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Friday Fishwrap
The New Grape Acreage Report—What It DOES NOT Say

By Charles Olken

The new Grape Acreage Report is out and every writer and blogger, some of whom are also writers (snarky comment, that) is rushing his or her interpretations into print. And to be sure, those miniscule changes in acreage from one year to another do have some meaning—but not nearly as much as the amount of ink spent would suggest.

Here at Connoisseurs’ Guide, we are also avid readers of the Report. We make careful note of statistics like Pinot Gris acreage has jumped by 3% while Chardonnay has increased by 1% and Zinfandel has fallen by 1.4%. Heady stuff, of course, and perhaps best left to others to interpret further. Unsaid in the raw statistics, however, are the underlying meanings and conundrums that make wine reporting so much fun.

Here are a few questions that jump out to us and are not answered by the statistics.

Over sixty per cent of all California Riesling is grown in Monterey County, and aside from 15 acres of the grape inextricably planted this year in Stanislaus County, Monterey is the only county to report an increase in acreage year over year. We are great fans of Riesling. Once there were 10,000 acres of the grape growing here. Now it is down to about 4,000—and that is a come back of significant proportions. Unanswered however is the question that continues to gnaw at our thirst for decent aromatic white wines—will California unlock the key to making world class Riesling. So far, the answer is “no”. Increasing acreage is fine and, indeed, heartening, but wouldn’t it be nice if some of that acreage found its way to cool-climate vineyards all up and down the coast in search of sites for truly great Riesling.

Then there is the Grenache problem. We are part of a chorus singing the praises of this red grape. Or to put it more bluntly and honestly, the praises of what we think the grape might do if planted in the right locations. Despite the almost 6,500 acres in California, Grenache is still a Central Valley grape. The two locations from which we have tasted the finest Grenaches, Sonoma and Santa Barbara counties, each had about a ten acre increase in plantings. If Grenache is ever to become the “next big thing” in California, it is not going to be soon.

You may have read that Muscat-based wines are growing in popularity faster than any other white wine. Apparently, they are the Lancers/Mateus/Blue Nun of the next generation of wine drinkers. And in response, there has been a surge of Muscat plantings—almost all of it in Madera and Fresno counties. A light, fruity Muscat is a good thing. A gloppy, low-acid, overly sweetened version, however, is what these new grapes are going to produce. I am okay with that because some of the folks who consume this increasing production will graduate to more serious tipple, and then they will turn thirty and discover that life has not ended. They will become accountants and soccer moms and start drinking fancier wine. And they will subscribe to CGCW and keep this rag in business for another three decades.

My personal love affair with Marsanne is seemingly going to be limited to me, because there is not one acre of the grape reported to have been added to California vineyards in 2010. I am either ahead of my time or hopelessly out in left field. Whichever it may be, those who report on the Report have yet to explain.

I won’t say that I have greeted this year’s Report with a yawn. But, it did put me to sleep momentarily, and that is a pretty good feat since I was watching the Giants rally in the bottom of the ninth inning at the time. Too bad I woke up just in time to see them lose in the 11th. Oh well, they will play again in a few hours. As for the Report, it will be more like the Pittsburg Pirates or the Brooklyn Dodgers—“Wait till next year”.


Riesling in Monterey
by Jason Smith
Posted on:5/27/2011 10:05:26 AM

The reason most of the riesling is planted in Monterey County is BECAUSE it is a cool climate.  Almost all of the acerage is from Soledad North and lies 30 miles from the ocean.  The world class fruit is's the style's that wineries are choosing to make that is the question.  Althought I fully agree that Rieslings should be drier and more aromatic (what we at Paraiso love to make) the cosumer seems to still be looking for sugar!  So I believe our problem lies, as usual, with what sells to consumers vs what scores well with wine writers and more sopshiticated palets...just my two cents.

by Charlie Olken
Posted on:5/27/2011 10:50:41 AM


Thanks for stopping by.

