California on the upswing

13 February, 2014

Californian wine is “on the upswing” in the UK market, according to one of the golden state’s most celebrated producers.

Brian Baker, vice president at Chateau Montelena, famed for winning the white wine section of the historic Judgement of Paris wine competition, said sales have surged since appointing Bancroft as UK distributor three years ago.

He told OLN: “Everyone I talk to is saying Californian wine is on the upswing in the UK.

“I hired Bancroft because I couldn’t afford to not be here.

“I didn’t have high expectations. This is a very sophisticated market. You have been living on the greatest wines for 400 years.

“But sales have gone up in a way that really got my attention.”

Overall US wine sales dropped 3% in the UK off-trade in the past year (Nielsen, year to November 11, 2013) but Baker believes premium Californian wines are soaring.

When asked why, he said: “People are maybe going for Zinfandel and Pinot Noir. People are tired of big, in your face wines.

“US Cabernet and Chardonnay started going the way of sherry and port. Chardonnay got bigger, sweeter and boozier and Cabernet got bigger and heavier.

“People were drinking port and sherry wannabes called Cabernet and Chardonnay.

“And people woke up and said ‘wait a minute’ and rebelled against it. We are the beneficiaries of that.

“We have always tried to make old world wines with Californian fruit. And for a long time we weren’t very popular because our style wasn’t fashionable.

“We’ve been like the girl at the prom, waiting at the side to be asked to dance, and nobody has, but now they are all asking.”

On the other side of the pond Californian wine is thriving, according to Baker.

“Americans now drink more wine as a nation,” he said. “It has eclipsed beer. Big beer is down, five consecutive years. Spirits has stopped its growth. And wine is now as popular as it has ever been. And Californian wine is king of the hill. We are very fortunate with good land and good sun.

“American consumers are moving back to oaked Chardonnay.

“The Aussies flooded the market with naked Chardonnay and they owned our market.

“For the first time Americans went, ‘there’s another way this tastes? Gee, it comes without oak?’

“But now consumers are getting more savvy about food and wine pairings and they are getting back into oaked Chardonnay.”

But he warned that 2014 will be “a rough year”.

“I went through the recession and watched the industry recover in 2011,” he said. “Then 2012 was better than 2011 and 2013 was the best year for a long time.

“But 2014 will be a rough year. We are going to screw up our interest rates. When the Fed stops buying bonds they will go up. That’s a long way to the well without a bucket.”

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