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: http://www.sculpture619.com/about/

 

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: http://www.capeblend.co.za/news.aspx

The Winds of Wine: Le Mistral

Van Gogh's "Starry Night"

Van Gogh’s “Starry Night”

Convinced that it comes in multiples of 3 days, residents of Provence will tell you that the Mistral Wind blows for 3, 6, 9 or 12 days.  Referred to as “Le Sacre Mistral,” it is blamed for headaches, edginess, and the bad behavior of husbands, pets, and children. They swear it is what drove Vincent Van Gogh to chop off his own ear.

The Mistral is a cold, dry, regional wind that occurs each time there is an area of high pressure in the Bay of Biscay accompanied by an area of low pressure around the Gulf of Genoa.  It occurs mainly during the winter and spring, but it can happen at any time during the year. Its cooling effect is perhaps most welcome in the summer, but during the winter it can chill one to the bones.

Roaring in from the north, the strong wind accelerates as it passes through the southern Rhône Valley, funneling between the Ardeche Mountains the low Alps before it heads out to the gulf. Marseilles and St. Tropez often take the full brunt of this cold, strong wind as it finally reaches the Map of the Mistral Windssea and continues its trek to influence the weather in North Africa, Sicily, and all across the Mediterranean.

In the Rhône Valley and Provence, the regularity and force of the mistral causes trees to grow leaning to the south. Vines are often kept low to the ground, their thick and sturdy branches developing a permanent south-facing bow. The rows of Cypress and Poplar trees typical of the region provide shelter from the dry force of the wind.

The Mistral, despite its ferocity, can nevertheless be beneficial to the vineyards in its path. The mistral blows the clouds from the sky and heralds the arrival of sunny weather. When the Mistral blows during the warm parts of the growing season it cools down the vines, helping the grapes to retain acidity through the hot summers. The dryness of the wind keeps the grapes free from humidity and mold, and has earned it the nickname mange-fange, or “mud-eater.”

450px-Bell_Tower_La_Cadiere_d'Azur_Provence_FranceMany wine makers believe that Le Mistral causes substantial evaporation in the grapes, concentrating sugar, acidity, and flavors.  And when the wind finally slows down, it is followed by days of clear, bright sunshine, enabling the grapes to ripen and ripen and ripen….

The name of the Mistral is traced to the Provencal word for “Masterly” and it certainly has had such an effect on life in Provence.  Old farmhouses were built facing south, with sturdy north walls devoid of windows.  The bell towers of the churches in the region are often topped by open iron frameworks, which allow the wind to pass through.

There was even once a law that stated that anyone who claims to have gone mad on account of the Mistral may be pardoned of their crime.  Sacre Mistral!

For more information on “the winds of wine,” see our posts on The Zonda and The Roaring 40′s.

Post written by Jane A. Nickles, CWE (your SWE Blog Administrator) bevspecialist@societyofwineeducators.org

 

 

Coro Mendocino

Point Arena Lighthouse, Mendocino, California

Point Arena Lighthouse, Mendocino, California

Mendocino County is known for many things, including its often mentioned “official #1 cash crop,” the Skunk Train, and the Point Arena Lighthouse. We wine lovers also apprciate its 13 AVAs (two more pending), it sparkling wines, and the Café Beaujolais.

But did you know that Mendocino County is also home to the only “Regional-Identity” wine program in the United States? In an approach somewhat similar to that of many European appellations, any wine producer in Mendocino County can produce the wine, known as “Coro Mendocino,” provided they follow the rules.

According to the Coro Mendocino website, “Coro means ‘chorus’ in Italian and Spanish and is reflective of the collaborative spirit of Mendocino County’s winemakers, our distinctive voices heard together in harmony–in accord.”

The rules – and there are many – include basing the wine on the Zinfandel grape variety.  Zinfandel must be between 40% and 70% of the blend, and no other grape variety can take a dominant role.  The other grapes in the blend can include the following varieties, as long as they do not overpower the Zinfandel:  Syrah, Petite Sirah, Carignane, Sangiovese, Grenache, Dolcetto, Charbono, Barbera, and Primitivo. There is also a 10% “free play” provision that states that 10% of the blend may be from any vinifera variety.

Coro Mendocino LabelsAll grapes in the blend must be 100% Mendocino fruit and the wine must be produced at a bonded Mendocino County Winery.  The wine must be aged for one year in barrel, followed by one year in bottle.  Along with a fairly detailed list of production parameters and labeling requirements, the wine must pass the strict review of the Coro Mendocino selection panel and review process.

