This husband-and-wife team established the night in recognition of the fact that most wine lovers have special bottles languishing unopened for one reason or another.
Perhaps it is that special bottle of champagne received several Christmases back, saved for special moments yet presented. Or it may be a gifted wine of dubious origin for which sufficient courage to open has not been summoned.
“Open That Bottle Night” is always celebrated on the last Saturday in February, a date when there is usually not a lot happening.
Many restaurants and charitable entities across the country hold special events and fundraisers on this night. But perhaps the day is best celebrated in the sanctity of one’s home, with friends pouring wines from their collections of the good, the bad and the ugly. For my Bottle Night festivities, I likely will pour an aging California cabernet, because these are among my favorites, but also to celebrate California’s remarkable achievement in wine.
California’s commercial wine efforts date to the mid-1800s. The first wave of immigrants to Napa and Sonoma included names still familiar today, like Krug, Beringer, Niebaum and Gundlach.
The early days were rooted in struggle. Vineyards were decimated by disease in the mid-1800s. There was a financial panic and subsequent collapse in 1893. The most devastating blow was Prohibition.
Prior to Prohibition, California had 713 bonded wineries. When the act was repealed, less than 100 remained. Many vineyards had been uprooted and replanted to fruits and nuts, changed to pasture land, or simply abandoned.
European wine-producing nations were never subjected to Prohibition. Such a thing would have been unthinkable for these ancient wine-producing countries.
When Prohibition ended in 1933, European wines were bottled and ready for shipping to America to fill the wine void created by Prohibition. This accounts for how French wines became so entrenched in American culture. They remained so until the famous 1976 Paris tasting, when American wines were deemed superior to the best France had to offer.
Today, there are 3,400 bonded wineries in California, according to the Wine Institute. This number is up 321 percent since just1990. Remarkably, the majority of these wineries are family-owned.
California’s wine industry benefits California and the nation to the tune of $61.5 billion in state economic impact and $121.8 billion in national impact. The industry provides some 330,000 jobs in California and 820,000 jobs nationwide, providing some $12.3 billion in California wages and $25.8 billion in U.S. wages. These California wineries generate $101.5 million in charitable contributions and pay some $14.7 billion in state and federal taxes.
Such revenue generation is attributable to the farsightedness of some old California wine families – like Gallo, Mondavi, Sebastiani and Trinchero – as well as hardworking visionary industry newcomers in the early 1960s, who saw what California’s fledgling industry could become.
In its March edition, Wine Enthusiast Magazine recognizes these 1960s visionaries for their historic cabernets, dubbing them the Class of ’72.
Among those included are James L. Barrett, owner of Chateau Montelena, whose 1973 chardonnay won best white wine in the 1976 Paris tasting; and Warren Winiarski, whose Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars 1973 cabernet took top honors in the red category in Paris.
Also included are two of my perennial favorites: Silver Oak Cellars, owned by the Duncan family; and Caymus, owned by the Wagner family.
Likely my “Open That Bottle Night” pour will be a fabulous cabernet from one of these two producers.
Or, if I get a really wild hair, perhaps I will pull out that bottle of pineapple wine from Hawaii.