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Jacopo Prisco, CNN • Updated 10th May 2021


Judgment of Paris: The tasting that changed wine forever

(CNN) — In a Parisian hotel 45 years ago, some of France's biggest wine experts came together for a blind tasting.
The finest French wines were up against upstarts from California. At the time, this didn't even seem like a fair contest - France made the world's best wines and Napa Valley was not yet on the map - so the result was believed to be obvious.
Instead, the greatest underdog tale in wine history was about to unfold. Californian wines scored big with the judges and won in both the red and white categories, beating legendary chateaux and domaines from Bordeaux and Burgundy.
The only journalist in attendance, George M. Taber of Time magazine, later wrote in his article that "the unthinkable happened," and in an allusion to Greek mythology called the event "The Judgment of Paris," and thus it would forever be known.
"It was a complete game changer," says Mark Andrew, a wine expert and co-founder of wine magazine Noble Rot, "and it catapulted California wine to the top of the fine wine conversation." Wine had gotten its watershed moment.

A trip to California

UK wine expert Steven Spurrier, right, came up with idea for a blind tasting contest.
UK wine expert Steven Spurrier, right, came up with idea for a blind tasting contest. 
The tasting was the brainchild of British wine merchant Steven Spurrier, who passed away in March 2021 aged 79. "He was a legend," says Andrew, who had known Spurrier for 15 years. "He was an open-minded guy who really knew wine, based on its quality and its intrinsic value rather than reputation."
In the early 1970s, Spurrier owned a wine shop in Paris and a wine school right next to it, called L'Academie du Vin. Both were aimed primarily at non-French speakers and were located on the Right Bank of the Seine river, where most of the foreign banks and firms were.

Spurrier liked to showcase wines from countries other than France in the shop and at the school -- an act of true rebellion in Paris -- and thought of a tasting as a way to promote his business.
Patricia Gastaud-Gallagher, an American associate of Spurrier, visited California wineries in 1975 and was impressed with the rising quality of their offerings. She suggested to look into such wines for the tasting and have it take place on the bicentennial of the 1776 American War of Independence. She also encouraged Spurrier to visit California himself, to pick a few worthy candidates.
And so, in early May 1976, Spurrier and his wife Bella took off for San Francisco for a wine tour. The tour was arranged by Napa resident and connoisseur Joanne DePuy, who showed the Spurriers around. "Steven wanted to go to the smaller, boutique wineries," she tells CNN. "He had a very good palate and he bought the wines he liked, at full price."


Bottles on a plane

The American wines were brought across with a group of 30 Californian winemakers.
The American wines were brought across with a group of 30 Californian winemakers. 
DePuy played a crucial role in setting up the tasting, because Spurrier realized that carrying two dozen bottles of wine with him on a plane would be difficult, and there was a risk of having them held at customs. Instead, he asked DePuy to take the wine to Paris, since she had a tour of French vineyards lined up for mid-May, with 30 Californian winemakers traveling with her. The bottles could be transported as personal allowance.
"One bottle broke," she remembers. "Steven arrived to meet me in his customary white suit. We were there waiting for my luggage, and for the cases of wine. I smelled it before I saw it -- one of the cases had red on the outside and I said, 'Oh, my.' But Steven was very kind. He said, 'That's all right, not a problem.' He had at least two bottles of each wine."
The tasting, now six months in the making, was scheduled for May 24, 1976 at the Intercontinental Hotel, not far from Spurrier's shop and school. The nine judges, all French, included Odette Khan, editor of a prestigious wine magazine, and Aubert de Villaine, the director of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, a Burgundy estate that makes some of the world's best, and most expensive, wines.

