Decatur Wine and Spirits
Wine Cellar

Hollywood and Vine: Selecting A California Wine

Choosing a California wine can be a daunting task. Although California began producing wine only about 40 years ago, there are more than 1,600 wineries in the state today, making wines ranging from Trader Joe's "Two Buck Chuck" for $1.99 (a buck or two more in Georgia) to Harlan Estate's reserve Cabernet Sauvignon for more than $500.

But you can't necessarily equate quality with price. As in any other market, supply and demand determine the price tag.

As such, how is it possible to select a good California wine?

It's All on the Label
California produces a great variety of wine due to the state's different climates. But the label basically tells you everything you need to know about the wine.

The most important information is the producer's name. If an individual vineyard is noted on the label, 95% of the grapes must come from the named vineyard. If the label also specifies a specific region such as "Napa Valley," then 85% of the grapes must also be from that vineyard's specific "micro-climate."

The inexperienced buyer should look for older, more established vineyards in well-known "micro-climates" such as Napa, Sonoma, Anderson or Stag's Leap.

Older, more established wineries are able to provide better pricing because they amortized their investment a long time ago and as a result, they are able to more easily discount their prices when the supply/demand ratio is favorable.

Fun Facts about
California Vineyards

In 1970, the average price for vineyard land in Napa was $5,000 per acre. In 2002, Francis Ford Coppola, owner of the Niebaum-Coppola Vineyard, paid $350,000 an acre.

Napa Valley produces less than 7% of California wines. The largest wine producing region is the San Joaquin Valley, where the jug wines are made.

In 2002, more than 15 million people visisted California vineyards, making the vineyards the second most popular California destination after Disneyland.

A great example is the Robert Mondavi label. Mondavi left his family's Charles Krug Winery in 1966 and became the first major winemaker in California to produce higher quality wines.

The typical Robert Mondavi wine retails from $15.99 to $17.99, depending upon the grape variety.

Other pioneers of the California renaissance include Warren Winiarski, a college professor that started the Stag's Leap label and David Stare, a civil engineer that started the Dry Creek label.

Pitcher's Choice
Of course, you could also step it down a notch and purchase a higher volume, discount wine such as the Fetzer and Woodbridge jug wines.

The phrase "jug wine" simply refers to an uncomplicated, everyday drinking wine. These wines originally were bottled in jugs rather than bottles. They account for the largest volume of wine sold in the U.S.

While the jug wines may not be the best wine on the market, California jug wines maintain their consistency and quality year to year. Therefore, the jug wines are a good option if you can find a wine that appeals to your taste.

The Other Side of The Scale
On the other side of the scale are the smaller investor/growers more focused on producing quality wines. Some are indeed spectacular wines.

But because there are so many variables, it is best to rely on professional help. This help is available from professional rating organizations such as Wine Spectator.

A good wine shop will also have a number of shelf talkers to help guide your selections.

The bottom line is that California wines can be a great value if you know what you are choosing. The quality is good and the prices are better. The key is to either make a informed selection or if unsure, choose a wine from an established vineyard.

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Friday and Saturday: 10:00 am – 11:45 pm
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