New Year’s Eve in Rome and a Battle of the Bubblies!

Rome colloseum nyeSpending New Year’s Eve in Rome, I was able to observe and enjoy Italy’s dual personality in sparkling wine.  Prosecco was sold by street vendors and enjoyed alfresco; sitting on the Spanish Steps, watching fireworks in Piazza del Popolo or enjoying the concert at Circus Maximus.  Franciacorta was pouring inside Rome’s many Enotecas and Ristorantes.

While both Prosecco and Franciacorta are sparkling wines, there are more differences than just where they are enjoyed.

In the Piazza - Prosecco!

Prosecco is often considered fun, easy to drink, perfect during happy hour and inexpensive – generally a wine for every occasion. Prosecco has been produced in northeastern Italy going back as far as Roman times using the Glera grape variety, which grew near the village of Prosecco.  Cultivation spread to the hills of Veneto and Friuli-Venezia Giulia in the 18th century and there is early documentation that due to Prosecco’s aromatic quality it is suitable for producing wine with a fine sensory profile.

Production continued to spread to the lower lying areas of Veneto and Friuli-Venezia Giulia and this is where the Prosecco we know today was first produced in the beginning of the 20th century, thanks to the introduction of a new secondary fermentation technique. Scientific knowledge has come leaps and bounds later in the 20th century, which perfected the Prosecco production method.

Map of Prosecco via http://www.discoverproseccowine.it/en/

Map of Prosecco via http://www.discoverproseccowine.it/en/

Prosecco first received Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) status in 1969 for sparkling wines produced in the hills near the towns of Conegliano and Valdobbiadene. In 2009 major changes to the Prosecco disciplinare were implemented:

  • Prosecco is now strictly defined as a wine-producing region.  Therefore, the grape used should no longer be referred to as “Prosecco” and is now correctly identified as Glera.
  • The Prosecco DOC was expanded to replace the previous Indicazione Geografica Tipica (IGT) region in northeastern Italy.  The Prosecco DOC now encompasses nine provinces in the regions of Veneto and Friuli-Venezia Giulia.  This introduced stricter controls and greater guarantees for the consumer.
  • Prosecco Superiore was elevated to Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG) status.  DOCG wines include Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco DOCG and Colli Asolani (Asolo) Prosecco DOCG.
  • The “crus” Rive and Cartizze are new introductions. Il Rive is reserved for sparkling wines which highlight individual communes or hamlets in the Conegliano-Valdobbiadene area enabling individual expression.  “Rive” in local dialect translates as “vineyards planted on steep land.” Superiore di Cartizze is the peak of DOCG quality and is considered the “grand cru” of Prosecco.  Cartizze is comprised of 107 hectares of remarkably steep vineyards of San Petro di Barbozza, Santo Stefano, and Saccol in the commune of Valdobbiadene.  This micro area is a perfect combination of mild climate, aspect and soils.  The vineyards here produce a sparkling wine of particular elegance which represents the maximum expression of the Conegliano-Valdobbiadene area.

Prosecco must be made with a minimum of 85% Glera while the remaining 15% can be of any combination of Verdiso, Perera, Bianchetta, Glera Lugna, Pinot Bianco, Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, or Pinot Nero (only if produced as a white wine).

Who can resist a Bellini?

Who can resist a Bellini?

Prosecco is generally made in the Charmat or “Italian Method,” defined as the second fermentation taking place in large pressurized stainless steel tanks with the addition of sugar and yeast.  This second fermentation lasts a minimum of 30 days.  Once finished, the sparkling wine is bottled and ready to be released into the market.  This method allows the preservation of the grapes’ varietal aromas, giving a fruity and floral wine.

Prosecco can either be produced as full sparkling (Spumante) or lightly sparkling (Frizzante or gentile).  Then the specific style is designated by the residual sugar content.

  • Brut – maximum of 12 grams per liter of residual sugar
  • Extra Dry – between 12-17 grams per liter
  • Dry – between 17-32 grams per liter

Prosecco is low in alcohol with only 11 to 12% alcohol by volume and low in pressure with 3 atmospheres of pressure for the Spumante and 1 to 2 ½ atmospheres of pressure for the Frizzante.

Prosecco is usually enjoyed “straight,” but also appears in some popular cocktails, such as the Bellini (Peach and Prosecco), the Spritz (Aperol, Compari, Cynar), or the Sgroppino (Lemon sorbet, Prosecco and vodka).

In the Enoteca - Franciacorta!

If the French will forgive me for saying this, Franciacorta is the Italians’ response to Champagne. The wines of Franciacorta have been around a long time – mention of the area’s wines appeared in one of the first published works about the technique of production of natural fermentation wines in the bottle and their beneficial and therapeutic action on the human body – printed in 1570.

Franciacorta vineyard in Paderno

Franciacorta vineyard in Paderno

The Franciacorta DOCG is located in Lombardy’s province of Bescia, within the territory of Franciacorta.  Lake Iseo moderates the climate while the hills to the east and west protect the region from winds.  Soils are mostly morainic, laid down by the glaciers that formed the lakes and valleys.

