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Unreserved Wine Talk

263 EpisodesProduced by Natalie MacLeanWebsite

The Unreserved Wine Talk podcast features candid conversations with the most fascinating people in the wine world. Your host, award-winning journalist Natalie MacLean, dives into how it feels to compete in the nerve-wracking World's Best Sommelier Competition, the shadowy underground of wine forgery… read more


236: The Paris Tasting that Changed the Fate of California Wines with Mark Gudgel, Author of The Rise of Napa Valley Wineries

Are you curious about the most important historic tasting that put California wines on the map? What unique challenges did pioneer winemakers face in California? What would surprise you about how the California wine industry developed?

In this episode of the Unreserved Wine Talk podcast, I'm chatting with author Mark Gudgel.

You can find the wines we discussed at



Three of you will win a copy of Mark's new book, Rise of Napa Valley Wineries: How the Judgment of Paris Put California Wine on the Map. To qualify, all you have to do is email me at and tell me that you’d like to win a copy. I'll choose three people randomly from those who contact me.

Good luck!



When did Mark realize he wanted to write about wine?

How did Mark develop his professional interest and expertise in genocide education?

What has been the worst moment of Mark’s writing career so far and what did he learn from it?

Which moments have created the best memories in Mark’s writing career?

What’s the significance of the “Judgement of Paris” and why was Mark drawn to the story?

What will you learn in Mark’s new book, Rise of Napa Valley Wineries?

Who were some of the early pioneers of Napa Valley wineries?

How were the Judgement of Paris reenactments done?

What are aged California wines like?

What are some of the inaccuracies in the movie Bottle Shock?

Why was Robert Mondavi instrumental in transforming the California wine industry?


Key Takeaways

I didn't realize how pivotal the 1976 Paris tasting was not only for California wines but also for other New World wines around the globe. With Mark’s explanation, I can see how its ramifications spread. What was so amazing was that these wines were tasted blind. No one knew the identity of the wines, and they were judged by French experts. It was the French experts saying California at the top.

It was fascinating to hear about the unique challenges pioneer winemakers faced in California. It’s a wonder that they persevered in the face of such huge obstacles.

I also enjoyed hearing about the surprising way the California wine industry developed.


About Mark Gudgel

Dr. Mark Gudgel is an eighteen-year veteran of teaching high school English and presently serves as assistant professor of education at the College of Saint Mary in Omaha. After honeymooning in Wine Country, Mark and his wife, Sonja, began a wine blog and soon after he was recruited as a regular correspondent for American Winery Guide. From there, Gudgel went on to write for Food & Spirits, Dine, Edible Omaha, and numerous other publications. His book, The Rise of Napa Valley Wineries: How the Judgment of Paris put California wine on the map, focuses on the wine industry and issues that surround it, and was released from History Press in May of 2023.




To learn more, visit

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