On April 27th I had the distinct pleasure of attending the 2nd annual Taste of Mendocino, America’s Greenest Wine Region at the Golden Gate Club in San Francisco’s Presidio. This well attended, downright crowded event, was a revelation. Living for far too long in the shadow of Napa and Sonoma, the membership of the Mendocino Winegrape and Wine Commission (MWWC), some 84 wineries and 343 winegrape growers strong, has decided enough is enough. Among their multiple initiatives is the effort to put their wines and progressive green credentials before the American public. In this time of environmental concerns, climate change, debates over ‘natural’ and biodynamic wines, of the American consumer’s evolving palate, Mendocino County has a wisdom and a vision accumulated over generations that will benefit us all to learn. From the website:
“Founded in 2006, MWWC is dedicated to sharing knowledge of the singular attributes of the winegrapes, wines and wine estates of Mendocino County with a diversity of audiences around the world.
Mendocino Winegrape & Wine Commission members benefit from research and education programs that emphasize positive relationships with winegrape and wine buyers within our own organization and extending into communities around us. Collaboratively, we place a strong emphasis on organic grape growing and specialized viticultural techniques appropriate to the dozens of grape varietals grown in our 12 diverse regions.
Mendocino County’s authentic “green” credentials are unsurpassed by any other wine region in the world. From pristine wild lands and coastline to multi-generational hands-on family farmers and winemakers, this is a region that has been at the forefront of the sustainable, organic, Biodynamic and fish friendly farming movements.
Now, whereas the county’s narrative is compelling, able to persuade drinkers to look for the region’s many and varied wines, it is the quality of what is in the glass that will keep them coming back for more. And let me tell you, the wines I tasted, only a fraction of those on display, were among the finest domestic efforts I have ever enjoyed. The acid levels were wonderfully high, the tannins firm, the oak judiciously used. The fruit was, dare I say it, pure?
Of course, these are general considerations. Mendocino County AVAs and growing regions are very different; I must confess I was somewhat perplexed at the event’s format. The differences between the Potter Valley and the Anderson Valley are enormous. And a few producers, a very few, disappointed. But with respect to varietal correctness, I was simply astonished as I moved from table to table. Expression after expression were true, soulful realizations of the their grapes. Syrahs were restrained and beautifully perfumed; Pinots, boldly fruited and transparent in the Burgundian style; the Cabernets, exquisitely balancing fruit, lower alcohol, acid and tannins; the Petite Sirahs again showcased that variety’s beguiling sensitivity to terroir; and the Zinfandels, a grape much abused these days, were tightly wound, almost abstract when compared to the awful alcoholic fruit bombs regularly detonating on our dinner tables. Perhaps most surprising were the Merlots, a grape I had largely abandoned. No longer.
These are but a handful grapes grown throughout Mendocino County. Indeed, owning to the geological complexity of the county, its boundaries seemingly drawn by a demented cartographer, it is obvious why dozens of varieties may call this region home. Yet it is also true that for this very reason that experimentation with varieties is enthusiastically embraced here. As with the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA, it is very clear that California’s great learning curve of matching grape to place, vine to terroir, is being successfully realized in Mendocino County. A great many of the region’s producers are farmers, the highest compliment one may offer; true American farmers, respectful of the land, attentive to its rhythms and its greater wisdom. For they know better than most that it is only with such a disposition that honest wines may be made.
Here are a few specific producers who caught my attention. I will mention, with one exception, only the reds.
Albertina Wine Cellars. Though fruit forward and with softer tannins than I prefer, the quality of their Cabernets was quite high.
Barra of Mendocino. All organic, they offered a Petite Sirah, Zinfandel, and a Sangiovese, all very good.
Bink Wines. The wines of Deb Schatzlein, present at the tasting, were among the finest of the afternoon. She makes Syrah, Pinot Noir, Merlot, and ‘Melange’, a Bordeaux-style blend. Made in small lots, I strongly recommend you sign up for her wine club. I might add that her reserved demeanor, whether from shyness or the tiresome obligation to pour her work for a room full of strangers, added to her charm. Like many of the producers in attendance, they are not your practiced ‘happy talk’ B.S.’ers, but very down to earth people, if I may put it that way.
Chiarito Vineyard. Winemaker John Chiarito offered a Petite Sirah, Zinfandel, and a transcendent Nero d’Avola. (Mr. Chiarito is the first to plant this variety in the US.) All brilliant. I was given a taste from one of the last bottles of his long sold out 2003 Negro Amaro. Out of Ukiah, he is doing superb work. Hats off!
Lolonis Winery. The moment I stood before their table, a gentleman placed a cloth Ladybug, their logo, on my shirt. After tasting their excellent Zinfandel, Merlot and Cabernet, I turned to go and ran into Petros Lolonis himself, a man of great dignity and gravitas.
Terra Savia. Winemaker Jim Milone makes a 100% Chardonnay sparkler that was equal parts finesse and play. A serious wine!
Paul Dolan Vineyards. It is hard to find the words to describe these world class wines. I won’t try. My advice? Get on the list. These were the finest domestic wines I have tasted in a very long time. And the prices for most of Dolan’s efforts are laughably low. Amazing juice.
It was at this point, only an hour into the tasting, that I was called away to the seminar The Grape Grandparents of Mendocino County. Hosted by MWWC President Dave Batt, it featured UC Davis Coop Extension advisor Glenn McGourty, winemakers Alex MacGregor, Charlie Barra, Greg Graziano, Steve Sterling, and Bob Blue. Below are accounts of three of the speakers. A full account of all remarks will be presented here at a later date.
—–Glenn McGourty, Advisor for the UC Davis Cooperative Extension
“We’re not allowed out in public very often. We dance, we sing, we drink wine, we have a good time!
Everybody knows Sonoma and Napa, but there’s a large area on top of that called Mendocino and Lake County. That’s our territory. Size wise, it’s a combination of the states of Connecticut and Rhode Island put together.”
Mr. McGourty went on to describe Mendocino County as sparsely populated, about 90,000 souls. It is 100 miles long and 60 miles wide. Most of it is in the Russian River and Navarro River watersheds, and a little bit of the Dry Creek watershed from Sonoma County. It is a very mountainous region owing to the ongoing collision of the North American and Pacific plates. The regions of the county vary widely. The Pacific Ocean is a big air conditioner with the temperature a steady 50 F. Elevation is gained as one moves inland. The relation of an area to fog affects local climate. Fog brings cooler temperatures. Areas beyond the fog are, of course, warmer, with more moderate temperatures for areas above the fog. In the Anderson Valley fog is present almost every day in the summer time. Yorkville Highlands is above the fog, where the Dry Creek headwaters are. The Mendocino Range define the westside of the Russian River to the Hopland area, where nearby lies Lake Mendocino, the headwaters of the Russian River. Also framing the region are the Mayacama Mountains, at once the westside of the Napa Valley and the eastside of the Russian River Valley where Mendocino County begins.
Italians first grew grapes in Mendocino County, but only for family consumption. Hops were the principle crop in the late 1900s. Greeks grew grapes as well, the Lolonis Family, for example. Prohibition killed the approximately 20 wineries then in existence. [Parducci survived owing to its production of sacramental wines.] It was, in any case, always a race to drink the wine before it became vinegar. Low tech was all that was used. They weren’t making wine for Robert Parker! Mendocino has kept the old that was good, and they’ve added to it. Head pruned vines, simple farming, organic by default, light shakes of sulphur twice a year was about it. Carignane emerged as popular variety. It sustained good yields, an extra ton over Zinfandel. The important point to take away is that, apart from home winemaking, commercial wines were initially grown for the bulk wine market. The region’s history of these early days is that of the evolution from bulk and jug wines to varieties. [For supplemental information please see this.]
To illustrate these last two points we turn to two speakers. The first provides a thumbnail sketch of a kind of winemaking that continues Mendocino’s organic tradition, organic avant la lettre; the second speaker delves into deeply respected regional themes.
History in a glass.
—–Winemaker Alex MacGregor on the 2007 Trinafour Carignane, Niemi Vineyard, Redwood Valley
“This is of Finnish, not Italian origins, from a Finnish colony that bought property in the ‘teens and in the 1920s planted grapes, then ripped them out after World War 2 and replanted in the 1950s on St George rootstock, dry farmed. It’s never been sprayed. By default it’s farmed organically, but it has since been certified organic. These vines used to yield 7,8,9,10 tons an acre. By the time they got to 60 to 65 years old, they’re yielding 2 to 3 tons an acre. It’s definitely not a sexy clone unless you say ‘Carignane’. A neat history in a bottle. I try basically not to screw it up. It’s farmed by Alvin Tollini; his family has been farming for 3 generations. I make it with native yeast fermentation, native malolactic, there is no fining, no filtration, there’s no new wood. The only trick that I use in this wine is that it goes on top of a little bit of dried Petite Sirah skins, ripasso style, from Petite in the same vineyard, about 10%. They are not dried on mats like Amarone. I dry them in a tank, with heat, and once they’re really, really without moisture left, I’ll put the Carignane on top of those skins for 3 or 4 days and then drain to wood. It’s pretty straight forward.”
From Jug Wine to Varieties.
