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Lack of Dessert Wine in California

Where's all the dessert wine in California?

There’s a few things that will likely always confound me about the wine industry here in California. I don’t think the least of which is that we simply don’t have startup sparkling wine producers, nor do we have dessert wine producers. On the sparkling side of things, I think there are some really valid reasons, but for dessert wine…..less so.  I think we’re largely dealing with a lack of organization and the fact that we’re still (despite no one’s willingness to call us this) a new world wine region. Here’s some more thoughts on the lack of dessert wine being made in California.

Video Transcription:

Hi guys. Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures. Happy Saturday to everybody first. Second I’m joined by a bottle of Andis Wines. This is a Syrah dessert wine. Andis is one of my favorite players out in Amador County, which is the Sierra Foothills. They’re one of the best funded. The winemaker does a really nice job with a lot of different types of fruit. They have an old Zinfandel vineyard. They have Barbera plantings. They have Syrah plantings. They do really truly a little bit of everything. When it comes to quality production facilities, they might have the nicest facility out in the Sierra Foothills. I think the quality of the wine that’s being produced is commiserate with that.

I wanted to showcase this dessert wine for a minute because I think it’s also a little commiserate with some of the challenges when it comes to making dessert wines in the state of California. I think there’s a few different ways that you can make a dessert wine. If you take Port as an example, and obviously no one can do Port because that’s a region of Portugal. Then you would have to start. You’re talking twenty or twenty-five years of topping it off with new juice every year. Not a lot of people have the patience for that here. I do know a few kind of Port makers that are going to come online in the coming years, because they … Usually what happens is you have a second generation. As an example, if my five year-old decided he wanted to make wine tomorrow, he could start making Port. Really all you have to do is throw the stuff, throw a little bit of juice into your barrel every year. Every year at harvest, you check and see how much more you need to put in to keep topping it off. It condenses a little bit over time.

Secondly you can have botrytis or another kind of fungus or something along those lines that creates a slightly sweeter wine by stopping fermentation before it goes all the way through. Third, like this Andis Wine, you can add a little bit of sugar at the end to give it a sense of sweetness, and that’s what they do here. I don’t think that there’s a kind of good, bad, or indifferent way to do it. I think all three completely valid. I think the regions that have done well with dessert wines typically have one kind of house style for an entire [AV area 00:02:01], an entire region. Then they stick to that so you kind of know what you’re getting. Napa Valley is an example. The AVA at least you see kind of some late harvest Sauvignon blanc.

Late harvest I guess is another example of the way that you can make a dessert wine. That’s just that you leave the grapes on the vine so long that they start to dry out. Drying out brings down the amount of water in the grape. Then this amount of sugar stays constant, so less water more sugar makes a sweeter drink. There’s some late harvest stuff. Then there’s also people making something similar to this. You kind of have all these different varietals being played. I think that’s one thing that you’re starting to see in California is you’re seeing people say, especially with more and more wineries having tasting rooms where you have access to the general public for sales, that having a dessert wine makes a lot of sense. We can’t sell it unless we can tell the story a little bit, and maybe giving people some idea about what they’re likely to be able to try when they come to the front door is a good thing.

That’s kind of what we struggled with as an industry, at least in California over the past few years is dessert wine sells well, but we can’t sell it because people kind of don’t know to expect it. Once again, it’s not necessarily something that you’ll see often in a monthly wine club shipment. We have done a few. We’ve done a few different versions of it. I think it’s fun to kind of tell the story and how it gets made. Certainly there’s a New Zealand producer that does [abostrophied 00:03:26] dessert wine every year that we would [inaudible 00:03:30] the story, because the botrytis was stuck on the nets, and they couldn’t figure out why different portions of the vineyard were getting stricken with it every year until they finally figured out that it was on the netting that they had to put on because of the birds. Everybody that makes wine usually has a pretty good story behind it. We’ll try to tell you a few of those as time goes by.

Once again, Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures. Hope you guys are having a good weekend.

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