The AVA Shuffle

New AVA 1The bureaucrats down at the TTB must have been hard at work lately processing the applications for more than 18 new AVAs.

Read on to learn the details of some of the more interesting proposals!

Big Valley District and Kelsey Bench – Lake County – Two new AVAs have been proposed for Lake County, CA; to be named Big Valley District – Lake County and Kelsy Bench – Lake County.

The Big Valley region is located on the south shore of Clear Lake and has a long history of agriculture (pears and walnuts) and viticulture.  The Kendall-Jackson winery is said to have had its beginnings in the area in 1974, when Jess Jackson and his wife purchased a Lake County farm and soon after planted their first vineyards.

The Kelsey Bench is located between Mt. Konocti, Lake County’s resident dormant volcano, and the alluvial flood plain on the lower elevations.  The proposed Kelsey Bench AVA understandably has primarily volcanic soils, higher elevations than the adjacent (proposed) Big Valley District, and northeastern exposures. The proposal for both new Lake County AVAs has reached the final ruling stage. To read all the documents related to these proposed AVAs, click here:!docketDetail;D=TTB-2013-0003

Cabernet TopEagle Peak Mendocino County – A proposal to establish a new AVA to be known as Eagle Peak Mendocino County is in the final ruling stage.  Eagle Peak Mendocino County is proposed in an area of moderately sloping, hilly terrain at elevations from 800 feet to 3,320 feet up the slope of Eagle Summit.  Along with the new AVA, the proposal calls for the modification of the boundaries of the adjacent Redwood Valley AVA in order to avoid splitting two vineyard properties, Golden Vineyards and Masut Vineyards, between the Eagle Peak and Redwood Valley AVAs.  If the proposal passes, both properties would be within the Eagle Peak Mendocino County AVA. To read more about this proposal, click here:!docketDetail;D=TTB-2013-0004

New AVA 3Paso Robles – After years of debate about the possible division of the Paso Robles AVA into North Paso Robles/South Paso Robles or even East Paso Robles/West Paso Robles sub-appellations, a proposal to establish eleven new AVAs within the existing Paso Robles AVA has made it to the “proposed rulemaking stage” of the AVA approval process.  If you have an opinion, now is the time to speak up! Public comments are welcome through January 21, 2014.  If all goes as planned, the new AVAs will be as follows:  Adelaida District,  Creston District, El Pomar District, Paso Robles Estrella District, Paso Robles Geneseo District, Paso Robles Highlands District, Paso Robles Willow Creek District, San Juan Creek, San Miguel District, Santa Margarita Ranch, and Templeton Gap District. For all the details, click here:!docketDetail;D=TTB-2013-0009

If you would like to see all of the current AVA proposals on record with the TTB, just click here:


The Romance of Saint Amour

Saint-AmourSaint Amour claims to be the most romantic of the Beaujolais Crus. It’s tough to argue with the “romance angle” when a wine’s name translates – literally- to “Saint Love” and loosely to “holy love,” “pure love,” or a variety of other equally delicious and romantic terms. Duboeuf describes their Saint Amour as “the wine of poets and lovers.”

According to the “Discover Beaujolais” website, more than 25% of the wine’s sales occur in February, around Valentine’s Day – most likely helped by the Smiling Cupids or hearts that adorn many of the labels.  Suffice it to say that, with both the cheery name and the reasonable price (about one-quarter of the cost of Pink Champagne) going for it, this wine is ready for romance.

Saint Amour is the northernmost Cru of the region, located where the granite soils of Beaujolais – so prized for the growing of Gamay – give way to the limestone soils of the Mâconnais to the north, better suited for the cultivation of Chardonnay.  Saint Amour actually borders the Saint-Véran AOC in the Mâcon, and many vignerons in the region own land and produce wine in both regions.

duboeuf sainat amourNot to quell the rumors of romance, but local lore actually suggests that the region was named after a Roman soldier rather than an angel of love. St. Amateur, the story goes, was a soldier of war who converted to Christianity after narrowly escaping death, and established a monastery overlooking the Saône River.

The wines of Saint Amour can be enjoyed while young, and while youthful often show aromas and flavors of cherry, berry, peach, apricot and spice. Most producers say the wines need at least a year to open up, and are at their supple best with two or three years of aging, when floral aromas start to shine. Some producers claim their Saint Amour is capable of producing vin de garde, wines suitable for aging, and can reveal their complex side anytime between four and 8 years after bottling.

