Red White and Sacrebleu
This video from ReasonTV talks about the past half-century of American wines.
Ted Balaker: France has long ruled the world of wine. Sure since at least the mid 20th century, the US has tried to match the sophistication of French wines, but it's been a tough sell.
When wine elves failed to convey sophistication, American wine makers turned to classy British Actors.
If you don’t recognize the Thunderbird label it's because is bottle is usually covered with a brown paper bag.
Even the legendary Orson Welles couldn’t close the gap with the French.
These boozy out takes confirm that Yankee wines were good for just one thing, getting blitz.
American wines deserve to be paired with food of equal sophistication as French wine expert John Noel Formo, something like the hamburger.
John Noel Formo: Because the hamburger is not a sophisticated dish in the sense of cooking. It's greasy, it's messy.
Ted Balaker: Hamburger nation could never make wine like France so it must have sound like a cruel joke when in 1976 a one of its kind competition was arranged.
John Noel Formo: There's was a tasting in place that French wines compared to California wines.
Ted Balaker: Mighty France versus lowly California in a blind taste test judged entirely by French wine connoiseurs. They would sample some of the best wines from each location and vote for their favorite red and their favorite white. Formo says the French were confident, even arrogant.
John Noel Formo: We know it's going to be so easy.
Ted Balaker: Only it wasn’t so easy. The impossible happened. Hamburger nation went top honors for both red and white.
John Noel Formo: And France took slap in the face.
Mike Grgich: I was feeling like I was born again.
Ted Balaker: Mike Grgich made the winning white. It was displayed at this Smithsonian and his story was told in a popular book. The Paris tasting made him a legend. The back hand even Grgich couldn’t believe he had within.
Mike Grgich: I said, “Are you sure it's me?”
Ted Balaker: How could this American, an immigrant who fled communist Yugoslavia shocked the world. Yes, California’s natural gift and his own talent were essential, but so with something else, the freedom to create wine his own way.
Mike Grgich: Different when I came from communism, there's no freedom. I have used the American opportunity.
Ted Balaker: Grgich was raised in the small village in Croatia. He developed the taste for wine at a very young age.
To be honest, my mama switched me from dress milk at the age of two and a half to wine and I like.
Ted Balaker: When Grgich arrived in California, he was nearly penniless, but he knew he was in the right place.
Mike Grgich: I already felt that there is kind of vibration in the earth. The people are trying to compete.
Squire Fridell: One of the great things that we do in America and you hope that it doesn’t go away, we have this great sense of adventure.
Ted Balaker: Squire Fridell of GlenLyon Winery. He says California’s history of free wheeling wine making help revolutionized the craft.
Squire Fridell: We had a great sense of let's try something new, let's try something different.
Ted Balaker: It's different from France he says, where the government exerts control over many aspects of wine making.
Squire Fridell: They even had tasters that come out from the government.
Ted Balaker: Formo was an official taster for the French government. Not a bad gig.
John Noel Formo: I go to different Chateau and I taste. And the wine passes or doesn’t pass.
Ted Balaker: He says the rich tradition that has produced such revered wine also has a down side.
John Noel Formo: The beauty of French is we have the tradition of France. We had so many we cannot do anything.
Ted Balaker: California progressed from Thunderbird to Ggirch’s award-winning wine in just a couple of decades. The century’s old chasm between French and American wine makers was closing quickly.
John Noel Formo: The French were interested to understand what was going on in California.
Ted Balaker: Hamburger nation could teach the French something about wine. How fun for Fridell to ponder given what he used to do for a living.
Squire Fridell: I was Ronald McDonald, the second one, that was wonderful. The day I signed the contract is the day that we put the house on the market.
Ted Balaker: Acting in commercials gave Fridell the financial security to start his own winery and he remembers how important the Paris Tasting was for the young California industry.
Squire Fridell: And that of course put us on the map where no one can make fun of us anymore as a younger brother, but I think it was the 80s where everything started to get ramp up very quick when we all started to get it.
John Noel Formo: I moved to 1980 and America has never been to learn over great food or great wine.
Ted Balaker: So in the 1980, Formo headed west.
John Noel Formo: My job was to come to California for six months and its people would say to spy.
Ted Balaker: So what did the wine spy find in California, an atmosphere of innovation.
John Noel Formo: And because of that, America has been able to create anything that has chance the way wine is made today.
Ted Balaker: Innovations like stainless steel tanks or Malolactic fermentation can process Ggirch helped developed which counteracts tartness on wine.
John Noel Formo: It's extremely difficult in France compared to here that you are always tied in some who’s that even a government who’s or “Family who’s.”
Squire Fridell: Not having the rules and regulations that they have in much of Europe in particular in France were able to experiment.
Ted Balaker: Fridell recalls his first experiments.
Squire Fridell: First wine just sucks. They were not very good at all, but you learn.
Ted Balaker: First he planted Carbernet grapes, but eventually he discovered the planet was a tag too cool for them. He switched to Syrah and since then his Syrah has been served in some of America’s finest restaurants. What if he tried this grape switcher in France.
Squire Fridell: You can't do it. You just can't do it.
Ted Balaker: In France, it will be illegal for Fridell to switch to Syrah, Pineua, or any other unapproved grape.
Squire Fridell: If I want to grow Pineua, I want to be able to Pineua.
Ted Balaker: Too bad, the French government decides which grapes maybe planted where. The government regulates everything from alcohol content to pruning methods. The result, it's harder for French wine makers to innovate.
Squire Fridell: The French wine industry is flowndering.
Ted Balaker: France still exports more wine, but look at how American exports have grown since the 1976 Tasting. The US and other new world wine makers are gaining market share and challenging French dominance.
Squire Fridell: I think France has been lost a little bit for a while.
Ted Balaker: Formo grew weary of French rules and traditions.
Squire Fridell: I don’t like that way of operation, but on the top of that they don’t like people like me who come with new ideas. It doesn’t go with the establishment.
Ted Balaker: What was supposed to be a six-month reconnaissance mission has turned into nearly 30 years in a new land. Formo quit his job as an official taster for the French government and his co founder of Chateau Potelle is now a celebrated wine entrepreneur in California.
Squire Fridell: Here, I feel free and I could be successful. That’s why I've been doing here what I couldn’t do in France.
Ted Balaker: But don’t forget about France. Formo says global competition has forced French wine makers to step up their game and that means better wine for all of us. For reason.TV, I'm Ted Balaker.
Red White and Sacrebleu
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