by Fred McMillin
for December 10, 1998


Barbera Bounces Back


The Rise—In California, Barbera acreage rose from 200 in 1960 to over 20,000 by 1980.

The Fall—However, much of the wine proved coarse and dull (when planted in the too-hot Central Valley), had fallen so by 1987 the acreage to 11,000. (J. Baxevanis)

Another Rise—However, old plantings in Sonoma and Napa were making rare wine, and California vintners came to recognize it, as indicated by this revival:

Year Tons Crushed
1987 74,200
1996 99,300
1997 120,600

The Rest of the Story

August Sebastiani The New York Times in 1997 noted that one of those old-vine Barberas had been made by Sebastiani in Sonoma County for years. "The late August Sebastiani preferred his Barbera to all his other wines." (pictured)

August's son Sam felt the same way. I have his dusty old letter that reads, "I am indeed pleased that you are serving our 1970 Barbera in your classes. It won the Gold Medal in the latest Barbera competition at the Los Angeles County Fair. This means that it was rated tops in California."

Over 20 years later I'm still serving the wine in my classes...

The Wine

Sebastiani Vineyards 1995 Sebastiani Barbera, Sonoma County
Tasters—S.F. City College, Ft. Mason Campus, Best Wine Grapes class.
Rating—Nice drinkable cherry, berry emphasis resulted in a HIGHLY RECOMMENDED rating. My veteran Scott's panel agreed.
Contact—Jason Breaw, Ph. (707) 938-5532
Price—$20 range.


Barbera Bruises—August Sebastiani had his share of difficulties with Barbera. During the boom of the 1970s, he planted a lot of the vine in the Carneros district. Later, Sam wrote that it was too cool, and after protracted test work with U.C.-Davis, "we finally decided to stop hitting our heads against the wall and pull out the vines."

1968 was a shocker, too. A severe frost wiped out the entire, late-ripening Barbera crop.


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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