—–Charlie Barra [his oral presentation has been edited]
“My family migrated from the northern part of Italy, from the Piedmont district, in 1900. And they were grape growers over there, my grandfather, like my dad. And they came first through San Francisco and the earthquake, then they moved to Santa Rosa; they finally moved to Mendocino county to grow grapes because the area was very similar to from where they came. The terrain and climate was very similar. They planted small vineyards there, selling grapes to larger wineries who then made vin ordinaire and jug wine. That was their primary market. Then along came Prohibition. They had quite a difficult time; and without resources, I don’t know how they ever made it. But they did. Sometimes I have a suspicion that they converted some of their wine into alcohol, but I’m not sure about that! That all happened during the 30s. That was quite common with Italian families who moved into the Mendocino County area. (They moved into other areas, too.)
We were a very small grape growing area because we are a very cold climate. The Mendocino climate is very unique. Hardly anywhere else where they grow grapes that has a climate similar to what we have in Mendocino County. Very warm days, good for growing fruit; very, very cold nights, which is very good for preserving the balance in the fruit that determines the quality of the wine that you’re going to make. Now, as a grower, I like to take a lot of credit for what I do because I work very hard. I would point out that I just finished my 64th harvest! As a grower, you don’t miss a harvest. The reason you never miss a harvest is that you get paid once a year. You had better show up!
The climate that we have is unique, very consistent; it’s the kind of climate that you can grow many different varieties of grapes. But in the beginning, when they produced vin ordinaire, they grew Carignane, Alicante, Palomino, [unclear], all those varieties, and they sold them to large wineries for jug wine. That went on for quite a few years. And because of our very cold climate, you could not plant vineyards on the bottomlands. The most productive lands in Mendocino County were not planted to grapes. They were planted to hops, pears and prunes. That’s what we had on the bottomlands. They could withstand the frost better than the grapes. Grapes were only planted on the hillsides. Where I grew up, I was born in Calpella, just north of Ukiah, all of the vineyards were on the hillsides.
Mendocino County did not get into the varietal wine business, like those you’re drinking, until at least 75 years after Napa had already made a reputation, before we even got started in the wine business. This is why you don’t hear about Mendocino County. But you’re going to hear a lot about Mendocino County when it comes out of the bottle! It’s superior, it’s very easy to drink, and has more flavors than any wines that I have ever tasted.
I was born in 1926. I grew up in a vineyard. Ten years ago I could prune a vine as well as anyone else. In fact, when I graduated from high school they gave me a pair of pruning shears for a present! In my senior year, I was 19 years old, of course, World War 2 was going on, and grape prices were very good. I had the opportunity to lease a large Zinfandel vineyard growing on a hillside, 1945, from an Italian who was retiring. So I had to make a deal with the high school principal to go to school half a day. So I started farming in 1945; and in that year I made 3 times as much as the principal! He was making $3,300 a year. And I made over $10,000.
I had very difficult years, but I also ended up owning over 400 acres of vineyards and a pretty big winery in the county. I finally had to sell 200 acres of vineyards because it was cutting into my fishing time! Then in 1950 I decided to plant a vineyard all my own. I bought a 150 acres out in the Redwood Valley. You’ve got to remember, this was all borrowed money because my family had absolutely no resources. I planted varietal grapevines, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, some Cabernet, Petite Sirah, things like that. In doing this I made friends with Bob Mondavi. Unfortunately, when the grapes came in I had no market because nobody was buying varietals from Mendocino. So I had to sell my varietal grapes that were producing 3 to 4 tons an acre, to the larger wineries as vin ordinaire at $40 a ton, which was very difficult to do. Then about 3 years after production started Bob Mondavi and the Wente Family came up and made me a deal that they would use all the varietals I could grow if I would deliver them to Livermore and Napa. I was willing to do it, except that I didn’t know what they were going to pay me. I asked what the price would be. They asked what do you get now? I said $40 a ton. They told me that if I delivered them to their wineries they would pay me twice as much. So that got me started in the varietal wine business. That was 60 years ago. By that time Napa had already made its reputation. But we’re catching up very quickly.
I don’t have any problem withe the varietals we’re growing. In the case of Pinot Noir, we have Pinot Noir planted in lots of different locations. We’d always bring samples to wineries for selling our grapes. At one time, by the way, I was growing 600 tons of Pinot Noir, and I couldn’t give them away. We’d take these samples to a winery. And the winery, without knowing where they came from, would choose the Mendocino Pinot Noir, without exception.”
The seminar started a little late, and went over its alloted time. Regrettably, I had less than an hour left to taste through more than a dozen producers. The tasting room was now jammed. There was simply no way, especially with family obligations back in Santa Cruz, that I could intellectually engage the wines, let alone their makers. I decided to flee, but not before asking Charlie Barra one question, the answer to which might serve as a coda for Mendocino County producers as a whole.
Admin Mr. Barra, could you say a bit about your aversion to pesticide use? Were you ever visited by pesticide dealers?
Charlie Barra I could tell you all kinds of stories. I’ll tell you this. My best friend operated a pesticide warehouse and sold for large companies. He would come on the ranch and try to convince me why I had to use pesticides on my fruit. He would scare the hell out of me! He’d say he’d gone to such and such a ranch and saw what I had. He then said he went back two weeks later and it was a complete disaster! They scare you into buying pesticides. Fortunately I didn’t listen very well, until one day I told him to get his fanny off my place and don’t ever come back again. I threw my best friend off the ranch! Because it was all salesmanship. If I can grow grapes without pesticides, and I’m not an expert on pesticides, but if I can do it, anybody can do it. You just have to make up your mind. Yeah, in the beginning there was a little fingernail biting. But in the end, it’s good for everything around you, your health, your wildlife, and I feel good about what I am doing. That’s very important, to know that you’re not destroying anything. I won’t say it has anything to do about wine quality. I don’t even care about that. I care about the environment and the people around me. We need more of that in this country.
Am I raving in my enthusiasm for Mendocino County wines? Maybe just a bit. But for someone whose palate often feels a stranger in California, I have at long last found another region, in addition to the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA, my taste preferences may call home.
Dr. Ron S. Jackson. Who among wine science writers, oenologists and viticulturalists do not turn to his work for assistance, remedy, and for study? A standard textbook for the wine industry, for students and professionals alike, Wine Science, Principles, Practice, Perception, now in its 3rd edition, is the distillation of a disciplined life’s work. Whenever confronted with a technical issue requiring rigorous, thoroughly vetted research, it is to his book that I turn.
Professor Jackson may be retired, but the word means different things to different people. During the course of my conversation with him, to be presented in three parts, I was to learn that the life of the mind knows no retirement. Viticulture, Oenology, and Microbiology are ongoing explorations for him. Wine science is woven into his very character. Indeed, as the reader will discover, Professor Jackson continues to work on multiple intellectually demanding tasks.
A brief note on Dr. Jackson’s academic history: He gained his doctorate from the University of Toronto. Formerly associated with Brandon University where he developed Canada’s fist wine technology course, he is now a part of Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute at Brock University.
Part 1 of the interview concentrates on biography and what might be called the politics of wine science, the often counterproductive struggle between theoretical and practical research programs for research money. No stranger to academic battles, he offers helpful insight into this predicament.
In part 2 we will turn to topics specific to microbiology.
Admin Good afternoon, Professor Jackson.
Ron Jackson You’ve called right on time.
Yes. Although justly famous for your books, not many folks know of you’re background. If you don’t mind, could you give us a sketch of how it is you came to microbiology, oenology and viticulture?
RJ Oh, gosh! Of course. There was a professor with whom I had a great degree of compatibility. He happened to be a plant pathologist, and he also liked Horticulture; that was my primary interest at the time. When it came time to look for research projects, and since we got along really well, I initially worked on a disease of Cattleya orchids. I then basically moved into diseases caused by Botrytis. Once I got into it, I really enjoyed it, and found it so inspiring that I decided to stay in plant pathology for the next ten or so years until I took my first sabbatical, which was at Cornell. While there, because of the wine associated aspects of that particular region, I took a course with Bob Pool on Viticulture, and I took other wine-related courses just for the fun of it. Because what I was really there to do was to study the genetics of Botrytis, one of the important pathogens of grapevines.
But on sabbatical you tend to have more free time than you do when you have your normal teaching load. So I thought, gee whiz, I could just have some fun and take some courses to learn a bit more about the wine side of things. I found that it became even more interesting than the pathology side of things. When I went back to the university some people I met thought it would be nice to have a wine appreciation course, and I thought maybe a wine technology course would be even more intriguing to me. And my work on the genetics of Botrytis had been having some problems…
Problems in what respect?
RJ (laughs) O.K. Technical problems. The organism is not an easy one to work with. If you’re a really smart scientist then you choose an organism that will answer the questions you want. I was more interested in the organism, having it tell me what it could about itself. But it is a really obnoxious organism to try and work with as far as its genetics. With the technical problems, two years’ work, all the Botrytis died. Two years of work all gone up in smoke, of no value. I got kind of frustrated. The university is breathing down your neck, asking ‘Where are all those nice research papers you’re supposed to be pumping out’? Well, my organisms are dead. And they say, ‘Well, that doesn’t count!’ (laughs)
So when I was reading up on wine-related things, I realized that Amerine’s book, which was my bible at the time, simply didn’t talk about certain things that for me, from my background, I found particularly interesting; like cork and oak, things of that nature. He didn’t talk about that. Neither did other authors. I started to realize that there were lots of things that were not being mentioned. Amerine was getting on in years. Another edition didn’t come out. Nobody else seemed to be putting anything out. I came to the conclusion that if I were to get my act together in time, I can get my book out before anybody else does, filling the niche of a new scientific text before anybody else! I was lucky.
