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Alsatian wine farm, 1984
My wife, Ane, and I have been deeply involved in wine tastings, at whatever level you can imagine, for over four decades. Used to be that I taught the Geography of Wine at my home Department of Geography and Planning, Appalachian State University. Ane and I subsequently gave week long seminars in 'wines and food choices' at the University's Broyhill Center. We then became part of a small wine and food group that for several decades have indulged in tasting a flight of wines in one month for then to savor the same selection at a dinner of courses of food selected at the prior month's tasting. As experienced foreign area tour planners and directors we then conducted a three week wine exploration of France with visits and tastings at leading purveyors of wine in Champagne, Alsace, Burgundy,
It is perhaps also notable that Ane and I planted an experimental vineyard on our Boone south facing property slopes in the 1980's. This is located in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina at about 3,200 feet. I had earlier compared the local climate with that of Beaune, France (Burgundy), and had found them quite similar, both being about 2400 in measured degree-days. We discontinued this effort some fifteen years later following Ane's persistent complaint that there was just not enough production from the few vinefera, but mostly American hybrids, we had planted to sustain yearly bottling. Well, there were microclimate problems of significance, as well, particularly relating to the incidence of rainfall and humidity. In addition we had periodic difficulties with Japanese Beetles, a voracious consumer of vinifera leaves.Global warming skeptics can take lessons from recent decades of production experiences of vineyards the world over. I shall have a separate page on the whys and wherefores of our local mountain area wine growing situation later. Let it be said that there are significant attempts to bring about a commercial wine industry here in our locality. Issues aplenty.
What is also notable is that Ane, the wine chemist, has been making wines for home use for nearly 50 years. I remember well the riddle rack for turning her champagne (my job), and the primitive estufa, with a lamp, that she built to maintain the needed high temperature for over a year to allow the maderization of her unique Madeiran wine. We are now consuming the last bottles of her 1992 Sercial. Her 1982 Tawny Port is still in stock, and sherries are made monthly. This is in addition to a wider variety of table wines, both red and white that she has been making over the years. Ane will be encouraged, on this blog, to reveal her secrets. They might remove some of the veil of mystery attached to notion of terroir and the locality romance associated with most of the traditional wines of the world.
Our early learning experiences were truly exiting. F.ex. we traveled by Eurail in France, and rented bikes at the railroad stations of various towns to check out local wineries. Here Ane is assessing a grove of chenin blanc, standing upslope from the Loire River and imbedded in gravelly soils, near Vouvray, France (July, 1975). This established a pattern we repeated in subsequent decades with rental autos.
Having earlier requested time (Oct. 2012) at the Pereira D'Oliveira Vinhos in Funchal, Madeira, we were treated as royalty by the co-owner Luis D'Oliveira, who endeavors to keep the historic madeira wine making traditions alive and well. This picture is of Luis D'Oliveira and Ane during our tasting session. Wines we sampled, generously served, would total well over $1200.00 for the six bottles. A real tasting bonanza for us, and an incredible educational lift. (For my Madeiran wines elaboration, click in upper right column).
Awesome then to be welcomed by the manager of Justinos, largest producer of Madeiran wines. Julio Fernandes, spent a couple of hours detailing local terroir, relationship with the producers from whom they buy their grapes, new directions in wine markets, and his relationship with the French owners of whose net revenues his operation totals a scant 2%. The next day he was to be in China to promote his wines. With his decades of experience this enhanced our understanding of long term changes in the fortified wine industry, as producers are responding to markets dominated by new styles and nationalities of consumers. Also noted was his shipment of madeira wine, slightly salted/peppered (to escape export/import wine limits and taxes) to France, and elsewhere, for use in food production (e.g Madeiran wine sauces). I would not care to estimate the inclusive bottle cost for the eleven wines at this tasting. Do, however, understand that the delights of Madeiran wines become apparent in their quite low cost 5-year aged bottlings. In my posting on this topic I will, for example, note our tasting of exclusively low cost madeirans at Henriquez & Henriquez, as well as the very accessible (cost wise) wines tasted at Justino's and other places on the island.
