Do No Good Wines Come from the Valley?

The Wine Blog “The Gray Report” recently posted an opinion piece entitled “Should Wine Lovers Care About the Central Valley?”. In this post, the author cites the increased interest in coastal vineyard-sourced wines among the general population. He criticizes the planting of cool climate grapes in the hotter Central Valley, lamenting the older, more sensible practice of utilizing Grenache and other compatible grape varieties in areas like Madera and Kern.

I do not disagree with his logical statements. However, I do disagree with the following:

“Enophiles don’t care about San Joaquin Valley because it makes nothing for us, not that I’m aware of anyway.”

I am in disagreement with this statement. Even though Mr Gray limits his judgement to the Central Valley (omitting Sierra Foothills and Lodi AVA - technically a component of the Valley), I know that good wines are produced by Sonoma, Paso Robles, etc, using Central Valley grapes. It must also be said that some Central Valley wineries bottle wines with grapes from the coast.

Papagni Winery in Madera makes age-worthy Alicante Bouschet wines. Ripon’s Lucca Winery focuses on Mourvedre, Grenache, and Zinfandel (admittedly from family farmed famous old vineyards in Contra Costa). I am still exploring smaller wineries located in the Valley, so I am no expert by any means.

I feel that there is over planting in the reputable AVA’s of Paso Robles, Sonoma, Napa, etc. This can eventually “water down” the branding of coastal California wines. As lesser-esteemed regions in the state continue to focus on appropriate plantings (in relation to vineyard sites and grapes grown), it is possible that we may see a new vision of quality in California.

Do any of you have recommendations for existing wineries or bottlings from the Central Valley? Is Mr Gray correct in his assertion that this vast region is a wasteland, populated solely by box-wine-quality plonk?

An analysis of the Central Valley, leaving out Lodi is a bit flawed. I really don’t know much about valley wines aside from Lodi (and a few sourced just west of Sacto), but the Lodi area has a lot of wine that is beyond plonk and in fact they seem to be moving away from cool climate varieties.

John, I agree. I believe that the author is setting his own criteria for what Central California is, then bashing on it.

The fact that he didn’t try any wines from smaller operations that grow climate-appropriate grapes doesn’t help his argument.

Well…I think it says it all about Blake right there, Drew. He’s not worth wasting bandwidth on making recs for CentralVlly wines for him to try…as if he would anyway.

Well, for fortified wines, the Central Valley is a treasure trove. Try Ficklin and their wood aged wines.

Papagni Winery makes an age-worthy Alicante Bouschet. There are wineries like Riffelhof that make wines I’d like to try, as well as Westbrook.

I often cannot order these to be shipped to Louisiana, but I believe that good stuff can probably be found anywhere that passionate growers and vintners are located…

Look at Matt Rorick, Matt Cline, the Alfaro family, Harrington Winery, Ken Volk, Cabot, and Briceland. The will to explore drives California wine into new (or rediscovered) territory. I believe that the same can be found in the Central Valley.

The quality wines popping up out of the “Salad Bowl” of Salinas testifies to this.

Who the hell is he to speak on this, anyway? Does he have any real qualifications, or any reason we should pay attention to him?
I mean, besides his Sarah Palin glasses…

Westbrook Farms in O’Neals (Madera County) is worth a look. The flagship there is the Fait Accompli which is a well-made wine (all Bordeaux varieties) that doesn’t have the excess or ripeness of most Central Valley wines.

I had the misfortune of tasting a predator Lodi zin 2014 recently. It was horrific. Overripe cooked fruit mixed with tons and tons of smoke. I thought someone had mixed laguvulin with wine.

So far, with the exception of Eric’s post, it seems like this thread is supporting the assertion that there’s Lodi and you can forget the rest. If he said this about Lodi, people would jump in and say “here is this old vine xyz that’s made by Morgan or Tegan and we talk about it all the time.” If that exists in the rest of the valley, what is it?

If those old vine Carignanes and Grenaches exist that is great, but even so his main point about the shift to colder weather varieties is sound: If you plant Chardonnay in the Algeria of California, you are making crap.

For those lovers of the viogniers made by Miner Family in Napa, check out their vineyard source - none other than Simpson Vineyard . . . in beautiful Madera County.

Yep, there ARE exceptions to every rule - and sometimes Blake is good at pointing them out - and I guess sometimes it’s just too much work to find them :slight_smile:


I grew up in Madera County, and I’m trying very hard to imagine which bit of it might qualify as beautiful…

Kidding aside, I’m interested in this thread so that I can learn about wineries to try next time I’m home to visit my parents. Over the past few years I’ve picked up plenty of wines to try from the area, and while most are perfectly drinkable, too many exceed my alcohol tolerance point and seem to lack subtly and finesse – which I look for in wine. I’m just not a big fan of most 15% Viognier and 16% Syrah. I’m sure there are good examples though, and I’d be keen to hear about them. They’d be a great source of valley pride for me!

Personally, I prefer my Lagavulin on ice, not on zin.

ICE! Blasphemy!!! [soap.gif]

I think Clarksburg & Lodi get enough cooling influence off the bay & delta to allow for decent wines. A generalization.


Yup…absolutely agree, Eric. And Andy Quady’s ports are pretty danged good as well.

It absolutely broke my heart when EastSide Wnry was sold. They had huge stocks of very old Port/Madeira/Sherry/Angelica. I have no
idea where that huge stock went. SutterHome used to make a SH TripleCream Apertif, using various herbs & spices as suggested by
DarrellCorti (orris root/orange peel/nutmeg/etc) using EastSide stocks of CreamSherry. It was absolutely sensational. The last one I tried some
10 yrs ago was a mere shadow of its former self.

This is like asking “Does Algeria make great wine?”

CV is a freekin’ desert.

Interesting read:

That’s quite a grab-bag of varieties they are planting. We’ll have to see it come to fruition.