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Napa (and Sonoma) trends

16 Jun 2002 by JR

A short but concentrated trip to the Napa Valley this week suggested a few new trends in this extremely trend-conscious part of the wine world.

  • Rosé is emerging as a distinct category again, quite untarnished by the White Zin thing. This is a climate where a dry rosé should be a boon and wine writer Jeff Morgan should enjoy great success with his well packaged SoloRosa 2001, a very dark rose-coloured blend of Sangiovese and at least three other grapes.

  • Plantings abound at the south-eastern end of the Valley, way off most maps and south of the town of the Napa, but the Chalone group for one has pulled out of its investment there, presumably because grapes just could not ripen reliably enough.

  • After decades of underpinning the entire Californian wine industry with their hard work and unparalleled viticultural expertise, Mexicans are taking a rather higher profile. I have already reported enthusiastically about the wines of Renteria, a winery operation near Stag's Leap set up by longtime vineyard worker Salvador and now run by his son Oscar. (Tried to visit them but they were obviously away.) Ceja is another new operation with Mexican roots based in Carneros with a very distinctively crisp style of wine, making Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Merlot. The Pinot Noir 1999 was probably the most impressive example I tasted from the current range of five or six, though the Merlot shows promise. There will surely be, possibly are, more, as capital and power is slowly acquired by this vital element in the Californian wine mix which has already spawned several important vineyard management companies. (See the chapter on Labour in the Oxford Companion to the Wines of North America for some particularly fascinating detail.)

  • Organic and biodynamic are taking hold, and not before time. There are, as usual, strongly held views. And since by American law no wine containing sulphur can be called organic, the principal label claim is 'organically grown grapes'. But more and more producers are flirting with the ground-horns-by-moonlight philosophies of biodynamism.

  • Olive oil is very big. Dozens of Northern Californian wineries are offering their own olive oil, generally made from their own olives, made at a central processing facility. The two outfits to boast their own frantoio are the organic and impressive Long Meadow Ranch just north-west of Rutherford (which also produces elegant Cabernet, highland cattle and organic veg) and McEvoys of Sonoma, also organic.

  • There is no let up in the roster of new restaurants. Julia's Kitchen (named after J Child, set to celebrate her 90th birthday this August) at Copia, the smart new centre for wine, food and the arts in Napa itself, is a fine new addition. Cool surroundings, not too far from San Francisco, and some great treatments of local ingredients (including many from Copia's biodynamic garden) based on Mark Dommen's experience at the likes of Lespinasse and Alain Ducasse. Definitively California though, and all the better for it.

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