I then did the same thing with wine tasting. After all, I had been working with the Manitoba Liquor Commission on training and testing their tasters. So if I could get my book out before Ann Noble does, maybe I can scoop that one too! (laughs) It’s in essence seeing a niche, a good ecological term, seeing a niche… nobody’s there… if you get in first you can establish yourself.
Funnily enough, that is the same thing Professor Gregory Jones told me about his research on climate change and viticulture. He looked around and found that there was an opportunity.
RJ That’s right. Find out what it is nobody else is doing and get in fast! You become the person. There’s no competition, well, ok, later. Then, of course, everyone has to try and up one on you. That tends to be even more difficult.
Yes. Now, I know that in Anthropology and Philosophy, subjects I studied in the university for some time, there is a great deal of competition within those departments. As you know, it is cold-blooded and heartless! Is it the same thing in wine science research?
RJ I’d have to say yes. People are people. There are only a limited amount of resources and money. You want to get the maximum for you. That means getting the maximum number of students; they can put out more research which means you can get more money. That is the direction the universities are going in these days. Researchers who get more money are very highly regarded. You can put out the best research, but if you don’t get a big research grant, well, that’s not so good. It’s not your repute or the quality of your research so much as it is how much money can you bring in to the university. What fancy equipment can you get? That’s the name of the game. It’s not necessarily what it should be, but that’s the way it is.
And there’s so much competition from the private sector as well. But I suppose the bottom line is the quality of the science…
RJ And popular. And current. As soon as a new technique comes out, everybody jumps in. Take DNA studies. Now everybody has to do a DNA study. (laughs) If you’re not doing a DNA study, then what are you doing? Are you slacking? Fooling around? Just reading newspapers? What? (laughs) I’ve been in the system sufficiently long to see trends. When I was coming in, electron microscopy was the thing. Everybody had to do studies in electron microscopy. Well, now electron microscopy is kind of old hat. DNA studies are now the thing. And gas chromatography was once the thing. Everybody had to be into that. That’s where the money is. I know it is not the way it should be, but we do not live in an ideal world. If you want to survive then you have to play by the rules.
It’s interesting. I spoke recently with Richard Smart who is also associated with your university, the Cool Climate Institute at Brock. He faulted the dependance of viticultural departments, UC Davis, etc., on genetics and the obsession with DNA when perfectly simple remedies for cool climate viticultural adaptation to climate change already exist. Plant breeding, for example. How do you balance the sexy, high prestige technology with simpler, more basic approaches to agriculture?
RJ What I’d like, in a sense, is the system that runs in Australia.
The mix of private and public.
RJ That’s right. There is a certain amount of money that comes off the sales of wines from wineries that goes to fund research. And, of course, those people are interested in really practical research.
Something like smoke taint.
RJ Exactly right. That affects our bottom line, how much money we get for our product. ‘We have a problem. Tell us what to do.’ Now that is really practical research. I love the really practical stuff. But it is not the sort of research that’s going to look great on your C.V. Because it’s practical, not theoretical. It’s not DNA. It depends on where the money comes from. If it comes from industry, like the wineries, then they will want practical research. They will put a stamp on where the money goes. But if the monies come from governments, and other researchers are the ones who tend to look at it, then they’ll be looking at it more from an academic point of view. So they will tend to shy away from the practical side and look at the theoretical side. Where the money comes from will therefore influence whether you get the grant or not.
What if the money comes from Bayer or Syngenta?
RJ Well, they’ll probably, if you’re not doing DNA genome studies, look elsewhere. You won’t get any money. Flat and simple. It’s not going to them any good. So, really, where the money comes from forces results of significance to them. If genetic engineering is where they make their money, then they want studies that relate to that. If your having problems with diseases in your vineyard, then you want the research to relate to that. It is natural that it will be that way.
Yes. So, getting back to your biography, eventually you have a textbook published. A standard. In light of constant and perpetual breakthroughs in the associated sciences, how is such a textbook updated and maintained?
RJ With constant study. There is no break. You must be looking everyday at the latest information coming out. Get the technical papers, put them away in the files, and when it comes time you simply look at all the old stuff, all the new stuff, try to integrate it all and update. It takes about 4 to 5 years for a new edition. You do not stop.
The amount of research is increasing constantly; that makes it even harder, but also more interesting. With data bases and access to data bases, you have your fingers going out into more research journals than was ever possible before. I’m finding interesting research in places I never would have even thought of looking. A journal on nuclear magnetic resonance imaging is not where I’m going to normally look for something on wine. But occasionally there is something fascinating that comes out of there. And without the data base I would have to be within a huge university and spend all my time looking at every journal, and doing almost nothing else, to try and find this stuff. The data bases help to locate diverse materials of significance to mention in the updated book.
Do you ever come across any difficulties with accessing proprietary scientific information, the work product of private companies? With privatization comes copyright, secrecy…. Has that ever proved to be a barrier to advancing your kind of research?
RJ No, because there are not really major industry players, like the genetic engineering people. That is not, at the moment, an important thing in grapevines or yeast studies. There is a bit of it, but there is such a backlash against it that little is actually being advanced at the moment in that regard. There is academic research looking into it, but on the practical side of it, it is very, very limited. Ok, fungicides… when it becomes available on the market then it becomes of interest to me. What they are doing in their research labs does not really effect what I am going to write. Because that is what might be.
You want real world results.
RJ That’s right.
END OF PT 1
The question is surprisingly simple: what is the relationship between wine and music? More accurately, what happens to the experience of tasting a specific wine, of its flavors, mouthfeel and aromas, when the sense of hearing, normally a negligible participant, is fully activated? How does a wine change when listening is given direction, a starring role? This was the question put to us at Monday’s gathering at the magnificent Hess Collection Winery. The group, assembled by Jo and Jose Diaz under the title Scoring the Scores, included Steve Heimoff, Clark Smith, Dan Berger, Laura Ness, and yours truly. All the wines, 19 in total, were Petite Sirahs. The music? All the tunes are found on Alacia Van’s superb CD Beautiful Thought. We’ll get to the music in a moment.
Now, it would be easy to dismiss this playful experiment as much ado about nothing. Music is music, wine is wine. But we, on the other hand, experience miraculous, unexpected intersections of physics and pleasure, art and science everyday. So routine are these encounters that the brilliance of the natural world, the complexity of a simple experiences, often go unnoticed. Take the run of a small stream, its flow over rocks, its eddies. A stream taken as an open system, the mathematical modeling of its movement is bewildering complex. But it does have a math. Or cloud formation, as it interacts with air pressure and temperature. There is math there, too. Better known is Johann Sebastian Bach’s prodigious mathematical play subtending many of his prodigious compositions. A particularly favorite example of mine occurs near the close of Gleik’s book, Chaos when he sits with mathematician Mitchell Feigenbaum on the floor of the latter’s empty apartment. As smoke rises from Dr. Feigenbaum’s cigarette, initially a laminar flow, it finally breaks into turbulence at precisely the point worked out by the Dr. Feigenbaum himself.
Our group’s question at Hess was essentially about missing information. To take one more illustrative example, that of weather prediction. Years ago a humble meteorologist by the name of Edward Lorenz was crunching numbers on a computer, a computer primitive by our standards. Approaching a deadline for a weather prediction, he was forced (for various reasons) to rerun his results. To speed things long, he clipped a few decimal numbers off of the very ends of his weather station data, things like wind speed, air pressure, temperature, all the inputs one normally associates with weather prediction. To his surprise, and ours, he came up with an entirely different forecast. Most puzzling was the fact that the decimal values clipped so as to shorten the numbers were seemingly insignificant, equalling the turbulent effect of a butterfly’s wings. This discovery led to the oft misunderstood ‘Butterfly Effect’, the idea that information missing from a calculation may have staggering real-world consequences.
Revolutionary ideas were soon to follow or to be loosely united under the mathematical science of Complexity Theory. Chaos, Poincare, Topology, Catastrophe Theory, Fractals, to name but a few, became the buzz words of an invigorated, visually informed math. And this latter concept is doubly important. Sight had been abandoned from math more than a century ago. It was all a matter of the brain. Every school child knows the pain of Algebra, the college student, of quadratic equations. The only bit of the world remaining before the student’s eyes was the dreaded text book and test paper. But through Fractals, the pioneering contribution of Benoit Mandelbrot, the natural world was reintroduced. The stunningly beautiful visual modelings of missing information has changed mathematics forever. The sense of sight was finally restored to the mathematical sciences, and aesthetics given its rightful seat at the banquet table of creation. Art became an expression of science. And a science may now find art as a source of primary information. For the natural world expresses both simultaneously.
So who was I to prejudge the Hess Collection Winery Petite Sirah tasting? Perhaps the sense of hearing might prove to be a treasured source, once stimulated, of something like wine’s missing information? First a word about our cast of characters. Clark Smith is arguably at the origin of the meditation on the wine/music intersection. An ebullient individual, overflowing with curiosity, crackling with the energy of a man half his age, Mr. Smith has researched this topic for some time. Dan Berger, Mr. Smith’s co-theoretician on this day, is himself a deep pool of knowledge. He, too, is an innovator of sorts, and bursts his banks with unanticipated gifts of insight. Noted wine writer Steve Heimoff played the part of the responsible skeptic, laboring to understand and explain the wines in ways everyone might appreciate. For Mr. Heimoff hyper-specialized wine knowledge can limit or interfere with what should proper be the simple pleasure of drinking. Laura Ness, champion of the Santa cruz Mountains AVA, she is up for anything! Open to the world, she was a fountain of play and inspiration. Jo and Jose Diaz, as organizers, were responsible for setting this comédie humaine in motion, though both clearly enjoyed moments of shared bliss as the afternoon proceeded. Myself? In such august company I felt it best not to speak unless spoken to. It is enough to say that watching these extremely diverse professionals in action was its own reward.
