JUDGEMENT OF PARIS 1976 : CALIFORNIA vs FRANCE
The historical Wine event that changed the shape of Wine Industry is the Judgement of Paris that took place on 24th May 1976 in Paris. This was an experiment conducted by a young British wine merchant, Stephen Spurrier working in Paris, who decided it was time to shake up the French wine industry, as business was running very dull in France. Tipped off by an American friend about Napa Wines, he made a trip to California and was blown away by the quality of Wines coming out of a relatively unknown country, known more for its outdoor ranch and carefree life. 1970s was the era when Wine was not on the radar in the US, a country that was suffering from Post war depression, Prohibition Repeal and struggling to come out of its huge economic slump. US was a piddly ant, compared to France which was a phenomenon in Wines at that time, a region with centuries of entrenched Wine history. Wine was a seriously prestigious profession here, involving generations of vignerons, passing down their secret recipes and years of internship and training to achieve levels of perfection. California on the other hand, was a wild card, with nothing much to offer, yet Spurrier saw a huge potential in this region that no one was aware of!
Spurrier came back to France and decided that the best way to introduce Californian wines was by staging a blind tasting competition at the Intercontinental Hotel in Paris, where he invited top influential French Wine Connoisseurs, the best French Sommeliers and a highly revered editor from the most famous Wine Magazine, Revue du vin de France. George Taber, correspondent for Time was the only journalist who arrived. Every one else ignored this event, thinking it would be a waste of time and that France would emerge as an undoubted winner. The wines blind tasted were 4 white Burgundies pitted against 6 Californian Chardonnays ; 4 Bordeaux reds against 4 Californian Cabernet Sauvignon reds. The results of this blind tasting were jaw dropping and quite the contrary to what was expected. Nascent Napa Valley wines shook up the French wine establishment, winning accolades in both red and white categories. The winning wines were :
1973 Chateau Montelena, Chardonnay, Napa Valley
1973 Stag’s Leap, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
The runner ups which were:
1970 Mouton Rothschild (Bordeaux)
1973 Mersault Charmes Roulot (Burgundy)
Shocked by the results, France refused to accept these results; one of the judges asked for her ballot to be given back (which was unsuccessful) and Taber named this day, that went down in history as the Judgement of Paris Wine Tasting of 1976.
This event has since then, changed the history of World of Wines, bringing Napa Valley into the limelight. This was the start of the new world wine cult! An epic event that forced France to shake off its old style Wine image, reflect on its weaknesses, adapt and change with the new times. For California, this was a revolutionary turning point, which set off its exponential wine growth, a trajectory that is still up and on the high.
This week witnessed the celebration of the 40th anniversary of the momentous Judgement of Paris and standing beside this elegant gentleman, who created history in the World of Wines and watching him sign autographs during trade tastings with upcoming Canadian Winemakers, filled me with immense sense of grandeur and pride!
On that note, it will be worthwhile using the long weekend to watch the movie “Bottle Shock” played by Alan Rickman (sadly no more with us!) whose versatility in acting is second to none. An adapted and modified version of the Judgement of Paris (released in 2008), it beautifully depicts France and California in the 1970s, bringing out stark differences in their culture, traditions. How things have since then changed….if you are a wine buff like me or like movies, either ways its a must to watch or review again!
It has also come to my knowledge that 5 Napa Valley vineyards are celebrating this occasion by offering Judgement of Paris tour from May-August 2016. Should you wish to know more, details are available in cellarpass website. The Tasting passport for $200 covers:
Clos Du Val
Spring Mountain Vineyard
Don’t forget to try a glass of Napa Valley wine this weekend remembering the story behind it!