Top sommeliers and media discuss cool climate Syrah wines from across California at the Wine Institute Summit in San Francisco
SAN FRANCISCO—More than 100 top sommeliers, wine retailers and media from the San Francisco Bay Area attended Wine Institute’s California Wines Summit on Sept. 28 at The Pearl. The first full-day Bay Area forum featured wine opinion leaders who discussed the latest trends and tastes in California wine, including where wine lists are headed, the future of wine writing and tastings of emerging aromatic white wines, regional Chardonnays, Cabernet Sauvignons under $60, cool climate Syrahs and Sparkling Wines. More than 50 wines from 23 California regions were selected by Summit presenters for the event.
“Our Summit brought together an influential group of opinion leaders to exchange ideas directly with their peers about emerging trends and innovations in California wine,” said Robert P. (Bobby) Koch, Wine Institute President and CEO. “Our goal was to present the high quality and regional diversity of California wine to this powerhouse group of wine professionals.”
The day began with a tasting of Aromatic White Wines and a panel discussion on the growing interest and promise for this category in California, moderated by Debbie Zachareas of Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant. Jason Alexander of State Bird Provisions and The Progress noted that “15 years ago, it would have been difficult to find so many excellent wines in this category.” Chaylee Priete of the Slanted Door observed that aromatic whites, including many European examples, suit the restaurant’s cuisine and they are increasingly offering local wines to go with the focus on locally-sourced foods. Haley Moore of Stock and Bones Restaurant Group concurred that “people want to drink California wines when in California” and said that wines with a “bit more residual sugar pair better with food than bone dry wines.”
In a session on Where Are Wine Lists Headed?, moderator Geoff Kruth MS of GuildSomm put forth the theory that there have been three eras of wine lists—the classic, based on wine status and classification, the score-driven, based on recognition by an authority and, most recently, the story-driven, based on the “coolness” of the producer—and asked his panel “what’s next?” Steve Morey MS recalled a Wine Spectator wine list survey of 25 years ago from which three key points emerged that still remain valid today: wines are too expensive; there is an absence of assistance; and there is a lack of information about the wines. Dennis Kelly MS of Protégé said he prefers a small, yet comprehensive wine list that offers something for all guests and doesn’t require a lot of time to study. Lulu McAllister of Nopa said that their list has two sections to appeal to a diverse clientele: classic, familiar, “comfort” wines with known producers and styles and adventurous wines for customers who want to experiment.
During lunch, two teams of sommeliers from San Francisco and Los Angeles tested their impressive knowledge of California wine history, geography, industry data and more in the “Somm Challenge Game Show” hosted by talk show host Joel Riddell of Dining Around.
At The Future of Wine Writing session, moderator Esther Mobley of the San Francisco Chronicle said wine writers should “diversify their content with more graphics, video and adapt to new ways that people are consuming information.” She noted that she is now doing more long-form pieces for the Chronicle and reviewing tasting rooms similar to how they review restaurants. Sara Schneider of Sunset Magazine noted that the “language of wine needs to be broadened, more engaging, less academic and presented on multi-platforms.” Vinography wine blogger Alder Yarrow said “people want to drink wine and enjoy wine, but only a small percentage want to read about it. Our job is to tell stories that are more accessible and relevant, connecting with and understanding our readers.”
In a session on Regional California Syrah, moderator Luke Sykora of Wine & Spirits magazine provided the history and background of California Syrah, saying that the wines intrigue him because they provoke strong reactions at the magazine’s tastings. Tonya Pitts of One Market Restaurant noted that many customers are looking for a drier, Old World style of Syrah and pointed to California examples from Santa Barbara, Sonoma Coast and Mendocino Ridge. Rob Renteria of La Folie commented that the style of Syrah has changed and many are now more lean than in the past. Joshua Thomas of Octavia noted that great Syrahs with a bright style are being sourced from Santa Rita Hills and the Santa Cruz Mountains.
The Summit program and speakers were as follows:
A Survey of California’s Aromatic White Wines – Panel & Tasting of Riesling, Viognier, Grenache Blanc, Gruner Veltliner, Fiano, Picpoul Blanc and More
Debbie Zachareas, Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant (moderator)
Jason Alexander, The Progress/State Bird Provisions
Haley Moore, Stock and Bones
Chaylee Priete, The Slanted Door.
Where Are Wine Lists Headed? – Panel
Geoff Kruth MS, GuildSomm (moderator)
Dennis Kelly MS, Protégé
Lulu McAllister, Nopa
Steve Morey MS
Tasting – Chardonnay from Around the State
SOMM Challenge “Game Show” – SF vs. LA
Hosted by Joel Riddell – “Dining Around” Radio Show
Team San Francisco
Marie-Louise Friedland, The Progress/State Bird Provisions
Christopher Gaither, Sociale
Martin Sheehan-Stoss, The Michael Mina Restaurant Group
Team Los Angeles
Paul Coker, Michael Mina’s Stonehill Tavern
Catherine Morel, 71Above
William Mountford, Sommelier
The Future of Wine Writing – Panel
Esther Mobley, San Francisco Chronicle (moderator)
Sara Schneider, Sunset
Alder Yarrow, Vinography
Tasting – Cabernet Sauvignons to Remember Under $60
A Regional Tour of California Syrah – Panel & Tasting
Luke Sykora, Wine & Spirits Magazine (moderator)
Tonya Pitts, One Market
Rob Renteria, La Folie
Joshua Thomas, Octavia
Tasting of California Sparkling Wines and Tsar Nicholai Caviar
Wine Institute is the public policy advocacy group representing nearly 1,000 California wineries and affiliated businesses responsible for 85 percent of the nation’s wine production and 90 percent of U.S. wine exports. California is the number one U.S. state for wine and food tourism with dozens of distinct wine regions, 138 American Viticultural Areas and 4,600 wineries. The California wine industry generates 786,000 jobs in the U.S. and attracts 24 million tourist visits to the state’s wineries each year.