Saturday, November 12, 2011

BRAMBLES: Harvest This!

An annual right of passage, this year's harvest is all but over. Reuters reported on November 08, that the globes wine grape harvest was quite mixed, with temperate zones of Italy, Spain and most of the U.S. having cooler growing/harvest seasons and significant declines in winegrape volume. Only the northern extreme latitudes of British Columbia, Ontario and upper New York State; northern appellations of France, Germany and Austria appear to have had satisfactory harvest levels. The southern hemisphere, which harvests in the Spring, from New Zealand to Argentina, are conversely calling it a, "beautiful harvest".  Regardless of climate abnormality or climate change or global warming, the Old World and the U.S. and the New World will continue to produce great quality wines each and every vintage; and value conscience consumers will continue to seek them out. Even as per capita wine consumption may be going down in France, the growing numbers of the rest of us wine lovers continue finding great value in the quality wines from around the globes many resources.  You just need to know where to look.

Domestically, little known wine growing regions like Santa Barbara's Happy Canyon AVA(American Viticultural Area), Santa Maria AVA and Santa Ynez AVA, enjoyed a dry, warm harvest in 2011 unlike their neighbors to the north. In spite of a rainy harvest, the Central Coast's Paso Robles region continues to grow in quality and quantity with each vintage, having currently over 200 wineries where there were just a handful twenty years ago. Free wine market lobbyists like the noble, Free the Grapes, continue to fight Prohibition-era consumer laws for us, and today we number only 12 states that prohibit direct shipping to consumers like you and me. And, this week Washington State's Initiative 1183 was overwhelming passed by voters, effectively ending that states 78-year monopoly on controlling wine sales. In spite of a locally challenging harvest, it is still a great time for consumers of quality wines who explore the world of wine.
Autumn in Burgundy
Our Sonoma County Pistachio trees are ablaze in rustic colors now, and their fallen leaves have begun to blanket the roadways. In the nearby sustainable vineyards, grape leafs are turning annually to yellow, as they lose the green pigment, chlorophyll, which absorbs the light that allows the plant to produce the vital energy for photosynthesis(carbon dioxide converted to organic compounds and sugars). Chronic vineyard maladies, like leafroll virus, which can be slowly spread by the grape mealybug, are beginning to show on the down-turned leaves flaming reddish-purple hues. With the first frosts of the season, these vines will begin to lose their leaves and cycle into dormancy, storing energy for the awakening that is Spring. Another annual rite from wines rich history, our busy regional wine cellars now practice the orchestrated march of barrels and the seemingly endless coils of tank hoses, moving the newborn cuvees(blends) throughout their nurseries. Outside, it will soon be time to plant sustainable cover crops that limit unwanted weeds and contribute soil nutrients, repair the vineyard trellising so necessary to support the sunshine vine requirements and then the essential art/science of Winter pruning that controls quality grape yields. As with the wine in the bottle, there remains a need for balance in the vineyard.
Medieval Harvest tapestry

The change of colors, shorter days and the chill in the night air announce that winter is on its way, so it is a good time to find our favorite winery's winemakers in the cellar.  This is a wonderful time of year for wine lovers to explore a wine country, either near or far. Each year this is that anticipated time  to celebrate the harvest and its newborn wines, plan a feast or to explore the riches that our earth offer's us, just as we have for centuries. On the West Coast there are seasonal wine festivals stretching from Yakima Valley to Gold Country to the Santa Ynez Valley on the Fall calendar to enjoy, with great wines from almost every venue. The sense of wine discovery can be found at every venue, with many surprises along the way. Even if we are not available to travel beyond our local wine merchant, the exploration of the world of wine can take us out of our comfort zone and across to the wine treasures of the globe. Here each of us can savour these many wonderful morsels of natures bounty this season, if only we would seek them out!

Congratulations to the pioneering winegrape growers and vintners of northern Sonoma countie's Pine Mountain-Cloverdale Peak region.  Our federal regulators, the Tax & Tariff Bureau, just announced the areas demarcation as our newest, and the counties 14th, American Viticultural Area. Currently at around 230 growing acres sitting above 1500 feet in hillside elevation, this creates yet another opportunity for a dedicated growing region to create its own identity by the culturing of native grapes in a distinct environment. It is just one more reason to seek out the grape harvest!
Racking Oregon Pinot Noir


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