh criticisms of wines he did not like also made him jury and executioner to many small batch wineries.
In response to his outsized influence, 33 winemakers from Santa Barbara to San Francisco and further north came together to form a partnership. Calling it In Pursuit of Balance, they focus on reintroducing people to wines that are smaller and more proportional. It has not been an easy challenge, but it is also not one they are shying away from.
The recognition of how important California wines are in the international market serves as both a strength and a stigma. Many winemakers and wholesalers believe that any wine with a high Robert Parker rating is so desirable they sometimes do not even imagine that restaurant owners will need to taste it before adding it to their wine list. On the other hand, there have been many restaurants over the years so conditioned by the perceived flavor of California wines that anything listed as coming from Napa Valley was immediately shown the door.
The struggle between David and Goliath is not new in the world of wine, and it is not one that will come to an end anytime soon. Many wine experts say that might be the best thing that could happen. As small batch wineries continue to create authentic style wines in California - a Spanish wine that tastes like it came from Spain and not a Californiazation of it - they will help to expand the marketplace, further strengthening the economy of the wines and wineries of California.
Jack Terry is a freelance writer who has been writing about the food and beverage industry for over 20 years. http://www.wineclubworld.com