2007 Artezin, Mendocino County
2005 Clayhouse Estate, Paso Robles
2007 Concannon, Conservancy, Livermore Valley
2006 EOS Estate, Paso Robles
2005 Langtry, Guenoc Valley, Serpentine Meadow
2005 Lava Cap, Granite Hill, El Dorado, Reserve
2007 Line 39, Lake County
2004 Mettler Family Vineyards, Lodi
2007 Miro Petite Sirah, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County
2005 True Grit from Parducci, Mendocino County
2006 Pedroncelli Dry Creek Valley, Family Vineyards
2007 Silkwood, Stanislaus County
2006 Twisted Oak, Calaveras County
2005 Ursa, Sierra Foothills
2006 Vina Robles, Paso Robles
2006 Hess, Allomi Vineyard, Napa Valley
2008 Diamond Ridge
For the musical offerings please see Jo Diaz’s web site Juicy Tales for the list.
The method was simple. After an exhaustive introduction to the basics by Mr. Smith, we were first to taste the wines and then write a few notes. Next we were exposed to a variety of tunes, jazzy in the main. The task was to both pair a wine to a musical offering and, more importantly, to see whether our appreciation (or denigration) of a wine was substantially altered. An overarching question was whether we might find areas of collective agreement beyond tasting alone. By turns sultry, energetic, atonal, and novel, each tune was distinctive and rich. As we all listened, some of us perplexed, Mr. Smith and Mr. Berger went about their research with all the joy of latter day Archimedes. Exclamations not unlike that of ‘Eureka!’ rang out between the two. Mr. Heimoff offered a Mona Lisa smile as he sat listening next to the computer speakers. At one point Jo Diaz burst into laughter at his expression, and never fully recovered!
By fits and starts we next turned to lunch. Time, a sadistic task master, was moving quickly. A beautiful meal had been prepared by Executive Chef Chad Hendrickson, all the ingredients of which were sourced, with few exceptions, from local organic and sustainably farmed products. So beautiful was the food that, indeed, it crossed my mind that its preparation is itself among the highest cultural expressions of the twining of science and art. Ironically, we did not discuss the food and wine pairings before us. The designated music played over our conversations. We continued to entertain the question well into a dessert of Bitter Chocolate Terrine, Crème Fraiche Ice Cream with Banana Caramel Sauce.
What was learned? Well, that the people assembled were great intellectual adventurers. That the sympathy of music to wine demands greater research. That no miracle of everyday life should go unthought, however transitory and discrete. Such as our gathering.
Pathogenic fungi are among agriculture’s most durable and destructive pests. Botrytis Bunch Rot (Botrytis cinerea) in grape and strawaberry, Early Blight in tomato and potato, Powdery Mildew in grape, cucurbit, lettuce, Downy mildew, Late Blight (Phytophthora infestans), to name but a very few, have led to the development of an equally vast array of fungicides. Many are toxic, in varying degrees, to a broad spectrum of aquatic life, beneficial insects including honey bees and wasps, beneficial soil microbes, non-targeted crops and flora biodiversity in general, not to mention farm workers, their children, those with compromised immune systems, and eventually the consumer at large. Over the years the fungicide industry has become increasingly regulated with the resulting ban of a long list of formerly promising products. Hence, the search goes on for new and innovative bio-chemical fungicidal interventions to meet the ever-pressing demand for sustainable crop yields to feed a hungry world.
Indeed, it is not too much to say that the modern history of fungicidal products well outnumber the targeted fungi by factors of ten. The reason is at once both simple and bewilderingly complex. All agricultural pests, whether virus, bacteria, insect or fungi, have multiple growth stages, multiple defenses and weaknesses at each of these stages, all have a local agri-cultural ecosystems where their pestilential fortunes may rise or fall; they frequently require vectors and all have various and specific adaptive responses, importantly, genetic responses. Take a look at the University of California’s Integrated Pest Management list of fungicides for wine grapes alone (partially reproduced here). Note the variety of Chemical Classes and of Modes of Action. Each responds to some aspect or combination of aspects of the targeted fungi’s life cycle, whether systemic or by contact.
Now, to go a bit deeper into just one fungal pathogen, Botrytis cinerea, the causal agent of Bunch Rot, I turn to a truly magnificent scientific paper, Alternatives to synthetic fungicides for Botrytis cinerea management in vineyards found in a recent issue of the Australian Journal of Grape and Wine Research. The paper exhaustively recounts multi-dimensional, non-synthetic approaches to this single pathogen. To begin with, there is biological control, itself subdivided into ‘classical, inundative and conservation’. To define each in turn, I quote (pg.187):
Classical: “The intentional introduction of an exotic, usually co-evolved biological control agent for permanent establishment and long term pest control.”
Inundative: “The use of living organisms to control pests when control is achieved exclusively by the released organisms themselves.”
Conservation: “Modification of the environment or existing practices to protect and enhance specific natural enemies or other organisms to reduce the effect of pests.”
We may then read about Essential and Mineral Oils, Plant Hormones, Abiotic Stimulants, and Plant Extracts, Compost Extracts, Microbial Induction, Canopy Management, and Local Environment Manipulations. The paper concludes,
“A change from current viticultural practices, heavily dependent on synthetic fungicides, is inevitable. Fungicide resistance, market and regulatory pressure regarding residues and concerns of environmental and human health are increasing, so new management techniques will need to be adopted.”
As is abundantly evident, the matter of fungus control properly becomes a creative, open-ended agricultural project of applying as many relevant biological parameters and mechanisms as possible at once. And this project is by no means limited to Botrytis. The concept of fungicide resistance is a case in point. Whether through misapplication, overuse, or the absence of an integrated pest management program, resistance is, to be sure, given a helping hand. But even under more responsible agricultural pest management regimes, resistance to fungicides is a constant threat. From the paper (though slightly outdated) Understanding fungicide resistance, by Robert Beresford
“The change in the pathogen from being sensitive to a fungicide to being resistant involves a genetic change which is passed on to successive generations of the fungus. To understand how resistance arises we must think of the pathogen in a crop as a population consisting of a mixture of strains which differ in their sensitivity to the fungicide. Some strains in the population may be so resistant that they cannot be controlled by normal application rates of the fungicide. Use of the fungicide therefore kills the sensitive strains but not the resistant ones, and over a period of time the resistant ones come to dominate.”
So, in light of all the above, and on this, the eve of Earth Day, I would like to bring to readers attention a novel research invention currently undergoing field trials. The inventors: DE SEIXAS BOAVIDA FERREIRA, Ricardo Manuel [PT/PT]; Rua Professor Reinaldo Dos Santos 12-2º D (PT). VALADAS DA SILVA MONTEIRO, Sara Alexandra [PT/PT]; Rua Professor Moisés Amzalan 16-5º B (PT). NASCIMENTO TEIXEIRA, Artur Ricardo [PT/PT]; Rua João De Barros 5-4º B (PT). BORGES LOUREIRO, Virgílio [PT/PT]. From the patent,
“This invention is related to the extraction of a protein from the seeds, cotyledons or plantlets of Lupinus genus, as well as to the way of producing it in recombinant form and of expressing it in genetically modified plants. Due to the exceptional characteristics exhibited by this protein in what concerns: its potent antifungal and anti-Oomycete activity, which confers great potential to the protein as a fungicide, (2) its strong plant growth promoter activity, particularly notorious on unhealthy or naturally weakened plants, (3) its extreme resistance to denaturation, which allows the use of the protein under field conditions, (4) its great susceptibility to proteolytic attack, which makes it harmless to the environment and nontoxic for man, and (5) its well balanced amino acid composition. It is claimed its use, or of any modification of the protein that maintains its biological properties, as a supplement in human or animal nutrition and as a fungicide, insecticide, growth promoter, fertilizer or in the preparation of genetically modified organisms.”
Currently labeled Problad, how then does this invention differ from chemical fungicides? Absent is toxicity to animals and the environment; no safety intervals are required, neither is protective clothing required; there is little likelihood of the development of fungal resistance; and it is active against a wide range of fungal pathogens. Indeed, of its wide spectrum in vitro tests reveal “It exhibits a potent anti-fungal activity towards all fungal species tested so far (>40)”. (Unpublished broadside) In vivo trials are underway on eight fungal pathogens with, I am told, great success. Fungi and plants are as follows:
Vitis vinifera (grapevine):
- Powdery mildew (Eryshiphe necator)
- Botrytis bunch rot (Botrytis cinerea)
- Brown rot/Blossum blight (Monilinia laxa)
- Shot Hole (Stigmina carpophila)
- Powdery mildew (Leveillula taurica)
- Botrytis cinerea
- Early blight of tomatoes (Alternaria solani)
- Alternaria blight (A. alternata)
- Botrytis Fruit Rot (Botrytis cinerea)
- Powdery mildew (Sphaerotheca macularis)
- Powdery mildew (Erysiphe cichoracearum)
- Colletotrichum gloeosporioides
- Colletotrichum acutatum
Without getting overly technical, let me add that the Lupinus albus polypeptide isolate, with respect to its anti-fungal properties, binds strongly to chitin and displays chitosanase catalytic activity. Normally associated with the exoskeletons of insects and crustaceans, chitin is also the main structural component of the cell walls of fungi. The product works, therefore, by breaking down this cellular structure and destroying the fungus.
