In every friend group, there is always the one know-it-all that fancies themselves to be an aspiring wine connoisseur. Here are some secrets that California’s wine country doesn’t want you to know so you can stump that pretentious wine drinker with some interesting facts.
Avoid Name Brand Wines
Low-production wines that are sold at shops and restaurants are usually more bang for your buck than ordering a wine that you know by name because of its popularity. When you order a well-known wine, you are usually paying for the name of the wine and not the drink itself. Also, the low-production wines tend to be made with more care and attention because they’re not being mass-produced to fill up shelves at the store. Rare wine can also taste like a very expensive bottle of well-known wine, yet only cost around $10.
There’s More to the Label Than Meets the Eye
Apparently, wineries and wine makers take advantage of the trust that consumers put into what’s on the label of their product. Because people tend to buy wine based off of the region, alcohol percentage, and ingredients displayed on the label, the labels aren’t always literal. A wine that you think may be from your favorite region may only ‘technically’ be in that area. Even the alcohol percentage doesn’t have to be on the mark. This leaves a lot of gaps for wine makers to fill in and make the drink more appealing.
Misleading Alcohol Percentages
Due to relaxed labeling laws, in terms of alcohol by volume or ABV, a wine above 14% ABV is allowed to be labeled 1% higher than the printed number. On the other hand, a wine below 14% ABV can be labeled anywhere from 1 to 1.5% higher. These heightened alcohol percentages can be the difference between a glass of regular wine or a ‘hot wine’ which has a very strong alcoholic taste and doesn’t pair well with food. These false numbers can also be dangerous since people don’t actually know how much alcohol they are consuming. This is why it’s better to shop for taste rather than by ABV.
Beware of Secret Additives!
Yet another secret that wine country wineries and wine makers don’t want the public to know is the increasing use of additives being added to wine. These are utilized to produce more wine, faster, and at a lower cost. Wine lovers may find this secret appalling, but there are over 70 additives allowed in wines throughout the United States. These additives help to change, the color, smell, taste, and even texture of the wine to make it appear as though the wine has been created through an extensive process when it hasn’t. They are also used to cover up any mistakes that were made during the making process or natural flaws that come about when making wine.
Getting a Sugar Rush Off Wine
Sugar may not always be the first thing that comes to mind when you think about wine. However, maybe it should be. As it turns out, sugar in wine can range from 40 up to 100 grams per bottle. During the fermentation process, most of the natural sugars in the grapes are turned into alcohol and carbon dioxide, however, the sugar that remains is known as residual sugar which stays in the wine. To increase the alcohol content in some wines, sugar is sometimes added through a process known as cChaptalization. Although this method is illegal in California’s wine country, they still utilize sugar rich grape concentrate to produce the same effects, therefore greatly increasing the sugar levels of the wine.
Drip Irrigation Robs Us Of The Best Possible Wine
Drip irrigation is a relatively new practice of watering crops, it is a system that replaced the method of dry farming when farmers relied on rainfall to water their crops. Although this may seem like a much more reliable and logical way to water crops, it actually has a negative effect on the production of wine. Drip irrigation allows the roots of the plants to stay more towards the surface of the ground because they no longer need to grow down as far to search for water. However, the deeper the roots means more nutritious soil, healthier plants, and better-tasting wine. So it turns out drip irrigation is actually robbing us of the best tasting wine possible.
Celebrities Don’t Really Make Their Wine
People, usually celebrities, that claim to run their own wine brand very rarely are actually the one to make the wine. Their role is simply limited to the name and the brand. More often than not, these owners are usually ultra-rich bankers, politicians, actors, or celebrities that want to be able to say that they have their own brand and even go as far to say that they’re a winemaker. Yet, choosing a design for the label and making a few decisions doesn’t make anyone close to a winemaker, and it’s a safe bet that some of these “winemakers” don’t even really know how the process works.
Don’t Overpay for Your Wine
California’s wine country is well-known for their expensive wines. Yet, as it turns out, if you are simply looking for a very high-quality bottle of wine, you should never pay any more than $100. Because once a wine exceeds $100 the only factors that truly play a role in its price is the accessibility of the wine as well as the quantity that is made. A wine that costs well over $100 usually means that the grapes cost more than $10,000 per ton. Or that very little of it was ever produced, it is old, or the winemaker has a very large ego. For true wine connoisseurs, there is sure to be debate over highly expensive wines, but for the common drinker, the bill should stop at no more than $100.
Oak Barrels or Oak Chips?
When someone drinks a wine for its oak flavor, they are usually assuming that the wine has been stored and aged in oak barrels, giving it that specific oak flavoring that so many wine lovers enjoy. Nevertheless, winemakers have found another way to add oak flavoring without actually storing the wine in expensive oak barrels, saving a lot of time and money. Instead, they have created a trick using oak essence extract that is made by soaking oak chips in high-proof alcohol, which they then add to the wine. Fiscally, it is a smart system to use, yet just another secret of wine country.
Napa Valley Has An Overflow of Cabernet Sauvignon
If you look into any wine store or walk down the wine aisle at a grocery store, you may notice that there is a massive excess of Cabernet Sauvignon from the Napa Valley Region. Almost 40% of the grapes harvested in Napa Valley are grown especially for this wine. It is clear that the wine country in California is not taking full advantage of its location and ability to grow a variety of wines, but instead are continuously producing a wine that we already have a giant surplus of.
