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Richard Siddle: comment on opportunties for Californian wine in the UK

Published:  28 March, 2011

California is an awfully long way to go to confirm perceptions many wine producers have about the UK wine industry, but it certainly helps appreciate how this key market views these shores.

Considering California is the UK's second largest wine category you might expect to be falling over winemakers with distribution or at least aspirations to make it big in the UK.

The reality from the producers I met during an extensive tour last week of Sonoma, Lodi and Paso Robles was very different.

The killing comment came from one leading Sonoma winemaker who said breaking into another State in the US was their equivalent to developing exports in another country, never mind one so price obsessed as the UK. Many simply did not have the resources or the knowledge of the UK market to know where to begin.

But what was crystal clear, from doing extensive tastings in each of these three key regions, is California has the quality, fruit forward, easy drinking styles of wine the UK trade is so keen to source.

The multiples have already found the bulk and branded suppliers capable of meeting their cheap and cheerful Californian needs. But we found countless wines with price points better suited to the independent and restaurant trade.

Much of the wine being produced in Lodi, particularly, and Paso Robles could easily find a place in the UK if only the wineries could find a means or reason to do so. Of nearly 70 wines presented at a generic tasting in Paso Robles, only five had UK distribution.

Yes, high alcohol levels are an issue across the board and many of the big bold Parker-esque wines lack the acidity or freshness to suit our palate, but there are plenty more that don't.

Price is also an issue with wineries picking price points to suit a US consumer willing to pay $15 plus a bottle.

A cross section of export seeking Californian producers will be at the London tasting on March 22. But believe me there are a whole lot more out there waiting to be discovered. It's a good excuse to go to California anyway.