I agree with you that Paraiso has made some very good Rieslings. What I hope is not that Monterey will stop making Riesling but that Riesling will get the creativ attention the Pinot Noir is getting in Monterey, especially in your AVA, Santa Lucia Highlands.

Beyond that, I would love to see Riesling push into even colder areas where it would be possible to make balanced wines at 10% ABV, 1.0%RS and 3.00 pHs and to find lots of places where there can be enough production and concentration to give CA more than just Monterey.

by greg
Posted on:5/27/2011 10:57:02 AM

In El Dorado County Sierra Foothills Grenache is being planted and our area is becoming morewidely know as the Southern Rhone of California.

We have 4 acres of Grenache and have just bottled our 09 blend of 90% Grenache & 10% Syrah.

by Richard Mansfield
Posted on:5/27/2011 1:32:30 PM

That is why we've been sourcing from central Washington.  Great low ph, wonderful acid, tremendous wines, as a lot of consumers are now finding.  Another region for low pH, ripe wines is Oregon's Umpqua Valley.  When I had a winery there, 2.9 pH was not unusual at 24 brix!  In fact, in 1987 I hit 50 brix on a true berry select that had 15 grams of acid and a 3.13 pH. (pure natural botrytis) It is still tasting very nice!

Richard Mansfield, North American Winemaker, Winery Exchange

by Charlie Olken
Posted on:5/27/2011 1:49:48 PM


There are many good paths to Riesling and the CA model with alcs cloer to 12 and pHs nearer 3.3 certainly produces some very fine wines with great ability to work with curries and spicy dishes. But so far, we have not shown that there are good places for the even lighter style. I recently had a very fine Finger Lakes Riesling that was a purely focused on varietal character and as one could expect. Love to see some of that here in CA--and think it will have to come from areas not now in production. Not sure if we even have same as the closer one gets to the ocean, the more growing anything becomes problematic. Maybe somebody needs to plant the artichoke fields near Watsonville. :-}

by Steve Pessagno
Posted on:5/27/2011 4:35:40 PM

Hey Richard,

As a former winemaker for Jejel Vineyard - where I learned more about winemaking than any other venue - dry, barrel aged (0.35 Rs) Reisling is our fastest growinng category at the winery. FYI, As a baseball coach, we position our "B" players in right field, not left - more righty slugers than lefties. Your not off on Marsanne, just ahead of the curve. Cheers, Steve Pessagno

by Jonathan Pey
Posted on:5/27/2011 4:54:37 PM

As to the "seeing Riesling pushed into even colder areas" Pey-Marin Riesling (grown in west Marin) pretty much hits your ideal numbers Charlie; ~11-12% alc, <2 grams per liter RS (thats zero-point-two per cent RS, not two per cent RS) and pH of 3.15 or so every year. Just don't try selling it in rural Kansas. Only the uber-savvy somms and devout Riesling fans seem to "get" Pey-Marin. Keep the faith!

by Charlie Olken
Posted on:5/27/2011 5:40:35 PM

Jonathan, have you ever tried to make a lower alc, slightly sweet Riesling. With all that acid and benficial pH, the wine would be in balance with slightly higher RS. Not criticizing. Just sayin'.

Steve, as a high school rightfielder, after I gave up being a catcher, I always thought I was out there because I had a strong throwing arm. I never knew it was because I would some day like Marsanne.

by Don Lane
Posted on:5/31/2011 5:21:40 AM

Interesting that first feedback comment is from Paraiso. I agree they are producing some nice Riesling.  We were selling some here in NH for a few months.  Tough sell, though.  A solitary wolf crying in the wilderness.  If California is going to compete against Mosel Valley, Washington and the Finger Lakes it is going to take a concerted effort from a group of producers; offering and supporting a full product line.  It's actually pretty easy to help a consumer understand the complexity of a truly fine Riesling.  The general consumer actually does want something better than Blufeld.  

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