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 !!


Nick said...

Very interesting my friend - thanks for the heads up - I will see if I can get a copy! I have also enjoyed your series of posts on Alsace! The cremant is one of my favourites and is as good as some Champagnes, if not better!

Wilf G.K said...

Nick, so good to hear from you. you bet those Alsace cremants are good. Had the Pfaffenheim Excellence Brut and it was remarkable. Just as good as a Champagne but at 1/3 the cost.
Had company last weekend and guess what I served them? Why Angels on Horseback of course. It is still one of my favourite recipes on your blog.
Thanks and cheers my friend.

Wilf G.K said...

Nick, in my excitement about Alsace cremant, I forgot to respond to your comment about "the Wild Vine".
It really is a well written book. My only surprise about it is, that since it is such an historic bit of Americana, that the Norton grape is not more widely known.

The Norton Wine Travelers said...

Kim of Madison, WI described this book so well with her statement of “I love the way [Norton] wine becomes an example of what it means to be American, a symbol of a country and a culture that I wouldn’t have noticed myself.” Today there are 202 Norton vineyards in 23 states! Remember, always let any Norton wine breathe for no less than 30 minutes before enjoying. Personal favorite Norton wines by state: White Oak (AL), Three Sister (GA), Century Farm (TN), Elk Creek (KY), Cooper & DuCard (VA), Stone Mountain Cellars (PA) and Blumenhof, Heinrichshaus, Adam Puchta, and Robller (MO).

Wilf G.K said...

Thank you so very much to the Norton Wine Travelers! I don't think anyone realizes that today there are 202 vineyards in 23 states. I am looking forward to someday in the near future to be able to taste a wine made with the Norton grape. Unfortunately it is not available to me here in BC. So tell me more about the "Norton Wine Travelers".