Of its other activity as a growth promoter, its in vivo success rate via field trials, details of its precise recombinant expression in selected crops, and its ability to extend the life of harvested produce, cereal grains, legumes etc., both in storage and in the market, these subjects will have to wait for elaboration in the fullness of time. I am promised, however, that I shall be provided such information. I will be sure to pass it along to my readers.
For further reading on up-to-the-minute research on resistance please visit Fungicide Resistance Action Committee (FRAC).
For an entertaining gloss on Lupins see this.
Dr. Richard Smart, the ‘flying vine doctor’, is among the top viticulturalists and vineyard consultants in the world. His list of intellectual accomplishments over the 45 years of professional work include numerous publications, including the industry standard Sunlight Into Wine, innovations in trellising and canopy management, (Smart-Dyson), a wall of awards and the enduring respect of colleagues world-wide. His appropriately named vineyard consulting business, Smart Viticulture, focusses on where to situate a vineyard and what grape varieties are suitable to grow.
The basic questions he answers for prospective wine growers are: “Which viticultural region in the world most closely matches your vineyard’s climate? Which varieties can you expect to do well in your vineyard? What are the risks of botrytis? What is the risk of frost?”
It an approach heavily dependent on homoclime analysis. From his website:
A homoclime is a place with a climate similar to your region. Imagine how it could guide you in your variety choice if you knew the closest homoclimes to your property around Australia and indeed, around the world. Our homoclime analysis concentrates on temperature and rainfall. We have a massive data base of climate data available from all around the world. As well we can access information showing which varieties grow in which regions. We have developed statistical methods to search out the closest homoclimes to your region.
A final note. This interview, conducted some time ago, suffered a technical obstacle only recently overcome. I have only recently been able to recover the audio file. The resulting text, though well over 90% complete, is nevertheless missing small passages I was unable to reconstruct with complete confidence. However, owing to the importance of Dr. Smart to viticultural practice, a subject dear to my heart, and his important reflections on climate change, I felt it necessary to insist the interview finally appear. Enjoy.
Admin Good afternoon, Dr. Smart. Thank you for agreeing to speak with me.
Richard Smart Tell me a bit about yourself.
Oh. Well, I’ve worked in a small winery for a few years. I’m primarily a fiction writer. But fiction is hard to write. So I started a wine industry blog to keep my hand in the game. So I’ve gone from one form of obscurity to another!
RS To one form of fiction to another, I’d say, since wine writing is largely fictional. But don’t let my cynicism get in the way of a good conversation! (laughs) Do you make any money out of your blog?
No, I don’t monetize, as is said. It is an entirely personal love of mine. And as I’ve often wanted to speak with many important people in the wine world, I have found a wine blog to be a credible pretext. Sharing with readers is a no-brainer. But I would like to ask you a question!
RS Well, I’m pleased to help you. You might be able to help by including my contact data.
Of course. I’ve just returned from Portugal. I read on your website that you have worked there. May I ask what you think of some of the traditions of Portuguese winemaking?
RS I think they’re interesting. I don’t normally involve myself in winemaking, but I have spent a bit of time in the Douro and have seen some of the old techniques, if that’s what your thinking of.
How do you understand the concept of ‘tradition’? Does it figure into your viticultural analysis of a region?
RS Yes, very much, particularly in Europe. One of the important things in Europe is the regional use of varieties and how it differs from place to place. I think what we can learn of that is that the ones selected will do well in those regions, particularly in those climates. What we don’t know is how well those same varieties might do in different regions or climates. I’ll give the example of Albariño, which, as you know, is in northern Portugal and northwestern Spain, Galicia. It is an outstanding and exciting variety, very aromatic. One would assume it would do best in similar climates, and that they were rather cool and wet. But, in fact, I’ve seen several examples around the world where it has done well in quite hot, dry climates, which is unusual for varieties that have Terpenes, like Albariño.
Speaking of hot climates, about the matter of climate change in, for example, Spain and Australia. You have a very expansive homoclime analysis database on your website. Could you tell me generally what climatic trends or shifts you have discovered over recent years?
RS Let’s be quite clear. I do not study climate change. The data base that I have was primarily derived world-wide from the period 1971 to 2000. Climate data is normally 30 year averages. And I do not study changes. I just use that database to seek homoclimes. However, other people who have studied such databases do find evidence of shifts over the last 30 years or so. Greg Jones in Oregon talks quite a bit about that. I suppose you know about him?
Yes. [Though conducted after this interview, please see my interview series with Greg Jones here.] Casual conversations with experienced vineyard managers and hands-on winemakers here in California make it clear that they are noticing climate change, assuming they’ve been in the business for a while. And equally I know of winegrowers in Montana who report bud break and harvest up to 2 weeks earlier.
RS Yes. I am surprised by that magnitude, but changes have been detected in many places. The study of temperatures has shown that they are going up. And, indeed, it stands to be a major issue. One of the things that the California wine business should be doing is looking for cooler wine regions. They exist. And I know where they are. Many people do who have access to the data.
Places like the Napa Valley will become less suitable for growing premium wine. One advantage that California has is to have that enormous refrigerator in the form of the sea, which is a very cold current. So, as well as a move to more northern latitudes and to higher elevations, you move toward the coast.
Have you been contacted by winegrowers in cooler weather climates further North? Jancis Robinson recently said there are vineyards now in Norway. Do you have a special expertise in cooler climates?
RS No. But I do consult in Denmark.
I’m trying to grasp your understanding of climate change. *Dan Berger, who I interviewed some months ago, is a bit of sceptic….
RS Climatologist, Dan Berger. (laughs)
If you talk to farmers, whether of wheat, vegetables or grapes, they often have stories, though anecdotal by scientific standards, of their personal experience of climate change. What accounts for this strange disconnect between what the practical grower of any agricultural product knows and what some wine critics believe?
RS Well, I compare most wine journalists to fiction writers, as I told you before. If it was a crime to purvey myths they’d all be writing from inside jails. I mean, what the hell would Dan know about climate change? There are people who are skeptical about it, and good luck to them if that’s what they want to believe. But there are many others that are convinced by it. The fact that the doubt exists I put down to the one side being uninformed, and optimistic.
Australia is a special case. Many dire scenarios have been spun about the very survival of the wine industry, that it may collapse at some future date…
RS Well, it won’t collapse. Collapse is not a term I would use. The question is whether they will adapt. In my opinion the Australian mind set is currently doing a rather poor job informing itself about what it should do. My job today is to write an article on that, to say how misdirected the research is. We’ve got decades to get these things right. And we know what to do!
You can say it very simply: Present cool-to-warm regions will be OK, but they will lose their reputations for certain varieties; and in time they may develop new reputations for varieties currently grown in regions warmer than theirs at present. For example, the Napa Valley might become known for Grenache. It most certainly will struggle to hold its reputation as a quality Cabernet producer. That much is clear. There is no doubt about that.
So it’s not just what’s happening to cool-to-warm regions; we need to find new cool regions, as I said before. But that’s alright. We can find them. The problem is the present hot regions. As you know, when you drive down the San Jaochin Valley there comes to be a point when you don’t grow wine grapes anymore. You grow table grapes and raisins. That point is going to move up the valley.
One thing we can do, and we should do, is to breed new varieties that suit hot climates. That’s my suggestion about what we should be doing. There should be an international effort involving South Africa, Australia, Spain, Portugal, France, all those countries that have hot climates so that will become untenable for wine production unless we get new varieties. And I have no doubt that we can breed them. I also have no doubt that it would be a waste of money if we look to the molecular biologists to produce them. They will promise them, of course, but they are long on promises and short on delivery. And then we need some imaginative names, and these various regions will be fine.
Like Pinotage, for example. It was bred for a warm climate.
RS Pinotage is an example of a variety that is bred with classical techniques, like Ruby Cabernet that Olmo bred. There are many examples. The Germans have been doing this very well for the last 50 years to produce varieties suitable for cool climates There are not many people doing it for warm climates. We can do it. And that’s what we should be doing.
I also have to say that some go on about clones and rootstocks; I personally don’t believe they have much impact. There is not much we can do with irrigation; there is not much we can do with canopy management. It will boil down to using varieties adapted to the new climate.
Yes. And do you think the industry is capable of making rapid progress? For example, after the fires broke out in Australia earlier this decade the scientific research on smoke taint accelerated. In a matter of a few years great progress had been made in the treatment of tainted grapes.
RS True. We certainly have the scientific means to do it. With all the other political and social problems to follow, developing wine grapes adapted to hot climates might be the least of our worries in the eyes of governments.
Genetic engineering, a very sexy science currently, has made considerable inroads into universities…
RS Yes, I know. They have all around the world. And as I’ve said, they’re long on promises, short on delivery.
But that’s where so many research dollars go. Simpler, more basic approaches don’t seem to have the same ’star power’ as genetic engineering.
RS People have been crossing plants for hundreds of years. That’s what we should be doing. I have a joke about molecular biologists breeding a new Chardonnay suitable for hot climates. So they put the genes into a cactus which is adapted to hot climates. But the Chardonnay wine tasted like Tequila! (laughs)
Thank you very much, Dr. Smart.
RS Thank you.
