Winewatch: Californian wines

For Irish consumers, US wines tend to mean Californian wines and despite the October wildfires that took so many lives in North Coast wine communities, 85% to 90% of the 2017 vintage had already been harvested. In this issue Winewatch takes a look at US wine exports.  

Last October’s wildfires which gutted many Californian vineyards are believed to have been the most destructive in California’s history. The wildfires destroyed 2,000 structures and took at least 15 lives. Another 150 people were reported missing at the time.

Years of drought there were followed by an extremely wet Winter which led to thicker vegetation, making the area more susceptible to fire, a not infrequent if unwelcome guest at such a time of year.

But – the loss of so many lives notwithstanding in the October wildfires – fortunately, some 85% to 90% of the 2017 vintage had already been harvested before the inferno hit.

Good news for wine regions there such as Amador County/Sierra Foothills, Lake County, Livermore Valley, Lodi, Madera, Mendocino, Monterey, Napa Valley, Paso Robles, San Diego County, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Santa Clara Valley, Santa Cruz Mountains, Sonoma County and Temecula Valley.

Napa, Sonoma and Medocino counties were the regions most impacted but these grow just 12% of California’s wine grapes. Furthermore, 90% of the harvest in Napa and Sonoma and 85% in Mendocino had already been picked and were already in production at wineries there.


Californian diversity

Exports to China have shown growth of 450% of the past decade.

Exports to China have shown growth of 450% of the past decade.

Like the different Californian counties themselves, Californian wines offer considerable diversity in much the same way as France might focus on terroir. And the range includes a considerable range of varietals.

In addition to the Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays, the Cabernets and Zinfandels, the Golden State also offers sparkling wines.

Put all this together and it’s easy to see why US wine exports reached $1.53 billion in winery revenues last year. That’s 42 million nine-litre cases.

But the total value of US wine exports fell by 5.5% last year, drawing a line under seven years of consecutive growth, with the biggest decline seen in exports to the European Union while volumes soared in both Singapore and Hong Kong.

In its annual report the California Wine Institute pointed out that, “Golden Gate exports were down 5.5% in value and 7.9% in volume due in part to the strong dollar, heavily-subsidised foreign wine producers and competitors forging free-trade agreements in key markets”.

Nevertheless, exports of wine from California have grown in value by 70% in the past decade, thanks in no small part to the Institute’s California Wine Export Program involving more than 175 wineries exporting to 138 countries. The Institute now has 15 representative offices conducting programs in 25 countries around the world.

This year again, the 28-member EU topped California’s export market by value at $553 million for the wineries concerned followed by Canada at $444 million and Hong Kong at $119 million.

But wine exports to the EU, responsible for about a third of total US wine exports, fell by over 19% in value and by nearly 11% in volume.

And clouds are beginning to appear for California on the global horizon as California wine’s fifth-largest importer valued at $79 million, China, has imposed an 67.7% tariff on imports of US wines (up from its original 48.2%) in retaliation for President Trump’s mooted tariff on foreign steel and aluminium.

This is all the more disheartening as exports to China have shown growth of 450% of the past decade.



Q&As with Barefoot Cellar’s Winemaker Jen Wall

“We want our wines to be varietally correct, fruit-forward and food-friendly,” says Barefoot Cellars winemaker Jennifer Wall.

“We want our wines to be varietally correct, fruit-forward and food-friendly,” says Barefoot Cellars winemaker Jennifer Wall.

Can you outline Barefoot Wine’s progress since it was first launched?

During the harvest of 1995, when I started my career as the winemaker of Barefoot Cellars Winery, Barefoot Cellars was only producing four varietals: Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and White Zinfandel.  That year ended with Barefoot Cellars selling 140,000 cases. I was the sole Winemaker for 10 years until the brand was acquired by the Gallo Family in 2005 when the brand was selling over 600,000 cases annually to 48 states as well as 16 international destinations. Barefoot has grown to be the most-awarded wine brand in US competitions and the largest bottled wine brand in the world. In 2017 we sold over 20 million cases of Barefoot worldwide.

What plans have you for 2018?

In Ireland Barefoot has just expanded distribution through our partnership with Comans Wholesale.  We’ve just launched Barefoot Bubbly Brut Rose, a very traditional-style California sparkling wine,  available in both 750ml and 187ml sizes. We’re also launching wine spritzers in cans in the US. Currently, we’re in the midst of blending and finalising the vintage ‘17 wines to release into the market this year. We’re thrilled with the consistency of style and quality.

What would surprise retailers about Barefoot’s range ? 

I think the diversity in our range is beyond compare, while consistently maintaining quality.  Our wines are full of flavour and personality, with a welcoming style that emphasises delicious Californian fruit and subtle hints of oak.

What are the plans for Barefoot in the Irish market in 2018 and beyond? 

We’re on the way to becoming the number one brand in Ireland.  We’re very committed to helping non-profit organisations in the US and we have sponsored thousands.  We’re delighted to continue to sponsor some great Irish organisations including Beach Rescue with An Taisce on May 19th in Bray, Sea Sessions, Surf Music Festival in Bundoran on June 22 – 24th and Liquid Therapy’s Colour Run.  Barefoot in Ireland continues to work with the LGBT community supporting Barefoot’s 20-plus year association being out and proud while supporting diversity.


Is it true that you have Irish heritage?

I’m proud to claim Irish heritage, mostly on my mother’s side of the family. Her maiden name was Meehan and my grandmother’s maiden name was Murphy. I’m told that our family is from County Cork. My mother says she’s 100% Irish.


Barefoot Wine Zinfandel

Commended at the International Wine Competition 2014, Barefoot White Zinfandel has Summer flavours like peach, sun-ripened strawberries, succulent pears and pineapple to create perfection.  Try it over ice!

Serving Suggestion: Great served chilled with appetisers, Summer fruits, chicken, seafood and cheeses.










Barefoot Pinot Grigio

Winning a Silver Medal at the 2014 Concours Mondial de Bruxelles USA, Barefoot Pinot Grigio is crisp and full of citrus and peach flavours.

Serving Suggestion: Goes well with chicken, seafood, spicy pasta and pizzas.




Barefoot Sauvignon Blanc

Gold Medal winner at the International Woman’s Wine Competition 2015, Barefoot Sauvignon Blanc is bursting with fruit flavours of fresh pear and crisp citrus.

Serving Suggestion: Pack a picnic basket and find a sunny spot!









Barefoot Merlot

Gold Medal at the Denver International Wine Competition 2014, Barefoot Merlot is packed with tempting flavours of blackberry, raspberry and chocolate and is silky smooth.

Serving Suggestion: Great served with beef, poultry, pasta with tomato sauces, cheese and dessert.

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