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Q&A: Justine McGovern and Damien Jackman, directors, California Wine Institute UK & Ireland

Published:  21 June, 2019

Ahead of a joint Harpers-California Wine Institute session on sustainability (details below), Andrew Catchpole catches up with the team fronting the Golden State’s wines

What is the Institute’s remit with regard to the UK and Irish markets?

Damien Jackman: Part of the remit is to focus on exporters, advising on market issues, but we also talk to importers, so we try to sell UK and Ireland to our partners as much as we sell them into this market.

How important is the UK market to California?

DJ: This is a priority market, ‘tier one’, along with Canada and China (which is a little behind). So we are the core large global wine market that California is interested in. It always surprised me how much the Judgement of Paris and Steven Spurrier still resonates. The British wine trade is still prestigious, so producers still want to be in there.

Justine McGovern: This is a global market, on trend, in the front line, and the largest market in the world where California goes toe to toe with the rest of world.

You’ve spilt your annual London trade tastings into ‘up to £50’ and then ‘over £50’ – why?

JM: We have Collectable above £50 and Essential below £50, reinforcing that our premium wines can compete with anyone, but also so that when people come to our tastings they are not distracted, they are focused, and it makes their buying decisions much easier.

Essential are everyday, or at least every weekend wines… people used to say California is either really expensive or really cheap, but we do well in the middle sector as well, and that’s what Essential does. And it’s a relaxed, buzzy environment, trying to evoke that feeling that California evokes, the lifestyle, the food, the music – a great day out.

DJ: We developed the tastings on feedback from the trade, so we’re trying not to be rigid, not to just do a better version of Australia or Spain tasting, but show what the USP for California is over all these other regions. We’ve barely scratched the surface, but it’s about listening to feedback. We want people to come for three to four hours and focus on the right categories. There are amazing wines that could be on lists for £15, £20, £30, but that don’t really get a look in, so we spent a lot of time talking to sommeliers and retail buyers – we have to engage the gatekeepers.

JM: There will be masterclasses at other times throughout the year, so that doesn’t take people away from the tasting. There will be a lot more around Collectables this year (on September 26), making it a premium week, with Napa Valley Vintners activity, exclusive dinners and other events. Then we are doing a special day for those seeking representation, Open for Business, the day before Essential on March 12. If all the importers are talking to people already in the market, they are too busy to go to those seeking representation, so we want people to engage with them.

Why is sustainability such a big part of California’s message?

DJ: California has had a leadership position on it globally, and [producers are] always talking to others to see what they can learn and share – we are seeing this in practice at a grassroots level.

California is always about innovation and ‘how do we learn more, how do we do that better?’ It’s not just about organic and biodynamic. Producers must have a viable business to support their staff, so it’s about what role to play in the community and wineries really think about that.

JM: It’s how this sustainability event in July came about (see below), with the idea of Steve Matthiasson, a prominent and interesting voice on sustainability in California, sharing something with the thriving wine industry here, giving something back to the country we are in and the industry we love, sharing ideas and supporting that. It’s good to do things that aren’t all about you and your promotion and your message. And sustainability is a global message. California is a very inclusive place, and with the sustainability message we want to be inclusive too.

JM: We are excited about the future of California in the UK. And importers of California wines are really supportive, they want to work with us and try new initiatives, so we applaud them as well.


Date: 11 July 2019

Venue: Design Museum, 224-238 Kensington High St, Kensington, London W8 6AG


9.30am - 10am: Welcome Coffee

10am - 10.45am: Steve Matthiasson on Sustainability

10.45am - 11am: Break

11am - 12.30pm: Panel Discussion, led by Andrew Catchpole

12.30-1.30pm: Tasting

To register your interest to attend please click the link below. We welcome all members of the trade to join us, although spaces are limited to 150 guests, so please register early to save disappointment.

Register here

For more information or to enquire about a place at this invite only event, please contact: