Three decades ago it was easy. Today, not at all.
I’m talking of drawing up my list of California’s 10 most-reliable wineries. Thankfully, it’s an exercise I indulge just once every 10 years. The first was in 1984.
Before getting to the fourth, let’s review the ground rules.
By most reliable, I mean wineries that can be counted on to provide quality and value across the board. They don’t do well just one or two wines, they do several, vintage after vintage.
• Each winery here has a distinct house style. For the most part, they interpret each varietal or style cleanly, without a lot of flourish. Individuality is highly rated. They generally make wines to be drunk upon release, though some are built to age. Often, they are everyday wines, priced for less than $12 per bottle. (The average price that Americans pay for a bottle of wine in grocery stores is $9.19, in wine shops $11.55, according to sales tracking by The Nielsen Co.) Some of their wines, however, are strictly for special occasion.
• Each winery has a solid track record. They’ve all been in the business at least a decade. And each strives to improve its wines; they aren’t complacent, an issue that explains why some wineries on earlier lists aren’t here today.
• Each winery is fairly well distributed; consumers should have no trouble finding at least one or two of their releases at alert and conscientious restaurants, wine shops and markets.
Thirty years ago the list was relatively easy to assemble because far fewer California wineries existed. Furthermore, a winery back then customarily had but one brand, two at the most; today, consolidation and expansion has resulted in several massive wineries that are more wine companies – broad corporate umbrellas under which they release wines through dozens of brands.
So then, alphabetically: