Archive for August, 2017

25
Aug
17

Nature’s Alarm Clock and the Life Cycle of a Grapevine©

 

The weather has become so screwy it’s a wonder that migrating birds know when it’s time to come and go or when perennial plants and hibernating animals sense naptime is over. In vineyards, climate change has the potential to disturb the signals that tell dormant vines to get up and going. Changing periods of daylight alert many  plants, like grapevines, that are sensitive to the relative amount of day and night as seasons pass from one state to another. The amount of daylight during a 24-hour period also is important. Variations in air temperature and the angle of the sun also play vital roles. As warm air increases, plant hormones and cells in the tips of a plant’s root triggers the plants to send out new growth. In the case of grapevines, the appearance of buds tells watchful winemakers and vineyard managers the cycle of growth and renewal is beginning. Bud break is the first joyful sign the vines are alive.

John Williams, owner-winemaker at Frog’s Leap Winery in Napa Valley, notes that timing is crucial for grapevines. He says, “ If a grapevine gets up too early in spring, it’s very existence is in peril from crippling frosts lying in wait for its tender young buds. On the other hand, if it decides to sleep in, it may find itself at a competitive disadvantage from adjacent vines eager to grab space in the sunlight. Waking up is one of the most critical decisions the vine will make all year.”

During the long dormant season that precedes new growth, a lot of activity takes place in the vineyard. Vineyard workers are out in the field with pruning shears, tying the vines to supports for stability. Pruning vines sets the stage for the season’s growth, guiding the vine to grow in optimum directions to capture sunlight and moisture.

After a few weeks of vegetative growth, vines develop bunches of small flowers. Each flower will develop into a grape berry. This is a crucial time since frost can damage the potential development of grapes. The pollinated flowers drop their petals and form into tiny green bulbs. As plants develop during the growing season leaf production vies with grape development. Vineyard workers make many passes through the vineyard managing leaf removal and imperfect bunches to assure a proper balance between shade, sunlight, and air circulation around the remaining bunches. All grapes, whether ultimately red or white, hide their true nature and stay green until the middle of summer. The development of pigment on the skins takes place slowly in a process called veraison. Then the grapes continue to ripen until it’s time for harvest, or crush.

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16
Aug
17

GARGLING AND GURGLING WITH WINE, NOT LISTERINE

 

 

As a wine writer and educator, I have been invited to innumerable wine tastings both here and abroad. An invitation to visit Dom Ruinart, one of the most notable producers of champagne, was one of my most memorable early wine-tasting experiences.

On an overcast morning in Champagne,  the French region that lends its proprietary name to its local sparkling wine, our group of writers were ushered to a sizable vineyard whose plants were loaded with ripe grapes. I was handed a sharp metal clipper and set to work, relieving the vines of heavy bunches of berries, aka grapes,  and dropping them in a plastic bin. Serious vineyard workers, many of them arriving like migrating birds from as far away as Poland for every harvest, moved quickly along parallel vines of grapevines. The experienced workers left me far behind as I diligently clipped one bunch of grapes  after another. At the third swipe at a sizable bunch, I missed the grape stem and accidentally took a slice out of my finger.  It would be a overstatement to say blood ran like wine, but I needed a large Band-Aid to cover the beau-beau, the French version of our boo-boo.  It was a relief to know that after a few backbreaking attempts at contributing my share, to realize our group was involved in an exercise to illustrate the difficulties of bringing in the harvest. We were relieved from the back-breaking job, moving on to the next important stage: watching the grapes de-stemmed and crushed, grape juice flowing into vats

Thankfully, it was time for lunch. It is the custom to serve vineyard workers a hearty midday meal. Our reward was to share in a bountiful feast of stewed pork and wursts served with local red wine. We toured the local area around Rheims, the region’s ancient capital, with its glorious cathedral, famous for its connection with Joan of Arc, and its’ spectacular post-war stained glass windows designed by Chagall.