Coro Mendocino has been produced every year since 2001. The 2010 version, set to be released on June 22, 2013, has a total of ten producers, including Brutocao, Claudia Springs, Fetzer, Golden, Mendocino Vineyards, McFadden, McNab Ridge, Parducci, Philo Ridge, and Ray’s Station. Tickets to the release party are almost sold out…but if you hurry, you might be able to grab a pair.  There will be a lovely dinner, and you know the wine will be great!

For more information:

 

Water and Wine: Clear Lake, Lake County

Lake County VineyardsLake County, California, has some mighty impressive wine country neighbors.   The region shares its borders with Napa, Sonoma, and Mendocino; collectively the four regions make up the North Coast Regional AVA, a relatively neat  if somewhat irregular “rectangle” north of San Francisco.

Located at the intersection of the Vaca and Mayacamas Mountains, Lake County is only 10 miles from Calistoga, yet the drive along the winding roads takes an hour. The namesake lake of the region, Clear Lake, is the largest freshwater body of water in the state of California. The presence of this lake buffers the temperature and provides great diurnal temperature swings, which promotes good acid retention in the grapes grown in the area.  Surrounded by rollings hills and (hopefully) inactive volcanoes, the diverse volcanic soils provide excellent drainage througout the region.

Before Prohibition, Lake County accounted for more grapes than Napa, but with no rail service, it wasn’t able to recover after repeal the way other areas of California did. Cheap land values sparked resurgence in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and now the area is producing award-winning wines and has nearly 8,500 acres planted with vines, with continued growth anticipated.

The average elevation of Lake County’s vineyards is 1,500 feet, with some reaching up to 3,000 feet above sea level. The high elevation coupled with good air quality (the purest in California, according to the Environmental Protection Agency) maximizes the solar potential, resulting in higher levels of ultraviolet light. Consequently, the grapes develop thick skins, with high levels of anthocyanins, polyphenols, and tannins and low levels of pyrazines. This low-pyrazine producing  attribute made Clear Lake a popular region for growing Sauvignon Blanc, which until the region’s recent resurgence was the most widely grown grape in the region.

Lake County Wineries

Lake County has five designated AVAs:

  • Benmore Valley AVA was named for Benjamin Moore, a 19th century cattle rustler.  This area is cooler than the surrounding areas.  As there are currently no wineries located in the Benmore Valley AVA; grapes grown here are sourced by several local wineries.
  • Half of the area in the Clear Lake AVA is taken up by the lake itself.  The lake moderates the temperature of the vineyards in the area, minimizing the diurnal temperature swings as compared to the surrounding regions.
  • The High Valley AVA is located in the eastern part of the county at elevations ranging from 1,600 feet to 3,000 feet above sea level.
  • The rolling hills of the Red Hills Lake Country AVA lie along the southwestern shores of Clear Lake, at the foot of Mount Konocti, an extinct volcano.
  • Established in 1981, the Guenoc Valley AVA was the first AVA granted to an area with just a single winery. Geologically, Guenoc Valley is a small inland valley extending from upper Napa County.

Cabernet Sauvignon is currently the most widely planted grape in Lake County, followed by Merlot at a distant second, as well as Sauvignon Blanc, Zinfandel, and Chardonnay. Petite Sirah, while not being one of the most widely planted grapes in the area, does exceedingly well here…fans of P.S. should keep their eyes open for award-winning wines from Lake County!

To learn more about Lake County Wines:  http://www.lakecountywineries.org/

Lake County Winegrape Growers’ Association:  http://www.lakecountywinegrape.org/lcwc/

Salta: The Highest and the Lowest

Salta VineyardsThe Salta wine region, in the far north of Argentina, is a wine region of extremes.  Starting at around 24°S latitude, the area is the same distance from the equator as Baja California, Key West, and Riyadh.  Viticulture in this low latitude is made possible by another extreme, as Salta is home to the highest altitude vineyards in the world.

Interestingly enough, these two extremes seem to work well together, as the heat that would be expected from the low latitude is balanced by the cool temperatures expected in high altitudes.  The combination makes this region uniquely well suited for producing quality wine. The rain shadow of the Andes keeps the region dry while providing meltwater from the snowy peaks for irrigation. The diurnal temperature swing here is also extreme; in the summer, day time temperatures can soar up to 100°F and down to 55°F that same night.  This wide fluctuation allows the grapes to gain sugar ripeness in the day, while holding onto is acidity at night.

