Oddbins was founded amid the swinging 60s so we’re rather well versed in hippy culture. In fact, the Beatles wrote ‘I am the Walrus’ after we told them about a Merlot induced dream we had, where we were inside the mind of Sarah Palin as she clubbed Alaskan seals with a copy of Dinesh D’Souza’s The Big Lie… Goo goo g’joob! Yep, Oddbins is terribly ‘right on,’ we just do it with better wine than your average bohemian.
California is where it all began, with nothing but good vibes, counter cultural spirit, terminator governors and boundary shifting wine. 50 years on, we wanted to celebrate the history of this pioneering state by bringing in a host of Californian wines and making August 2018 at Oddbins the Summer of Love.
Despite modern day Californian winemakers exuding a laissez-faire attitude that seems to have changed little since the 60s, the wine industry and the bottles they are producing are unrecognisable from those heady days. Below we examine how California became King of the New World wine industry, all while rocking a tie-dye t-shirt and humming along to Sgt Pepper.
California is defined by the interaction of the Pacific Ocean in the west and coastal ranges in the east. The arid conditions in the east pulls cooling Pacific fogs through gaps in the mountain ranges, such as the San Francisco Bay, creating pockets that are perfect for quality wine growing. Get too close to the ocean, and the conditions can be too cool whereas further in land, areas such as the San Joaquin Valley are too hot to be conducive with quality wine but are hugely significant for bulk production.
With any Californian modus operandi destroyed by prohibition, winemaking was pretty much a blank slate in the 20th Century. While French producers were unwilling to alter from the way their family had been making wine for the last 16 generations, Americans were much more of the “yeah, why not?” way of working. This led to massive innovation; temperature-controlled fermentation in stainless steel tanks, work with oak, experiments with yeast and site and varietal matching has made California one of the bastions of high quality wine.
Now a smash box office hit starring Severus Snape; you remember the scene Dumbledore’s asking him about his love for Chateau Montelena: “after all this time?” and Severus responds “Always.” Don’t, we’re going to start weeping. That’s basically the whole story but if you want a little more clarity, English wine writer Steven Spurrier organised a blind tasting, pitting Californian wines against prominent French counter parts, with Chateau Montelena winning the white category and Stag’s Leap winning the red, much to the disgust of the French wine judges. This announced the arrival of Napa Valley as a premium wine region.
In the late 70s and early 80s American wine writers, most notably Robert Parker of the Wine Advocate, gained huge influence over consumers. It was regions such as Napa, that could cater to Parker’s penchant for full-bodied, ripe reds, that gained huge prestige from these reviews. It was at this time Cabernet Sauvignon ruled the roost.
The American wine industry is one of polar opposites, those who do it for love and those who do it purely for business, huge operations and tiny family run wineries, what we would describe as cheap and nasty all the way to some of the world’s finest wines commanding over £100 a bottle, classic Bordeaux blends to the downright crazy.