Cheers focuses on helping full-service restaurants and bars develop and execute a stellar beverage program. Wine is a huge part of a full-service operator’s beverage alcohol offering, and California wines are playing an increasingly important role. That’s why Cheers is pleased to announce a new supplement for 2013: California Wine Central.
Throughout this year in Cheers, you’ll find overviews of California’s distinct wine regions, complete with information about the grapes and brands within that geographic area. These snapshots will provide the details you need to better understand California wine and sell it to your customers.
Plus, you’ll have access to a wealth of knowledge at www.CAWineCentral.com, our new source for all things California wine. The site will include images, videos, podcasts, exclusive feature stories, and data from The Beverage Information Group, the research arm of our parent company.
So be sure to visit the new site, check out the exclusive digital content and “like” our California Wine Facebook page. And please do tell us what you think of the supplement.
The North Coast
Elegant, cool-climate wines beyond Napa and Sonoma
The entire North Coast American Viticultural Area (AVA) in California covers more than 3 million acres. It officially includes Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino and Lake Counties, as well as portions of Marin and Solano Counties, according to the San Francisco-based Wine Institute. The region has been a winemaking hub since the mid-19th century.
While Napa and Sonoma are by far the best-known regions in the area, smaller AVAs, such as Mendocino and Lake County, are also making elegant, cool-climate wines at competitive price points. The diversity of wine offerings—both single varietal, blends and sparkling—the value, and small-volume production are all part of what makes these Northern California growing areas unique.
Mendocino is home to more than 90 wineries and 10 AVAs, according to the Wine Institute and the Ft. Bragg, CA-based tourism agency Visit Mendocino County. Much of the region’s production is focused on chardonnay and pinot noir; about 25% of its total vineyard acreage is certified organic.
Lake County’s most planted grape is cabernet sauvignon, followed by sauvignon blanc. The region’s acreage is also expected to double in the next few years.
Flavor and value
Operators say that many of the North Coast’s brands can require a hand-sell, as consumers aren’t necessarily familiar with the wines beyond the area’s biggest names such as Roederer Estate and Bonterra Vineyards. Many restaurant owners and retailers find that merchandising their wines by varietal also helps to get more of their customers acquainted with the area’s wine styles and flavors. Price points for wines from the region are certainly competitive with those of Napa and Sonoma.
“The bulk of the wineries in Mendocino County are extremely low-production, boutique wineries, and as such are not significantly distributed,” says Brendan McGuigan, director of interactive media at Visit Mendocino County. Many wineries sell direct only, he notes. Some of the larger brands (Parducci, Fetzer) are nationally distributed, he notes, as are smaller labels owned by larger brands, such as Lazy Creek, under Ferrari-Carano and Edmeades under Kendall-Jackson, he says.
The area is home to “an enormous proportion of small-scale, family-owned wineries creating hand-crafted, small-batch wines,” McGuigan says. “When people from many regions talk about small production, they mean less than 5,000 cases. In Mendocino County, we generally mean less than 1,000 cases.”
And in some cases, he notes, “a wine may be produced in quantities of 50 or 60 cases.”
David Jabour, co-owner and CEO of the 74-location, Austin, TX-based Twin Liquors chain, carries a handful of wines from these regions, priced from $9.99 to $55.99. He confirms that while the big brand players are well known, “additional education and marketing is needed to bring awareness to the wine styles.”
Jared Chorney, general manager of Toasted Oak Grill & Market, a farm-to-table restaurant and retail shop in Novi, MI, agrees that many of the area’s wines require hand selling. “But when speaking with our guests about the values they are getting, they are very receptive,” he adds.
Toasted Oak’s offerings from the North Coast sell at accessible price points such as $8 a glass for on-premise consumption and $12 a bottle retail for the Bliss Family Vineyards Blend. Chorney also offers Paul Dolan zinfandel at $15 a bottle retail and Lang & Reed cabernet franc for $28.
Any wines purchased at retail at Toasted Oak can also be consumed at the restaurant for a $7 corkage fee. The flavors of many of the North Coast’s wines “complement our food extremely well,” Chorney says. “I personally love wines from the North Coast and Mendocino, and drink them at home frequently due to their quality for such great value.”
At Café Adelaide & the Swizzle Stick Bar in New Orleans, general manager Lauren Kaplan steers customers to North Coast wines when they are seeking specific flavors at certain price points. She carries seven wines from the region, priced from $30 to $110 a bottle, including the Dry Creek Vineyards Clarksburg chenin blanc and viognier blend for $30.
The appealing pricing with North Coast wines helps to move these bottles, Kaplan says, as does an attentive focus from her sales staff. “For our guests, these wines are often a great value, providing quality wines and more reasonable prices.”
NORTH COAST FAST FACTS
Humboldt, Lake and Mendocino (and parts of Marin and Solano)
Major AVAs: Mendocino (est. 1984), North Coast (est. 1983).
Growing conditions: Cool climate, high annual rainfall and ideal conditions for sustainable wine production
Popular varietals: Pinot noir, riesling, sparkling wines
Major vineyards and wineries: Parducci Wine Estates, Roederer Estate, Bonterra Vineyards