Wine is an industry built on status and reputation. As a relative latecomer, the California wine industry has had to fight an uphill battle in the world marketplace for wine. In the US, of course, California wine consumes the overwhelming majority of acreage and consumption, due partially to the fact that wine grapes cannot grow in much of the country, and California's sheer size to begin with. In the US, California wine has a significant reputation, but it has taken decades to make an impact on the world, and this, despite the taste of California wine.
Climate and soil, through their influence on the varieties of vine cultivated and the types of wine produced, have also played an important role in influencing the character of the wine trade throughout history. Once the nature of fermentation and the activities of bacteria had been explained during the nineteenth century, a whole new era of technological change dawned in the wine industry, reaching its culmination in recent decades with the creation of new types of wine designed to suit, or create, entirely new markets. While wine making today is a highly technical science, the same basic chemical and physical properties have always influenced the creation of wines and thus the business choices of vinters.
[...] The California wine industry had to face a substantial reputation hurdle in addition to attempting to create quality wines. Over the past thirty years, however, the status of California wines has grown immensely, thanks to a commitment to innovation and a scientific understanding of winemaking. The remainder of this essay will examine how a concentration of developing wines that would meet the stringent standards of wine-tasters worked to drastically increase the status and sales of California wine. Rather than attempting to market or brand its wines and the "natural" taste that emerged from California's warm weather and local environment (such as California redwood barrels), California vinters altered the production process to meet the long-understood metric of quality created by the French. [...]
[...] At the Paris Tasting of 1976, quality won out and the California wine industry experienced an unprecedented rise of its reputation. Since the 1970s, French wines have been eclipsed by California wines. Now, California's industry is experimenting with different varietals, such as White Zinfandel, which do not necessarily match the old standard, but which thanks to California's one-generation-old reputation, can compete effectively in the domestic and on the world marketplaces with older wines of quality. California has gone from a follower to a leader in winemaking. [...]
[...] However, California's reputation for wine lagged behind, until one explosive moment that changed the California wine industry forever. The judgment of Paris While wine quality was improving thanks to ingenuity, California wine status continued to lag behind. It was not until May that the unthinkable happened. Steven Spurrier, a UK citizen, arranged for a tasting of California and French wines, and the California wines won! The "Judgment of Paris" (an illusion to The Illiad which is apropos as the mythical Paris's judgment started a war that lasted over a decade) was a head-to-head competition between American and French wines, but was not at all taken seriously by the winemaking establishment. [...]
[...] (There is a "downmarket" wine industry as well, as mentioned above but it is not a major motor of world wine industries.) The evaluation of wines is thus a necessary condition for status. As one scholar notes, evaluation is not simply a matter of swishing the wine in one's mouth or drinking unto intoxication: People who make wines, or blend wines, or sell wines need to make command decisions to determine differences among wines. They use . an array of sensory tests to reach conclusions: score cards, ranking, paired tests, and so on. [...]
[...] For most of the twentieth century, the former choice prevailed and the California wine industry was thus oriented toward domestic consumption and competed primarily on price rather than quality. It was not until the 1960s, when a number of other social and economic conditions became favorable, that the Californian wine industry, and particularly that of the Napa Valley, really began to develop. The changes that occurred reflected a complex interaction between demand and supply, in which it is not possible to see any single cause as having been dominant. [...]
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