The cliché lingers that all California wines are ripe and fruity, as if a single characteristic could possibly define the entire state. You wouldn’t dare try to say that French wines were all the same, would you?
California has a beautiful Mediterranean climate, which is advantageous for wine-growing, but the notion that the state is hot all year round? Have you ever been to San Francisco? Even in the summer it can get pretty chilly! Mark Twain once said, “The coldest winter I ever spent was summer in San Francisco!”
The state is stretched out over roughly 1,300 kilometres (France is about 1,000). It goes without saying that the weather changes from the northern end to the southern. The landscape is also divided by several mountain ranges, including the Sierra Nevada, and mountains cover close to half the state. Temperatures vary according to altitude, and vineyards at 800 metres above sea level are very common.
There’s also the majestic Pacific Ocean. A beloved playground for surfers, it also plays a key role in the well-being of numerous wine-growing regions. Ocean breezes and fogs moderate temperatures and sunshine levels, not to mention provide some chilly nights. On some parts of the coast, that same ocean prevents grapes from fully ripening.
Did you know?
California puts the sunshine in Inspire members’ shopping carts. In 2017, 74% of U.S.-made wine purchases were bottles from the Golden State.
Spareribs in homemade barbecue sauce and a California salad
Preparation: 45 minutes
Cooking: 2 hours
Cost per serving: about $11.60
2 kg (4 lb) pork spareribs
1 onion, coarsely chopped
3 garlic cloves, peeled
1 bay leaf
80 mL (1/3 cup) brown sugar
60 mL (1/4 cup) lime or lemon juice
45 mL (3 tbsp) soy sauce
15 mL (1 tbsp) HP sauce
160 mL (2/3 cup) ketchup
5 mL (1 tsp) paprika
5 mL (1 tsp) dried mustard
5 mL (1 tsp) dried oregano
1 mL (1/4 tsp) garlic powder
15 mL (1 tbsp) olive oil
15 mL (1 tbsp) lime juice
Salt and pepper
1 avocado, sliced
1 orange, separated into segments
1 grapefruit, separated into segments
1 L (4 cups) lettuce of your choice, washed and torned into small pieces
1. In a large saucepan, combine the spareribs, onion, garlic and bay leaf. Cover with water. 2. Bring to a boil and let simmer for 1 hour and 15 minutes. 3. Mix the barbecue sauce ingredients in a large, deep dish. Set aside. 4. When the ribs are cooked, drain and place immediately in the sauce. 5. Mix well to coat and let sit for at least 30 minutes. 6. You can also cook the ribs in advance and marinate in the sauce for a few hours. 7. Preheat oven to 200°C (400°F). 8. Place the spareribs in an ovenproof dish. 9. Brush with the sauce and cook in the oven for 20 to 30 minutes. 10. Meanwhile, mix the oil and lime juice in a salad bowl. Season. 11. Add the avocado, orange, grapefruit and lettuce. 12. Toss gently and serve with the spareribs.
From Albariño to Zinfandel
Vineyards are distinguished not only by their climates but also by the diversity of their terroirs – the result of a collision between the North American and Pacific tectonic plates. On areas only a few metres apart, soil composition can be completely different. It’s the sum total of all variations that create many unique microclimates that, in turn, give rise to unique wines. The 1980s and 1990s celebrated California Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon, which today represent 40 percent of California vines. Pinot Noir is the current fashion, edging slightly ahead of Merlot and Zinfandel. Sauvignon Blanc and Syrah are also on the most-planted list – but there are over a hundred varieties! Throughout California’s winemaking history, immigrants have brought their cépages and traditions, enriching wine culture as they came. Just as the skies seem boundless in the Golden State, so too is its curiosity: New vines like Trousseau, Albariño, Tibouren Savagnin and many others continue to appear.
Strength but also finesse
Strong Cabernet-Sauvignons and rich Zinfandels, finesse-filled Pinots Noirs and elegant, perfumed Syrahs, rich and buttery to delicate and chiselled Chardonnays… These descriptions may well be due to winemakers’ choices, but increasingly they are the result of terroir specificities. While several years ago, the emphasis was on cépage and maturity at all costs, nowadays where and how grapes grow is considered to be critical. There’s a movement afoot that firmly supports wines that are finer, fresher, less heady, and that express their specific terroir more clearly. It’s a natural evolution for people who are well aware of Earth’s richness, and seek to preserve and cherish it.
California wine-growing has become unsurpassed in terms of sustainable development. Close to 75 percent (more than any other country) of California wineries adhere to a sustainable development program, including ecosystem protection, parasite reduction, water and energy conservation, and maintenance of labourer and community well-being. Whether it’s sheep that graze peacefully on weeds, falcons trained to hunt undesirable pests, or solar panels that generate power for wineries, California’s efforts to respect the environment are evident across the state.
California salad with salmon
Preparation: 20 minutes
Cooking: 4 minutes
Cost per serving: $9.00
500 mL (2 cups) green beans
180 mL (3/4 cup) pineapple, diced
1 large red pepper, thinly sliced
125 mL (1/2 cup) thinly sliced red onion
1 avocado, diced
60 mL (1/4 cup) coarsely chopped fresh coriander
30 mL (2 tbsp) olive oil
Salt and pepper
1 L (4 cups) shredded lettuce or spring mix
500 mL (2 cups) corn chips
500 g (1 lb) salmon fillet, cooked
1. In a saucepan, blanch green beans for 3 to 4 minutes in salted boiling water. 2. Drain. Cool in cold water. 3. In the meantime, peel the oranges with a knife. 4. Cut the oranges into half-round slices. 5. In a large bowl, combine the green beans, oranges and their juice, pineapple, red pepper, onion, avocado and coriander. 6. Add olive oil. Season. 7. Toss to coat everything well. 8. Divide the lettuce and corn chips onto 4 plates. 9. Cover with the fruit and vegetables and top with salmon fillet.
PHOTOGRAPHY (food): David De Stefano