Cuda Ridge

Every so often, a bottle rolls through the house, or the warehouse and it surprises me so much that it makes me rethink everything I know about a growing region.  It’s happened to me with high end bottles from Atlas Peak and much of Santa Barbara County, this time it was Livermore.

Enter Cuda Ridge and their 2012 Semillon.

People who read this blog regularly know one thing about my white wine drinking habits, well maybe two. First, not too much of it goes on, that’s one of the reasons that we only offer white wine in one of our three wine clubs.  Secondly, I generally speaking am not a huge fan of Chardonnay, so it seems I am always on the lookout for interesting white wines.

In any case, I have been on the search for an interesting Semillon and as luck would have it, someone close had stopped by the Cuda Ridge winery a few weeks ago (Livermore has become something of a shopping must stop for those of us in the East Bay because it’s the closest outlet mall) and brought home a bottle to share with their neighbors.

The best Semillon’s made anywhere in the world offer an interesting combination of acidity, freshness and yet still bring a full mouthfeel to the table.  Almost universally, those are made in France. All of those positive aspects come at a bit of a price though, the grape tilts quite often to being sweeter rather than dryer, which is a challenge both in my house as well as with many main stream wine drinkers in America.

The Cuda Ridge Semillon strikes a nice balance throughout and priced at under $20, makes it one of the better versions of the grape that I’ve run into in some time.

Owned by Larry and Margie Dino, Cuda Ridge crafts approximately two thousand cases of wine per year, making it a small production winery by every sense of the word. Larry comes from a high tech background like so many winery owners in and around the Bay Area, having been the director of engineering at BAE Systems before opening Cuda Ridge. Margie is a RN focused on helping to educate the next wave of medical professionals.

The story of Cuda Ridge, I think helps to explain the upcoming story of the Livermore Valley in general.  Cuda Ridge has begun to receive attention from the main stream wine press including Wine Enthusiast which has rated a vast seletion of their wines between 88 and 90 points.  That’s an impressive feat for a winery just now releasing its fifth vintage for a winery from any AVA, but it is especially impressive with a winery coming from Livermore.

We can talk some psychology here and selectivity bias, but generally speaking if you’re a wine critic and you see a Texas wine sitting in front of you or a first growth Burgundy, which do you think is going to be a better wine before tasting them?

That’s certainly an extreme example, but I think it helps to highlight some of the struggle that’s going to come up for Livermore vintners as they begin to take more market share from established regions, like Napa and Sonoma.  Most people don’t realize it, but in the days before Prohibition blighted the wine industry in California, Livermore was at least Napa’s equal in terms of quality.  It also enjoys almost all of the same advantages, like being about an hour from the city of San Francisco and existing in a warm inland valley, almost the perfect setting for a wine region.

How Livermore continues to improve the quality of both their farms and their winemaking processes over the coming decade wil help to decide exactly where the region falls into the quality map of California wine.  At current, it isn’t entirely clear if there’s another region poised to join Napa, Sonoma, Paso Robles and Santa Barbara among the wine elite.  Good arguments can be made for Lake County, Mendocino, Lodi and even Temecula in addition to Livermore, but Cuda Ridge is a clear example that Livermore deserves more attention from both wine consumers, but also from this wine club.

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