California's Grand Cru/Premier Cru Producers

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California's Grand Cru/Premier Cru Producers

Postby Hoke » Mon Sep 09, 2013 4:16 pm

In another thread (which comes back every few years and is always interesting and always slightly different) the question was asked about "California's First Growths---predicating the response automatically toward Bordeaux varietal blends and the topmost tier of the 1855 Classification.

I'm uncomfortable with that---or let's say I find it unnecessarily limiting because of the nature of the California scene--and because of that I believe the Burgundian Cru rating system might fit a bit better.

The Bordeaux system, after all, was rated primarily on prevailing market value at the time, but is construed as something entirely different now, whereas the Burgundian system was conceived on the land rather than the grower/producer/owner....the vineyard is the most important thing. In a same vein, there's the Alsace Cru system.

So......if we applied a system of Grand Cru, Premier Cru, Village Cru, Sub-Regional, and Regional in a hierarchy more similar to the Burgundian (keeping in mind the incidence of Monopole and Lieu-Dits), and considering that we need not limit it to specific areas such as Bordeaux and Burgundy (Rhone? Alsace? Even better, Languedoc-Roussillon???) what would the best ratings consist of?

(I know this is of tremendous scope, but what the hell else you got to do?)
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Re: California's Grand Cru/Premier Cru Producers

Postby Dale Williams » Mon Sep 09, 2013 5:25 pm

Wait, I'm confused, you want to come up wth a Burgundian styled list (based on land) but you are asking for "California's Grand Cru/Premier Cru Producers?"

While there are quite a few monopoles, the vast majority of Burgundy crus have multiple owners. I don't really know any Cali vineyards that have that, though sure there are some. I do know some vineyards that are used by multiple producers (Hirsch). But usually that's one farmer selling fruit, correct?
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Re: California's Grand Cru/Premier Cru Producers

Postby David M. Bueker » Mon Sep 09, 2013 5:33 pm

Too much varietal variety in California for such a system to make a lot of sense. AVAs are known for multiple things, and so the French methodology does not work.

Ask me again in 300 or 400 years, and I might be able to give a better answer.
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Re: California's Grand Cru/Premier Cru Producers

Postby Hoke » Mon Sep 09, 2013 5:51 pm

Dale Williams wrote:Wait, I'm confused, you want to come up wth a Burgundian styled list (based on land) but you are asking for "California's Grand Cru/Premier Cru Producers?"

While there are quite a few monopoles, the vast majority of Burgundy crus have multiple owners. I don't really know any Cali vineyards that have that, though sure there are some. I do know some vineyards that are used by multiple producers (Hirsch). But usually that's one farmer selling fruit, correct?


I suppose the only way to answer that, Dale, would be to ask if there were clearly identified (or even beginning to be recognized) vineyards that are producing Grand Cru status wines (of whatever the varieties/blends are) to come up with the beginnings of such a list.

Of course, you'd have to limit such a vestigial list to only estate producers or those wineries that release single vineyard offerings. But that shouldn't be a problem and there should be more than enough within that limitation. A chardonnay that was a melange of different grapes picked from all over the state could only aspire to be a "Pays" level anyway, right? But you could identify, say, a hierarchy of the top estate producers of chardonnay...at the very least, county AVA by county AVA.

You could even go North Coast>>>Sonoma/Napa/Mendocino/Lake, for instance. Any consistently exceptional producers, allowing for the vagaries of weather/vintage that have earned the consideration of Grand Cru at this point? Any that are consistently high performers and at times approach the quality of the Grands? Those are your Premiers.

We can make it simpler than that by choosing more esoteric varieties: are there currently any estate producers of Gewurztraminer that are considered almost always toward the top of the list with an impressive track record and an easily distinctive consistent style?

Pinot Noir? No hierarchy comes to mind there? No exceptionally consistent and stylistic producers?

Syrah? Rhone Rangers? Zinfandel? Sauvignon Blanc?
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Re: California's Grand Cru/Premier Cru Producers

Postby Jenise » Tue Sep 10, 2013 8:28 am

Hoke wrote:
Pinot Noir? No hierarchy comes to mind there? No exceptionally consistent and stylistic producers?



In a way one could leave producer almost completely out of it, couldn't you? Even though vineyards like Pisoni and Clos Pepe do not have multiple owners, the grapes are contracted out by the row(s) and the producer/contractholder is usually responsible for dropping fruit and otherwise managing yield/quality. That's as close as we're going to get to Burgundy, isn't it?
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Re: California's Grand Cru/Premier Cru Producers

Postby Dale Williams » Tue Sep 10, 2013 10:58 am

I'll be interested in opinions on this, don't feel I have enough knowledge to make informed opinions. For instance, in PN, there are only a few producers who I've followed for any length of time- WS, Arcadian, Mount Eden, J Swan. But not sure I have enough experience to rank even their vineyards. As regime changed at WS I liked the wines less, but it's not like the land got worse. I like some newer producers like Rhys, but again not enough to differentiate between sites, and not a long track record.
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Re: California's Grand Cru/Premier Cru Producers

Postby Hoke » Tue Sep 10, 2013 2:13 pm

As I was posing the initial question I knew it would be difficult to answer, as it would require a more profound (or at least more confident) knowledge and understanding of the California wine industry. We might be better off dealing with a more territorially limited area, say just the North Coast, or Sonoma or Napa.