Designated as a Cru in 1946, perhaps the wines of Saint Amour can remind us that love is grand in all its forms – through youth, middle age, and maturity – and that a good wine is always an excellent accompaniment to romance!

Discover Beaujolais:

Duboeuf/Saint Amour:



Chinato: Cocchi, or Cappellano?

cappellanoIf you love Italian wine, you can most likely discuss the intricacies of Brunello, Barbaresco, and Bardolino.  If you love Italian food, you probably crave Bolognese, Balsamic, and Burrata on a daily basis. But what can you tell us about Barolo Chinato?   

Don’t worry – you don’t have to give up your Italophile badge just yet.  Barolo Chinato is rare – it’s not exactly easy to find in America, despite it being more widely available than ever these days, thanks to the longevity of the craft cocktail craze and an ever-growing American fondness for all things Italian.

Barolo Chinato is digestive (equally qualified to serve as aperitif) produced in Piedmont, Italy created from a base of Barolo wine.  The word “china” (pronounced “key-na”) in Italian refers to “cinchona bark,” known to Americans as quinine. This, if we want to stay literal, Barolo Chinato (pronounced “key-not-o”) is Barolo wine that has been  infused with quinine bark and other herbs and spices. 

Technically, Barolo Chinato is considered a quinquina (an aperitif that contains cinchona bark) as well as an aromatized (flavored) wine.  With alcohol levels of 16.5 – 18%, Barolo Chinato may also be considered a fortified wine, as some of the flavorings may be added in the form of extracts produced using alcohol.

Cocchi ChinatoWhile the actual recipe of Chinato varies by producer and is a closely guarded secret, the flavorings are rumored to include sugar, rhubarb root, cinnamon, mint, vanilla, star anise, citrus peel, fennel, juniper, gentian root, and cardamom in addition to quinine. Don’t forget that all those layers of flavors are added to a base wine of Barolo – undisputedly one of Italy’s most complex wines to begin with. This is a smooth, spicy, flavorful sip with a hit of bitterness on the end – enough to wake up any appetite, or help smooth out an over-indulged one.

Barolo Chinato was first produced in the area around the city of Turin sometime in the 19th century.  By this time, companies like Martini & Rossi and Cinzano were already producing Vermouth and other aperitifs in the region.   

A Tuscan pastry chef named Giulio Cocchi is often cited as the inventor of Barolo Chinato.  After moving to Asti, he was inspired by the region’s vermouth industry and founded his winery in 1891. Soon after, he invented a formula for Barolo Chinato. Dr. Giuseppe Cappellano is also believed by many to the Barolo Chinato’s creator.  Dr. Cappellano was a pharmacist in Turin and the second son of the owner of the Cappellano Winery, which was founded in 1890.

Luckily, both companies are still around, and Barolo Chinato from both the Cappellano and Cocchi wineries are available in the United States. We may never decide who was first, you can decide for yourself who you think is best. 

While the debate rages on, there are a few things that fans of Barolo Chinato can agree on:  Barolo Chinato can help calm down a rumbly tummy after a hearty meal; it be used like an Amaro or Vermouth in a creative cocktail recipe, and it pairs very well with chocolate cake. 

Cappellano Barolo Chinato:

Cocchi Barolo Chinato:







Farewell, Vin de Pays du Jardin de la France…

Château de Villandry, in the lovely Loire

Château de Villandry, in the lovely Loire

Farewell, Vin de Pays du Jardin de la France…hello IGP/Vin de Pays Val de Loire!

French wine laws, along with the wine laws of many members of the European Union, continue to evolve.  While consumers are still apt to find their favorite place-names and AOC terms on their favorite wine labels, many “behind the scenes” revisions took place in 2009.

The entry level of French basic wine, formerly referred to as vin de table, is now known simply as vin. Basic French “Vin” can come from anywhere in France and has few specific regulations apart from those required for health, safety, and commercial trade. Vin is not a particularly important category in France, as it accounts for only about one-eighth of all French wine produced, and most French vin is consumed locally.

The next tier of French wine was formerly known as country wine (vin de pays), and it accounts for more than one-third of French wine. In the new EU system, these are considered table wines with geographical indication (PGI). The wines may be varietally labeled, and may use the term Indication Géographique Protégée (IGP), the traditional “Vin de Pays,” or a combination, as in “IGP–Vin de Pays.”