Franciacorta was the first Italian sparkling wine produced by the Classic Method (second fermentation in the bottle) awarded Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG) in 1995.  Today, the wine reads simply “Franciacorta”: this defines the growing area, the production method, and the wine.  There are only ten such wines in all of Europe and only three of them are sparkling: Champagne, Cava and Franciacorta.

Franciacorta today is still a relatively small region with 2,700 hectares under vine and around 100 producers. The Franciacorta DOCG limits the varieties to Chardonnay, Pinot Nero and Pinot Blanco.  It also regulates yields, harvesting times, conditions and many other aspects of winemaking.  Fanciacorta enjoys a long secondary fermentation in the bottle and is aged for many years before release.  While universally known as sparkling wine made in the traditional method, locally this process is referred to as the “Franciacorta method”.

The categories of Franciacorta are:

  • Non-vintage – Aged on its lees for 18 months and not released until at least 25 months after harvest.   Chardonnay and/or Pinot Noir, with up to 50% Pinot Bianco.  Produced in a range of styles:  Pas dosé, Extra Brut, Brut, Extra Dry, Sec, or Demi-Sec.
  • Satèn – Aged on its lees for 24 months.   Satèn is always blanc de blancs made predominantly of Chardonnay with up to 50% Pinot Bianco allowed.  Satèn is bottled at a slightly lower pressure (less than 5 atmospheres of pressure instead of the standard 6 atmospheres) giving it a softer mouthfeel.  Produced in only the Brut style.
  • "Bottiglia e calice di franciacorta" by Nautinut - Own work, via Wikimedia Commons

    “Bottiglia e calice di franciacorta” by Nautinut – Own work, via Wikimedia Commons

    Rosé – Aged on its lees for 24 months.  Rosé is often made from just Pinot Noir grapes, but may also be made by blending a minimum of 25% Pinot Noir with base wines of Chardonnay and/or Pinot Bianco.  Produced in a range of styles:  Pas dosé, Extra Brut, Brut, Extra-Dry, Sec, or Demi-Sec.

  • Millesimato (Vintage) – Aged on its lees for 30 months and not released until at least 37 months after harvest.  At least 85% of the base wine must come from one single growing year.  Both Satèn and Rose can include Millesimato.  Produced in a range of styles: Pas dosé, Extra Brut, Brut, Extra Dry (Satèn only Brut)
  • Riserva – Is a Millesimato (can include Satèn and Rose) which is aged on its lees at least 60 months and not released until at least 67 months (5 ½ years) after harvest.  Since many Franciacorta Millesimatos rest sur lie far longer than the required minimum of 30 months, this designation was created to highlight this unique type of wine.  Produced in a range of styles: Pas dosé, Extra Brut, Brut (Satèn only Brut)

The dosato of Franciacorta are defined in the same way as Champagne’s dosage levels.

  • Pas dosé (No dosage, dosage zero, pas opéré or nature) – maximum 3 grams per liter residual sugar
  • Extra Brut – maximum 6 grams per liter
  • Brut – maximum 12 grams per liter
  • Extra Dry – between 12-17 grams per liter
  • Sec (Dry) – between 17-32 grams per liter
  • Demi Sec – between 32-50 grams per liter

So…now that you know the details – how would you rather spend New Year’s Eve in Roma? Would you like to welcome the stroke of midnight with Prosecco on the piazza, or Franciacorta in the enoteca?

Post authored by Brenda Audino, CWE. After a long career as a wine buyer with Twin Liquors in Austin, Texas, Brenda has recently moved to Napa, California (lucky!)where she runs the Spirited Grape wine consultancy business. Brenda is a long-time member of SWE and has attended many conferences – be sure to say “hi” at this year’s conference in NOLA!

The Central Otago Gold Rush

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Wine students are well aware of the effect that California’s Gold Rush (1848-1855) had on wine production in northern California – namely, that between 1856 and 1857, gold fever turned into vine fever, and winegrape plantings in the area more than doubled!

However, did you know that Central Otago had a gold rush of its own?

It all began in May of 1861, when gold was discovered in an Otago Valley now known as Gabriel’s Gully. The site is located about three kilometers from the town of Lawrence, close to the Tuapeka River.  The discovery at Gabriel’s Gully was the largest gold strike ever for New Zealand, and quickly led to a rapid influx of foreign prospectors to the area – many of them veterans of the recent gold rush in California, as well as similar finds in the gold fields of Victoria, Australia.

One such miner, named Jean Desire Féraud, was of French descent – from a wine-making family in Burgundy, no less. Upon his arrival in Otago, Mr. Féraud quickly made a fortune from gold – so much so that the location of his lucky strike, located on the west bank of the Clutha River, is now known as Frenchman’s Point.

