California special: What California wines to sell

Louis Villard

Louis Villard

19 July 2016

Want to know how to get your customers choosing California wines? From Napa Cabs to left-field Grüners, Andrew Catchpole talks to venues that sell mountains of the stuff to find out what works for them


Romain Bourger
The Vineyard at Stockcross, West Berkshire

What currently excites you about California wines?
The new wave of California wines. We’ve started to see a lot of more unusual wines nowadays and it is great for us to be able to suggest Albariño, Grüner Veltliner, Cinsault, Gamay, etc. Being very California wine orientated, we have a great opportunity to represent this new wave in the UK.

How do you encourage your customers to delve beyond the obvious choices?
Lots of our guests are very interested in California wines. We do have people who love wines from Burgundy, Bordeaux or the Rhône Valley, but who would like to try the same ‘style’ of wines from California. If our guests are undecided, we often suggest California and, for some of them, it’s a real discovery, and most of the time a great surprise.

Is there much knowledge of the new wave of more restrained California wines?
Most of the wines on wine lists are Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot or Pinot Noir. But there is so much more to be discovered. It’s up to us, wine people in general, to encourage guests to try these new wine styles.

TOP SELLERS
By the glass Peter Michael Winery L’Après-Midi Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Knights Valley, Sonoma County;
£15, Vineyard Cellars, 01635 589414
By the bottle Ferrari-Carano Chardonnay 2013, Sonoma County; £41, Vineyard Cellars, 01635 589414
A personal favourite from your list? Aside from the Peter Michael Winery wines, I particularly like the Lokoya single vineyard Cabernet Sauvignons from different terroirs. The wines all havea great concentration balanced with a fantastic minerality. John E Fells & Sons, 01442 870900


Zack Charilaou
M Restaurants, London

What currently excites you about California wines?
The move away from one single style is what is currently exciting me. More Old World-style wines are emerging, with earlier picking, higher acidity, increased freshness and complexity. These wines have added another dimension
to the category, making California more accessible to a wider range of palates.

What are the strengths of your California list?
I offer a wide range of prices, regions, grapes and styles across the list, so I would say the strength is diversity and range. You can order a £29 easy-to-drink Sonoma Cabernet Sauvignon, all the way up to a 100-Parker point Screaming Eagle that will set you back more than £3,000.

How do you encourage your customers to delve beyond the obvious choices?
It all depends on their willingness to try new and exciting wines outside of the ‘icons’, but the ability to use the Coravin on all of our wines allows people to try before they buy – it’s usually the most effective way to entice customers into oddities.

Is there much knowledge of the new wave of more restrained California wines?
I think this is still quite raw and hasn’t reached beyond the ‘wine geeks’ yet. More than 100 years
of history has created California’s reputation, so this new movement will take a while to really blossom.

Top sellers
By the glass Newton Chardonnay 2013, Napa Valley; £21.50, Moët Hennessy Selection, 020 7808 4390
By the bottle Villa Ragazzi Sangiovese 2012, Napa Valley; £110, Armit Wines, 020 7908 0655
A personal favourite from your list? Newton The Puzzle 2009, Napa Valley. This blend of the five Bordeaux varieties is one of the best wines I’ve ever tasted. £69, Moët Hennessy Selection, 020 7808 4390


Becca Goodall
Hawksmoor, London and Manchester

What currently excites you about California wines?
What I love about California wines is that it’s a very inclusive kind of party. Whenever I meet producers, or taste the wines, there is always an openness and excitement that isn’t just for trained palates or the mega-rich, but for everyone to get involved, have an opinion and share.

What do you think are the strengths of your California wine list?
Being a steak house we tend to lean towards a certain style of wine – bolder varietals and meat-friendly reds – but we’re finding that more and more customers are looking for something beyond the classic red meat/big wine pairing. In response, our strength is being able to reflect the breadth of wine available, from verticals of Napa Cabernets to skin-contact Trousseau or more unusual blends.

How do you encourage customers to delve beyond the obvious choices?
Where customers buy on price point we can offer some really interesting wines as well as value that packs a punch. And I’m always willing to pull a few corks to give customers a glass of something we wouldn’t usually offer.

Is there much knowledge of the new wave of more restrained California wines?
I have seen a lot of praise for the new-wave style in the press and do feel this influence in what we get asked for. Being able to show wines with that complexity, fleshed out by more generous fruit than is often seen in their Old World counterparts, is a great way to get customers interested in these more elegant styles.

Top sellers
By the glass Viano Vineyards Old Vine Zinfandel 2011, Contra Costa County; £9, Roberson Wine, 020 7381 7870
By the bottle Au Bon Climat Knox Alexander Pinot Noir 2011, Santa Maria Valley; £94, Fields, Morris & Verdin, 020 7819 0360
A personal favourite from your list? Tatomer Meeresboden Grüner Veltliner 2014, Santa Barbara County. With laser-beam acidity, Meeresboden is wonderfully intense but without being powered. I love how this wine shows another face of California whites. £57, Roberson Wine, 020 7381 7870


Scott Levy
Smith & Wollensky, London

What currently excites you about California wines?
One of the most exciting things about California wines is that while there is a huge wealth of knowledge and experience, there are no real rules for what can be produced there. If it grows there, they plant it.

