Why Study California Wine?

Why Study California Wine?

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I have been asked questions like this so often that I hear them in my sleep. Keeping up with the rapid pace of winery openings, bankruptcies and acquisitions is almost a full-time job. Throw in a change in winemaker at an established winery, along with climate change and trends in consumer tastes and critic preferences and you will be more than overwhelmed. Just for fun, try to keep up with newly developed vineyard areas and legal changes in the wine industry.

Despite all of this, even the best international educational and credentialing organizations have given minimal time to California wine. In the past, after teaching the grapes, soils and history of the regions of France, Italy and the rest of Europe, I have said, “California – the grape’s on the label – we’re done”.  It was always a joke, but exemplifies the consistent over-simplification that often occurs. There is much more to know!  

The last 30 years have seen dramatic changes and many of today’s wine consumers and professionals were only just born during these three decades. Here are just a few areas of significance.

California on a Global Scale

  • USA is the 4th largest wine producer in the world & California is the source of 90% of US wine.

Increasing Diversity

  • 30 years ago, 55% of California wine as white and today it is only 38%.
  • In the last 10 years, 8 grapes went from zero to over 1,200 acres in total (Aglianico to Verdelho, & more).

Growth of California Wine

  • Over 20-30 years, California has seen more than a 100% increase in wine grape acreage and more than a 200% increase in wineries.

New Growing Regions

  • There has been over 30% increase in the number of American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) in just the last 10 years, bringing the total to 115 in California alone.
  • California AVAs span 38 of the state’s 58 counties.
  • 21 new California AVAs are pending approval by the US Treasury Department’s Tax and Trade Bureau.

Recognizing that the California wine landscape was changing around us and other schools were not giving it its due, we created and trademarked the California Wine Appellation Specialist (CWAS) in 2011. It covers every corner of the state with 24 hours of class time culminating with a credential exam. It is one of the 3 programs we offer in South San Francisco, but is also available online or in our 3-day version which travels around the country. Further example of the diverse and developing new story of California wine, San Francisco Wine School Advisory Board member Rajat Parr co-founded In Pursuit of Balance in 2011. The San Francisco Chronicle’s Jon Bonne also has a lot to say about the changes in style and the winemakers who are leading the charge in his 2013 article and book The New California Wine.

What others say about San Francisco Wine School and the California Wine Appellation Specialist (CWAS) program.

“This is like taking a road trip through all the California wine regions. You will have excellent tour guides, come away with a much better understanding of wine country throughout the state, and taste some stellar wines along the way. So hang on to your wineglasses and enjoy the ride!”
- Mary Lindsay, Viticulture Association of the Santa Cruz Mountains

“The class on Sonoma and its American Viticulture Areas provides in-depth understanding of these wine regions. By understanding the diversity of climates, soils and topography in Sonoma, you can understand the wines to expect from each AVA. “
- Nick Frey, Past President, Sonoma County Winegrowers

“My new wine sales position is my first full-time job in the industry and a direct result of attending San Francisco Wine School and receiving the CWAS certification.”
- Matt L., San Francisco

What changes have you noticed in California wine in recent years? Which regions of the state do you think deserve more attention? Tell us some of your favorite wines or producers?

Check out our full schedule of programs, workshops and public events. Private, customized experiences and corporate training is also available.

Learn more about California Wine in our California Wine Appellation Specialist CWAS® Programs.

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