There are few restrictions on these wines, except that at least 85 percent of the grapes must come entirely from within the boundaries of one of the 152 delimited Vin de Pays regions. At this level, French wine seems more focused on grape variety than on region of origin – and, in many cases, this allows these wines to compete directly with the consumer-friendly varietally labeled wines of the New World.


The Kitchen Garden at Château de Villandry

The Kitchen Garden at Château de Villandry

There are five large regional IGPs:

  • IGP/Vin de Pays d’Oc, perhaps the best known of the regions, covering the Languedoc-Roussillon region.
  • IGP/Vin de Pays Val de Loire, covering the entire Loire Valley, was formerly known by the lovely title Vin de Pays du Jardin de la France.
  • IGP/Vin de Pays Comtés Rhodaniens includes portions of the Northern Rhône Valley, Jura, and Savoie.
  • IGP/Vin de Pays de Méditerranée, covering southeast France.
  • IGP/Vin de Pays  Comté Tolosan, covering southwest France.

Two other regional Vin de Pays designations, Vin de Pays de l’Atlantique, covering Bordeaux and Charentes (Cognac), and Vin de Pays de Gaules for the Beaujolais region, were also approved in 2007, but have been disputed, and remained unpublished in the Official Journal of the European Union.

There are fifty-two departmental IGPs whose boundaries match the political boundaries of a French département (“county”), located within the larger regional IGP areas. Another  ninety-plus IGPs, known as vin de pays de zone, are smaller, locally specific areas, often named after a historic or geographical feature.

Thankfully, the terminology and titles of most of your favorite French AOCs remain the same…but you might be seeing the term “AOP” replace “AOC” as time goes by.

The changes in the status of the Vin de Pays are some of the many wine-world updates you can find in SWE’s new, improved, and updated CSW Study Guide, to be released in September 2013.

Post authored by Jane A. Nickles, CWE – your SWE Blog Administrator


Hugel’s Law

Alsace SceneAlsace, with its strategic location tucked between the Vosges Mountains and the Rhine River, has passed between French and German rule for hundreds of years. As a matter of fact, in the period between 1844 and 1919, Alsace was passed back and forth between the two regions four times! However, with the ratification of the Treaty of Versailles in 1919, Alsace became officially French.

Alsace has a long history of wine production…viticulture and wine making in the region has been traced to the fourth century BC!  However, due to the fact that even after Alsace’s return to France in 1919, German wine laws remained in effect for quite some time, Alsace was not granted an Appellation d´Origine Controllê until 1962.

Currently, 119 communes are allowed to produce Alsace AOC using the following ten grape varieties: Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Pinot Blanc, Sylvaner, Muscat, Chasselas, Auxerrois, or Klevener de Heilgenstein.  (Klevener de Heilgenstein, aka Savignin Rose, may only be grown in a few areas.)

The AOC for Traditional Method Sparkling Wines – Crémant d’Alsace – was approved in 1976. Crémant d’Alsace may be produced using any of the 10 approved grapes of the region, and may include Chardonnay as well.

Johnny Hugel in 2004

Johnny Hugel in 2004

Despite the fact that most Alsatian wines are dry, in 1983 two new designations were introduced – Vendange Tardive (Late Harvest) and Sélections de Grains Nobles (Botrytis-affected) – which may be used for sweet wines. These changes, now known affectionately as “Hugel’s Law,” came about as a result of an effort by Jean “Johnny” Hugel, who first described a wine as a “vendage tardive” after the long, hot summer of 1976.  Interestingly enough, up to this point the laws of the Alsace AOC stated explicitly that the wines be dry, despite the region’s Germanic influences and the long history of dessert wine production just across the border.

Johnny Hugel recognized that despite the laws, warm vintages had produced wines with residual sugar and the accompanying lushness and longevity.  He also knew that shortcuts could be taken in the cellar to produce sweet wines, so he drafted a set of strict rules and regulations for Vendage Tardive* and Sélections de Grains Nobles, which were eventually accepted by the INAO in 1984 (with the minimum sugar levels increased in 2001).  The Hugel & Fils website has a very nice summary of the regulations, and an homage to Johnny and his dedication in getting Hugel’s Law passed…click here and follow the link to “Vendage Tardive and SGN.”

