Often we ask a new customer,"So, what was the wine that did it for you?" and of course that means what was the first wine that you tried that not only tasted really good but got your attention. Well for me it was a Gamay Beaujolais at a small road side winery about 60 miles north of San Francisco.
It was a fall day in 1981 and I was driving my new Honda Accord from California to Alaska. I had passed a few wineries on the road but since I wasn't a wine drinker I didn't pay much attention, I really can't say why I stopped at a small little roadside winery except just curiosity. As I stepped into the tasting room it took my eyes a little time to adjust to the low light, once I could see I noticed that the tasting room was really a small building built at the entrance of a cave and the air temperature was cooler than the outside air. Against one side of the room was a long bar and standing behind it was a man smiling at me and obviously waiting for my eyes to get adjusted to the low light. After a minute or two he asked me what I would like to try and of course I told him that I didn't know the first thing about wine I just stopped out of curiosity, he said "I recommend starting with white wines", and promptly poured me a glass of a light amber colored wine that he called Chardonnay, it was totally amazing and I started wondering why all the wines that my Dad drank for special occasions always tasted so terrible, anyway, he then said if you like that one you will probably like this also and he poured me a glass of red wine he called Gamay Beaujolais, it was a born again experience for me, from his big smiling face came the words "pretty good huh" I was speechless I just kept staring at the glass wondering how at 29 years old I had never tasted anything like this before, so I bought a couple of cases and a new wine drinker was born.
Now this is where the story gets interesting, 30 years later I decided to open a wine shoppe in Anchorage Alaska, and soon after a customer comes in and asks me if we can get her some Gamay Beaujolais for her father, it turns out that his favorite wine is California Gamay Beaujolais so I told her I would start looking for some. After asking my distributors (who have access to thousands of wines) for a California Gamay one by one they came back with nothing from California, but one of them located one from France. I couldn't believe that California doesn't produce one single Gamay so I started my own search and what I found was amazing. It turns out that according to Wikipedia in the 1930's Paul Masson brought some grape varieties from France one of which he believed to be the Gamay from the Beaujolais region, for his California winery. In the 1940's the University of California Davis researchers christened it "Gamay Beaujolais". In the 1960's the same University decided that the Gamay Beaujolais was actually a Pinot Noir, and that the California version was the "Napa Gamay" which was later found to not be a Gamay either but a varietal called Valdiguie. Since 2007 the name Gamay Beaujolais has been banned from all U.S. labels. So long story short, if you come across someone that really misses the great California Gamay Beaujolais's of the 70's and 80' find them a great California Pinot Noir and they will be happy campers................cheers Jack