The Next Generation


Myles Lawrence-Briggs

Wine has been in California for over 300 years. Franciscan missionaries planted large vineyards of Mission grapes in the 1700’s when California was still a Spanish colony, and this remained the most planted grape in the state until the mid 1800’s when other varietals began to be imported en masse from Europe.

From the American perspective this may seem a very long history, especially on the west coast where a building marking its centennial is revered as an ancient relic from a bygone era. But when compared to Europe where winemaking has a history of literally thousands of years, the California wine industry is still in its infancy.

The wine industry that we know and love today is even younger than that. Prohibition stunted the industry; this combined with a lack of understanding of prime locations for vineyards kept the California wine industry in the shadow of Europe for decades. It wasn’t until the fateful tasting of 1976, now known as the “Judgment of Paris,” that the wine industry as we know it was really born. This tasting rocketed Napa Valley to preeminence in the wine world and the idea that great wines could be made outside the traditional vineyards of Europe took hold.

That wasn’t even 40 years ago. More importantly that was barely two generations ago, and the “Next Generation” is coming of age. I’m talking about the Millennials, people between the ages of 21 and 35 or so. An article I read recently on SF Gate focused on the “Wine Heirs” (referred to as #nextgen) of Napa Valley: the children of the people who made the wine that first put Napa Valley on the map. They’re Napa’s second generation of winemakers and they’re starting to come into their own. The wine industry will never look the same.

Before you read it, know that the article should be taken with a grain of salt; it is after all focusing on the hyper-elite of the wine world, Napa Valley, where these next-gen winemakers “…enjoy deer hunting and Porsche racing,” on the weekends; but it notes some very important trends. The wines these people are making have fun names, such as Dragon’s Tooth, and they are trying to make wine more accessible and “sexy.” The Millennial generation is eschewing all the trappings of traditional wine brands — exclusivity, high prices and extreme luxury will be the exception, not the rule in the coming years as the next generation begins to blaze new trails.

Max, Chris and I are members of this next generation of winemakers (though we dwell in the Sonoma Valley, which has considerably less Porsche racing. Have you seen our roads? We have Porsche-sized potholes) and we like the way we see things going. The Sonoma Coast however has the unique advantage of being largely undiscovered still. We haven’t had our landmark event like the “Judgment of Paris” yet, but we will. I firmly believe the Sonoma Coast is one of the best places in the world to grow Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, and I can’t wait for our generation to prove it.