“Remember back in the 1970s? We grew grapes using the old ‘California sprawl’ with huge (leaf) canopies shading the vines,” said Sloan. He said the result of that growing system was some classic, long-lived Cabernet Sauvignons in the 1970s and 1980s.
He said the wines may not have been as showy when were they were released, but they aged beautifully.
He attributed part of the change in wine styles in California to the late-1980s phylloxera infestation, which over the next decade forced many thousands of acres of grapevines to be torn out and replaced.
In doing so, he noted, many growers (falsely in his view) adopted a trellising system called vertical-shoot positioning (VSP), which in many instances gave the plants far too much sun to make classic wines. Gone, for the most part, was the old canopy of leaves.
As a result, traditional varietal aromas began disappearing from several wine types, he said,
“Vineyard architectures started to change about 1990, he said. The older canopy of “the sprawl era” protected the fruit. By switching to VSP and stripping leaves, he said, the wines changed radically.
“Just about then (critic Robert) Parker started giving the new sun-boosted higher-alcohol wines much higher scores and pretty soon all winemakers were striving for more, not for balance.”