Alsace ViewIn 1975, the laws were revised once again to designate some of the outstanding vineyards of Alsace as “Alsace Grand Cru.” Beginning with the 1983 harvest, 25 vineyards were allowed to use the “Grand Cru” designation on their labels.  The law was revised in 1992 when another 25 vineyards were added to the list.  The 51st Grand Cru, Kaefferkopf, was awarded in 2007. As of 2011, each of the Alsace Grands Crus was awarded its own AOC.

With very few exceptions, all of the Alsace Grands Crus wines are 100% varietal white wines and must be exclusively produced with one of the four “approved” varieties of the Alsace Grand Cru:  Riesling, Muscat, Pinot Gris, and Gewurztraminer.  The few exceptions include:

  • Zotzenberg, which may be produced from 100% Sylvaner; blends are also allowed.
  • Altenberg de Bergheim, which may produce blends containing 50-70% Riesling, 10-25% Pinot Gris, and 10-25% Gewurztraminer; as well as up to 10% (total) of Pinot Blanc, Pinot Noir, Muscat, or Chasselas – but only if the grapes were planted before 26 March 2005.
  • Kaefferkopf, which may produce blends containing 60-80% Gewurztraminer, 10-40% Riesling, up to 30% Pinot Gris, and up to 10% Muscat.

The website has a sortable list of Alsace Grand Cru linking to a great deal of information about each of these fascinating vineyards!

*Interesting Factoid:  The name “Vendage Tardive” is sometimes written in the plural form, “Vendages Tardives,” to indicate that several actual “sweeps” of the vineyard might be used during harvest. Both versions are correct.


The changes in the status of the Alsace Grand Cru is one of the many wine-world updates you can find in SWE’s new, improved, and updated CSW Study Guide, to be released in September 2013.

 Post authored by Jane A. Nickles, CWE – your SWE Blog Administraor



PX: Thin Skinned and Not Too Sharp

PX BarrelsThin-skinned and not too sharp. It would sound like an insult if hurled towards a person, put for the distinct grape known as Pedro Ximénez, it is just a statement of fact. And it is just those qualities, the thin skin, the low acidity, and an array of other grapey-uniqueness such as extra-large bunches, susceptibility to Botrytis, and berries of uneven size, that make Pedro Ximénez the star of an interesting array of truly unique wines.

Pedro Ximénez is grown widely throughout Andalucía in the south of Spain, including Jerez, Málaga, and particularly Montilla-Moriles. The grape is also grown in small amounts in some far-flung regions of Spain, such as the Canary Islands, Valencia, La Mancha, and Extremadura; as well as parts of Portugal.

Pedro XimenezFurther afield, Pedro Ximénez used to be quite widely cultivated and is still grown in a few plots in Australia, where it often goes by the nickname “Pedro.” Pedro is, not surprisingly, used in some of the “stickies” produced in Australia.

PX should not be confused with PG, although it is hard not to confuse “Pedro Ximénez” with “Pedro Giménez,” a grape grown in Argentina and Chile. In South America, Pedro Giménez (Pedro-with-a-G) is sometimes used to produce simple, fruity, dry white wines; but the majority is distilled into Pisco. PG, it is thought, is related to but not identical to PX. Rather, it is believed that Pedro Giménez is native to Argentina, having mutated or descended from the original Mission/Pais grapes that were originally brought to the Americas from Europe, so many centuries ago.

To students of wine, Pedro Ximénez is best known as the third player in the three grapes of Jerez.  Any one of my students can probably recall reciting “Palomino, Moscatel, and Pedro Ximénez” over and over in preparation for the CSW. What is rather surprising, however, is that much of the Pedro Ximénez that makes its way into Sherry is actually grown in neighboring Montilla-Moriles.

PX 2Producers of Sherry are allowed to purchase Pedro Ximénez grapes grown in Montilla-Moriles for use in their wines, as long as the wine is aged in Jerez.  This unusual law most likely came to be as the PX grape variety does not really thrive in the humid atmosphere of Jerez. PX is often used to make sweet Sherries, and is blended with Oloroso to make Cream Sherry.

