Thursday, December 1, 2016

An Overview of Wines in Spain, 1882

Excerpted from "Spain", 1882, by Rev. Wentworth Webster, M.A. This is a brief overview of Spanish wine regions of the time.

The productions of the northern zone vary greatly according to elevation and exposition. Those of the Basque Provinces still belong to the north temperate zone climate—cattle, corn, and cider, as well as wine. The olive, and the mulberry for silk, are almost unknown; but maize is largely grown. As we approach Catalonia these products give way to those of the Mediterranean region of Provence and of the Riviera—the olive, the grape, the mulberry.

A powerful red wine is made on the lower southern spurs of the Pyrenees and of the Cantabrian Mountains, in the Riojas, in Navarre, and in Aragon. Much of it would be excellent if more attention were paid to the preparation, and especially to the conditions of transport. Great quantities are at present exported to France by sea from Bilbao and San Sebastian, and also by rail, for the purpose of mixing with the thinner and poorer clarets of Bordeaux, to fit them for the taste and market of England.

In Catalonia the wine improves, and is less used for mixing. The chief kinds are a red wine, like Rousillon, and sweet, luscious wines, Rancio, somewhat like Muscat or Malaga. Of late the manufacture of effervescing wines like champagne has been carried on with considerable success. The wine made in Catalonia amounts to one-fifth of the whole produce of Spain. Already the orange and the palm appear.

In other regions the wines are equally celebrated, from the strong red wines of Benicarlo, near the frontiers of Catalonia, to the sweet wines of Alicante and of Malaga, which are preferred by Continental taste to the drier and more fiery sherries, wines of the Guadalquiver valley, which please the English palate. Near the coast on the lower grounds, wherever there is sufficient water, rice is grown; but, on account of the unhealthy character of the cultivation, its culture is forbidden in the neighbourhood of towns.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

On the Future of Australian Wine, 1894

Excerpted from "The Art of Living in Australia", 1894, by Philip E. Muskett

Having thus far referred to our totally inadequate supply of fish food, of vegetables, and of salad plants and herbs, there is still the great Australian wine industry to consider. At present only in its swaddling clothes, it is destined before very long to enter upon its vigorous life. There was an eminent French naturalist, M.F. Peron, sent out to Australia by the Emperor Napoleon during the years 1801 to 1804 inclusive. A shrewd observer, he saw even at that early period of Australian history that there were unequaled possibilities for her wine. In the course of his interesting narrations he remarks:--"By one of those chances which are inconceivable, Great Britain is the only one of the great maritime powers which does not cultivate the vine, either in its own territories or its colonies; notwithstanding, the consumption of wine on board its fleets and throughout its vast regions is immense."

In the whole of Australia the annual production of wine is only a little over three million gallons; but in France, as well as in Italy, it is nearly 800 million gallons. These two countries together, therefore, every year produce about 1,596 million gallons more wine than Australia. These stupendous figures reveal very plainly what an enormous expansion awaits ou wine industry.

Monday, December 1, 2014

In Honor of Charles Krug, 2011

From a speech by US Rep. Mike Thompson of California, September 21, 2011, on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the winery. This speech contains some interesting facts of note in California wine history, including references to the phylloxera outbreak; his pioneering use of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Merlot varieties; and to Robert Mondavi, who began his career there and later left to form his own wine-making concern.
Mr. Speaker, I rise today in recognition of Charles Krug Winery, Napa Valley's oldest and most historic wine-making establishment, and among the region's most highly acclaimed and admired firms. Charles Krug will be celebrating its 150th anniversary this year and in so doing will salute the century and a half of rich traditions and extraordinary wines cultivated under the esteemed brand.

In its long, storied history, Charles Krug has played host to and benefitted greatly from the hard work and immense accomplishments of some of the most famous and brilliant Wine Country luminaries. Among them were founder Charles Krug himself, Robert Mondavi, proprietor Peter Mondavi, Sr., and the current winemakers, brothers Peter, Jr., and Marc Mondavi. Today, the winery produces a line of super-premium and reserve wines, all made with estate-grown, sustainably farmed fruit from each of Napa Valley's esteemed sub-appellations: St. Helena, Cameros, Howell Mountain and Yountville.

Charles Krug was the first outfit in the Napa Valley to implement a handful of revolutionary techniques and technologies including the use of the cider press in 1858, the differentiation of product labels by vintage and varietal, the use of glass-lined tanks and the use of French oak barrels in 1963. The winery's estate vineyards have also been the sites of some historic innovations in the field of viticulture. Krug was the first vintner to purchase and develop vineyard land in the Howell Mountain area of Napa Valley. Peter Mondavi, Sr., avoided a costly replanting of the winery's vineyards when he bucked industry and rejected recommendations to plant the AXR1 rootstock, which was later found to be vulnerable to industry-ravaging phylloxera damage.

