Wine Talk

Snooth User: Stephen Harvey

Alcohol Levels in Californian Wine

Posted by Stephen Harvey, Jul 27, 2017.

My wife is quite a food fan and watches lots of food lifestyle programmes

Last night one of the programmes had a segment focussed on the Californian Wine Industry - now being on Fox I am not sure of its date

The main thrust was that due to continuing drought conditions in California and increased temperatures Californian Wine was being produced with increased alcohol levels and that to combat this a significant proportion of Californian Wine [not sure on %] was being sent to a dealcoholising facility in Santa Rosa

I am curious on what those on the forum know/think of this

We certainly have wineries with such equipment here in Australia but most of it is used in the lower price end of the market as well as those experimenting with producing low alcohol [7-10%] wines.



Reply by GregT, Jul 28, 2017.

The question is what they mean by "California Wine".

Some good producers do reduce alcohol - Randy Dunn for example. Lots of others don't admit to adding water, which is the way it's often done. But not everyone needs to de-alc and remember, California is a big place and some regions are doing better with the drought of the last few years than are other regions. Plus, lack of rain doesn't always equate to scorching sun.

With bulk wine, or Trader Joe or Total Wine products, there's probably a greater use of de-alc services. 

Reply by Stephen Harvey, Jul 28, 2017.


As with many of these shows it was very lacking in detail

The main thrust seemed to be the fact that the "climate change" impact of rising temperatures in California was leading to higher alcohol levels and hence need to reduce alcohol

There was no references to adding water in the show

Reply by dmcker, Jul 28, 2017.

Did you say it was on Fox, Stephen? They're particularly skimpy with details and context.

Long before the drought, alcohol levels had been rising--for decades. The Judgment of Paris cabs of the '70s had 12.5% alcohol, most frequently. Those from last decade sometimes 3% higher. Winemaker skill sets came to require the ability to balance massive fruit and alcohol in ways that didn't come across too hot, though many in my experience failed. De-alcing was a subject I was hearing about not infrequently in the '80s and '90s, starting with the Central Valley then moving towards Napa. So some lazy, half-assed Fox reporter didn't do any research and just recycled an old story, trying to make it topical by tying it into the ever-popular drought context, it would seem.

Isn't common wisdom (knock on wood) that the drought may be coming to an end, anyway?

Reply by rckr1951, Jul 28, 2017.

Farming is the real answer to me, though I've heard and read reports on that practice and that facility.  I personally think that if a vintner balances wine properly there's no reason why a wine can't be perfectly fine - IF THAT WINE IS BALANCED.

My personality and big wines match well and quite frankly I miss the 1996/97/98 Duex Amis Petit Sirah - the large zins of that era into the early 2000's.  Dreams are free.

But - back to topic, lower alc wines are fine and there's nothing better that a fine drinker with good food.

Reply by outthere, Jul 29, 2017.

Kind if a strange story there. As David mentioned alc levels have been higher for the past couple decades as wineries found that the average American palate loves the texture  and flavors that come from riper fruit. People using reverse osmosis to lower alc levels seem, to me anyway, to be those not paying attention to the winemaking process and/or producing in bulk. I generally do not drink wine from wineries where the winemaker is not keeping things under control. If he/she cannot control something as simple as alcohol what makes me think he/she can control acidity/VA/brett etc? Via filtration I suppose but over filtration changes the quality of the finished product. As previously mentioned, a winemaker can easily water back the wine to reach their target abv level and it's free money as the water just incresed in price to the level of finished wine. Waiting and paying to remove the alcohol shows me poor oversight.

The drought has produced some pretty good vintages albeit low yields (2015). Winemakers I buy from have not had problems with alcohol levels in recent vintages. I have plenty of examples in my cellar in the 12-13% range. Blaming the drought on picking decisions is kind of a stretch if you ask me.

I would like to see the program so I could get a better idea of whom they are referring to.

Reply by rckr1951, Jul 29, 2017.

OT - I agree with that concerning the reverse osmosis technology.  I've read about it on line and in the WE and WS mags.   I like lower alc content in whites and a little higher in reds.

Reply by GregT, Jul 30, 2017.

OT has a good point - alcohol levels have risen over the past few decades, but that's not in response to drought. I think what's happening is that more people are making wine, more options are available, and there's increased diversity in what we can find. As to percentages of people using one technique or another, I can't say. But remember that a lot of innovation came from France, particularly Bordeaux and Burgundy, because they need to turn out product every year and couldn't rely on sunny weather like they can in much of CA, which is approximately the size of France. 

So it's as accurate to talk about "California" wine as it is to talk about "French" wine. Lots of microclimates and diverse weather patterns. What's at least as interesting is what's happening to the Australian market in the US. Increasing wines from diverse areas and producers as opposed to Barossa Valley, with wines that don't fit the stereotype of what an Australian wine is. Lower alcohol levels in many cases.

Reply by Stephen Harvey, Jul 30, 2017.

Not sure if it was a Fox produced show or one that was in their list of shows they distribute

I agree with  most of the sentiment around farming practices and good wine making

My suspicion the majority of the wine they were talking about was in the sub USD10 category even though they did not say it

I agree with the macro tag comments and this is why I think they are probably talking about the cheap end of the spectrum

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