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I've been reading a few blogs and news articles lately discussing unique grape varieties being grown in new regions. Understandably, this is a common event but how many different varietals can you plant in one area before it becomes overrun with non-native varietals and which wines are truly authentic to the terrior? I've read some strong sentiments wishing to see more Barbera, Nebbiolo and Albranio etc. in California. If you know me at all, you know I'm obsessed with Albranio, but from California? Part of the romance of Albranio is that it is from Spain. I feel like I can taste the mineral laced soils of Rais Baixas. For that moment, I escape to Spain, I taste the terrior and feel like I'm seating by the sea in Europe. The wine transports me to an exotic and exciting place I have never been before. Mind you, I haven't been to all parts of California but I wonder if an Albranio from California would have the same effect? Do I live too close to California for it to transport me or is terrior playing a bigger role? Terrior is the 'je ne sais quoi' in wines. It's the combination of soils, climate, weather patterns that make a region, and ultimately a wine. That is why Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon tastes different to those of the Bordeaux region in France. Some will argue winemaking techniques also play a role, but when it really comes down to it, winemaking plays a supporting role in the final product.
So when I read articles full of disappointment because winemakers aren't taking enough risk by planting a wider variety of grapes in California, I have to stop and wonder, should we be taking more risks planting anything and risk loosing the 'je ne sais quoi?' Is it worth losing a regional identity to make interesting and compelling wines? Cabernet Sauvginon and other traditional French varietals are becoming more prevalent in certain parts of Italy but should native Italian varietals be planted in California? I think we should be planting what is best suitable to the environment. That is the whole concept of terrior, different environments, different grapes. Can one region really be suitable for all varietals? Maybe I'm just a traditionalist and I don't want to risk terrior. I just don't want to see the same varietals from multiple countries all start tasting generic. I want to escape to Spain once in a while. ;)
As a final note, those of you in San Francisco on June 5th, there is a tasting event put on by the Tempranillo Advocates Producers and Amigo Society (http://www.tapasociety.org/) at Fort Mason. $35 a ticket gets you in to taste from wineries making the lesser known varietals. I'm not against this organization and I know there are some winemakers taking these risks and making phenomenal wines, I just don't want to see it overdone. Would love to hear if you attend!