The differences between wine from California and wine from the Old World stalwarts like France, Italy and Germany cannot be overstated. Over the last thirty years, California has asserted its individuality in that old fashioned American tradition of breaking the rules and doing things its own way.
Often to the disdain of European wine makers, vineyards in California have made an art-form out of blending grapes trucked in from different locations all over the state. The Europeans, on the other hand, favor making wine from the grapes grown only in one vineyard. In wine growing, they call this the concept of terroir. It is the idea that a unique wine is made special by a singular combination of soil, climate and terrain that cannot be found anywhere else on Earth except for that particular vineyard. California wine makers like to create a certain style that wine drinkers will like and come back to year after year, so to keep this style consistent they have to blend grapes from multiple vineyards so the differences in vintages from year to year can be smoothed out.
Think of it as listening to the orchestra versus the soloist. California wines typically have many different players that go into a single bottle: if one player misses a note, the rest of the members can easily make up for it. European wine growers prefer the Yo-Yo Ma model: listening to the individual style and personality of a single maestro is prized above everything else.
Is one better than the other? Of course not, it all depends on your tastes and what you’re in the mood for. But California is ready to shift gears, and some of its major wine makers are positioning themselves to make single-vineyard wines. The reason is that more and more wine consumers are seeking them out. Some of the best wines that come out of California happen to be from small, single-vineyard wine makers, but these are often made in medium to small supply and carry a higher price. Demand is increasing for soloist style wines that are distinct and affordable.
Even Robert Mondavi’s behemoth bargain label Woodbridge is releasing a single-vineyard series that will hit the shelves at $10.99.
The New World and the Old World can argue all they want over which way is better. Do you prefer the team or the athlete? The band leader or the band? Most would agree that it depends on the mood. We’re just happy to have the option.