Spurrier had no intention to cause a stir or to humiliate his French judges. He wanted little more than to create recognition for Californian wines and generate publicity for his school. But he did come up with a way of making things more interesting: he picked the four best white wines from Burgundy and the four best red Bordeaux blends from his cellar to go against the American wines, and covered up all the labels.
"It was only pretty much at the last minute that Steven decided to change the testing from an open one to a blind one. Blind tastings are common now, but at the time, it was a very innovative way to compare and contrast wines," says Andrew.
Among the French wines Spurrier picked were Batard-Montrachet, Chateau Mouton-Rothschild and Chateau Haut-Brion -- the elite of fine wine. The Californian offerings, 12 in total, included Ridge Vineyards, Freemark Abbey, Spring Mountain, Stag's Leap Wine Cellars and Chateau Montelena -- all of which were largely unknown in Europe.

The journalist George M. Taber was given a card with the names of the wines that were being served, so he knew exactly what the judges were tasting. He soon realized things were getting interesting when one of the judges tasted a white wine and proclaimed, "This is definitely California. It has no nose," when he was really tasting the Batard-Montrachet, a Burgundy Chardonnay that is often categorized as one of the world's best white wines.

The unthinkable was indeed happening.

When Spurrier tallied the scores, it turned out that California had dominated the white wine category, with a 1973 Chardonnay from Chateau Montelena as the winner, and three American wines in the top five. In the red category, a 1973 Cabernet Sauvignon from Stag's Leap Wine Cellars came out on top, narrowly edging out a 1970 Chateau Mouton-Rothschild from Bordeaux.
It was a David versus Goliath outcome, with wines that were much cheaper and younger unexpectedly getting rated higher. The Chateau Montelena retailed at the time for about $6.50 per bottle, a small fraction of the cost of its French rivals; Stag's Leap had been founded just six years earlier, in 1970, whereas winemaking at Chateau Mouton-Rothschild had been going on for three centuries. Both winners hailed from Napa Valley, which would go on to become one of the world's premier wine regions.
The French judges were far from impressed with the results. Odette Khan unsuccessfully demanded her scorecard back, according to Taber, so that the world wouldn't know how she scored the wines, while Aubert de Villaine later described the event as "a kick in the rear for French wine."



When a U.S. winery wants to tell you the geographic pedigree of its wine, it uses a tag on its label called an Appellation of Origin AVA. Similar system by federally-recognized regions is commonly used in every wine-producing country. For example in Italy we know DOC, DOCG, IGT or in France it is IGP, AOP and Grand Cru. This information helps us with orientation with such an amount of wines on the market and also guarantees a certain quality and regularity of the country where the wine comes from. If a wine is designated with the name of an American Viticultural Area (AVA), federal regulations require that 85 percent or more of the wine is derived from grapes grown within the boundaries of that TTB-established AVA and that the wine is fully finished within the state or one of the states in which the AVA is located. Certain states have stricter standards for use of the name of an Appellation/AVA on wine labels.




The answer is undoubtedly the diversity of climate, soil and altitude. Thanks to all this aspects, we can find just in one region both light wines, with sharp acidity and mineral tones, as well as very ripe, concentrated wines with higher alcohol.

California’s 1,300 kilometers (800 miles) of rugged coastline expose nearby vineyards to natural “air conditioning” in the form of fog and breezes, making exceptional climate for Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and other cool climate varieties. Warmer interior valleys receive the same cooling effect thanks to rivers, lakes and deltas. Meanwhile, vines planted along our hillsides get a fine mixture of cooling air and bright, unfiltered sun-conditions that Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot were born to love.

Californian soils are as diverse as the growing regions. Sand, clay, loam, granite, volcanic ash, seabed soil, river-run gravel: each contributes its own distinct minerality. 

High altitude plays a crucial role in the temperature differences between day and night, which helps grapes to receive more direct and concentrated sunlight and forces the fruit to form a thicker skin. This causes a higher concentration of colors and stronger tannins. Colder nights, in turn, cause the grapes to retain their acidity, leading to more elegant and well aging wines.



California is divided into 6 major wine regions, each of which has a number of sub-regions - AVA:

  • NORTH COAST     




Mendocino County



- The northernmost growing area within the North Coast region. Foggy, cool and covered in redwood forests.

