Uncovering California’s Hidden Wine Gems

Mission VineyardThere are more wineries in California than there are chocolate makers in Switzerland. But like Swiss chocolatiers, the wineries range in size from ultra-small to gigantic.

According to Wine Institute, “Bonded winery premises include every licensed production facility of single firms or individuals, licensed warehouses, experimental wineries and wineries with no casegoods production or fermentation capacity.”

The definition exists not to create specific categories for makers of wine. Bonded winery licenses are issued by the U.S. Tax and Trade Bureau “for the purpose of designating a tax-paid environment for wine.”

So much for romance. But at least we have a definition by which we can measure growth, and the California wine industry has been growing by leaps and bounds. In fact, the number of wineries in the Golden State has increased every year since 1997, when there were 1,011 bonded wineries.

We could bore you with the year-by-year stats, but instead we’ll share the growth by just a half-decade at a time:

  • 2000 — 1,450 wineries
  • 2005 — 2,275 wineries
  • 2010 — 3,364 wineries
  • 2014 — 4,285 wineries

So, what’s behind this phenomenal increase in the number of California wineries? There are several reasons. In no particular order:

  • People who once were hobbyists — “garage winemakers” — decided to take the next step and sell some of their wine.
  • People who made a lot of money in the dot-com boom or in real estate decided to invest it in one of their passions; namely, wine.
  • New growing areas (Sta. Rita Hills, for instance) begat new wineries.
  • New business models emerged for making and selling wine.
  • Second- and third-generation wine family members decided to pursue their own wine projects.

Add it all up, and we now have far more wineries offering far more choices than ever before. That makes our job here at Vinesse both more exciting and more challenging. There are so many wonderful wines being made in California today that separating the best from the rest takes a great deal of time, research and, yes, tasting.

cachampsFortunately, our tasting panel is up to the challenge, as today’s special on our California Champions Collection demonstrates. Especially during California Wine Month, but also throughout the year, our job is to take the wealth of vinous riches from California and beyond, and identify the most interesting, compelling, aromatic, flavorful and delicious wines.

Vinesse does the legwork so you don’t have to.

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