What all of this boils down to is my certain belief that you, dear reader, having ventured to this point, would like to have at your fingertips a better sense of the contexts of the wines you are consuming. We are, all of us, overwhelmed by tasting opportunities. As to wine tasting info there are thousands of wine blogs across the world, in addition to a very great number of web pages of wineries, wine distributors and shops, individual's web pages and blogs offering their latest from excellent to spurious tasting results. There are wine journals galore, gushy weekly newspaper wine/food editors, and adds in local papers extolling the latest grocery and wine store bargains. Not to even mention the mailings you are receiving from South African or New York city wine distributors. And then check out amazon.com for those mountains of books specializing in wines and its consumption. The shear amount of info out there staggers the imagination, if not also likely to be confusing us! So, why in the world will I want to spend time providing you with more?? Well, the initial sentence of the paragraph suggests the answer. We all know that wines (1) have a capability of providing fine tasting opportunities, (2) are superb
note here the comparison between the rather gawky Lindeman's tasting room in Western Australia (Jan., 2004), where the tasting of a selection of wine is free, and a small boutique winery in Washington state (Sept., 2002), where you may have to fork over $5.00 or more for a sampling of your choice. Though many folks like to harvest experiences on their own, others may wish to sign on to winery visit tours that tend to be liberally available in most wine locales. Do check this out with the local tourism office.
complements for light or more exclusive dinners, and (3) are simple delights as thirst quenchers, aperitifs, and after dinner digestives. However, on the larger scale, wines represent the ebb and flow of human history. They represent deeply imbedded cultural traditions, varietal experimentation in attempts to align historic areas of production with new markets, grandiose investments in pursuit of tourism, as well as their potentially successful transfer to new world environments. Also wine production may reflect changing political and economic realities. And I am convinced that our enjoyment of wines will be enhanced by an improved sense of some of these aspects. Reading this blog might even urge you to personally visit local/regional vineyards and wineries, especially as their activities and environments are seasonally paced, or your reading may speed you toward winery visits in more distant lands. Certainly it will enable you to become a more knowledgable wine conversationalist, rising in the esteem of your fellow imbibers as you find yourself engaged in one of our rapidly expanding pastimes, the world of the wine connoisseur.
This blog will venture into personal experiences regarding the nature of wine production, the species of vitis vinifera and its American relatives that have been historically favored in wine production and merchandising, as well as those species now tried out in regions never thought to have commercial opportunities in a rapidly growing international market. But more critically I am intent on detailing traditional character and new developments in specialized wine regions. These might vary from the historic wine regions like Bordeaux France, Rhine Germany, Piedmont Italy, Jerez Spain, or the Napa Valley California and others, to the more newly evolving regions as exemplified by Piedmont Virginia/North Carolina, Marlborough, New Zealand and Uruguay, as well as regions now rediscovering themselves in new wine clothing as they move from increasingly less merchandisable traditional wines to those favored by the new 'wine youth consumer', as exemplified by Navarra, Spain. These latter are all seeking to develop an individual identity linking terroir, cultural contexts, and specialized wine species, that will maintain or arouse the interest of the consumer. Note here the examples of the fairly recent emergence of Malbec in Argentina, Tannat in Uruguay, and Carmenere in Chile. Quite a few areas are also beginning to find that boutique wineries, especially family owned, are faring well with their nearby large urban localities and with the international tourism market. Cruise ships, for example, are, in season, bringing in folks daily by the thousands, many of whom can be enticed to spend a day in a nearby wine farm with tastings joined by local foods and a variety of activities and entertainment.