What are the strengths of your California list?
The great thing for us is that about 50% of our 500 wines are from the US and all of them were picked on merit alone. So, while this has made finding a consistent supply of the wines more challenging, it means that we’re really proud of every single wine on the list. We’ve gone to great lengths to get the wines we really wanted… and having such a wide variety of California wines means we really have something for every taste.

How do you encourage your customers to delve beyond the obvious choices?
We are quite lucky at Smith & Wollensky because we have such a great reputation in the US, so there is very much a sense of ‘When in Rome…’ I always make a point of talking to my guests to find out what style of wine they are looking for and because of our extensive range of California wines and the wide variety of styles, I can always find something a bit different that fits this bill.

Is there much knowledge of the new wave of more restrained California wines?
I think most people aren’t aware of just what is available from California, simply because of a lack of availability in the UK.

Top sellers
By the glass Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Artemis 2012, Napa Valley; £25, Enotria&Coe, 020 8961 4411
By the bottle The Federalist Dueling Pistols Zinfandel/Syrah 2011, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma; £95, Matthew Clark, 01275 891400
A personal favourite from your list? Buccella Mixed Blacks 2011, Amador County; £170, Vineyard Cellars, 01635 589414


Charlie McSweeney
Avenue, London

What currently excites you about California wines?
The sheer diversity and fun varietals such as oaked Albariño and Trousseau Gris coming out are really exciting.

What do you think are the strengths of your California list?
The fun and diverse varietals.

How do you engage your customers and encourage them to delve beyond the obvious choices?
The days of selling California wines are long gone – they are well established in the industry and happily sell themselves. The only difficulty you face, as with any region, is with trying to sell the more quirky styles.

Is there much knowledge of the new wave of more restrained California wines?
Definitely. California’s array of different altitudes and ranges have so many different effects on styles, let alone the many different regions, grapes, styles and farming techniques used.

Top sellers
By the glass Marimar Estate Albariño 2012, Russian River Valley; £11.50, Vintagemarque, 01442 289306
By the bottle Wente Vineyards ‘Heritage Block Riva Ranch’ Chardonnay 2012, Monterey County; £45, John E Fells & Sons, 01442 870900
A personal favourite from your list? Wind Gap Trousseau Gris 2013, Russian River Valley. Unique, completely different in style and answers all the above questions. £65, Roberson Wine, 020 7381 7870


Gordon Minnis
Calistoga, Edinburgh

What currently excites you about California wines?
We visit California as often as we can and on every visit it’s exciting to learn about new innovations – something that’s a constant factor in all California wineries.

What are the strengths of your California list?
With our 150+ all-California list we’ve tried to represent the wide variety of styles produced across California.

How do you encourage your customers to delve beyond the obvious choices?
We offer a selection of wine tasting experiences and dinners in a really informal setting. Our customers enjoy trying new styles and, more often than not, California is a revelation for them. Plus, we are probably one of the few restaurants outside northern California that has a tasting menu matched only with wines from Napa Valley.

Is there much knowledge of the new wave of more restrained California wines?
We act as ambassadors for California wines and like to carry all styles, including new styles.

Top sellers
By the glass McManis Family Pinot Grigio 2013, River Junction; £5, Kingsland Drinks, 0161 333 4300
By the bottle Moniker Pinot Noir 2012, Mendocino; £29, Inverarity Morton, 0141 620 6100
A personal favourite from your list? Parducci Reserve Grenache 2010, Mendocino. This is only available from the winery tasting room or from us. £33, Inverarity Morton, 0141 620 6100


Michael Sager
Sager + Wilde and Sager + Restaurant, London

What currently excites you about California wines?
The winemakers have no restrictions and they’re taking advantage of that, taking any varieties and making them any way they want. We’re also talking about aspirational winemakers, not just those who are born into it, so people who are pouring their own money into it and taking risks, but who are also very market savvy.

What are the strengths of your California list?
We were the first people to pour Hirsch, Sandhi, and any of the IPOB (In Pursuit of Balance) wines in UK. We have a strong California selection because we believe they are that good and, at the right price point, can offer good alternatives.

How do you encourage customers to delve beyond the obvious?
It always turns out to be a conversation that’s not really about wine. People come into the building because they’ve been told it’s a bit cool, and if people decide to spend £12 on a glass of wine on Hackney Road or by Bethnal Green station, it’s aspirational, so they come with an expectation. If they hear a bit of noise about new wave California, then they want to try the wines.

A personal favourite from your list?
I believe Arnot-Roberts is the best producer out there. They’re doing single vineyard Pinot Noir and Chardonnay,
plus wines such as Ribolla and cold-climate Syrah, but making only 3,000 cases. arnotroberts.com

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