So if it makes it easier, we could focus our hierarchy on Sonoma and limit it to Pinot Noir. Is there enough track record to begin forming a ranking of classifications---GC, PC sub-app and county---for Sonoma Pinot Noir?

Or for Napa Bordeaux Blend (including Meritage and various and sundry, Cabernet, Merlot and Malbec)?
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Re: California's Grand Cru/Premier Cru Producers

Postby Dale Williams » Tue Sep 10, 2013 2:30 pm

Offhand, with limited experience, I'd say Hirsch has shown potential for GC. Great wines from Littorai, WS. etc. The Kistler isn't the vineyard's fault

Premier Cru: Olivet, Kanzler, Brown Ranch (but only tasted Saintsbury), Trenton (Swan).

But my opinion on this is about as valuable as my opinion on say jazz.
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Re: California's Grand Cru/Premier Cru Producers

Postby Jenise » Tue Sep 10, 2013 2:48 pm

Dale Williams wrote:Offhand, with limited experience, I'd say Hirsch has shown potential for GC. Great wines from Littorai, WS. etc. The Kistler isn't the vineyard's fault

Premier Cru: Olivet, Kanzler, Brown Ranch (but only tasted Saintsbury), Trenton (Swan).

But my opinion on this is about as valuable as my opinion on say jazz.


I get the mention of Trenton but would point out the travesty of not mentioning Swan's Estate Vineyard. GC for sure.
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Re: California's Grand Cru/Premier Cru Producers

Postby Hoke » Tue Sep 10, 2013 2:49 pm

Dale Williams wrote:Offhand, with limited experience, I'd say Hirsch has shown potential for GC. Great wines from Littorai, WS. etc. The Kistler isn't the vineyard's fault

Premier Cru: Olivet, Kanzler, Brown Ranch (but only tasted Saintsbury), Trenton (Swan).

But my opinion on this is about as valuable as my opinion on say jazz.


'S okay: all we ever deal with here is opinions. Some are better informed than others, but they're still opinions. :D

Merry Edwards? Iron Horse? Hanzell? Rochioli? Aubert? Kosta-Browne? Marcassin? Dehlinger? Sonoma-Cutrer? Jordan?
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Re: California's Grand Cru/Premier Cru Producers

Postby Mark Lipton » Tue Sep 10, 2013 3:12 pm

One trouble I see with this classification is the short track record for so many Pinot Noir vineyards in CA. One notable exception to that is the Bien Nacido vineyard, which I'd probably nominate for GC status. The biggest track record probably lies with Zinfandel vineyards, and there I'd put Monte Rosso, Old Hill and Lytton Springs in GC status, and Dickerson, Grandpere and Teldeschi in PC.

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Re: California's Grand Cru/Premier Cru Producers

Postby Sam Platt » Tue Sep 10, 2013 3:43 pm

I thought there was some official entity out there trying to create a U.S. "Grand Cru" classification system. Seems that I ran across them some years ago, but I don't remember any of the details.
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Re: California's Grand Cru/Premier Cru Producers

Postby Hoke » Tue Sep 10, 2013 4:01 pm

Mark Lipton wrote:One trouble I see with this classification is the short track record for so many Pinot Noir vineyards in CA. One notable exception to that is the Bien Nacido vineyard, which I'd probably nominate for GC status. The biggest track record probably lies with Zinfandel vineyards, and there I'd put Monte Rosso, Old Hill and Lytton Springs in GC status, and Dickerson, Grandpere and Teldeschi in PC.

Mark Lipton


Rockpile? Mendocino Ridge? Foothills? Gulp, but I'll go ahead and say it, Lodi? (For Zinfandel, obviously.)

For Pinot, any love for Monterey? Carneros?
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Re: California's Grand Cru/Premier Cru Producers

Postby Mark Lipton » Tue Sep 10, 2013 4:36 pm

Hoke wrote:
Mark Lipton wrote:One trouble I see with this classification is the short track record for so many Pinot Noir vineyards in CA. One notable exception to that is the Bien Nacido vineyard, which I'd probably nominate for GC status. The biggest track record probably lies with Zinfandel vineyards, and there I'd put Monte Rosso, Old Hill and Lytton Springs in GC status, and Dickerson, Grandpere and Teldeschi in PC.

Mark Lipton


Rockpile? Mendocino Ridge? Foothills? Gulp, but I'll go ahead and say it, Lodi? (For Zinfandel, obviously.)

For Pinot, any love for Monterey? Carneros?



Brandlin would have qualified had their current owners not ripped out the Zin vines... I haven't had enough Rockpile to know, and are there specific vineyards in Mendo or Lodi that you're thinking of?

I've had some very nice Pinots from Carneros. Winery Lake would be my choice from there, but I think phylloxera got it, no? And Monterey Pinots aren't my bag, I'm afraid.

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Re: California's Grand Cru/Premier Cru Producers

Postby Victorwine » Tue Sep 10, 2013 7:44 pm

If age of the vines or how long a particular site was under vines and producing wines is ones criteria for deeming a site “Grand Cru”, here’s the place to look- (HVS) Historical Vineyard Society http://www.historicvineyardsociety.org/ ... eyards.jsp

Note the vineyard criteria for a registered historical vineyard site on the “about page”-
- Must be a currently producing California wine vineyard
- Original planting date no later than 1960
- At least two-thirds of the existing producing vines can be traced back to the original planting date


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