These three photos show one of the ways I will be posting on this blog. The map indicates the location of individually named Premier Cru vineyards of the Pommard and Volnay villages in the very center of the Cote de Beaune of Burgundy. The top right photo is taken from the les Caillerets vineyard just a 1,000 feet south-east of the village. Generally the wines from this vineyard is thought to be the very best of the Volnay type of the red Burgundies (Pinot Noir grape); the wines are more delicate and faster maturing than Burgundies from the vineyards elsewhere on the Cote D'Or ('Gold Coast' of Burgundy); they tend toward being well rounded/balanced with an exquisite bouquet. You may note that the Premier Cru rated vineyards are on the steeper slopes and on the eastern (sunny) side of the north-west, south-east trending mountains; further downslope is grown the white Chardonnay grape, here cultivated for the great Mersault wines. Soils are predominantly chalky (very fine limestone) with, as in the case of the les Caillerets vineyards, a thinnish layer of red topsoil lending greater aromatics and body to the red wine. On the Cote D'Or the microclimatic conditions have an aversion to replicability, their often dramatic seasonal shifts from year to year lends an persistent air of uncertainty to quality and productivity in this fairly northern wine growing region. These are all components of the idea of 'terroir', the great French term for locality influences on viticulture. A rather complex business, if you ask me, but one that you will get used to gradually as you venture onto my pages. In more subtle ways the French are also infusing culture and history into this term. In the above case you might like to know that Ane and I have visited the Burgundy area three times over the decades, most recently in 2006; the pictures used here are from the mid-1980s, but in tradition rich Burgundy these vineyards are as they were. Now should you wish to test these wines out on terms perhaps more reasonable, as you pass through this exotic landscape, you might visit the tasting room of this smaller producer. While he is not likely to be offering you Premier Cru wines, there will be plenty for you to get a feel for what you might otherwise be missing here:
Oleswineandvineyards.blogspot.com blog is decisively NOT a place to go looking for the latest in wine tasting evaluations and judgments! Though, to be sure, you will find many general descriptions of what to expect from individual wines, as well as comments on what generally are considered their better food complements, perhaps Ane will provide a few of her more interesting recipes. There will be notes on the engaging folks who populate and drive this industry, and their perceptions as to where they feel they should focus their efforts for the future, and why. And you will also find my judgmental comments on wines and vineyards and their values as agents of local and regional cultural/economic development. As wines tend to delight us all in their consumption, where they rule the local economy they are agents of local/regional cultural character and economic well-being. You, in all of your apostasy relating to beer and hard liquors, is what this is all about.
I have refrained much as possible to this point in drawing on that part of my celestial body that defines me the most, my earthly family and close friends. So, while I will be having postings on worldwide places, conditions, and issues regarding wines and vineyards, I shall, as deemed relevant to me, bring in experiences that involves my family and friends, all dear to me. Suffer with me on this.
A fine champagne is called for when wishing parents a happy 50th Anniversary, as is the case here, Labor Day, 2011, with Bo, our son, his wife Laura, seated, daughter Karen with grandson Ethan and her husband Ray. Next to Ane is our 'adopted daughter', Brianna. All is happening at a gathering in Asheville of family and friends. The European complement was missing, sadly.
So what is there to look forward to? This blog will be the place to go whether you like to visit wine localities virtually (perhaps in preparation for designing a family/friends dinner, or wine tasting), or you have travel plans that may include some of them. I have plans over the next few weeks (months) to post on a number of wine locales, with appropriate detail on personal experiences, terroir, prevalent wines, producers, ongoing changes in production orientation, be it varietal choices or new market foci, and whatever else appeals to me at the moment of writing. These may include: Spain, specifically Jerez, Navarre, Ribera del Duero and Toro; Portugal with focus on the Port and Madeira wines; Germany's Rieslings; Italy where we have particular wonderful memories from Chianti, Montepulciano, Montalcino, and Puglia regions; the Chilean valleys of Maipo, Curico, and Casablanca, the emerging boutique and international market focused wineries of Uruguay, Marlborough in New Zealand; Australia's Hunter Valley; France - everywhere! You will see info on other regions in Europe; might even write a few posts featuring Oregon, Washington, Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York, Virginia and North Carolina. At present there is no telling what will be the order of appearance, or when what will. Much as is the case for this page, there will be a continuity of changes in whatever will be posted. Soon we will begin a page on our wine dinners with recipes chosen to complement our selection of wines. As indicated at the very beginning - this is a work in progress, may it never end!
Editorial note: All photos in this blog and its upcoming pages, unless otherwise noted, have been taken by Ole Gade; each subsequent Page will be followed by lists of links and references for further in-depth perusal.