Is wine just another drink? A snobby, pretentious one? An expensive bottle of grape juice? It is more than that, of course, as I have written in Wine 101 and Wine 200. The puzzle of finding out where the grapes were grown, in what kind of soil, surrounded by what, in what climate, on old or new vines. These can all be answered in a glance, smell, sip. I love that one can find so many complexities and aromas in a simple glass of…well….grape juice.
And behind all that, the fancy restaurants, the food pairings, the bottles snug in the cellar, is the farmer. A farmer, workers, wine makers, all making this journey through dinner sensational.
Homesteaders have been making their own wine for many, many centuries. Fermenting grapes was a way to preserve the bounty and provided safer refreshment than water at many times. It is a preservation method, a return on the farmer’s time and energies growing this humble fruit.
Following the vineyard tour of Pine Crest in Napa, I took to memory everything the guide said about the growing of the grapes. Hillside, sun, distance from the ground, sugar content, days on the vine. I kept asking questions. I must grow grapes. A sad shake of the head met me. 140 days on the vine.
“Oh, I can do that. I have a four and a half months to grow.” That is a hundred and forty days after the fruit is visible, after flowering, after Spring, 140 days.
“Oh wait, that is my entire growing season!” Oh, Kiowa, you high desert land, you’re killing me as a farmer over here!
But you know me, if someone tells me in Napa Valley, where they know grapes and wine, that I can’t grow grapes, I’ll be shopping for Sangiovese and Petite Sirah grapes the second my plane lands back in Colorado. There has got to be a way for me to grow good grapes. I will research areas similar to my climate and see what they grow. Surely along the equatorial line Colorado matches up with somewhere like France across the globe.
Six dollar wines with cute animals on them or fancy Italian words used to be my wine of choice. Now, you can find a darn good wine at twelve bucks, but I used to think the Costco style wines, in all their bulk glory and appealing labels, were the best wines. Then I started enjoying red blends, their smooth, creamy textures, albeit void of intense complexity, seemed fitting for any occasion (and still can be). Though I love a good puzzle. And the puzzle can only be found in single vineyard wines.
Single vineyard is how you know the grapes came from the same place. That wine will give you more uniqueness, as it will whisper to you notes about its soil constitution, how far its roots traveled, how much sun it received, how old the vines are. Its own place on the planet written out in a bottle.
Estate grown means that it is grown on the vineyard owner’s properties, but their vineyards could be miles apart.
Reserve means that it was grown in a particular patch of vineyard, a more expensive wine generally, but a more concentrated memory of where it was grown. The best area of the vineyard.
We walked through the vast vineyards. Watched as row upon row clung to the hillside taking in the glorious sun. Smelled the sacrificial roses. They are there to attract insects. The destructive bugs will hopefully go to the roses instead of eating the precious fruit.
We walked through the warehouse-looking area where thirty feet high there were stacked newly harvested and resting wine hovering in French oak barrels. Enormous steel tanks held bubbling early fermentations of wine. We walked into the cave. Several miles of caves exist under the buildings. Rows and rows of oak line the walls filled with their proud vintage. We tasted a sample right out of the barrel. It was delicious. Creamy, interesting, smooth, filled with berries, molasses, spice, and vanilla. We walked further down the cool caves (incidentally only three degrees cooler than my basement…I can do this!) and came upon a beautiful round table with three dozen shimmering glasses and small plates of cheese. We went through three tastes of wines, each delightful with its chosen cheese, and savored the romantic cave atmosphere.
Next Google search; zone 4 grape vines and an oak barrel.