In Montilla-Moriles, the grape is used to make a variety of wines, including low acid, dry white wines and fortified wines somewhat similar to the various styles of Sherries.  However, the truly outstanding wines of Montilla-Moriles are its rich Pedro Ximénez-based dessert wines, some of which are fortified, and most of which are aged solera-style, like the wines of Jerez.

The extreme heat and rugged conditions of the Montilla-Moriles region produces Pedro Ximénez grapes with extraordinary richness and very high sugar levels.  After harvest, the grapes are dried in the sun for several days. The concentrated, shriveled grapes are then pressed and the resulting rich, thick, syrup is fermented and aged, solera style. The resulting wine is unbelievably dark, rich, and sweet, with flavors of chocolate, caramel, smoke, dates, nuts, and figs.  Montilla-Moriles PX is a natural match for rice pudding, ice cream, or any dessert made with caramel, toffee, figs, dates, hazelnuts, or chocolate.

PX Montilla MorillesA colorful legend tells that the Pedro Ximénez is indigenous to the Canary Islands, and somehow got transported to Germany where it thrived.  Somehow, somewhere the grape was then smuggled into Jerez in the belongings of a soldier named Peter Siemens who had served under Charles V (1500-1558) in the Spanish Netherlands.

Like many a really good tale, this one is most likely not true, as it seems unlikely that a warm weather grape such as PX would have survived so far north. Current wisdom points towards Andalucía or the Canary Islands as the most probably homeland for Pedro Ximénez, and it is likely that the name was borrowed either from a local winemaker, as  Ximénez/Ximénes is a common name in the area; or from the town of Jiménez near Sanlúcar de Barrameda.

Post authored by Jane A. Nickles, CWE; your SWE Blog Administrator –



Napa’s Grape Crusher

Figure 16–1 The Grape Crusher Sculpture on the road to Napa ValleyIf you’ve ever been to Napa, you’ve seen him.  You may have wondered what the 16-foot gentleman wearing the wide-brimmed hat was doing crushing grapes at the top of a lonely hill in the middle of the night, but you can’t deny you noticed him.  I’m talking about – of course – “the Grape Crusher,” the lovely statue sitting atop Vista Point near Napa Valley Corporate Drive, looming over the vineyards as you buzz past on Highway 29.

Having been an admirer of this particular blending of art and wine, and having wondered just who the Grape Crusher was and what he was doing there; I did a bit of digging. It turns out the Grape Crusher was created by a well-known artist named Gino Miles in 1986. Mr. Miles created the sculpture as a tribute to the dedicated vineyard workers of the valley, in honor of 200 years of grape growing in Napa Valley.  The sculpture was purchased and dedicated by the city of Napa in 1987.

The Grape Crusher weighs 6,000 pounds, stands 16 feet tall, and is set atop a 10-foot base covered in river rock. The statue, which took over a year to complete, is hollow and made of bronze.  The artist built sculpted the piece and brought it to the Shidoni Foundry in Tesuque, New Mexico.  At the foundry, the statue was cast into 135 separate bronze pieces, assembled, and shipped to Napa in one piece.

Gino Miles has been an artist since the 1970’s.  After attending the University of Northern Colorado, he spend many years in Europe studying art and art history, and founding Italart, an art school for American and German students in the Chianti region outside Florence.  For many years he taught design and sculpture classes while presenting his original pastels and sculptures as well. Gino and his wife now live in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and are the owners of Sculpture 619, a gallery in the heart of Santa Fe’s Art District.

If you’d like more information on the artist who created Napa’s iconic Grape Crusher, click here for a link to his Santa Fe Studio:


The (Confusion of the) Torrontés Family Tree

Chenin Blanc GrapesTorrontés, a vinifera cross native to Argentina, is known for producing crisp, fruity, and floral wines redolent of peach, apricot, mandarin orange, honey, melon, and rose.  While Chile, Spain, and a few other countries grow grapes that go by the same name, Torrontés – actually several closely-related varieties –  is grown primarily in Argentina. Along with Malbec, it is considered one of the two “signature varieties” of the country.

A wine labeled “Torrontés” from Argentina may actually be made from three separate but related varieites.  Torrontés Riojano is the most widely grown, the most aromatic, and is considered to produce the highest quality wines.  Torrontés Mendocino, the least aromatic, is also the least widely grown; and Torrontés Sanjuanino takes the middle ground.