Salta is a small region, with less than 5,000 acres under vine, and accordingly produces just a tiny percentage of Argentina’s wine.  However, the region has an excellent reputation for high quality.  There are two main sub-regions of Salta, each with its own unique terroir and specialty.

Map of SaltaThe largest subregion, Cafayate, is home to over 70% of the vineyards in Salta.  The vineyards here range in altitude from 5,000 to 7,000 feet above sea level.  Cafayate is well-known for high-quality Torrontés as well as Malbec, and is beginning to be planted to Chardonnay, Tannat, and Cabernet Sauvignon.  Cafayate is located within the scenic Colcchaquí Valley (Valles Calchaquíes), a tourist region well-known for its diverse colors, scenic beauty, and wide range of terrain from high mountain dessert to sub-tropical forests.

Starting at an altitude of 7,000 feet and climbing, the region of Molinos surrounds the town of the same name. It is here that you will find the highest altitude vineyards in the world.  Pre-phylloxera Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon were brought here from France in 1854 and some of these vines still thrive.

Bodega Colomé, one of the oldest wineries in Argentina, was founded here in 1831. After searching for years for the perfect spot to produce Argentine wine, Donald and Ursula Hess of the Hess Collection purchased the property in 2001.

colome reservaBodega Colomé has four vineyards, all of them fairly close to the sun.  The La Brava Vineyard, located in Cafayate, sits at 5,741 feet.  The Colomé Vineyard, surrounding the winery in Molinos, begins at 7,545 feet.   The El Arenal vineyard, a relatively young vineyard planted to Malbec, begins at an elevation of 8,858 feet.   The highest vineyard in the world, Altura Maxima, is here in the Molinos subregion, and sits at an altitude of 10,206 feet.

The flagship wine, Colomé Reserva Malbec, is produced from the oldest pre-phylloxera vines on the estate.  These vines range from 60 to 150 years old. If you think you can handle the high altitude, Bodega Colomé welcomes guests to its vineyards at the top of the world, complete with a visitor center, world-class restaurant and art gallery.

Bodega Colomé:   http://www.bodegacolome.com/

Map of Salta via Wines of Argentina:   http://winesofargentina.org/en

To be fair:  Bolivia also claims to have the highest vineyards in the world…rest assured we will investigate soon!

Champagne Riots!

champagne harvestToday, the Champagne region is a glorious place to visit.  Just hop on a train in downtown Paris, and in less than an hour you can find yourself surrounded by rolling vineyards, gorgeous cathedrals, and miles of underground tunnels lined with millions of bottles of resting Champagne!

It has not always been so serene, however.  As a matter of fact, on April 13, 1911, the headlines of the world’s newspapers read “Blind Fury of the Mob…Incendiarism and Loot…Riots in Champagne!”

The Champagne Riots that erupted in 1910 and 1911 were the result of a series of problems and frustrations faced by the grape growers of the region, whose livelihoods depended on the Champagne production houses who purchased their grapes.

One of the first problems they faced was the Phylloxera epidemic, which had begun its rampage of the area, resulting in disastrous crop losses and years of devastatingly low income for many of the families working the vineyards.

Another issue was that some producers of Champagne had begun to import grapes.  The development of an efficient French Railway system, while undoubtedly a boon for business, had provided Champagne producers access to inexpensive grapes Champagne Riotgrown outside of the Champagne region.  It was a well-known fact that many Champagne producers had begun to buy grapes from the Loire Valley and the Languedoc.  Some even brought in grapes from as far away as Spain and Germany. These grapes reportedly could be had for less than half of the price of the local grapes.  There were even reports of some producers buying Rhubarb from England to make into wine.  We can only hope that rumor was false!

At the time, there were no AOC laws in place to protect the grape growers or regulate the wine.   In 1910, however, the grape growers petitioned the government to put laws in place limiting the use of these “foreign” grapes in Champagne.  The government responded and passed a law requiring that a minimum of 51% of the grapes used in Champagne be grown in the region.  However, the use of unapproved grapes continued unabated, with many houses using 100% imported grapes. At the same time, many of the Champagne Houses banded together to drive down the price of locally-grown grapes.

