Hi everyone! This week's topic is focused on California and recent winemaking history.
California winemaking experienced major shifts during the 1990s. Discuss the shift(s) and the factor(s) that led to this.
So many things happened at once to influence this. Increase in domestic wine demand, Parker, dot-com boom led to a whole bunch of new money to invest in vineayrds and wineries, a shift in consumer tastes towards premium and fine wine, and just a natural progression towards beefier flavors all led to the new California style. Winemakers reacted, consumers reacted, winemakers reacted again, consumers ate it up. Weather. Scores. Machismo (pairing wine with a Ferrari), and it kept going. As prices rose, vineyard owners and managers could afford to cut yields and take risks to get riper grapes, giving more opportunity for winemakers to make the style they desired.
In the 1980s drip irrigation was becoming more prevalent in Napa after Andy Beckstoffer and others were experimenting with it in the region. Producers realized that they were able to get higher yields without decreasing quality and we began to see the shift to point chasing wines and the Parkerization of scores.
The winemakers in Napa were starting to deal with the aftereffects of the flooding in 1986 that started to spread phylloxera in the valley and the ill fated AXR-1 rootstock. AXR-1 really didn't become a problem until the widespread irrigation meant that root systems were staying closer to the surface and were now in reach of phylloxera. Winemakers were now having to rip out their old California sprawl plantings and rethink how they were doing things.
Then comes 1997, the massive vintage, both in quality and quantity, with yields 20% above average for the region. Some producers, after two years of lower yields, weren't that aggressive with trimming fruit and so they ended up leaving a lot of fruit on the vine because their fermenters were full and couldn't handle any more juice. But after fermentation was complete and the wine was in barrel, the fruit still looked good. Riper fruits, more potential alcohol, softer tannins ... why not try and make wine with it and see what happens? And you know what, it tasted pretty good. Blend it into the first batch and you have some wines that catch the critics eyes and the Parkerizaiton of California takes off in earnest. If there was any doubt about how you would handle replanting your vineyards at this point, there wasn't. High density, low yields, in neat orderly rows to make as much expensive juice as you possibly can.