- Mendocino grows an abundance of  Pinot NoirChardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. However, because of the county’s diverse geography and climate, dozens of other varietals grow here like Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah and Colombard, Alsatian - style wines such as Gewürztraminer, Riesling and Pinot Gris. Also the best quality of sparkling wines are here.

- The most famous AVA: Anderson Valley, Mendocino 

Lake County 


- Sits just east of Mendocino and is named for the largest inland body of water in the state of California, Clear Lake. It's rugged volcanic topography surrounds the vineyards, which are most often planted on the slopes of the hills. Large temperature differences between day and night are essential for the slower ripening time of the grapes and the subsequent varietal character of the wines.

-  This area has a reputation for bright, concentrated red wines of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah and Zinfandel and fresh aromatic white wines from Sauvignon Blanc

- Famous AVA: Clear lake, Red Hills Lake County






Napa County


- A Mediterranean climate prevails here, with hot, dry summers and cool, wet winters. This relatively small region gave rise to the most famous wines of California.

-The most common varieties is Cabernet Sauvignon, but it also produces fine Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling and Zinfandel.

- Famous AVA: Napa Valley, Atlas Peak, CalistogaCarneros, Howell Mountain, St.Helena, Mount Veeder, Oakville, Rutherford, Stags Leap District and Yountville


Sonoma County


- Stretching from the Bay of San Pablo to the border with Mendocino, in general we can count on long, dry, sunny, warm, but rarely hot summer days supported by cool nights, ocean breezes and fog. With the Mayacamas, the rolling Carneros hills, the Russian River Valley, coastal hills and other geographical features, the Sonoma region has more soil types than the whole France. From rich and clayey to volcanic, rocky and well drained.

- The local fog helps maintain the acidity and complexity of the wines. Due to the range of soil types, more than 50 varieties are grown here. The cold weather of Carneros and the Russian River Valley produces exemplary Chardonnay and Pinot Noir; the warmer valleys of Dry Creek and Rockpile produce an excellent Zinfandel; Alexander Valley is known for Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.

- Famous AVA: Alexander Valley, Rusiian River Valley, Carneros, Sonoma Coast 



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Alameda County

San Francisco Bay


 - This large AVA is extremely diverse in terms of terroir, but fog and wind from the cool waters of San Francisco Bay (and Monterey Bay to an extent) unite the region somewhat. These ocean influences are particularly pronounced in the more coastal regions of Santa Cruz and Contra Costa County, but Livermore Valley and Santa Clara Valley are subject to ocean breezes as well. The effects of warm sunshine are tempered by these breezes, leading to a long ripening season during which grapes can develop complex flavors and aromas while retaining acidity

- Cabernet Sauvignon is the most common variety following by Merlot, Zinfandel, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay 

- Famous AVA: Contra Costa, Santa Cruz, San Francisco


Monterey County


- The Monterey coast is world-famous for unparalleled scenic beauty, warm sun, cool fog and ancient soils.

- In colder areas such as Arroyo Seco are ideal for varieties that provide strong acidity, such as ChardonnaySauvignon Blanc and very decent Pinot Noir. Warmer inland areas are great for Bordeaux style Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot as well as Syrah and Zinfandel.

- Famous AVA: Monterey, Arroyo Seco, Paso Robles


Santa Barbara 



 - It is the longest transverse valley (East to West) found on the western Pacific coast–from Alaska to South America. This creates climate conditions perfect for world-class cool climate wines.

- The wines are elegant and sophisticated while retaining the earth's minerality. They show a refined balance between fruit purity, rich velvety structure and freshness - Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc

- Famous AVA: Santa Maria Valley, Santa Ynez Valley, St.Rita Hills



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San Joaquin Valley



- Flat and fertile farmland from the San Joaquin Valley in the south to the Sacramento in the north. Commonly called inland valleys, it is one of the most productive agricultural areas in the world.

