The Year that Changed Everything for California Food and Wine

Blog Post

What stands out about the year 1976, for most Americans, is the American Bicentennial – the year the United States turned 200. It was also the year that marked the most influential inflection points for American food and wine.

In May of 1976, the Judgment of Paris took place, a wine competition between California and France hosted by Steven Spurrier, a British wine merchant. Before the event, it was universally assumed the French wines would easily win. Only one journalist even bothered to attend, George Taber of Time.  In the end it turned out to be perhaps the most important wine story in the last 100 years as it burst the myth that only France could produce fine wine. The tasting opened the door to a globalization of fine wine that we continue to experience today.

The 1971 Monte Bello placed fourth in the original tasting in 1976 and first in the 30th Anniversary tasting in 2006.

Panel of Judges at the 1976 Judgement of Paris Wine Competition

Alice Waters opened Chez Panisse in 1971 and the restaurant earned its name featuring dishes from France. Led by a brash young chef, Jeremiah Tower, the restaurant did something dramatically different in October 1976 – they hosted a dinner the effects of which we are still experiencing today. The dinner was called the “Northern California Regional Dinner,” and rather than featuring French recipes and French ingredients, it featured everything local. Local ingredients and local wines.

Original menu from 1976 Northern California Regional Dinner at Chez Panisse

The late, great Anthony Bourdain said the dinner announced to the world:

“…our stuff is good too. It deserves to be named and attributed and sourced in much the same way that they source and identify French cheeses or wines or other products. (Jeremiah Tower) wrote menus that sold that notion — that confidently said, ‘American product, f* yeah.'”

Ridge played an important role in both of these historic events. At the Judgement of Paris, the 1971 Monte Bello helped to convince the world that great wine could be made in California and elsewhere. At Chez Panisse’s “Northern California Regional Dinner,” a dinner that brought “California Cuisine” to America’s lexicon, the 1974 Fiddletown Zinfandel graced the menu (at a mind-blowing $1.50 per glass!)

Chef Jeremiah Tower, Ridge President David Amadia, and Chef Nancy Silverton

We were honored to be reunited with Jeremiah Tower last month in Los Angeles at the Legends Dinner. The dinner was held at Chi SPACCA, Nancy Silverton’s award-winning Italian meat restaurant. Nancy and Jeremiah shared the cooking duties and the dinner kicked off the 2019 edition of Los Angeles Food & Wine. Ridge President, David Amadia, attended the dinner and proudly poured the 2009 Monte Bello.

Place setting at The Legends Dinner in Los Angeles
Chef Jeremiah Tower and Ridge President David Amadia in the kitchen