For further reading: —Terroir Unmasked
* An important clarification from Dan Berger: “I have definite opinions about climate change (not ‘warming’), which come directly from scientists on climate change and reflect their research into this phenomenon. They have convinced me that climate change is real and a major threat to the world. I am not a scientist. I am a reporter. As such I report, and my opinions (for instance on climate change) are based more on what scientists I have interviewed say about it.”
My characterization of Mr. Berger as a ‘bit of a skeptic’ was based on a misunderstanding, since clarified, of remarks he made in the course of our March, 09 interview, which may be found here.
March started off with the sad news that Alois Kracher Sr., Patriarch of the famed Austrian sweet winemaking dynasty, had succumbed to cancer at the age of 81. Unfortunately he wasn’t the only loss to the wine world with the passing of Fess Parker, aged 85, in his Californian home of natural causes. Although I knew of Parker as a winemaker it was his past acting roles as Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett that I fondly remember from TV when I was a child, as I suspect many do.
At least March had no natural disasters on the scale of Haiti or Chile – unless you count the inelegant entry of Stephen Tanzer onto the World Wine Web with his faux pas introduction on the new Winophilia site. Reigniting a heated debate, Tanzer thoroughly stirred the pot; “At Winophilia, we’re not armchair tasters who pretend to speak knowledgeably about regions we’ve never visited. We’re not amateur bloggers whose coverage of wine is limited to a handful of random samples we’ve just received, a trade tasting we’ve attended, or a press junket we’ve just been treated to. We live wine….”. The paragraph, since removed, went on to cover the admittedly good reasons why Winophilia could and should become a bookmarked reference site for winos, but many didn’t get past the unnecessary effrontery and arrogance of the opening lines.
Jon Bonné at SFGate and Adam Japko from Wine Zag both provided commentaries worth reading again.
?Equally ridiculous was a Decanter magazine article by Andrew Jefford and on-line poll on whether fine wine can be made over 14%. I’m not a great personal fan of high alcohol dry wines and tend to avoid anything over 14.5%, but, even if you temporarily ignore the fortified styles, so many New World wines (and plenty of Southern European) routinely pass the 14% level that the premise of the article was pointless and merely padded 4 pages of the magazine (the Chinese Wine article was much more interesting).
However leave it to the French to steal the thunder for most stupid story with the news that the first French language TV wine channel may end up being banned in its home country under their tough alcohol promotion laws. Sometimes you have to wonder whether the French government is trying to destroy its wine industry, although Bordeaux is probably indestructible as shown when the en primeur campaign for the 2009 vintage started off briskly at the end of the month – once again the vintage of the century is upon us, only this time they could actually be telling the truth!
My best wine related laughs came on the discovery of the Drink Tank videos by British critic Ollie Smith. Ollie is a regular on food & drink programs on British TV and the Drink Tank videos give a glimpse of his eccentric presentation style, education and humour mixed in equal measure from someone who doesn’t take himself too seriously – refreshing after the Tanzer story!
Pulling the focus back to my small corner of North East England and the monthly NEWTS meeting was the AGM and committee tasting, so no fixed theme. We started with an excellent oaked Chardonnay, the 2008 from Hamilton Russell Vineyards in South Africa which had some lemon minerality, before moving onto the Dog Point 2007 Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc which was complex and atypical enough for a Sauvignon for me to really enjoy it!
Of the reds my wine of the night was the Torres 2004 Gran Corones, an 85% Cabernet Sauvignon and 15% Tempranillo blend which had plenty of liquorice on the nose and a full mouthfeel with complex flavours – and for only £12 it was a bargain. Also excellent was the Tulbagh Mountain Vineyards 2005 Syrah-Mourvèdre blend, white pepper and dry tannins, and the Château Aydie 2006 Madiran, an unbelievable smooth wine for 100% Tannat. We also had a blockbuster on show with the Rothschild/Catena 2004 Caro from Argentina , a Cabernet Sauvignon/Malbec blend which had a concentrated mint & blackcurrant nose, firm tannins and a long finish – a well made wine but highly extracted and too “manufactured” for my taste (I know many would disagree).
We finished with a rarity (for NEWTS anyway) – a sweet wine in the form of a Sylvaner based Beerenauslese by Ferdinand Pieroth of the Rheinhessen. This was my first German Beerenauslese and I felt it needed a touch more acidity to balance the sweetness, but had a wonderful floral nose and an excellent finish, if a bit flabby in the middle.
At home the drinking was restrained, just 6 bottles over the month! With the exception of an over oaked, over alcoholic Viognier from Zilzie in Australia it was all Spanish and Italian with a pair of Italian whites being the most interesting.;
First an Offida Pecorino by Tenuta Cocci Grifoni, their 2007 Colle Vecchio from La Marche which had a lot of complex flavours going on, although I couldn’t really get a grasp on them so just enjoyed drinking it! Second was the Terredora 2007 Greco di Tufo from their Loggia della Serra single vineyard in Campania. This had a full sour, savoury nose with some honey and a touch of petrochemical with a clean, fresh taste in the mouth and very dry. Both these wines had character that made you think while drinking, as many Italians seem to do.
As for purchases a visit to Richard Granger’s store and a Food & Drinks fair in Newcastle, where several local retailers were exhibiting, led to 12 bottles topping up the cellar, so a net gain of +6 for the month! The mix is also revealing; 7 whites, 3 reds and 2 dessert wines – of these the SIPIVA 1996 Moscatel de Setubal , a Bonny Doon 2006 Le Vol des Anges Botrytised Roussanne and a Château Musar 1999 seem worthy of a mention.
Finally the North East Wine Festival was formally announced in March. This is a summer festival being organised by my local retailer, Spanish Spirit, where the hope is to create an annual 2-day open air event celebrating the best of food & wine in the North East of England. The month came to an end with the clocks moving forward into British Summertime and the lighter evenings and improving weather are an encouraging sign looking ahead to June.
From this armchair taster and amateur blogger, Slainte!
We met home winemaker Augusto Silva just as he had returned from the day-long labor of planting a single vine. He had carried heavy bags of soil and a cutting to his vineyard on the North coast of Pico Island, nearly a mile’s walk from his home. There, with an iron pick, he repeatedly struck the boot-shredding volcanic stone until he had pulverized a hole deep enough for the cutting. After tossing in handfuls of dirt, the vine followed, an Azores Verdehlo, for on Pico white grapes, including Arinto and Terrantez, are king. This is Azorean viticulture. And it has been done this way for more than 500 years.
There are no rivers on Pico, and so what weathering of the basalt that has occurred over the island’s geo-history is the direct result of wind and sand transport, rain, changes in temperature, and, most spectacularly, the hand of man. Two types of ’soil’ are generally recognized: chão de lajido, essentially fractured rock with a bit of finer, sandy grit, and bagacina, with just a little bit more unconsolidated material. And that’s it.
From the photos immediately above and below you’ll note the complex network (to the outsider, a maze) of walls of varying heights. The walls serve a triple purpose: to protect the vines from the wind, to warm them, and to demarcate ownership. With the exception of small experimental plots of Cabernet, Merlot and one or two other red varieties, there is no trellising. The vines sprawl across the surface of the rock, the grape bunches, later in the season, propped up by special sticks after the manner of Colares’ Ramisco vineyards.
The typical traditional vineyard architecture may be broken down as follows. First there is the vineyard block, often, but not always, containing plots owned by multiple individuals. These are the highest walls, typically 6 feet and of double thickness, enclosing a series of shorter walled Jarão, themselves subdivisions made up of Canadas, specific groupings of plots. The last division of note here are the Currais, individual plots.
To illustrate this approximately, imagine a checkerboard. That would be the vineyard. The Jarão would be the board halved; a Canada, the rows; and the Curral (singular), the individual checker squares.
However confusing at first glance, the ingenuity of this sheltering geometry is immediately evident when a cold Atlantic wind blows at 25 mph, a common occurrence throughout the Portuguese archipelago.
It is somewhere within this lattice that Augusto Silva toiled this stormy February morning. Upon entering his small adega (I would estimate it capable of producing maybe 400 cases), he told us the story of his economic life. Among the most telling confessions was this:
“In the old days, whoever had an adega like mine would be a very wealthy person, nowadays I make barely enough to pay for the vineyard upkeep.”
Of course, there are numerous winegrowers with marginally better chances to advance their brilliant wines. And the Cooperativa Vitivinícola da Ilha do Pico, the local cooperative, has made great strides in marketing Pico’s award winning wines, this despite the generational gap, a gap which rudely asks what young person would be willing to assume this labor. But of Augusto Silva’s future I cannot guess. I can only wish him well. And to gather friends to celebrate his beautiful wine, a bottle of which he gave me upon our departure. The very bottle he holds in his hand.
This space has continued to follow the discouraging advance of the Spotted Wing Drosophila (SWD), a destructive pest of cane fruits, cherries, strawberries, table and wine grapes, nectarines, among many others. Now with growing season well under way, the time has come for an update.
Firstly, for critical background on the original pioneering field work of Mark Bolda, farm advisor from of the University of California Cooperative Extension, and the historical and cultural dimension from Martin Hauser, Associate Insect Biosystematist with the Plant Pest Diagnostics Lab, California Department of Food & Agriculture (CDFA), Sacramento, please see my Spotted Wing Drosophila Emergency Meeting Results.
To get a sobering perspective of what is at stake for American growers, we read in the March 31st issue of the Australian paper Weekly Times, Now,
IMPORTED fresh fruit from the United States is unlikely to make its way to stores this winter after Biosecurity Australia invoked ”emergency measures” today in a bid to keep out a damaging pest.
