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Inaugural California List launched in London

Published:  25 March, 2022

The free-wheeling Golden State has taken a dip into the more stratified world of wine classification, unveiling its inaugural The California List in London amidst samples of some of its most famous and sought-after wines.

The initiative, born of a long-term ambition of Damien Jackman and Justine McGovern of the California Wine Institute, is described as “a list of exceptional California producers renowned for their quality, fame and overall impact in the UK”.

While nodding to the way other classifications – such as the Napoleonic 1855 Bordeaux Classification or Australia’s Langton’s Classification – have helped shape perception of their high-end wines, The California List has taken its own quite different route, judging “quality, availability and impact”.

Judges were not asked to taste any wines, but instead were directed to draw on their experience and knowledge of California’s top estates, considering what Jancis Robinson MW described to Harpers as “reputation and representation” in the market over time, with “quality a given”.

What also marks this initiative out as quite different is that the judges were all British, with Robinson being joined by Mark Andrew MW of Noble Rot restaurants, Sarah Knowles MW of The Wine Society, 67 Pall Mall’s Ronan Sayburn MS and California specialist and wine writer Stephen Brook.

The panel were tasked with drawing on their extensive collective knowledge of California’s leading estates, considering over 200 producers from which the final list of 50-odd were chosen.

Described by California Wine Institute as producers that have been “the most important in terms of creating and driving the California wine category in the UK”, The California List features many seminal West Coast names, ranging from Ridge and Robert Mondavi to Screaming Eagle, Harlan and Turley, by way of the likes of Kutch, Sandhi and Sine Qua Non, to name but a few.

“California has never had a classification, as such,” said Jackman and McGovern. “And it’s not our job to rank producers.

“We had five amazing judges in this country that are very skilled at doing that, so we gave them three criteria – quality was obviously a main one, but impact on this market and longevity in this market was important; this is not about individual wines.”

Looking ahead, the idea is that the California List will evolve, with future judging sessions considering whether other worthy producers should be elevated to sit among their peers.

For those unable to attend the launch bash, a video featuring the event, comment from the judges and the first edition of The California List can be watched here.