- The most famous AVA is Lodi, which is proud of its full jam-shaped Zinfandel.



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Sierra Foothills


- one of the largest AVAs in the entire United States. The region lies along the north-western foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountain range that separates California from the state of Nevada in the east. Vineyards run all the way along this 160-mile (260-km) stretch of mountains, usually at altitudes ranging from 1,000ft to 3,000ft (300–900m) above sea level. The warm alpine terroir is suitable for the production of big, mature red wines.

- the variety mainly grown here is Zinfandel, Syrah, but also Italian Barbera, wines of rich, complex flavors and aromas.




Riverside County


- This area has a long history of winemaking with very pleasant, warm and consistent weather and mild coastal fog

- Known for its Italian, Spanish and Rhône varieties Arneis, Sangiovese, Tempranilo

- AVA Temecula Valley, San Diego, Los Angeles




California has currently 139 AVA areas which are constantly expanding.


More than 80% of US wines are made in California, making it the fourth largest wine producer in the world, after Italy, France and Spain.


California has over 427,000 acres (1,730 km2) planted under vines mostly located in a stretch of land covering over 700 miles (1,100 km) from Mendocino County to the southwestern tip of Riverside County


 The Central Valley is California’s largest wine region stretching for 300 miles (480 km) from the Sacramento Valley south to the San Joaquin Valley.This one region produces nearly 75% of all California wine grapes.


California wine regions run the length of the state, and wine grapes are grown in 49 of California's 58 counties. Chardonnay is the most widely planted white grape and Cabernet Sauvignon is the most widely planted red grape.







– The legendary land of golden rush, extravagance and adventure


What do you think first when we say „The Golden State“?

Is it the iconic Golden Bridge in San Francisco? The magnificent Yosemite National Park or one of the wonders of the world Grand Canoyon? Many imagine the exuberant life of Las Vegas or the luxury beaches of Santa Monica.


What does mean „California dream“ for us, the wine geeks?


The story of winemaking in California begins with the story of the Spanish in California in 17th century, when vineyards were planted so there would be wine for communion. However, classic viticulture as we know it today did not flourish until the first half of the 19th century, when Southern California was considered to be the epicenter of viticulture. Settlers, mainly colonists from France and Italy, were inspired to head north during the Gold Rush (1848-1855) and lay the foundations for today's famous regions such as Napa and Sonoma. They brought with them not just European varieties, but especially the desire to grow the vines. In the years 1918-1933, thanks to a strong prohibition in the United States, viticulture withdrew from its development. However, it has been experiencing a huge rise again since the early 1970s and is still gaining momentum. California is gradually becoming one of the world's dominant wine regions.

The California land offers a numbers of surprises and much greater diversity than it might be seem at first glance. It is often considered as mainly sunny and warm country. However, there is a significant differences in climate and terrain. From flat plains and rolling hills to mountain slopes and valleys protected from the elements. This provides a range of soils and microclimate, from coastal areas that help cool climates grapes such as Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, to warm, sunny inland areas that are ideal for Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel. The geographical distribution of California is as follows: the Nord Coast, Sierra Foothills, Central Coast, South Coast and Central Valley, which is one of the sunniest wine regions in the world. Probably the most famous California AVA is the Napa Valley, where some of the best California wines come from. Other important areas are Sonoma, Mendocino and Carneros.

The GI system is referred to herein as the American Viticulture Area (AVA) and means that each bottle of California wine indicates the geographical origin where the grapes were grown. In order for a wine to have the name AVA on its label, at least 85% of the grapes must be grown in that AVA; for the region designation it is 75%. And any wine bearing the name "California" or any California AVA label guarantees that 100% of the grapes are grown in California.

The traditional problem of California winemaking is water shortages. There have been regulations and disputes over irrigation many times in the past. California summers tend to be much drier than summers in most of Europe's wine regions. Average precipitation is not exceptionally low, but it is usually concentrated in the first months of the year. The winemakers came up with a way to at least partially solve the problems. The rain fills the tanks, which are then used for irrigation during the dry summer.

