Thursday, March 30, 2017

BRAMBLES: April AllReady in Central Europe!

IT is spring and perhaps more than ever my personal vision of the world of wine seems a little out of focus. Maybe it is just the time invested or the true nature of cycles, or even the lack of personal critical success, but it does give one pause to reflect. By the way, above is a photo of the old vineyards in Hungary's Soproni Borvidek. It sits in the border foothills of the Alps in the southeastern region of neighboring Austria.  As early as the XIV century, this former Roman colony was classified as the most important wine region in Hungary. Talk about wine history!  Its old soils have seen the shift in empires, numerous wars and an Eastern Block trade restriction, yet today there is the new promise of a wine renaissance here as investment and more international markets expand opportunity. In 2004 Hungary was admitted to the European Union and its spectrum of wine-lovin' customers. Current results here display hundreds of these unique vineyards increasingly planted to 'international varieties'. And to perhaps anchor its history, Hungary also produces the botrytized amber nectar, Tokaji.
Mechanical harvesting in lower region Hungary
Perhaps our vision of the wine world becomes clearer if we continue to step back, away from the consuming game that is the contemporary wine business. On those northern shores of misty Lake Neusiedler in neighboring Austria, the vine has also been cultivated for thousands of years, and survived across many a regional cataclysm. Today, the principal grape variety is Grüner Veltliner, which finds itself in classification systems defined by its regions, not nationality. Following the creation of the important Austrian Wine Marketing Board in 1986 and its admission into the EU in 1995, the Austrian wine industry has continued to produce some of the greatest wines in its long viticultural history.  Its evolving regulatory system assures consumers of high standards in quality(red/white bandolier capsule) and regional typicity for each varietal, and this former home of reform philosopher Rudolf Steiner continues to be among international leaders in vineyard sustainability, organic and bio-dynamic practices.  From disaster to contemporary eco-poster child, Austria has created a model of what is possible in the contemporary international wine marketplace.

Wine Folly graphics(nice!)

Heading northwest to focus on the current commerce engine of the EU with its diverse economy, neighboring Germany shares a lot of the same central European culture. This is white wine country, increasingly dominated by the noble Riesling grape, a native varietal which has hardily adapted to its northern climactic extreme vineyards.  Just as in the time of the Romans, here it is about a vineyards proximity to the river. A historically challenging landscape, the river valleys are dominated by many small hand-working growers. The vine has followed the rivers moderating influences along the mighty Rhine, and the Mosel, above the Elbe, the Saale and the Unstrut in the southeast. Its sweet fruit is harvested late in the grape season, sometimes a berry at a time;  the vines make it thru brutal winters and awaken annually with bud break again in the spring.

Hardly anything says spring quite like acid-driven Riesling, which is found in each of these three countries. Its greatest heights surely are found in Germany, but most of what is produced is from the broad category labeled Landwein, or ubiquitous table wines.  The best of the varietal most often come from a specific place.  Upper tiers of the German Wine Law offer first pick, mostly dry Kabinett; fuller, off-dry Spatlese; and textured, sweeter Auslese. Even with their confusing labels and language, the industry has advanced to simpler, user-friendly label declarations(trocken=dry) and friendly consumer symbols displayed. It is just another example of Old World producers staying true to their nature, yet acknowledging growing consumer trends, such as food & wine pairings.
Replanted vineyards above the Mosel in Zell

Again we ask ourselves why would a wine educator continue to spend time & resources to do this month after month.  There is little independent financial gain in its present form and I am not motivated to be the family 'wine expert'. Revived, it remains these new stories like those coming out of central Europe, seeped in history and turmoil. Step back, and you can see that wine history is our shared history.  It is the continued exploration and non-stop development of an agrarian life, the search for a unique expression of site, and stories that in ways define what it is to be human.  Wine Educators often times then become the oracle of this truth found in the cultivation of the vine.  Each of these countries with their common wine roots and independent cultures has grown, evolved with the ever-expanding international marketplace. And, even in a world filled with turbulence and strife, wine itself can be for many of us a return of focus.  It is all ready happening, for in wine there will always be truth.

In Vino Veritas & Cheers!
Vine renewal

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