All three varieties of Argentine Torrontés are thought to be natural vinifera crossings involving Muscat of Alexandria that occurred on Argentine soil. As for the parentage of each, it gets a little tricky:  The leader of the pack, Torrontés Riojano, is known to be a crossing for Muscat of Alexandria and Criolla Chica (a version of the Mission grape). Torrontés Sanjuanino is a separate crossing of those two same grapes. Torrontés Mendocino is a mystery, thought to be a crossing of Muscat de Alexandria and an unknown variety.

Casa Rosada ArgentinaOf the versions of the grape grown in Argentina, Torrontés Riojano is by far the most widely grown and renowned. As the name suggests, it thrives in the La Rioja region, and is also widely planted in Mendoza and the Salta region of northern Argentina.  It seems to do particularly well in the arid, ultra-high altitude vineyards of Salta where the conditions allow the grape to retain a crisp acidity and develop the intense floral aromas the grape is known for.  Torrontés Sanjuanino is planted mainly in the San Juan province, but even there plays second fiddle to Torrontés Riojano.  Torrontés Mendocino, despite being named after Mendoza, is rarely seen there and is mostly found in the southern province of Rio Negro.

For many years it was thought (naturally, I think) that the Torrontés of Argentina was the same grape, known by the same name, grown in Galicia and other regions of Spain. It was thought that the grape was simply brought to the new world along with an influx of immigrants from Galicia into Argentina.  However, recent DNA evidence has shown there is no relation between the two grapes. The Torrontés of Galicia, grown mainly in the DO of Ribeiro, is now known to be identical to the Fernão Pires of Portugal.  It aslo appears that many different grape varieties go by the name “Torrontés” in Spain. To quote Jancis Robinson and her co-authors in Wine Grapes, “Confusion reigns supreme over Torrontés in the Iberian Peninsula.”

Crios TorrontesChile grows a good deal of Torrontés, sometimes under the synonym “Moscatel de Austria.”  There are varying reports of its exact provenance, with some publications claiming that most Chilean Torrontés is the Sanjuanino version and others that claim it to be Riojano. We do know for certain that much of the Torrontés grown in Chile ends up distilled into Pisco.  Wines (and grapes) labeled as Torrontés in Chile may also actually be Torontel, a closely related but separate crossing of Muscat of Alexandria and Criolla. Tortontel-by its correct name- is grown in many regions in Chile.

In case you would like to be confused even more, there is also a red grape known as Torrontés, which also goes by the names Tarrantes and Turrundos. Perhaps that is a good topic for another day.  For now, I think I need a glass of Crios de Susana Balbo Torrontés, Cafayate, 2012 (peach, melon, honeysuckle, tropical fruit, and most likely Torrontés Riojano) to calm my brain down.

Post authored by Jane A. Nickles, your SWE Blog  Administrator –
 References/for more information:
  • Robinson, Jancis and Hugh Johnson: The World Atlas of Wine, 7th edition. London, 2013: Mitchell Bealey (Octopus Publishing Group).
  • Robinson, Jancis, Julia Harding and José Vouillamoz: Wine Grapes. New York, 2012: Harper Collins Publishers

The Cannons of Cape Town

The Victoria and Alfred Waterfront, Cape Town, South Africa

The Victoria and Alfred Waterfront, Cape Town, South Africa

If you ever visit the wine regions of South Africa, and find yourself wandering around Cape Town at lunch time, be warned:  a cannon is about to go off! There’s no need to worry, but if you aren’t expecting the resounding boom, the sound of the Noon Gun may have you running for cover.

The Noon Gun has been fired in Cape Town at noon, every day except Sunday, since 1806.  The gun – two cannons, actually – is located just outside of the center of the city on Signal Hill. Signal guns have been a part of Cape Town since the Dutch settled here in 1652, and the two cannons on Signal Hill were part of the original artillery stashed at the Imhoff Battery at the Castle in Cape Town. In 1806, the two cannons were removed from the Battery and placed in town for use as signal guns.  After the loud retort from the cannons unnerved a few too many citizens, the cannons were move to Signal Hill, where they still stand.

The Noon Guns atop Signal Hill

The Noon Guns atop Signal Hill

The original signal cannons of Cape Town, 18-pounder, smoothbore muzzle-loaders, are still in use today. The ritual represents one of Cape Town’s oldest living traditions. They fire every day at 12 noon sharp, except Sundays and public holidays, and are maintained by the South African Navy. On Friday January 7, 2005, both the main gun and backup gun failed to fire owing to a technical difficulty. This was the first time in 200 years that the noon gun had not fired as scheduled.