More impressive still, he was among the first vintners to develop vineyards in and around Carneros, demonstrating that Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Merlot wines made from the grapes of this sub-appellation could reach high standards of quality.

Though Charles Krug Winery emerged as an early leader in the Napa Valley wine community, the company's commitment to serving the greater needs of the industry has always been a constant. Krug founded the St. Helena Viticultural Society in 1875, and assisted shortly thereafter with the establishment of the Napa and Sonoma Wine Company, a collaborative effort between producers to improve the quality of wine shipped to the East Coast. Today, after a century and a half's worth of work, the Charles Krug brand retains its place as one of the premier winemaking establishments in the Napa Valley region with a portfolio of wines that compete with the highest ranks of the national and international arenas.

Therefore, Mr. Speaker, it is appropriate at this time for us to congratulate and applaud the proprietors and staff of Charles Krug Winery for their outstanding and ongoing work, embodying and representing some of the best that Napa Valley and California have to offer.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Madeira, the King of Wines, 1890

Excerpted from "Society as I Have Found It", by Ward McAllister, 1890. According to Wikipedia he was the "self-appointed arbiter of New York society from the 1860s to the early 1890s". Here is his passionate and very readable defense of Madeira wine.

Having had your champagne from the fish to the roast, your vin ordinaire through the dinner, your Burgundy or Johannisberg, or fine old Tokay (quite equal to any Johannisberg), with the cheese, your best claret with the roast, then after the ladies have had their fruit and have left the table, comes on the king of wines, your Madeira ; a national wine, a wine only well matured at the South, and a wine whose history is as old as is that of our country. I may here say, that Madeira imparts a vitality that no other wine can give. After drinking it, it acts as a soporific, but the next day you feel ten years younger and stronger for it.

I have known a man, whose dinners were so famous by reason of his being always able to give at them a faultless Madeira, disappear with his wine. When his wine gave out, he collapsed.
When asked, " Where is Mr. Jones?" the ready answer was always given, " He went out with his ' Rapid' Madeira."

Families prided themselves on their Madeira. It became an heirloom (as Tokay now is, in Austria). Like the elephant, it seemed to live over three score years and ten. The fine Madeiras were fine when they reached this country. Age improved them, and made them the poetry of wine. ' They became the color of amber and retained all their original flavor. But it is an error to suppose that age ever improved a poor Madeira. If it came here poor and sweet, it remained poor and sweet, and never lost Its sweetness, even at seventy or eighty years.

These wines took their names generally from the ships in which they came over. There is no more sensitive wine to climatic influences. A delicate Madeira, taken only a few blocks on a cold, raw day, Is not fit to drink; and again, you might as well give a man champagne out of a horse bucket, as to give him a Madeira in a thick sherry or claret glass, or a heavy cut glass. The American pipestem is the only glass in which Madeira should be given, and when thus given, is, as one of our distinguished men once said, " The only liquid he ever called wine."

In Savannah and Charleston, from 1800 up to our Civil War, afternoon wine parties were the custom. You were asked to come and taste Madeira, at 5 P.M., after your dinner. The hour of dining in these cities was then always 3 P.M. The mahogany table, which reflected your face, was set with finger bowls, with four pipe-stem glasses in each bowl, olives, parched ground nuts and almonds, and half a dozen bottles of Madeira. There you sat, tasted and commented on these wines for an hour or more.

The oldest and largest shippers of Madeira were the Newton Gordons, who sent the finest Madeiras to Charleston and Savannah. From 1791 to 1805, their firm was Newton Gordon, Murdock, & Scott. One hundred and ten years ago, they sent five hundred pipes of Madeira in one shipment to Savannah. These wines sent there were the finest Sercials, Buals, and Malmseys. All those wines were known as extra Madeiras. The highest priced wine, a Manigult Heyward wine, I knew forty years ago ; it was ninety years old—perfect, full flavored, and of good color and strength.

In Charleston and Savannah from 1780 to 1840, almost every gentleman ordered a pipe of wine from Madeira. I know of a man who has kept this up for half a century. There is a common prejudice against Malmsey, as being a lady's wine, and sweet ; when very old, no Madeira can beat it. I have now In my cellar an " All Saints" wine, named after the famous Savannah Quoit Club, imported in 1791 ; a perfect wine, of exquisite flavor. My wife's grandfather imported two pipes of Madeira every year, and my father-in-law continued to do this as long as he lived. When he died he had, as I am told, the largest private cellar of Madeira In the United States. All his wines were Newton Gordons.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Early American Winemaking in the Colony of Virginia

Excerpted from "The Grapes of New York", 1908, by U. P. Hedrick. A nice concise overview of an early attempt to grow European grapes on American soil, with an interesting note on the locals preferring Maderia!