In January 1911, the frustrations of the grape growers reached a peak and riots erupted in the towns of Damery and Hautvillers.  Farmers intercepted trucks loaded with grapes from the Loire Valley and pushed them into the Marne River.  They marched upon the Champagne warehouses, smashing bottles and throwing barrels into the River.  The owner of the house of Archille Princier had his house set aflame by an angry mob chanting “A bas les frauders!” (“Down with the cheaters”)!

champagne vineyardsThe worst of the riots occurred in the sleepy town of Aÿ, located just three miles north of Épernay.  An angry mob descended on the city, ransacking the homes of Champagne producers and private citizens alike.  After a fire started to spread and the entire village was burning, the government intervened and sent in 40,000 troops.  Soldiers were stationed in every village and town.

This first round of riots was soon followed by more and more trouble.  The French Government, in an attempt to quell the violence once and for all, attempted to create a true definition of “Champagne” and define its region of origin.  The first version included a geographical delineation of the area that included just the villages of the Marne Department and a few from the Aisne Department. This blatantly excluded the Aube region and its capital, the village of Troyes. Riots broke out again as the growers from the Aube district protested their exclusion.  This prompted the government to create a second zone within the Champagne appellation for Aube, which in turn lead to more riots as the producers in the Marne District lashed out against the loss of their exclusive status.  Once again, vineyards were burned, houses were ransacked, bottles were smashed, and barrels were tossed into rivers. Violence, riots, and attempts at negotiation were still underway up until the beginning of World War I, when the region and country faced much bigger problems and internal hostilities ceased.

CelebrateFinally, in 1927, the Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée standards for the Champagne region were agreed upon.  The regulations declared (thankfully) that geographical boundaries of the region included the Marne, The Aube, and parts of the Aisne departments; and that only grapes from those regions could be used in the wine now known (and loved) as “Champagne.”

Click here for SWE’s Map of the Champagne Region

For more information:

The New York Times Archive:http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?res=9A00E3DD1031E233A25755C1A9629C946096D6CF

The Argus/National Library of Australia Archive:  http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article10894733

 

Post written by Jane A. Nickles, CWE (your SWE Blog Administrator) bevspecialist@societyofwineeducators.org

Chianti’s New Cousin

red grapesChianti’s New Cousin:  Gran Selezione

 

Last month, the Chianti Classico Consorzio approved the creation of a new top-tier classification of Chianti Classico DOCG wines to be known as “Gran Selezione.”  The term is expected to be approved by the Ministry of Agriculture, and if so, will represent a group of wines “a quality level above” Chianti Classico Riserva.

The first wines eligible to display the term on their label will be those from the 2010 vintage.

In the interest of “keeping it simple.” here is a quick look at how this new branch of the Chianti family tree fits in with its brothers and sisters:

 

Chianti Classico Gran Selezione DOCG:

  • Must be produced from 100% estate-grown fruit
  • Minimum 30 months of aging
  • Is intended to acknowledge vineyard-specific wines
  • Will represent approximately 7% of the production of Chianti Classico

Tuscany for ChiantiChianti Classico Riserva DOCG:

  • Minimum 24 months of aging
  • Minimum 12.5% abv

Chianti Classico DOCG:

  • Minimum 12 months of aging
  • May be released October 1 of the year following harvest
  • Minimum 12% abv

All versions of Chianti Classico must be a minimum of 80% Sangiovese, produced from grapes grown within the 100-square miles of the designated Chianti Classico region.  Up to 10% Canaiolo may be included, along with up to 15% other red varieties.  Of these “other” varieties, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are often used.

Chianti DOCG

  • Aged for at least 7 months.  Most Chianti DOCG is allowed to be released March 1 following the vintage year; the sub-zones of Colli Fiorentini, Montespertoli and Rufina require a further three months and not released until 1 June.
  • Chianti Superiore DOCG may be released September 1st of the year following harvest.
  • May be made from grapes grown anywhere in the Chianti DOCG zone, with the exception of the Chianti Classico DOCG area.
  • Minimum 11.5% Alcohol.
  • Minimum of 70% Sangiovese, may include “other suitable red grapes”.
  • Sangiovese in TuscanyMay include up to 6% white grapes; namely Trebbiano and Malvasia
  • Yield limited to 4 tons per acre

As any serious wine student should know, there are seven subzones of the Chianti DOCG, in addition to Chianti Classico.  Do you know what they are???

For more information::

Post written by Jane A. Nickles, CWE (your SWE Blog Administrator) bevspecialist@societyofwineeducators.org