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California pushes mid-range value at UK tasting

Published:  13 March, 2019

California Wines used its Essential California tasting yesterday (12 March) to swing the focus onto wines under £50 RRP, with an emphasis on the message of value for quality to the fore for the UK market.

The tasting featured over 500 wines, drawn from almost every AVA, with 55 importers and producers on hand, showing the myriad styles from this complex viticultural state, also looking to impress this diversity on attendees.

The relatively high price of California wines has in the past been something of a stumbling block with UK buyers. But with prices for classic regions such as Bordeaux, Burgundy, Rhône and top Loire continuing to rise, signature varietal California wines, including Cabernet, Merlot, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, are now more attractively positioned for the UK trade.

Speaking at the tasting, Damien Jackman, UK director of California Wines, explained, “the opportunity is very important up to the £50 level, we wanted to show the quality of wine available in the £10, £20, £30 and £40 range”, adding that “in California, there is so much innovation, it’s exciting times, and we wanted to show that today”.

Berkmann’s purchasing director Alex Hunt MW added that California has traditionally performed well around its entry level and at the higher end, appealing to wine informed enthusiasts, but has had “something of a hole in the middle” with regard to the mid-range and sales.

This, though, has changed, said Hunt, who has “significantly grown” the company’s California portfolio over the past four years.

“We are seeing increases of sales from pretty much all of the suppliers we represent, it’s a slow climb, because a lot of the wines are new or relatively unknown, but it is climbing,” said Hunt.

“Because California does such a good job at the luxury end, that’s a very important part of the offer and needs to be focused on, because there are few countries that make a wine that maybe wholesales at £50 that is as good as a California wine at £50… but there is true value from wines [that would retail] at £30 to £100, that is where the real meat is,” he added.

James Doidge, managing director at California specialist The Wine Treasury, also highlighted a new buzz around California and the innovation coming out of the State, which is helping to turn heads anew.

“There’s this new California style that has been so voguish, fresher wines and newer styles, that people are getting more involved with, and then there are people who are doing what they’ve always been doing, who have been perhaps a little forgotten about, and are now being rediscovered again,” said Doidge.

“There just this amazing diversity that California has got - you do need to pay the money, but once you do, there are amazing things to be found, so yes, perhaps it is [for] a more esoteric or discerning customer, a bit more of a genuine enthusiast, but California has got everything,” said Doidge.

That diversity was clearly on show at the tasting, with wines ranging from the classic varieties to samples including Albarino, Semillon, Verdejo, Malbec, Tempranillo and Cinsault, plus much else besides.

As part of its on-going programme of UK events, California Wines will be holding it’s counterpoint £50 and above tasting at the US Embassy in September, said Jackman.