The English were the first to plant the Old World grape in the territory in which this species fails because of the attacks of native parasites. Lord Delaware seems to have been the original promoter of grape-growing in the New World. In 1616 he wrote to the London Company urging the culture of the grape as a possible source of revenue for the new colony. His letter seems to have been convincing, for it is on record that the Company in 1619 sent a number of French vine-dressers and a collection of the best varieties of the grapes of France to Virginia. The Colonial Assembly showed quite as much solicitude in encouraging the cultivation of the vine as did the Company in London. The year of the importation of vines and vine-dressers, 1619, the Assembly passed an act compelling every householder to plant ten cuttings and to protect them from injury and stated that the landowners were expected to acquire the art of dressing a vineyard, either through instruction or by observation. The Company, to increase the interest in vine-growing, showed marked favors to all who undertook it with zealousness; promises of servants, the most valuable gifts that could be made to the colonists, were frequent. Under the impulse thus given vineyards were planted containing as many as ten thousand vines.

In spite of a rich soil, congenial climate, and skilled vine-dressers, nothing of importance came from the venture, some of the historians of the time attributing the failure to the massacre of 1622; others to poor management of the vines; and still others to disagreements between the English and their French vine-dressers, who, it was claimed, concealed their knowledge because they worked as slaves. It is probable that the latter explanation was fanciful but the former must have been real for we are told that the farms and outlying settlements were abandoned after the great massacre. But the colony could hardly have recovered from the ravages of the Indians before efforts to force the colonists to grow grapes were again made; for in 1623 the Assembly passed a law that for every four men in the colony a garden should be laid off a part of which was to be planted to vines.

In 1639 the Assembly again tried to encourage vine-growing by legislative enactment, this time with an act giving a premium to successful grape-growers. Later, about 1660, a premium of ten thousand pounds of tobacco was offered in Virginia for each “two tunne of wine” from grapes raised in the colony. Shortly after, some wine was exported to England but whether made from wild plants or cultivated ones does not appear. In spite of the encouragement of legislative acts, grape-growing did not flourish in Virginia. The fact that tobacco was a paying crop and more easily grown than the grape may have had something to do with the failure to grow the latter. Or it may have been that the cheapness of Madeira, “a noble strong drink,” as one of the Colonial historians puts it, had a depressing influence on the industry. But still more likely, the foreign plants did not thrive.

Encouragement of the home production of wine did not cease in Virginia for at least one hundred and fifty years; for in 1769 an enactment of the Assembly was passed to encourage wine-making in favor of one Andrew Estave, a Frenchman. As a result of the act of this time, land was purchased, buildings erected, and slaves and workmen with a complete outfit for wine-making were furnished Estave. The act provided that if he made within six years ten hogsheads of merchantable wine—land, houses, slaves, the whole plant was to be given to him. It is stated that this unusual subsidy is made “as a reward for so useful an improvement.” Estave succeeded in making the wine but it was poor stuff and he had difficulty in getting the authorities to turn over the property which was to be his reward. This was finally done by an act of the Assembly, however, the failure to make good wine being attributed by all parties to the “unfitness of the land.”

An attempt was made to cultivate the European grape in Virginia early in the eighteenth century on an extensive scale. Soon after taking office as governor in 1710, Alexander Spotswood brought over a colony of Germans from the Rhine and settled them in Spottsylvania County on the Rapidan river. The site of their village on this river is now marked by a ford, Germania Ford, a name which is a record of the settlement. That they grew grapes and made wine is certain, for the Governor’s “red and white Rapidan, made by his Spottsylvania Germans” is several times mentioned in the published journals and letters of the time. But the venture did not make a deep nor lasting impress on the agriculture of the colony.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Altar Wine in the Catholic Church, 1913

Excerpted from "The Catholic Encyclopedia", 1913.

Wine is one of the two elements absolutely necessary for the sacrifice of the Eucharist. For valid and licit consecration vinum de vite, i.e. the pure juice of the grape naturally and properly fermented, is to be used. Wine made out of raisins, provided that from its colour and taste it may be judged to be pure, may be used. It may be white or red, weak or strong, sweet or dry.

Since the validity of the Holy Sacrifice, and the lawfulness of its celebration, require absolutely genuine wine, it becomes the serious obligation of the celebrant to procure only pure wines. And since wines are frequently so adulterated as to escape minute chemical analysis, it may be taken for granted that the safest way of procuring pure wine is to buy it not at second hand, but directly from a manufacturer who understands and conscientiously respects the great responsibility involved in the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice.

If the wine is changed into vinegar, or is become putrid or corrupted, if it was pressed from grapes that were not fully ripe, or if it is mixed with such a quality of water that it can hardly be called wine, its use is forbidden. If the wine begins to turn into vinegar, or to become putrid, or is the unfermented juice is pressed from the grape, it would be a grievous offence to use it, but it is considered valid matter.

