Thursday, November 19, 2009

Meet the new generation of California winemakers

The California Association of Winegrape Growers and the Wine Institute brought together 20 “new generation” vintners and growers from throughout California to Cavallo Point Lodge in Sausalito on November 17 to share their perspectives on California wine trends.

“The next generation of the California wine community is building on our great growing and winemaking traditions, combining it with their own perspective and talents,” said Karen Ross, president of the California Association of Winegrape Growers. “It is fun and exciting to see so many dynamic younger people taking the reins. With their enthusiasm and new ideas, California growers and vintners will continue to set trends and be a global influence for generations to come.”

Four dialogue sessions featuring these young winemakers and growers focused on those key points that make this group special. In the first session, “Next Generation: Passing the Torch,” focused on the family nature of the California wine industry, highlighting that a majority of the state’s wineries are family-owned with half of them producing fewer than 5,000 cases. All the speakers were from multigenerational wineries such as fifth generation winemaker Karl Wente of Wente Winery in Livermore Valley and sixth-generation farmer, Mike Heringer of Heringer Estates Vineyards and Winery in Clarksburg. They were joined by second generation winemaker Jason Smith of Paraiso Vineyards in Santa Lucia Highlands, Kathy Benziger of Benziger Family Winery in Sonoma Valley and Warren Bogle of Bogle Vineyards in Clarksburg. These winemakers not only represent their generation of winemakers but also the previous generations, winemaking is truly in their blood. As stated by Warren Bogle, “Bogle is a brand to most people but to us it is our name.”

In the session, “Evolving California Wine Styles” young winemakers from all around the state discussed the different evolving winemaking styles that reflect the different wine regions in this great state. From the Central Coast area came Nick de Luca of Dierberg and Star Lane Vineyard in Santa Barbara County, Josh Baker of Edna Valley Vineyards in San Luis Obispo and Andrew Murray of Andrew Murray Vineyards in Santa Ynez Valley. The North Coast was represented by Alan Viader of Viader Wine in Napa Valley, Clay Mauritson of Mauritson Family Winery in Dry Creek Valley in Sonoma County and Sarah Cahn-Bennett of Navarro Vineyards in Mendocino County. Each winemaker knows intimately the terroir of their region and how best to develop a wine style that will bring out all that the terroir has to offer while still maintaining the unique style of their particular winery.

“Eco-Friendly Growing and Winemaking” are very important to this generation of winemakers as the wineries “go green” and sustainable farming practices protect the land that, in many cases, have been under the family responsibility for generations. Chris Pisani of ZD Wines in Napa Valley knows that as stewards of the land, organic farming and sustainable business practices enhance their special relationship with Mother Nature. He was joined by Paul Clifton of Hahn Estates Winery, the first winery certified green by the Monterey Bay Area Green Business Program; Chris Leamy of Terra d’ Oro/Montevina Winery in Amador County, Kim Ledbetter Bronson of Vino Farms, and Aaron Lange of LangeTwins Winery and Vineyards in Lodi. The new Lange Twins winery has implemented many energy efficient programs that are not only good for the winery, but good for the wine!

The final session was “Hip and Trendy Marketing” where these young winemakers highlighted the new marketing tools involving social media, blogs, content-rich web sites, video, radio, and live events to spread the word about their wines to both existing customers and those new to their wines. Cane Vanderhoof of Miramonte Winery in Temecula Valley uses his blog to not only inform his readers about his wines, but also the trials and tribulations of farming and business in California. Cheryl Murphy Durzy of Clos LaChance Winery works at retaining customers as part of their family, through active social media such as Facebook and Twitter, blogs, and turning their winery into a destination for local customers with music events and more. Judd Finkelstein of Judd’s Hill in Napa Valley uses his website to share his popular comic videos and ukulele concerts! And Nicholas Miller of Bien Nacido Vineyards reaches out to the “millennials” via their Facebook, Twitter, and blogs to establish the Bien Nacido brand.

This event was a wonderful peek at the future of the California wine industry with this new generation of vintners and growers.

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