Wednesday, August 04, 2010

The Wild Vine...Todd Kliman

I am going to take a detour from my journey in Alsace and venture down another road. This road leads us to a most interesting and fascinating discovery of a forgotten grape...the Norton grape.
The Wild Vine A Forgotten Grape and the Untold Story of American Wine by Todd Kliman

Fascinating from the beginning to the end. Tod Kliman had me hooked from his opening sentence. We all know a picture can be worth a thousand words. But in a few words author Kliman paints a picture that sets the tone for this book.
"Clouds of dust drift through the open window of my rickety Toyota as it shudders along the bumpy gravel path of Champe Ford Road like a washing machine on spin cycle, stirring up sticks and pebbles."
I knew immediately I was in for a literary treat but little did I know I was in for an amazing story, a true American story. The story of the Norton grape. The grape that was used to make a wine from Missouri that walked away with a gold medal at an international exhibition in Vienna in 1873. History is carefully interwoven with facts that could only have been gotten by long and careful research.
Throughout the book I encountered sentences loaded with wit and wisdom. Here is one of my favorites. describing the scene on the night of the grand "heritage tasting" and the buzz in the room, Todd observes, "Free wine and food have a way of bringing out the best in people - or at least, bringing them out."
Wine culture in Europe is evident in all wine producing countries. it has been that way for centuries. Does North America have a wine culture? A major set back and blow to our wine culture was due to Prohibition. in fact it stopped it dead in its tracks. We are just beginning to recover from that fiasco.

Tod Kliman describes in wonderful details, the historical characters beginning with Thomas Jefferson, who made an attempt to establish a wine industry in America. Interestingly, most of the major players involved with the Norton grape had their last name begin with an 'H'. Horton, Husmann, Held and even the town where it all began, Hermann and its citizens, the Hermannites. But it all came to a grinding halt with the onset of Prohibition.

Virginia, where it all began and where today the story continues, thanks to in large measure, the determined champion of the Norton grape, Jenni McCloud.
This is a must read for anyone interested in wine, wine history and wine culture in North America. In fact I believe this book should be required reading for all oenology courses taught in America.
One final observation. The states of Missouri and Virginia are to be highly commended for their part in promoting the Norton grape, but for me Todd Kliman by writing this book, has done much, very much, in creating an awareness of the true American grape - the Norton Grape !!

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Wine and Weather in the Alsace....!

Wether in the Alsace or in other wine regions, weather conditions continue to challenge wine makers. My number one source for info in the Alsace, is my friend Philippe Durst, the export manager at DOPFF "Au Moulin". In the middle of July this is what he reported. ( Photo courtesy Philippe )

"With the thermometer sometimes close to 40°C in the afternoons, we are long way from the -10 and even -20°C that we have experienced in the winter between november and right until Easter. It is tough not having felt spring in between!

And still we are long way from grape picking: at this stage, the grapes have the colour of green peas and they are best suited for producing ball bearings!"

Here in British Columbia weather conditions have not been ideal and unless we get nothing but sunshine for the next month and more, the Vancouver island wineries will be really challenged to produce a decent wine. In the Okanagan Valley it will also be a vintage that will be difficult to work with, except for the best of vintners. In a direct communication with Bradley Cooper of Township 7 and Black Cloud wineries here is his take on this year.

"The crop this year will be full of challenges. The two winters previous to this last one were tough on some varietals. The cold snap of early October 2009 was another kick in the pants. A lot of vines slowed by the late, wet spring will show remarable adaptive ability and appear to catch-up. But the actual grape clusters seem to lag behind the appearnce of the vine as a whole. Pinot varieties seem to be recovering quicker than Merlot and in some cases, Chardonnay. It's a mixed bag, very site specific."

So is this the year we will see a lot more sparkling wine being produced? It likes the higher acid from less mature grapes.

During my recent visit to Alsace, I fell in love once again with their great wines, but I now also have a particular fondness for the "Crémant d’Alsace". Crémants by law have to be aged for a minimum of 9 months. Champagne a minimum of 15 months. So what do you get when you age a Crémant for 24 months? You get Crémant Excellence Brut from La Cave des Vignerons de Pfaffenheim.

With an impressive complexity and a fine mousse
this bubbly was pure pleasure to drink. Toasted almond and hazelnut on the nose followed by a richness on the palate, its no wonder they call it "Excellence".

I have to once again extend a big 'thank you' to Lucas DE JONG owner along with his wife Karin, of the Hotel Husseren les Chateaux for introducing me to an excellent winery in the village of Voegtlinshoffen where Eliane Ginglinger weaves her magic at Ginglinger Fix. Eliane produces outstanding Grand Crus wines using grapes from two Grand Crus d'Alsace, the Hatschbourg and the Goldert.
That is my cousin Gerda, who drove me from Holland to Alsace and that is Lucas de Jong posing with the delightfull Eliane Ginglinger. Her beautiful blue eyes are brilliant and sparkling and are matched by the brilliance and sparkle of her
Crémant d’Alsace"

And I just loved her Riesling 2008 Grand Crus 'Goldert' and her Gewurztraminer 2008 'Hatschbourg'.
Once again I must stop and take an 'Alsace' break. I have one chilling in my fridge. So until more on Alsace in my next blog entry, here are my cheers to everyone!