Thursday, April 30, 2015

BRAMBLES: Big Question(s)

Alexander Valley AVA above the Russian River
A second generation grape grower in the Alexander Valley leaned on the tasting bar, scarecrow erect in his bib overalls and leather skin. For weeks it seemed visitors had asked me about the reportedly dire conditions for local grape farmers in the current growing season.  Spring time frosts, heavy rains during vine flowering, broad temperature swings during early development can all have great impact on the quality and quantity of premium wine grapes.  Casually he looked up at me and rumbled, "we've seen it all before".  A moment of clarity followed.  That was it. There is nothing new under the sun.  We just toil with what is given to us and try to make the best of it.

The comfortable convenience of knowing a good growing year verses a poor or challenging year is a relief for many wine lovers. It allows for an extra boost of confidence when choosing the vintage selection from a wine list or a retail shelf.  But, in fact, each and every year someone in our neighborhood is producing outstanding, world-class wine.  The best of vintners do it regularly.  But, surely California's continuing drought conditions, combined with the marketing push for environmental sustainability must have weighted impact on growers of our billion dollar grape crop. Currently, there is a bulk wine surplus and a serious labor shortage for vineyard labor to boot.  The increasing strength of the dollar against overseas wine producing currencies has kept the ocean of imports reasonably priced, and more domestic brands fight for retail shelf space each and every day.

"We will have rain again", I recently declared to another Sonoma County winegrower. "Oh, yes", he replied, "and it will be early(in the harvest season)".  "Our calendar has just moved up a month", he reasoned. So that's it!  We like to have summer begin on Memorial Day or when the kids are out of school.  But, Mother Nature operates under an entirely different Hallmark calendar.  This year bud break, flowering and fruit set are all well ahead of schedule, and that means that harvest should also be among the earliest in our history.  For our local grape crop August has evolved to become September.

Over the cultivated centuries, native wine grapes have acclimated and evolved to the conditions of their unique environs, their terrior. Survivability requires that we adapt to our circumstances for the continuing sustainable growth of the species. So throughout the more than 8000 year history of cultivated grapes, the strongest have continually adapted and have survived to see another calendar.  With historical perspective, our current season is an inch in the tendrils of the grapevine mile. Our current drought, as serious as it is, will once again challenge growers and producers to adapt to a dry environment that can offer earlier seasons. Their perpetual goal of crafting world class North Coast wine remains, as does the big question. Will we be able to drop our month-to-season mentality and adapt to Mother Nature?
Invasive flora & low water in the Russian River
Happy Birthday, Momma, and Cheers!

Tasting Values: Gouguenheim Malbec, 2013 Valle Escondido, Mendoza, Argentina. Opaque black plum hue, an earthy nose of dried dark fruit & vanilla, with a dense, round texture of red fruits, tea and cola. Well made, balanced across the palate and a bargain to boot!

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