BA announced it would begin a pest risk analysis for the Spotted Wing Drosophila fly (Drosophila suzukii), which has caused tens of millions of dollars damage to blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, strawberries, cherries, peaches, plums and grapes in the US in the past two years.
Australian Table Grape Association chief executive Jeff Scott said there was enormous concern about the pest which had the potential to devastate the table grape industry, and others, if it was allowed into the country.
Speaking from Canberra where he has been meeting with BA officials to discuss a range of quarantine issues, Mr Scott said table grape imports from the US had effectively been halted.
‘They won’t start again until BA is satisfied the US has demonstrated appropriate control measures,’ he said.
Neither has Europe been spared. In February the European and Mediterranean Plant Protection Organization (EPPO) put the SWD on Alert status. A quarantine of American imports may follow.
“Drosophila suzukii is an Asian pest of fruit crops which has almost simultaneously been introduced into North America and in Italy (in 2008 and 2009, respectively). Because the pest has a high potential for spread and can cause economic damage to many fruit crops, the EPPO Secretariat decided to add D. suzukii to the Alert List.”
The CDFA Weighs In
From the California Food and Agriculture’s Plant Pest Diagnostic Center–Entomology Laboratory may be read Martin Hauser’s just posted summation of SWD’s preferred hosts here in California and in Japan.
“The preferred hosts in California are various cherries and raspberries, but also strawberries, nectarines, boysenberries, Asian plums, plums, plumcots, Satsuma plums and blackberries. In Japan significant damage is reported from blueberries, as well as grapes and mulberries.”
Of considerable interest is the phrase ‘preferred hosts’, because the SWD’s potential for damage is not, therefore, limited to CDFA’s listed fruits. In fact, the SWD is now well known to infest vineyards in Oregon. From Oregon State University, in an Oct. ‘09 article titled Fruit Fly Pest Identified In Wine Grapes we read,
“A newly recognized pest in Oregon continues to concern fruit growers and researchers with the recent discovery of a Spotted Wing Drosophila fly in a sample of Willamette Valley wine grapes.
Since the tiny fly, Drosophila suzukii, was first confirmed in Oregon less than two months ago, there have been an increasing number of reports of its occurrence in a variety of fresh fruits, including blueberries, peaches, raspberries, strawberries, blackberries, plums – and now grapes, according to Amy Dreves, a research entomologist at Oregon State University.
‘This is an insect that, up to last year, had never been seen in the continental United States,” Dreves said. “Now, suddenly, it is showing up in lots of places.’”
[Please also see Oregon Dept. of Ag. Plant Division, Insect Pest Prevention and Management page]
And from a Washington State University Extension paper Spotted Wing Drosophila Could Pose Threat to Washington Fruit Growers:
“Spotted wind drosophila, Drosophila suzukii, was introduced into California in 2008 and has rapidly established populations along the Pacific Coast. There have now been confirmed infestations of the fly in the Willamette Valley, detections in Hood River, Oregon, and detections throughout western Washington, in locations including Bothel, Olympia, Puyallup, Seattle, Stevenson, Vashon Island, and Mount Vernon. [R]ecent evidence indicates they may feed on wine grapes.”
Further, from the EPPO web page linked here and above we may read a greatly expanded host range.
“D. suzukii has a wide host range and can attack many fruit crops, including small fruit crops, fruit trees and grapevine. Its host range includes: Actinidia spp. (kiwis), Diospyros kaki (persimmons), Ficus carica (figs), Fragaria ananassa (strawberries), Malus domestica (apples), Prunus avium (sweet cherries), P. domestica (plums), P. persica (peaches), Pyrus pyrifolia (Asian pears), Rubus armeniacus (Himalayan blackberries), R. loganobaccus (loganberries), R. idaeus (raspberries), R. laciniatus (evergreen blackberries), R. ursinus (marionberries), and other blackberries (Rubus spp.), Vaccinium spp. (blueberries), Vitis vinifera (table and wine grapes).”
All things being equal, table and wine grapes have been confirmed as hosts in Oregon and Europe. It is strongly suspected to be a potential threat to the Australian grape industry. In light of these announcements it remains a mystery why the CDFA continues to use the vague couplet ‘preferred hosts’. The phrase seems to encourage the grower of Vitis vinifera that they need not to be concerned. That is not, in my opinion, the most conscientious approach.
Here’s why. The pest’s life cycle centers on the female SWD piercing the skin and laying eggs within a ripe fruit. Owing to her diminutive size, so, too, does the break she makes in the fruit skin go undetected to the unaided eye. As the larva develops into progressively larger instars, feeding on the pulp as it grows, it remains protected from pesticides while inside the fruit. Equally as important as the fruit’s eventual destruction is the obvious fact that the site of the initial breach is clearly a pathway for infectious pathogens, of fungi and bacteria. Inasmuch as fruits may contain multiple larvae from multiple females, grapes harvested with significant laval loads may, therefore, also be contaminated with significant pathogen loads, pathogens potentially capable of altering the wine’s final phenolic expression.
Moreover, of equal concern is common vineyard hygiene. Dropped fruit, for example, now becomes a potential food reservoir for successive generations of SWD. Far from being a hypothetical matter, and regardless of whether grapes are a ‘preferred host’, it appears only proper that Vitis vinifera and associated vineyard hygiene practices deserve greater attention.
A final note. Dr. Martin Hauser informs me that his sources have not re-confirmed SWD in Spain this year. EPPO’s passing reference to the same, citing Dr. Hauser’s work, may now be considered up to date.
“It’s a crazy world.” Such is the concluding sentiment of André Gomes Pereira, winemaker, businessman and President of VITIOURÉM. He is, too, a bit of a philosopher. I have met many people in preparation for the documentary I will be a part of later this year. And in many of the regions we have visited, Virgilio Loureiro, Nuno Sequeira and yours truly, we have come away with the question unsettled as to whether we are filming the beginning of a renaissance or catching the last light, the sundown of multiple Portuguese (viti)cultures. André Gomes Pereira is exactly the right soul to talk with in moments of doubt. He is a young man who has taken the proper measure of the Ourém wine region’s opportunities. A man of refreshing candor, tireless, his eyes wide open, he is just the fighter for this battle. It is an honor to know him.
Admin Hello, André. This is Ken calling from California.
Andre Gomes Pereira Hi, Ken. It’s good to speak with you again.
Shall we get right to it? So tell me about the organization VITIOUREM.
AGP VITIOUREM is an association that was put together in 2000 with the objective to promote, protect, and to legalize the Medieval wine that has been produced in our region for 800 years. It had become illegal, the winemaking method of the Cistercian monks. We felt it was necessary to create strict rules to preserve the method; but also to preserve our culture as winegrowers, to maintain a unique wine that was disappearing. The work with the politicians through 2000 to 2005 finally got the law changed. We are now allowed to produce that wine.
So the law or exemption was finally passed.
AGP Yes. In 2005 it was approved after five years of fighting against the big lobbies and the politicians that didn’t understand this wine. When the wine goes out to all the markets it is seen as something completely different. But when we talked to the Agricultural Ministry they told us that our wine was not good because it would not have had a productive enough economical impact for grow! But we thought the opposite. It is not necessary to sell one million bottles to make a profit. But this wine is not just about profits. It is also about maintaining our culture and preserving the historical heritage of our ancestors.
What exactly was illegal about the winemaking method?
AGP We couldn’t mix white grapes and red grapes in the percentage the method requires. In Europe we can mix up to 50% white grapes in reds. But we do a different percentage. We mix 80% of white with 20% of red. But before 2005 we were prevented by law from doing that, even though we have been doing it this way for more than 800 years. It was when we as a country entered what was called the European Community at the time, now the European Union (EU), that in one moment, with one stroke of the pen, a once legal wine became illegal. This was because nobody knew of or understood our wine. The moment we were forced to follow the rules out of Brussels, our wine became illegal.
Everyone in our region laughed at the regulation. And when the government said, from the beginning of the 90s, that we were doing a wine that was illegal, my uncle said they had better build a very big prison because you will have to arrest us all. For this is how we have been making wine all of our lives. We are going to do it this way until we die. The region does not know how to produce another wine.
How many growers are we talking about in the region? And where exactly is the region located?
AGP The region is in Ourém; it is very near Fatima, in the center of Portugal. It is about 100 to 150 kilometers from Lisbon, the capitol of Portugal. We are talking about 2,000 to 2,500 winegrowers in the region, all very, very small wine producers. Every family has a small estate where they grow a few vines or have small vineyard. The biggest percentage of what they make is for family consumption, to drink in their houses. So we have a very large number of very small wineries. Making Medieval wine and following all the rules, at the present moment we (Vitiourem) have about 15 producers signed up, with vineyards certified by us. It is through the rule-based certification that the wines may then be labeled and put into the market as Medieval wine.
Do the winegrowers work within a cooperative or are many of them under private labels?
AGP It is private labels. Unfortunately, the cooperative of our region went bankrupt two years ago. Right now it is all the small producers, mainly small producers from the region, except for Quinta do Montalto, my estate, we are one of the biggest. We believe that this wine must prevail in order for the region develop.
How much wine is produced by the average grower? And just how large are their properties, their vineyards?
