Franch: The Masters of Marketing
If you look at the top 5 most planted grapes in California, there's one striking similarity among almost all of them: Chardonnay 29%, Cabernet Sauvignon 22%, Pinot Noir 18%, Merlot 14%, and Zinfandel 9%. All of those grapes, with the exception of Zinfandel, are French. While there are biological reasons for that (Many California regions share a similar climate to France), I wonder if the more important reason is cultural.
Last week, we reflected on how young the wine industry is. We are only beginning to discover the best combination of region and grape. Many of the early California post-prohibition producers didn't try to match the region with its most similar French counterpart. If so, they would have planted Grenache in Napa rather than Cabernet. Instead, they were inspired by the great wines of the day which were Bordeaux, Burgundy, and Champagne, and wanted to make similar wines in California.
Now that we live in a world where we have access to wines that were unknown back in the 1960s, it will be interesting to see what the next generation tries to produce. Perhaps we will see California Pinot Noir ripped up in favor of Mencia or Nebbiolo. Or maybe in 20 years, Sonoma will be known for their Albariño or Vermentino rather than Chardonnay.
Obviously, I had deep respect for French wines. But, I also respect their ability to cement themselves as the gold standard of fine wine, sanctified from all others. Not only has that reputation helped them to sell their own wines, but it also means that almost all new-world wine regions are recognized for their use of French grapes like: Marlborough New Zealand and Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley and Cabernet, Mendoza Argentina and Malbec, Australia and Shiraz.