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The California wine industry

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  1. Introduction.
  2. Taste and status.
  3. The science of winemaking.
  4. The judgment of Paris.
  5. California wine today ? The rise of Zinfandel.
  6. Conclusion.

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. [...]

[...] In fact, "Despite the French tasters, many of whom had taken part in the original tasting, 'expecting the downfall' of the American vineyards, they had to admit that the harmony of the Californian cabernets had beaten them again." (Hamilton and Sanderson, p.D3) California wine today The rise of Zinfandel Perhaps ironically, today's California wine industry is perhaps best known for its Zinfandel. A fad in the 1980s, Zinfandel has continued to be important since the Judgment of Paris, despite Zinfandel wines generally being considered overly fruity, alcoholic and downmarket. [...]

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