AGP The average vineyard properties are about a few hundred square meters of land. For Medieval vineyards, we are talking about a maximum of 40,000 square meters, so, 4 hectares at the most per producer. And as far as volume in liters per year for all Medieval wines, right now we are talking about from 100,000 to 200,000 liters. It depends a lot on the year, but it is usually closer to 100,000 than 200,000 liters.
When I was there I saw some growers selling their wines in bulk, I guess you could call it. Folks would come by with various containers and fill up directly from the barrels. And there are others who actually bottle. Can you tell us the economic and cultural differences between those two approaches, and also where in Portugal these Medieval wines may be found?
AGP The wines from the region were traditionally sold in five liter glass containers. But that market is becoming more and more competitive in Portugal. So one of our marketing strategies is to stop selling like that, and start bottling. That will be a huge step forward for the small wineries. They are not use to doing that. They don’t know how to sell the wine in bottles. They have problems with labeling, following all the rules; it is a difficult process, one that VITIOURÉM is helping the small producers with.
In Portugal we find Medieval wines mainly in the immediate region. There are a few shops in Lisbon that carry our wines, but it is mainly in restaurants and hotels, again, mainly in the Fatima and Ourém region, in the center of the country. Because we have small quantities to sell, we haven’t yet made the jump to sell outside Portugal. However, in a year or two, maybe three at the maximum, we will have the need to find new markets outside of Portugal.
For the small producer it would be very expensive to purchase their own bottling equipment, bottles, labels and labelers, and all the rest. How does VITIOURÉM propose to approach this matter? Are bottling machines shared, for example?
AGP That is one way to solve the problem. At the present moment we do the bottling by hand; not the best situation, but it is working. In the future we will have to get organized and have bottling equipment so that everyone can use it. It will always be a small machine we’d use, to minimize the risk. To get organized is the best way; we could then do the investment together.
One of the most important factors to save and sustain your regional wine culture is to receive fair prices. Bottling is a step in this direction. What are the up-front costs for many of the growers? And how much profit do you think is necessary to provide sustainability?
AGP The costs of production are very different from producer to producer. It is difficult to answer that question because the majority or winemakers don’t include the cost of their labor, or that of their families and friends during harvest. Just to calculate costs on what they do to manage the vineyards mainly in the Spring is very difficult as well, because some growers have to pay someone to do the pruning of the vineyards, and there are variable fuel costs and vineyard treatment costs, whether they create their own label, and so on.
And normally producing wine in our region is almost always a second income for the family. It is not their main economic activity. They work in the vineyard or on finishing wines only after the end of their main job, at the end of the day or on the weekends. They can be farmers, but they cannot make a living just from wine. They grow other things, but mainly they are outside agriculture. Agriculture is mainly done for their family’s consumption. So, normally they don’t have their costs calculated. It is very difficult to answer your question.
Of course, we know from experience that we can sell a single bottle of Medieval wine for more than they are use to getting for 5 liters of their wine. It can be as much as five times the usual price. I think this is the only way to have a fair price for their work. It is the only way to survive. Otherwise we cannot compete, not even within Portugal. And then when you look at the low prices of wines in the New World, it is absurd. The price of wines in Chile, for example, is unbelievable. So we cannot sell our wines at those same prices, not even within Portugal.
In Portugal we have high costs of production because often the vineyards are densely planted. Because of this the majority of work done within our vineyards must be done by hand. That alone enormously increases the price.
Yes. I well remember passing through the extraordinarily beautiful Espite Valley just how steep were those hills, how difficult was the terrain to work. We also saw many very old vines, along with many vineyards that appeared to have been simply abandoned. How much has been lost recently, or has your region reached a kind of equilibrium?
AGP The loss of vineyards has not stabilized. In the last 15 years we have lost an enormous number of vineyards in our region. The majority of the people were disappointed with the failure of the cooperative. They did not know where to sell the grapes. I have known that valley when it was almost full of vineyards. Right now if we look to that valley, it is a shame. We don’t see many new vineyards. The process of renovation is not happening. So I hope that we are in time to save that valley, that heritage, that magnificent landscape, with the forests on top, the vineyards in the middle, and the river and vegetable gardens at the base. It would be a tragedy, a pity to lose that landscape. Every year vineyards are being abandoned.
It is also the risk of losing an important part of Portuguese culture itself.
AGP More than 800 years of history, of a tradition, of a technique we may lose just because of economical factors. The wine is unique, it is good, the method is more than good, if I may say, but we are witnessing all over the world the massification of the winemaking process and the styles. To me the world of wine is going in the wrong direction, toward standardization, toward wines without soul, without history. Like Coca Cola or Pepsi, it is becoming always and everywhere the same, every year. To me, as a wine lover, I am becoming more and more tired of those wines, wines that don’t give us anything. Those are the wines prevailing throughout the world. It would be a shame to lose this Medieval wine in Portugal; it would be a great loss to our culture.
I am fighting very hard to stop that process. I would very much like to see again the Espite Valley covered with vineyards. To me, even if it would be in 50 years, I would very much like to see that happen. We will not give up. We will always be fighting against everything and everyone. Even this week [3/28/10] we had some difficulty with the bureaucracy, some paperwork. That is one of our major problems here, the bureaucracy and paperwork.
But I think this year we will have some nice wines to show the world. We are working hard on it.
Getting back to agricultural matters for a moment, can you give us a rundown of the grape varieties of the region, especially those used in Medieval wine?
AGP In Medieval wine we can only use Ferñao Pires, 80% of this white, and for the red, only Trincadeira, 20%. First we crop the white grapes from the vineyards. We take them to the cellar; they are crushed, and the juice is put into a wooden tank to 80% of its capacity. The fermentation starts. We then crop the red, and once back in the cellar, we de-stem and crushed two to three times a day by foot so that they are well macerated. We need to do this so that the grape juice grabs as much of the color and complexity from the skins of the grapes as we can. Then, almost at the end of the fermentation the red juice, with the skins, is put on top of the white juice still finishing its fermentation. The fermentation therefore completely ends with the mixture already made. Now that it is wine, the grape skins sink which is a kind of natural fining process. The wine will not then be good for drinking, but at the end of the year, January, February at the latest, it is ready to be served. In fact, for this year we have begun the bottling process.
And the crushing is still done in lagares?
AGP Yes. And the grapes are still crushed by foot two to three times a day.
And how is the wine aged?
AGP The wine stays in the wooden barrel until late February and shortly thereafter bottled. It should be consumed in the same year of its production and bottling. The 2009 vintage should be consumed by the end of 2010. We have some experience with wines aged in bottle. Things go well for one or two years. But after that wine begins to lose some of its important characteristics that we like. So the wine is meant to be drunk very, very young.
I remember very well the wine from one adega where we also ate figs. A better combination of flavors I have never enjoyed! It was strangely exalting. I’m quite serious. Never have I better experienced a more sublime pairing. And I get around!
AGP Yes, with dry figs and dry raisins it is fantastic. We have a traditional sweet here in the region that has some dry raisins in it. The combination is magnificent. The ranges of dishes that go well with Medieval wine is stunning. From fish to meats, even game meats, it is unbelievable. Dishes very strong with olive oils, sometimes difficult to pair with other wines, with our wine it goes very, very well. As we used to say in Portugal, it is an ‘all roads wine’, it goes everywhere.
Now, about farming practices. Are they ‘green’, as we say here in America? What kinds of herbicides or pesticides are used, if any?
AGP The great majority of producers practice organic viticulture. Some are certified while others could be certified if they applied. We work with the rich equilibrium in Nature so we don’t need to use strong agro-toxics. We are small estates mixed with other varieties of agriculture. A patch with various vegetables along with the promotion of regional biodiversity is there among the vines. For diseases or plagues, biodiversity is the best way to end that kind of problem; to have a mixture of plant life is best, and we have that naturally. So we don’t need to use agro-toxics. This is true of the big majority of our farmers. They could be certified organic if they sought it.
Just growing one product is not a good idea. We would lose the natural cleverness of ecosystems, and then we would have to do things that should not be allowed. We have to be in sympathy with Nature. We then don’t have to overcome what Nature is telling us to do. It is working with Nature, not against it. Having and encouraging diversity is fundamental.
I couldn’t agree with you more. How about a few words about Quinta do Montalto?
AGP Quinta do Montalto is a small family estate. At the present time, I am the 5th generation to be producing wine over there. We became organic producers in 1997. We don’t do just wines. We organically farm vegetables: potatoes, onions, carrots, everything. We do sun dried tomatoes and make jams. We use everything from the farm. As far as wines, we do normal reds and whites. But after talking with the family we have decided to invest a lot in Medieval wine. All of my ancestors did it that way. We never stopped doing that wine. I have an uncle who used to make the wine before me. He always did that wine for his family. So we knew how to do it. In fact, we are planting more vineyards to make that wine. We believe that this is the only way to survive in the wine world and wine industry. We are playing a major role in this process.
I am also the president of VITIOURÉM, and as so when we see positive things happening, when more and more winegrowers want to go back in time and return to practices they have always known, that is very, very rewarding, to me and to the families. I want to continue to invest in Medieval wine. I strongly believe that this is the only way forward for the agricultural sector of that region to survive. The agriculture of Portugal has developed so rapidly in the last 10 to 15 years that right now its only agro-industrial. That is not a process that remembers history. If the small farmer does not prevail then in a few years we will no longer have farmers in our region. We will have only big supermarkets where we will buy products from China, Brazil, or even Argentina. At the present moment it is a crazy world. It is a crazy world.
Thank you, André.
AGP Thank you, Ken. We look forward to the filming.