While our last article looked at the impact of the 1976 Judgement of Paris, which gave the French a rude awakening when some up-start Californian wineries triumphed over their most prized wines, this week we look at how it also opened their eyes to the enormous winemaking potential to be found in California and kickstarted a series of transatlantic collaborations that continue to this day. Last month, our Buying Director spent a week in Napa Valley where she visited a number of these ground-breaking estates with a distinctly origine française!

Opportunity Across the Pond

One of the greatest and most famous wine alliances between France and California occurred only two years after Steven Spurrier’s 1976 tasting, when Baron Philippe de Rothschild and Robert Mondavi combined their wealth of winemaking knowledge, traditions and innovations to create Napamedoc – or as you are more likely to know it today, Opus One.

These two giants of the wine world met by chance in 1970. At the time, de Rothschild was battling for Chateau Mouton Rothschild to be promoted to First Growth status, whilst Mondavi’s family dispute looked to bankrupt him. The suggested partnership was postponed for several years until the interest in Californian wines skyrocketed after the Judgement of Paris in 1976 (the delay also allowed time for Mouton Rothschild to achieve its First Growth promotion and Mondavi’s legal dispute to be settled).

In 1978, following a visit to France, Mondavi and de Rothschild set about creating Opus One. The aim? To create a single wine dedicated to the pursuit of uncompromising quality that would transcend generations. Soon after its creation Opus One made its first public appearance at the Napa Valley Wine Auction with an expected sale price of $5,000. When the hammer eventually went down on the lot, the winning bid was more than 4 times the estimate, at $24,500 making it the most expensive California wine ever sold at auction. This was just the first in a string of records that Opus One was to attain, including being the first Californian wine to release through Bordeaux’s La Place in 2004.

Several other Franco-American collaborations were built upon California’s rise in popularity in the latter half of the 20th Century. Having grown up in France before studying viticulture in the USA at the University of California, Christian Moueix’s knowledge and experience of both wine growing countries is unparalleled. In 1983, he established the Dominus Estate on the famed Napanook vineyard in Yountville, California. Their wines have since become globally renowned and demonstrate the potential of wine produced on exceptional Californian terroir.

Our Woman in Napa

Indeed, several of the estates our Buying Director visited whilst in Napa Valley fall into this category where Old World France meets the New World terroir of California.

Cathiard Vineyard is one such estate, recently launched by Daniel and Florence Cathiard of Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte. Significant efforts have been made in transforming the estate, including an analysis and restructuring of the vineyards, making the transition to organic farming with biodynamic practices as well as constructing a brand-new winery.

Our Buying Director also visited Pym-Rae, the Napa Valley estate surrounded by the stunning hillsides of Mount Veeder, that is owned by Chateau Pontet Canet’s Tesseron family. With vineyards dedicated to organic, biodynamic and dry farming methods, Pym-Rae’s French connection is reinforced with consultant Michel Rolland working with the team to perfect their celebrated Napa Valley wine.

Head to our Instagram to see more from our Buying Director’s trip to California, including some of the other estates she visited and the exquisite wines she tried!

As this year’s September Releases are just around the corner, visit our dedicated homepage here to register your interest and see the latest release dates, or click the button below to find out more about our recent trip to the US.

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