In the footsteps of missionaries
The first vines in California date back to the 17th century with the arrival of the Franciscan missionaries. A century earlier, Spanish missionaries had delivered it to Argentina and Chile. The vine arrived later, at the beginning of the 19th century, in New Zealand where it was developed by a Marist missionary, Jean-Baptiste Pompallier.
Why this link with religion? Because the missionaries needed it to celebrate the Eucharist.
The case of Australia is different, even if the rise of the vine owes much to the work of James Busby, a Scottish Catholic. In South Africa, it was the Huguenots, driven out of France by the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, who deployed chenin. Another religious story.
New World Wine Competition
In the early 1990s, with the help of globalization, these wines burst into Europe where they were welcomed with open mouths. Easy to drink, easy to understand, sold at very competitive prices, these wines, which are most often made from a single varietal, have won over new consumers. In 1985, so-called New World wine exports amounted to 2.5% of trade. Twenty years later, they represent 30% of world exports. European winegrowers saw red the day a South African wine received the trophy for the best white in the world at the prestigious competition in Brussels.
The movement is not ready to stop. The Chinese vineyard now occupies the second place in the world, in terms of volume, behind Spain. Competition obliges, the European vineyard has made its self-criticism and produced a “remontada” by betting on the quality and the singularity of the terroirs.
The wine rises in the east
The recent boom in European wines on our tables owes a great deal to the work of importers and the interest shown in them by new, young and less conservative consumers. It can also be explained by the work of the winegrowers, particularly in historically producing countries, such as Greece, Portugal or certain vineyards in Eastern Europe, which have in common to have known a complicated political 20th century.
Everywhere, winemaking techniques are progressing. Our palates are not at the end of their (good) surprises with the many indigenous grape varieties that force us to change our tasting habits.
Do these wines have the same advantages as French vintages?
We have to break the image of New World wines, at very attractive but simple and immediate prices. Many countries offer more and more fine, delicate and fresh cuvées. We see it today with the wines of New Zealand and the vineyards of the Andes Cordilleras (Chile and Argentina). We will see it tomorrow with the Mexican wines produced in Baja California.
In Europe too, the lines are moving. The emergence of forgotten or discreet terroirs (Moldova and Georgia for example) and the climatic recovery which favors certain vineyards, such as Austria or Germany, contribute to widen the range.
France produces 15% of the world’s wine. This means that 85% is vinified abroad. To ignore them would be a mistake. A bit like a music lover who doesn’t listen to the Beatles or a reader who doesn’t read Hemingway…