To conserve weak and feeble wines, and in order to keep them from souring or spoiling during transportation, a small quantity of spirits of wine (grape brandy or alcohol) may be added, provided the following conditions are observed (1) The added spirit (alcohol) must have been distilled from the grape (ex genimime vitis); (2) the quantity of alcohol added, together with that which the wine contained naturally after fermentation, must not exceed eighteen per cent of the whole; (3) the addition must be made during the process of fermentation.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Instructions for Making an American Wine Cask, 1866

A mid-19th century American wine cask
Excerpted from "The Cultivation of The Native Grape, and Manufacture of American Wines", by George Husmann, 1866.
These should be made of well-seasoned white oak staves, and can, of course, be of various sizes to meet the wants of the vintner. The best and most convenient size for cellar use I have found to be about 500 gallons. These are sufficiently large to develop the wine fully, and yet can be filled quick enough to not interrupt fermentation. Of course, the vintner must have some of all sizes, even down to the five-gallon keg; but for keeping wine, a cask of 500 gallons takes less room comparatively, and the wine will attain a higher degree of perfection than in smaller casks. The staves to make such a cask should be about 5 feet long, and 1½ to 2 inches thick, and be the very best wood to be had.

The cask will, when ready, be about as high as it is long, should be carefully worked and planed inside, to facilitate washing and have a so-called door on one end, 12 inches wide and 18 inches high, which is fastened by means of an iron bolt and screw, and a strong bar of wood. This is to facilitate cleaning; when a cask is empty, the door is taken out, and a man slips into the cask with a broom and brush, and carefully washes off all remnants of lees, etc., which, as the lees of the wine are very slimy and tenacious, cannot be removed by merely pouring in water and shaking it about. It is also much more convenient to let these large casks remain in their places, than to move them about. The casks are bound with strong iron hoops.

To prepare the new casks, and also the vats, etc., for the reception of the must, they should be either filled with pure water, and allowed to soak for several days, to draw out the tannin; then emptied, scalded with hot water, and afterwards steamed with, say two or three gallons of boiling wine; or they can be made "wine-green," by putting in about half a bushel of unslaked lime, and pouring in about the same quantity of hot water. After the lime has fallen apart, add about two quarts of water to each pound of lime, put in the bung, and turn the cask about; leaving it lie sometimes on one side, sometimes on the other, so that the lime will come in contact with every part of the cask. Then pour out the lime-water; wash once or twice with warm water, and rinse with a decoction of vine leaves, or with warm wine. Then rinse once more with cold water, and it will be fully prepared to receive the must. This is also to be observed with old casks, which have become, by neglect or otherwise, mouldy, or have a peculiar tang.

The casks are then filled with the must; either completely, if it is intended that the must should ferment above, as it is called, or under, when the cask is not completely filled, so that the husks, which the must will throw up, will remain in the cask. Both methods have their advantages, but I prefer the former, with a very simple contrivance, to exclude the air, and also prevent waste. This is a siphon or tin tube, bent in the form of a double elbow, of which one end fits tightly in the bung hole, and the other empties into a dish of water, to be set on one end of the cask, through which the gas escapes.

Friday, October 4, 2013

The Champagne Region During World War I (1914-1918)

Epernay during WWI
Excerpted from "The Champagne Vine Country and Champagne Wine", 1920, by Georges Chappaz and Alexandre Henriot. 
Throughout the war the Champagne region was the scene of a tragic but glorious struggle. It was in front of the Reims mountain that the German front was immobilized from 1914 to 1918, and along the slopes of this same mountain, at the foot of the hills of the Marne, and in the neighbonrhood ,of Epernay, that the last German offensive in July 1918 was broken. The vineyards naturally suffered severe damage.

Trenches furrowed the vines, and shells uprooted them; peasants saw their houses and furniture destroyed by fire, and many lives were lost. But their activity never failed and in spite of shells and aeroplanes they kept on with their work as far as possible until 1918.

As soon as the enemy was gone, in October 1918, they camped out in their ruined villages, started to put the vineyards in order, and cultivated such vines as had been spared. So it was that as early as 1920 an excellent vintage was gathered amounting to nearly 7,000,000 gallons.

The merchants too suffered severely: from 1914 to 1918 the Germans were at the very gates of Reims, and bombarded the city every day, often with gas and incendiary shells. All of the houses in Reims were more or less destroyed, and many of those in Epernay suffered the same fate. Fortunately not a single shell, however big, was sufficiently powerful to break through into the cellars, which are deep and well built, and the stocks of wine were not damaged.

Like the peasants, the champagne merchants showed great pertinacity and never ceased working except from April to November 1918, when all civilians had to be sent away.

Immediately after the armistice, the merchants and their men got to work again in temporary buildings hastily thrown together over the cellars, and by 1920 work was again in full swing.