|Argonaut brandies launched in July, 2017|
Brandy, You’re a Fine Girl
|30 writers, distillers, and mixologists gathered together to talk brandy|
Brandy’s Dandy But Liquor’s Quicker
Historically American brandy was a highly awarded, highly consumed spirit in the 1800s. Part of the reason for this was wine was unstable for long durations and as Doug Frost suggested, “Brandy is how we drank wine since the 1600s.” Domestically peach brandy was the most profitable spirit and was being distilled in the American Colonies as early as 1645. But brandy has West Coast roots before California was ever a state. The Spanish knew fermentation and distillation hundreds of years before coming to the Americas and they brought that technology with them during the late 1700s employing winemaking and distilling at several of the California missions. In fact, California missions were the only supply chain for brandy, Angelica, raisins and other foods stuff for travelers back in the day, sort of like an early version of 7 Eleven. Once the California gold rush occurred in the early 1850s railroads brought California brandy to the East Coast by 1869. However Prohibition essentially wiped out brandy. It was easier and cheaper to make bathtub gin in a few hours than to make brandy. Additionally brandy production has always suffered from labor costs: you get one grape harvest a year, ferment that, then distill. “It's a labor of love since it's the least economically viable spirit there is,” says Dan Farber, founder and distiller of Osocalis Distillery.
View From The Summit
|Talking, trying brandy, talking more, and more brandy|
~Establish a Strong Narrative~
Brandy is a handmade product.
There are estate and single vineyard designations.
Brandy is the base for many cocktails.
Sipping brandy is an ideal after dinner drink.
Create a comprehensive trade group similar to Cognac’s Bureau National Interprofessionnel du Cognac (BNIC).
And here is where California brandy has a leg up on Cognac – freedom. Cognac is restricted in terms of grape varieties (only nine varieties are allowed) distilling methods, storage and aging techniques, even that distillation must be completed by March 31st after the harvest. California has no limits. Brandy can be made from Riesling, Grenache, Pinot Noir, Sémillon, whatever, stored and aged whenever and wherever.
Gallo, the largest winery in California, has taken the lead. But it is a lead that came about almost accidentally “30 years ago we lay down some brandies with no real intention or understanding exactly how they would come to fruition,” Ernest Gallo tells our group. Those brandies, sitting idly at the McCall Distillery in Fresno are some of the ones we taste after lunch and our first brainstorming session. That foresight helped them release their Argonaut brandies in July, 2017 priced at $38 to $50. What’s unique about the Argonaut line is that, in an effort to help consumers to understand what they are drinking, each back label contains the percentage of the grapes used, their variety, the type of still used, and how long it’s been aged. Additionally Gallo acquired the high-end distiller Germain-Robin in August, 2017, complementing their own E&J Gallo brandy portfolio, thereby strengthening California brandy distribution.
As Ernest Gallo tells me; “What sets us apart is we are California brandy made from California grapes using California wine making techniques, the most ardent structure in the U.S.” Ardent perhaps, and yes I’m a California native, but it will take more than just passion to see California brandy overcome the obstacles. As I talk with Mr. Gallo, I mention that this is really a decade-long project, right? He nods and I can tell there are mixed emotions behind that nod. Yes, he and others are committed to this cause, and also yes, it’s going to be an arduous haul to re-educate the public on California brandy. Sure, brandy might regain the crown it wore in the 1800s. Time is the great equalizer and just like those “forgotten” brandies at the McCall Distillery in Fresno, perhaps this brown spirit might strike gold once again.