Most Napa Cabernet Are From the Central Coast
Although you may think that the Napa Cabernet you just opened was grown, tended, fermented, and bottled in Napa Valley, you may be mistaken. Some wineries do not own their own vineyards, so they have to buy their grapes from other properties, which can be incredibly expensive. In Paso Robles, a region along the central coast, about 39% of the vineyards are planted to grow grapes for Cabernet Sauvignon, and around 50% of those grapes are sold to other regions such as Napa and Sonoma. Although it is a bit sneaky, it really isn’t a huge deal since Paso Robles is well known for its high-quality wine as well.
The Industrialization of Wineries
The growing of grapes and the process in which it is turned into wine used to be described as a romantic process, with love and care going into each bottle. Well, that was a long time ago. Although making wine is still an art form, its production has certainly evolved in recent years. Now, for some California wineries, the entire process has been automatized to produce as much product as possible in the least amount of time. From machines harvesting the grapes to using 700,000-gallon tanks to hold and ferment the wine, there is very little human interaction with the actual product. Of course, all of this is behind the scenes, which you definitely can’t see from the tasting room.
Wineries Have Managed to Slip Past Inspections
When making wine, the fermentation process is said to kill any unwanted pathogens or substances that may have found its way into the batch. Because of this, wineries have been considered low-risk for health issues and weren’t subjected to the health and safety inspections other food industries might experience. Finally, in 2011, the Food Safety Modernization Act made it so wineries were expected to become more regulated than they had been in the past. Up until then, wineries were basically left to run on their own without any real supervision, posing the question as to how sanitary and safe were they actually?
Napa Isn’t The Only Wine Country
Although Napa Valley is considered to be the end-all be-all of wine in California, what wine country doesn’t want you to know is that there are plenty of other lesser known places to tour vineyards in California.They don’t particularly encourage you to skip out on Napa because they lose business, but others find that going places other than Napa makes for a whole different wine experience and is sometimes more enjoyable. When going outside of wine country, you may feel a more personal connection with the people visiting and with those who make the wine, as opposed to the busy tasting rooms of wine country.
In 2010, a grape eating moth from Europe known as Lobesia Botrana somehow found its way into Napa Valley. A theory is that these critters made there way to Northern California when winemakers were sneaking vines from France in hopes to clone them with their own plants to replicate the European wine. This is known as “suitcase cloning” which is highly illegal, yet some winemakers tend to boast about their success from it in the 1980’s to awe customers and tourists. However, there are theories that the moth may have been brought over by cargo ship, but trying to pinpoint its origin is almost impossible. maybe wine country winemakers aren’t as honest as we think.
Is California Wine Poisoning You?
In 2015, there was a class action lawsuit in California against some of the country’s top winemakers for dangerously high levels of arsenic in their wine. It was claimed that some of the wines had up to four and five times the maximum amount that the Environmental Protection Agency allows for drinking water. This managed to happen because there are no real federal requirements in place for alcohol producers to tell their customers what is in the wine. In a test of 1,300 bottles, over a quarter had well over the EPA’s maximum for drinking water and the lower the price of the bottle, the more arsenic. Maybe it’s time to upgrade from 2 buck chuck.
Napa Isn’t As Big As You Think
Napa Valley has built its image to be one of the biggest wine producers not only in the United States but the world. If you’re from California, you’ve heard of Napa Valley, and even know it by its nickname ‘wine country’. Because this region of California is so synonymous with wineries and wine making, most assume that the majority of California’s wine comes from this area. However, only 4% of California’s wine comes from this piece of Northern California. Napa is more so known for its quality of wine rather than its quantity. So although it only produces 4% of California’s total amount of wine, it makes up 33% of its monetary value.
Wine Prices Are Not Standardized
When wine is sold to a consumer such as a restaurant or a store, it is marked up from their wholesale price just like any product that is being sold from a manufacturer. However, when it comes to wine, the markup percentages are not standardized and not every store uses the same markup system. The price of a certain bottle of wine can be significantly different on a store-to-store or restaurant-to-restaurant basis. Just because a bottle of wine is $8 at Safeway does not mean it’s going to be $8 at Ralph’s, or at a wine-specific store.
The Real Backbone of Wine Country
When we see pictures of Northern California vineyards and wineries, we typically see a middle-aged white male strolling through his vineyard, smelling his grapes, giving the image that he is a part of every step of the wine making process. This isn’t usually the case. The people that are actually tending to the crops, harvesting the grapes, and working the crush-pads are the migrant workers from Mexico. They tend to do most- if not all- of the back-breaking labor involved with making wine with little recognition while the owners and winemakers do the less intensive work.
Winemakers LOVE Beer
One might assume that winemakers are greatly loyal to their craft, so obviously, wine would be their preferred alcoholic beverage. Apparently, that is not always the case. Many winemakers have openly admitted to having a deep love and appreciation for beer, and express that any rivalry between winemakers and brew masters is nothing but a rumor. Although they love themselves some good wine, after a hard day of working out in the vineyard or walking the grounds, a glass of wine might not cut it. Most are more likely to reach for a bottle of refreshing suds than a glass of Pinot.