Later we dined at one of the best restaurants in Rheims, a city known not only for its history and culture, but also for its cuisine. Producers and wine writers take wine tasting seriously. Small talk was limited as we sampled the variety of Dom Ruinart’s excellent house styles. The only sound was the buzz of appreciative mm’s and ah’s counterpointed by a polite, discreet sound best described as a mix of gargling and gurgling. I needed to know the reason for the collective noise. “Why and how do you make those sounds,” I asked naively. The more experienced writers looked at me as though I had fallen off the turnip truck.

Bertrand Mur, Dom Ruinart’s chief and gentleman extraordinaire (who unfortunately is no longer with us) explained to the group, perhaps assuming I wasn’t the only one at the table who needed some instruction on the art of wine-tasting. “Let’s begin together so we’re all on the same page. In general, all wine tasting requires a few simple steps. Step one: Check the color and clarity for champagne, red, and white wine. Two: in general, always gently swirl wine to release its aromas. But never swirl champagne.” He shook his finger at us. “Swirling destroys the bubbles it took so long to cultivate and for which consumers pay top dollar. Next:  lift the glass  to inhale the wine’s aroma. Much of what we taste actually comes from our sense of smell. Finally, swish the wine around the mouth and then gently gargle a soupçon of wine.” (New wine drinkers may  develop a compulsion to swirl  every glass of liquid they drink, including their morning orange juice.)

I lifted my glass, swished and inhaled as directed, then attempted the gargle. Champagne bubbles caught at the back of my throat, and I choked, spewing a mouthful of bubbly across the table. So much for being sophisticated! After couple of tries, I learned to gurgle (or gargle, whichever you prefer) always discreetly.

 

15
Aug
17

GARGLING AND GURGLING WITH WINE, NOT LISTERINE Many years ago, during my early days as a wine writer and educator, I was invited to innumerable wine tastings both here and abroad. An invitation to visit Dom Ruinart, the remarkable producer of Champagne, ostensibly to help harvest grapes. Is as vivid in my mind today as it was long ago. On a gray morning In Reims, the heart of the French region that lends its proprietary name to its local sparkling wine, I was handed a sharp metal clipper and was ushered to a grapevine, the first in a long line that stretched for several yards. Serious vineyard works were already moving quickly along parallel vines of grapevines. I slowly approached one bunch of grapes, then another. At the third swipe at a sizable bunch of grapes, I missed the grape stem and accidentally took a slice out of my finger. Ouch! Blood ran like wine and I needed a large Band-Aid to cover the beau-beau, the French version of our boo-boo. The inexperienced American group failed to compete with experienced vineyard workers. It was a relief to know that after a few backbreaking attempts at contributing our share, we realized it was merely an exercise to show the difficulties of getting the harvest in. After we contributed a few bunches of grapes into baskets, we moved on to the next important stage, watching the berries de-stemmed and crushed. We joined the vineyard workers, many of them who arrived like migrating birds from as far away as Poland for every harvest. It is the custom to serve vineyard workers a hearty lunch. Our reward was to share in a bountiful feasted of pork and wurst stew and bottles of local red wine. Later we dined at one of the area’s best restaurants. Wine tasting by producers and wine writers is serious business. Small talk was limited as we sampled the variety of Dom Ruinart’s excellent house styles. The only sound was the buzz of appreciative mms and ahs counterpointed by a polite, discreet sound best described as a mix of gargling and gurgling. I needed to know the reason for all the mouth noises. “Why and how do you make that sound,” I asked naively. The more experienced writers looked at me as though I had fallen off the turnip truck. “First we inhale the wine’s aroma. Step two We swish the wine around the mouth to cover all areas of tongue and mouth,” was the answer. “Then you gently gargle a soupçon of wine.” Easier said than done. I lifted my glass, swished as directed, and attempted the gargle. Champagne bubbles caught at the back of my throat, and I choked, spewing a mouthful of bubbly across the table. So much for sophistication. I learned to gargle discretely. But I never fail to explain why wine is swirled in the glass (to aerate it, of course. Except for champagne because we pay extra for bubbles and a gurgle dissipates them. The technique is a boon to give a hint of what the wine offers. I tell new wine drinkers they will develop the habit of swirling every glass of liquid they drink, including their morning orange juice.