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Sipping Sustainability: Exploring California’s Golden State Visions

Last week, Vancouver’s wine aficionados were treated to a journey through the wines of the Golden State Vineyard Visions seminar at the Vancouver International Wine Festival all about California’s sustainability. Here, 5 California sustainable winemakers – representing the icons of the industry – impressed the crowd with the quality of their wines, their longstanding dedication to the environment and the uniqueness of their microclimates. Here’s what they shared.

Moderator:

DJ Kearney

Panelists:

Randall Lange, LangeTwins Winery; Gabriela Marble, Bonterra Organic Estate Winery; Kurtis Ogasawara, Robert Mondavi Winery; Dave Phillips, Michael David Winery who has a new project, North Coast Wine Co.; Mark Wiliams from Talbott Vineyards and Louis M. Martini

Decades of California's Sustainability Efforts

Our eloquent moderator DJ Kearney hits us immediately with this statement, “California producers really are leading the charge when it comes to sustainable winemaking.”

Whereas in British Columbia, we’ve just announced our first sustainable program, California has a ton of environmental certifications for producers to choose from. This, claims DJ, is not because they are disorganized but because they’ve learned that each area has unique needs. Therefore, California adapts brilliantly to what they need.

“82% of all California wine is made from certified sustainable vineyards and wineries. A staggering figure!” claims DJ.

To boot, many California wineries started as family businesses. So that today, their decendents are still in charge.

To illustrate this, Randall Lange of LangeTwins is a 4th-generation vintner from Lodi. 

So he understands first-hand that it’s the family that has made California wine producers the forward thinkers that they are. Randall exclaims, “…if you think generational, you can’t help but be sustainable!”

And according to DJ, “Lodi is one of the templates of sustainability for the wine world.”

The 'New' Buzzword is Regenerative

Yet, there is a new word on the block with regards to farming responsibly and it’s called ‘regenerative’. 

Gabriela Marble, from the certified organic and biodynamic winery Bonterra, gave the best definition of regenerative I’ve heard yet. 

“Sustainable farming is leaving the earth the way that we found it while regenerative means leaving the earth better than we found it.”

Now that’s giving mother nature a big fat hug!

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Each Region Has Cooling Effects for Making Great Grapes

Attendees also witnessed the diverse ways Californian wine regions gain essential cooling air for superior grapevine growth.

From the fog-kissed vineyards in Santa Maria Valley to the maize of waterways (called the Delta) fanning cooled air into Lodi or the unique deep underwater upwelling effect in Monterey, each region’s climate intricately shapes its wines.

 

As Mark Williams from Talbott and Louis M. Martini succinctly said, “It is foggy here. These knife edge conditions is what Chardonnay loves”

California's Sustainability Summary

The Golden State Visions seminar showcased California’s sustainable winemaking prowess! Hosted by DJ Kearney and featuring five top-notch winemakers and 8 incredible wines – it was all about sustainability. California’s ahead-of-the-curve approach stole the show. Plus, we got a crash course in how different regions keep their grapes chill. It was a sip of sustainability with a side of California cool!

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Tasting notes

* Tasted March 1st, 2024

My opinions on these wines are all mine—I wasn’t paid for them. But shoutout to the Vancouver International Wine Festival for sponsoring my tickets!

 

Lange Twins Family Winery and Vineyards, Chenin Blanc, Merrill Vineyard, Lodi US 2022

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Pale lemon with golden flecks.

Medium aromas offering fresh lemons, nectarine, quince, waxy notes, honeysuckle, and blossoms, with a playful hint of bubblegum and a waxy touch.

Refreshing high acidity, a medium body, and a well-balanced alcohol level. It offers a satisfying length with flavors of lemon peel, juicy lemon, ripe nectarine, and a subtle nuttiness reminiscent of blanched almonds and creamy yogurt. The palate is both textured with richness and vibrant with freshness, leading to a light finish in the midpalate

90 Points

Talbott Vineyards, Kali Hart Chardonnay Monterey County, US 2021 $21.99

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Gorgeous pale gold colour.

Medium aromas reminiscent of buttered popcorn, toasted popcorn kernels, ripe apple and juicy peach. Ohhh and some lemon zest and vanilla from oak. The finish is medium, leaving a lingering impression of vanilla. 

On the palate, more ripe fruit flavours with some rich butterscotch notes leading to a smooth vanilla finish.

 

88 Points

Jackson Family Wines, Cambria, Julia’s Vineyard, Pinot Noir Santa Maria Valley, US 2020 14% abv $43.99

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With elevated intensity, this wine offers enticing aromas of smoke, toast and ripe cherries – and best enjoyed lightly chilled. It has a refreshing juicy zing and integrated high alcohol. On the palate, flavours of cherries, vanilla, earth, and sandalwood unfold, complemented by juicy bing cherries. Despite the oak influence on the nose, it finishes with a crowd-pleasing touch of vanilla, making it a silky and seductive Pinot Noir. This one overdelivers for the price. (Pinot’s are always pricey because they are so difficult to grow and make well!)

89 Points

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Bonterra Organic Estate Winery and Vineyard, Single Vineyard ‘The Butler’ Red Cuvée 2020 Mendocino County 14.5% abv $76.99

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63% Syrah, 18% Petite Sirah, 12% Mourvedre, 6% Grenache and 1% Viognier.

The wine showcases a deep ruby hue, offering elevated aromas of black plums, as well as a subtle hint of red plums, and a dominant presence of black cherries. It’s complemented by a spicy oak lift featuring notes of nutmeg, vanilla, cocoa, and green stems, with a delicate hint of violet. With elevated acidity, this heavyweight wine has balanced alcohol and plush medium tannins with a juicy medium finish. On the palate, flavours of vanilla, cocoa, both red and black plums, and red cherries intermingle, along with an enticing meaty, savoury character. This wine pairs beautifully with lamb dishes.

91 Points

Louis M. Martini, Monte Rosso Vineyard, Gnarly Vine Zinfandel, Sonoma Valley, US 2016 $105.99

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Big, bold and seductive is this wine made with old vines!

The nose offers a rich nose of oak-derived aromas, including vanilla, cocoa, and a hint of cola, alongside sweet black cherries, raisinated fruit, dried strawberries, and dried cherries. There some dried herbal/ earthy notes in the background

On the palate, the wine is impressively full-bodied and juicy, with medium acidity and light, ripe tannins. The alcohol content is on the higher side, imparting a generous warming hug, while the finish is a medium length.

89 Points

North Coast Wine Co. Outerbound Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley, US 2019 $65.99

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Flavours of blackberry, blackcurrant abound whilst a leafiness accompanied by nuances of blackcurrant bud and potpourri oak notes add complexity.

 

Juicy acidity balances this heavyweight. The tannins are medium-plus and youthful – suggesting this wine will benefit from some aging, or a rich pairing like Wagyu beef, as the tannin is quite aggressive at the moment. The finish is of medium length, concluding with juicy redcurrants, hints of nutmeg, and French oak.

Overall, this wine shows promise but requires some time to mature and improve where it will go up in points.

 

88 Points will improve with time in the cellar

 

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