California, Here We Come!

By Michael Lutzmann, Managing Director



It’s late afternoon on a warm, sunny day somewhere in a California wine region. A bank of fog is building over the Pacific Ocean and is headed your way. Before long, the fog rolls in and the temperature drops quickly. The moisture will often linger well into the following morning before burning off and the grapes get the warm of the sun once again.





This is perfect weather to grow spectacular Pinot Noir. You are in the Russian River Valley, an up-and-coming American Viticultural Area (AVA) in California’s Sonoma County. Farther east in the AVA, Zinfandel gets the additional heat it needs to ripen.





Home to Opimian favourite Hook & Ladder, the Russian River Valley yields outstanding grapes. This allows winemaker Jason De Loach to craft elegantly balanced wines of extraordinary expression, depth and complexity. Regular drinkers of California wines will find these to be worthy of being in the premium tier. This is a great place to start for those of you not as familiar with California.





Winegrowing here began in the early 1800s by Russian colonists. By the mid-century, Italian immigrants had taken what was started and created the foremost quality wines of Sonoma by the end of the century, producing fully a third of the entire country’s wine. Prohibition in the 20th century put an end to this growth and prosperity. By the end of prohibition, the remaining winemakers had to start rebuilding. By the 1970s, low-quality, ‘jug’ wines were being replaced by high-quality, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Zinfandel.


Like all of California, RRV grapes benefit from the longer growing season than areas to the north. The calming influence of the Pacific Ocean generally tempers the extremes, but global warming is starting to have its effect here too. Were it not for the fog mentioned at the beginning, Pinot Noir would be on its way out. As it stands, these wines may be at their peak now.





If you’ve seen the 2008 hit movie Bottle Shock, you’ll know that California wines can stand up to (and exceed) the quality of French wines and other top wines from around the world. While the winners in the movie were from Napa, Sonoma’s quality is equal. And the prices are typically lower than those of Napa.


California has been at the forefront of the US wine industry from the beginning. For good reason. The climate, terroir, and expertise continue to lead the way to superb wines. Sampling these wines, particularly when they have been vetted by our own Masters of Wine, is virtually risk-free. Enjoy and raise a glass to those Russian immigrants who started something good.


By Michael Lutzmann, Managing Director