January 23, 2007
Don Sebastiani's Crystal Ball

Sonoma vintner Don Sebastiani, who with his two sons has been responsible for several of California's more popular wine brands in recent years - Pepperwood Grove, Smoking Loon, Screw Kappa Napa - talked on and on and on as the keynote speaker at the 33rd annual meeting of the California Association of Winegrape Growers at the Sacramento Grand Sheraton earlier this evening.

He mostly urged the assembled farmers to lobby wineries to place more prominently and specifically on their wine labels the geographic source of the grapes responsible for the wine in the bottle. There are all sorts of economic, political and cultural reasons for growers to receive more credit for their stewardship, so Sebastiani's remarks were warmly received.

For wine enthusiasts beyond the hotel's ballroom, however, Sebastiani's predictions about the next hot varietals were more relevant and intriguing, given how astutely he has been grasping consumer preferences. As he sees those tastes - and his research is largely anecdotal, based on visits to supermarket wine departments and wine shops, where he chats up customers - consumers are showing more interest in wines beyond cabernet sauvignon, white zinfandel, chardonnay and merlot. They're getting more adventurous, and are searching out "something different," said Sebastiani. He specifically mentioned sauvignon blancs from New Zealand, pinot grigio when the price is appealing, malbecs from Argentina, old-vine zinfandel, obscure varieties like carignane and mourvedre, riesling, and viognier and chenin blanc from Clarksburg in the San Joaquin/Sacramento River Delta.

Aside from zinfandel, not a lot of California acreage is devoted to those varieties, indicating that Sebastiani may have been hoping to get members of his audience to start cultivating more of those kinds of grapes.

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