California winemaking is often celebrated for their red wines. They are made with a focus on the softness of "the final taste", where the grapes remain on the vines during long autumn until the tannin is ripe enough to delight the palate. They have a very intense fruity aroma and a very delicate taste. Today, however, we can already find white wines that can boldly compete with the best French white wines.

Whether you are an enthusiastic beginner in the wine world who likes to discover new tastes or you are an experienced connoisseur and wine lover… California is one of the wine region you should not miss.

It has a lot to offer…






Napa Green


„We've always taken an active role to preserve the health of the land. Our first obligation is to produce delicious wines and we believe this is maximally achieved through healthy vines.“

 - Founding Winemaker / CEO, Eileen Crane, Domaine Carneros



„People want to do the right things but need a roadmap to get there. Now we have that map; how we use it to take the next step is entirely up to us.“

 - Hugh Davies, president of Schramsberg Vineyards



„This is how we have always farmed. It's the only way to do it right.“

 - Brooke Shenk, winemaker St. Supéry Estate






The trend of viticulture, which primarily takes into responsibility for healthy soil and sustainable farming, has been close to California winemakers since the very beginning of vine growing. Nevertheless, their "Green Farming" system has been constantly improving over the years.

In 1998 the Environmental Protection Agency declared the Napa River impaired and the State Water Board set reduction standards for “Total Maximum Daily Load” or TMDL of fine sediment into the river. In response, the Napa Valley Vintners (NVV) trade association led collaborative efforts with industry partners, community nonprofits, regulatory officials and Fish Friendly Farming to develop Napa Green Certified Land. The first property was certified in 2004.

In 2007, building on the success of the Napa Green Land program, NVV collaborated with Napa County and the California Green Business Program to develop the Napa Green Certified Winery program, creating a comprehensive, soil-to-bottle sustainability certification.

Napa Green serves as a catalyst and facilitator to grow certified sustainable, responsible businesses committed to environmental stewardship and climate action in Napa County.





"Sustainable" refers to several different practices that are not only environmentally helthy, but also economically viable and socially responsible. Within this general classification, there are several essential procedures that certified winemakers follow.

For example, the use of purely natural products for weed and pest control is important, with winemakers paying special attention to the natural health and biodiversity of the soil. They also practice fish-friendly farming practices, covering crops to minimize erosion and sedimentation of local waterways. Winemakers are also incorporating 50 percent of biodiesel into their agricultural operations to reduce total carbon emissions.

 No less emphasis is placed on social justice and sustainability, care for workers, relations with their surroundings and a return to a healthy community.





Napa Green Vineyard certification provides a pathway for growers to improve soil health, become carbon neutral to negative within six to nine years, and increase the resilience of vineyards, businesses, and our community.

The Napa Green Vineyard certification standards have six core elements:


  • Social Equity, Justice & Inclusion
  • Implementing Carbon Farming &
    Regenerative practices
  • Irrigation Assessments & Water
    Use efficiency
  • Tree & Forest Preservation and
    Enhancement (where applicable
  • Adherence to a Prohibited &
    Restricted Pesticides list
  • Conservation Burning or Burning






Napa Green is one of only four sustainable winegrowing programs nationwide offering the opportunity for comprehensive soil-to-bottle certification in both the vineyard and winery. 40% of all of the certified sustainable wineries in CA are in Napa County.

Napa Green wineries implement more
than 100 sustainability and stewardship standards to:


  • Save energy & water and increase efficiency
  • Prevent waste through recycling,
    composting and environmentally
    preferable purchasing
  • Reduce GHG emissions and the
    winery’s carbon footprint
  • Commit to social equity
  • The whole facility is certified from
  • production to hospitality




List of Certified Wineries from our E-shop:








Napa Green Organization

Napa Green Video

Napa Green Instagram