A sunny climate, cool Pacific winds, and warm inland temperatures paired with California’s diverse landscape supports the production of a wide range of delicious wines. Since the 1700s, generations of Californians have tended their vineyards and incorporated practices from around the world. The California Wine Institute represents over 1,000 small, medium, and large wineries throughout the state.
DelicioUS! sat down to talk to Honore Comfort, the Vice President of International Marketing for the California Wine Institute. Since joining the organization in 2019, she has operated the export program which focuses solely on promoting and supporting sales of California wines to markets around the world. Prior to joining Wine Institute she worked in almost every aspect of the wine industry, and in a wide range of businesses from small family wineries to international wine companies. As a part of a sixth-generation farming family, she is passionate about the intersection of agriculture, family, and the wine industry. In addition to her work with the California Wine Institute, she owns and operates a small Sonoma County vineyard with her family.
How did you first get involved with Wine Institute?
I worked with Wine Institute throughout my entire wine career. I stepped into this role as Vice President of International Marketing in April 2019 when Wine Institute was launching new initiatives in existing markets and expanding into new markets like India and the United Arab Emirates.
What do you think makes California wine so special and so highly regarded?
It ties back to the fact that California Wines are grown and produced here in California with our remarkable mix of natural resources. The currents bring down cold water from the Gulf of Alaska to the California coastline which causes the Pacific ocean to be quite cold and moderates the climate to create the perfect growing temperatures for wine grapes. At the same time, the terrain and soils in California are extremely varied creating a multitude of distinctive wine growing regions.
But what really sets our wines apart, are truly the Californians who grow and make them. This state was founded by people who were looking to create a better life for themselves and others.
So, that sense of optimism has always been a part of who we are as Californians. We bring that into our wine growing and winemaking as well as our approach to presenting and sharing our wines. We enjoy and embrace a quality and lifestyle that we love to share with people.
We have been making wine in California since the 1700s. Our industry has evolved significantly over the past several decades. In some respects, we are a relatively new wine community. We have young winemakers and wine growers that are finding new places to grow grapes and experiment with new varieties and blends. The face of California wine is fresh, innovative, and full of explorations. We have a lot to offer and we’re excited to bring it forward.
Many consumers in Europe are familiar with their national wines. What can they expect from California wines?
One of the things that they can expect is that they will see some of the same grape varieties that they’re familiar with in their own domestically produced wines. The difference is that they’re grown in California with a different climate, soil, and approach. It’s the combination of both the hand and the land — the hand of the winemaker and the land where those grapes are grown together. Looking for shared grape varieties is one easy way to find California wines that are similar to European wines they already love.
Another thing to expect is that California can produce many different varieties from any given region due to our diverse range of climates, soils, and growing sites. That is one of the reasons why we label all of our wines with the variety first, and then the region.
Additionally, we make our wines to be served at the table to go along with a wide range of cuisines. We grow an array of fresh fruit and vegetables and there’s a large artisan cheesemaking and olive oil community here.
There are so many great and distinctive California ingredients, and we make our wines to pair beautifully and accentuate those flavors.
When it comes down to finding a new wine to try, don’t be afraid to experiment! I’m confident that they won’t be disappointed in wines from California. There’s lots to explore and discover, and everyone can find a wine that will offer what they look for and enjoy!
What would you say is your favorite variety or blend of California wine at the moment?
That’s like asking me to choose my favorite child! There are so many that I enjoy. I tend to lean towards wines from our cooler climate growing regions, such as Santa Barbara. Even though the area is known for its beaches and beautiful climate, due to its proximity to the Pacific and the mountains against the ocean, we have cool climate growing regions there for beautiful Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc.
I love wines from Sonoma County where I live; we grow a range of wines, but again, all of them have that cooling influence of the Pacific.
Over the past two years, how has Wine Institute adapted to fit ever changing needs throughout the COVID-19 pandemic?
We’ve adapted to this rapidly evolving digital world. We’ve seen it as an opportunity to bring our winemakers to consumers and sommeliers, making them much more accessible. It’s been an opportunity for us to set up more virtual tastings and seminars led by our winemakers. In some ways, it’s made our world smaller and put us in closer contact with key partners. Of course, we’ve also missed being able to do in-person events.
If someone is interested in importing California wines to the European Union, where could they find more information on Wine Institute and its members?
Another very important resource is our education platform on California wines, Capstone California, which is the go-to source of information for people seeking simple to consume but comprehensive information regarding the state’s wine vintages, varietals, processes, and more! It can be accessed here. It’s currently available in six languages, including English, French, German, Russian, Polish, and Japanese. It will be launching in Spanish and Simplified Chinese later this year.
Honore, and the entire California Wine Institute, are looking forward to ProWein when they’ll be face-to-face again with their most important customers! Happening on May 15-17, 2022, ProWein is the world’s leading trade fair for wines and spirits occurring in Düsseldorf, Germany.