Jean Desire Féraud, via centralotagowine.com

Jean Desire Féraud, via centralotagowine.com

With his newly-found riches, Mr. Féraud bought 100 acres of land and planted orchards, herbs, and vineyards. He also built a winery, known as Monte Christo. Most of the wine was sold locally, but one batch – believed to be Pinot Noir from the 1879 vintage – won a third-place medal in the “Best Burgundy” category at an 1881 competition in Sydney.

Despite this success, Féraud’s efforts were not enough to win over the locals – most of them miners and farmers who preferred whisky and beer – to the love of wine, and Féraud soon sold the winery.  It was purchased by James Bodkin in 1889, and the property remains in the Bodkin family to this day.

Thus, the first wave of wine production in Central Otago was short-lived, and, as we all know, the modern wine industry took until the 1990s to really get going. It does, however, seem like Mr. Féraud knew what he was doing, as Pinot Noir is now the leading red grape of New Zealand. And Central Otago, famous for being the southernmost wine region in the world, is equally well-known for its fragrant, intense, silky Pinot Noir. To wine lovers, and hopefully to the legacy of Jean Desire Féraud, that’s as good as gold.

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Good Things Come in Small (Piemontese) Packages

Tagliolo Monferrato in Alessandria

Tagliolo Monferrato in Alessandria

Good things come in small packages – it’s an excellent concept to keep in mind with the annual gift-giving season staring down at many of us. It’s also good concept for wine lovers, as well, as we know that the smaller the region (DOC, AOC, GI), the more prestigious, unique, and defined a wine is likely to be.

In honor of that thought, I went in search of those tiny “jewel-boxes” of Italian wine, and came up with three of the most fascinating – and entirely tiny – DOCs to be found out of Italy’s total (at least for today) of 332. These three vineyards just happen to be located in Piedmont, however, my search was not limited to Piedmont – it just turned out that way!

I am sure, with their limited production, these wines are difficult to find outside of their native home – but if you have been lucky enough to ever try one of these wines – let us know in the comments below!

Rubino di Cantavenna DOC:   This tiny gem of a DOC, located in the eastern section of Piedmont, has 5 acres (2 hectares) dedicated to vines, and an annual production of just 1,380 cases. The area is part of the lowlands south of the Po River, at the far end of the Monferrato hills. The following communes are permitted to produce Rubino di Cantavenna: Moncestino, Villamiroglio, Camino and Gabiano (which has its own DOC, with slightly different regulations concerning the wine blend, and at 2 acres/1hectare definitely qualifies as its own jewel box of a DOC, but has not produced any wine in the last few years.)

One of the many Medieval towers in Asti

One of the many Medieval towers in Asti

Rubino di Cantavenna is approved for red wines based on the Barbera grape variety. The rules of the DOC mandate that Barbera be 75-90% of the blend, with the remainder (10-25%) being Freisa and/or Gignolino. The wine must be aged approximately 14 months before release.  (To make things difficult, the Disciplinare of Rubino di Cantavenna dictates that the wine must not be released before January 1, of the second year following the vintage.) Wines of the region tend to be pale red in color, with aromas of plum, cherry, blackberry and vanilla, with perhaps a touch of toasty oak. The wine is generally moderate in tannin, bright in acidity, and with a slightly (ever-so-pleasant) bitter tinge at the finish.

Loazzolo DOC: This tiny region claims 5 acres (2 hectares) of vineyards, and produces on average just 425 cases of wine a year. This region produces a sweet, botrytis-affected white wine based on the Moscato grape variety. The vineyards of the Loazzolo DOC overlook the Bormida River, about 15 miles south of the town of Asti on the southern edge of the Moscato d’Asti area.

According to the Disciplinare of Loazzolo the wines must be made with 100% Moscato grapes, and may not be harvested until after September 20. The grapes must be dried on or off the vine, must be affected by botrytis, and ripe enough to give the wine a minimum of 11% alcohol. The finished wine must have a minimum of 5% residual sugar and must be aged for a minimum of 2 years, including 6 months in barrel, before release. Typical descriptors of Loazzolo include Moscato’s “signature” floral, musky, and tropical fruit aromas, as well as vanilla, honey, and rich texture on the palate.

Strevi DOC: Saving the tiniest for last, the Strevi DOC claims just 2 acres (1 hectare) of vineyards, and produced 233 cases of wine in 2012.  Located in the town of Strevi, located on the eastern edge of the Moscato d’Asti area and bounded to the east by the Bormida River, Strevi was awarded its DOC in 2005. According to the Disciplinare of Strevi, grapes used for Strevi DOC wine must be grown in “vineyards on hilly, sunny ridges with clay soils based on marl and limestone.”

Summer landscape in Strevi

Summer landscape in Strevi

The grapes must be 100% Moscato and the wine must be produced in the passito style, with a minimum alcohol content of 12.5% and two years of required aging. All of these factors combine to make Strevi DOC a rich, golden-yellow wine with amber flecks, richly aromatic with notes of candied citrus, apple, sweet spices and honey, rich and sweet on the palate – and a fantastic match for foie gras, cheese, or apple-based desserts.

 

Thanks to our friends at Italian Wine Central for the acreage and production statistics!

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

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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