The Noon gun was used as a time signal for the sailing ships in the harbor, to allow them to calibrate their navigational instruments and accurately calculate their location. However, their original use as a “signal gun” is much more interesting.

In the 1800’s, Cape Town was known as “The Tavern of the Seas,” as one of its main commercial functions was the provisioning of vessels making the long trip from Europe to India and the rest of the East. As the ships approached, the cannons atop signal hill were fired to let the farmers and the merchants know that provisions were needed.  A series of cannons, all set on hilltops, would relay the message far inland.

The Kanonkop Wine Estate

The Kanonkop Wine Estate

One such cannon was located on a farm called Kanonkop, Afrikaans for “Cannon Hill.”  Kanonkop, located in the “red wine bowl” of Stellenbosch, is now a well-known, fourth generation family wine estate producing highly regarded red and rosé wines.  The vineyards at Kanonkop are heavily planted to Pinotage, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc.

The top-flight wine at the Kanonkop Wine Estate, Paul Sauer, is a Meritage blend named for one of the original owners.   Their widely distributed Cape Blend, Kanonkop Kadette, is produced as both a medium-bodied, crisp red wine and a dry, lively rosé.

The term Cape Blend can be used to denote any red wine produced in the Cape Winelands made with a minimum of 20% Pinotage, South Africa’s “native home” vinifera variety.  However, many winemakers think that Pinotage should a larger part of the blend, in homage to the unique characteristics of the region and the grape.  Kanonkop’s Kadette is 57% Pinotage, while the rosé version is 100% Pinotage.

For more information on Cape Blends:

Land of Two Seasons: The Mediterranean Climate

Olive LeavesThe area around the Mediterranean Sea, home to miles of sun-drenched beaches, mild winters, olive groves and (of course) fabulous wine, has been a cultural crossroads since the dawn of civilization. The beautiful weather, with the four seasons seemingly compressed into two, is surely one of the major reasons why so many people decided to make this region their home.

The comfortable climate typical of the Mediterranean Basin is found in many other areas throughout the world, including California and Baja California, the Central Coast of Chile, Southwest and South Australia, and the Western Cape Region of South Africa.  We serious students of wine will easily recognize these areas as major wine producers, and, of course, areas blessed with a Mediterranean Climate.

The Mediterranean Climate, known as a “dry-summer subtropical” climate under the Köppen climate classification, is generally found between 31 and 40 degrees latitude north and south of the equator, on the western side of continents. The climate can be summarized as “warm, dry summers and mild, rainy winters.” The climate zone can extend Mediterranean Climateeastwards for hundreds of miles if not thwarted by mountains or confronted with moist climates, such as the summer rainfall that occurs in certain regions of Australia and South Africa.  The furthest extension of the Mediterranean Climate inland occurs from the Mediterranean Basin up into western Pakistan.  In contrast, areas of California and Chile are constricted to the east by mountains close to the Pacific Coast.

The oceans and seas bordering the land areas with a Mediterranean climate work their moderating magic and keep the temperatures within a comparatively small range between the winter low and summer high.  Snow is seldom seen and winters are generally frost-free.  In the summer, the temperatures range from mild to very hot, depending on distance from the shore, elevation, and latitude. However, as anyone who has experienced Southern California’s Santa Ana Winds will tell you, strong winds from inland desert regions can bring a burst of dry heat to even the mildest season.

VineyardIn addition to the influence of water, specific atmospheric conditions create the Mediterranean climate. Every area that enjoys a Mediterranean Climate is located near a high pressure cell that hovers over the ocean or sea.  These high pressure cells move towards the poles in summer, pushing storms away from land. In the winter, the Jet Streams shift the cells back towards the equator, drawing stormy weather inland.

The long, dry summers of the Mediterranean Climate zones limit plant growth for much of the year, so the natural vegetation of such areas has adapted into evergreen trees such as Cypress and Oak and shrubs such as Bay Laurel and Sagebrush.  Trees with thick, leathery leaves and protective bark such as olive, walnut, citrus, cork oak and fig are also abundant, and as those early settlers in the Mediterranean Basin figured out – grapevines thrive here as well.