Winemakers and representatives from more than 100 California wineries are visiting Ontario and Quebec this week for Eureka: California Wine Discovery. Events at Toronto’s Beanfield Centre on Monday marked the return of the California showcase to the city after a three-year absence during the pandemic.
Formerly known as the California Wine Fair, the day-long sessions allow vintners from the Golden State to pour wines for consumers and the members of the trade, which includes wine buyers, sommeliers, media and liquor store employees. Four hundred wines were on offer, grouped in regionally themed tasting areas, segmenting wines from Napa, Sonoma and other winemaking regions spread across the state. The 400 tickets for the evening’s consumer tasting sold out quickly.
Prior to Covid-19, this annual event helped Californian wineries stay in contact with the Canadian market for more than 40 years. As a result, California wine is a continual best-seller at LCBO outlets, fueled by strong sales of cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay. No other country or region has made such a consistent investment of time and energy to market to and engage Canadian wine lovers.
California is the world’s fourth largest wine producer by volume, behind France, Italy and Spain. If the the state were a sovereign nation, it would boast the fifth largest economy in the world, following the United States, China, Japan and Germany. “When you bring those two things together,” guest speaker Elaine Chukan Brown said during Monday’s masterclass tasting, “California has the opportunity to literally change what is happening in the world, not just in wine.”
The subject of Brown’s tasting was 100 Million Years in the Making, referring to the formation of the San Andreas fault through the collision of two tectonic plates — the launching point for the discussion of California’s diverse geology, geography and climate. The respected wine educator, writer and columnist for Decanter presented eight wines singled out to reveal how the state’s unique geology, soil, and climate help to create complex and expressive wines. It was geeky stuff and the selected wines, which ranged in price from $30 to $100 US, offered different views of California wines than what is traditionally seen on offer in this country, including a rare red made from the grenache grape grown in Sonoma Valley (Gallica Rossi Ranch Grenache 2019) and a rich and layered Napa Valley cabernet from (Signorello Padrone Estate 2019).
“We’ve chosen a selection of eight wines that together are going to give us an in-depth view of growing conditions of California, and the histories of the industry’s development, but also, in some cases, a glimpse of intricate and specific projects people are trying out to transform how they’re growing grapes and making wine in the state,” Brown explained.
Eight wines are a drop in the bucket compared to the combined output from California’s 4,795 wine producers, but it did show the message that California Wines wished to convey to the sommeliers, media and LCBO employees who were invited to Brown’s seminar. There wasn’t any talk of capturing “sunshine in a bottle” or “fun, fun, fun” images of surfboards and sand. The focus was squarely on premium quality, regional wines made using sustainable practices that foster a healthy environment and vibrant communities around the state.
Winemakers around the world have been focusing on sustainability initiatives for more than a decade, but most struggle to explain what sustainability means for wine or why it’s important to consumers. With California Wines embracing sustainability as a key message for its export markets, this is their opportunity to use that influence to promote change around the world.