by Fred McMillin
for January 5, 1999


California, Here I Come


So far, Pinot Gris (gree) in the U.S.A. has been an Oregon success story...so much so that now some winemakers in California are taking a shot at it.

...Wine for Dummies by McCarthy and Mulligan

The Rest of the Story

The best shot from California we've tasted is the '97 Pinot Gris by Handley. It hit the bull's-eye at Fort Mason, where it was voted Best White Wine of the Course. Some of the competition cost $5 more than the $16 Gris.

Vineyards in Alsace
The Pinot Gris seems
to be enjoying its move
from these vineyards in Alsace to vineyards in California.
While new in California, Pinot Gris is no newcomer in Europe. In 1360 it was more popular in Burgundy than its noble red parent, Pinot Noir. In 1375 Emperor Charles IV took cuttings to Hungary where grey-robed Cistercian monks planted the vines. Even today it is known there as the Szurkebarat ("grey monk"). But back to the present. Here's today's wine.

The Wine

1997 Pinot Gris, Anderson Valley
Handley Cellars, Philo, CA.
Phone—(800) 733-3151
Winemaking—Special strain of yeast from Alsace, where the Gris has achieved its greatest stature. Whole-cluster pressing to avoid bitterness. Very modest wood contact, since there's plenty of flavor without it.
Composition—100% Pinot Gris
Food Affinities—Seafood, spicy cuisines including Mexican and Asian.
Price—$16 range
Forecast—This is Handley's first Gris vintage, but not their last.


There were a lot of other new developments around the time of the Pinot Gris' 1375 debut in Hungary. In England that year a new literary figure was introduced, Robin Hood. In Germany a new diversion was introduced; dice were being replaced by playing cards. In Burgundy, the Duke banned the growing of the now-famous Gamay grape of Beaujolais. and if you were European, you ate your main meal at 9 o'clock in the MORNING! Ham and eggs and Gris??...I dunno.

Credits: Hugh Johnson, James Trager, Jancis Robinson

Note: For more about Handley, see the Nov. 9, 1998 WineDay titled "Brix and Bubbles".

About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. He currently teaches wine courses at San Francisco State and San Francisco City College. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers.


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