Sunday, August 3, 2008

Wine History: Honoring Robert Mondavi

Here's the text of House Concurrent Resolution 365, issued after the recent death of Robert Mondavi:


-- Whereas Robert Mondavi, a much-loved and admired man of many talents, passed away on May 16, 2008, at the age of 94;
-- Whereas Robert Mondavi will be fondly and most famously remembered for his work in producing and promoting California wines on an international scale;
-- Whereas Robert Gerald Mondavi was born to Italian immigrant parents, Cesare and Rose, on June 18, 1913, in Virginia, Minnesota, and his family later moved to Lodi, California, where he attended Lodi High School;
-- Whereas after graduating from Stanford University in 1937 with a degree in economics and business administration, Robert Mondavi joined his father and younger brother, Peter, in running the Charles Krug Winery in the Napa Valley of California;
-- Whereas Robert Mondavi left Krug Winery in 1965 to establish his own winery in the Napa Valley, and, in 1966, motivated by his vision that California could produce world-class wines, he founded the first major winery built in Napa Valley since Prohibition, the Robert Mondavi Winery;
-- Whereas in the later 1960s, the release of the Robert Mondavi Winery’s Cabernet Sauvignon opened the eyes of the world to the potential of the Napa Valley region;
-- Whereas Robert Mondavi introduced new and innovative techniques of wine production, such as the use of stainless steel tanks to produce wines, like his now-legendary Fumé Blanc;
-- Whereas as a tireless advocate for California wine and food, and the Napa Valley, Robert Mondavi was convinced that California wines could compete with established European brands, and his confidence in the potential of Napa Valley wines was confirmed in 1976 when California wines defeated some well-known French vintages at the historic Paris Wine Tasting, or “Judgement of Paris”, wine competition;
-- Whereas in the late 1970s, Robert Mondavi created the first French-American wine venture when he joined with Baron Philippe de Rothschild in creating the Opus One Winery in Oakville, which produced its first vintage in 1979;
-- Whereas the success of the Robert Mondavi Winery, and the many international ventures Robert Mondavi pursued, allowed him to donate generously to various charitable causes, including the Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science and Robert and Margrit Mondavi Center for Performing Arts, both affiliated with the University of California, Davis, and the establishment of the American Center for Wine, Food, and the Arts;
-- Whereas those who knew Robert Mondavi recognized him as a uniquely passionate and brilliant man who took pride in promoting causes that he held close to his heart;
-- Whereas Robert Mondavi’s work as an ambassador for wine will be remembered fondly by all those whose lives he touched; and
-- Whereas Robert Mondavi will be deeply missed in the Napa Valley, in California, and throughout the world: Now, therefore, be it

Resolved by the House of Representatives (the Senate concurring), That Congress honors the life of Robert Mondavi, a true pioneer and patriarch of the California wine industry.

Passed the House of Representatives June 26, 2008.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Claret Production in 1815

Claret wine, before the French revolution, was the staple article of export from the great commercial City of Bordeaux, to every part of Europe. The vintage generally begins, for making this sort of wine, about the middle or latter end of September, and is generally finished in all the month of October. The mode by which the juice is expressed from the grape, is by the workmen trampling them with their bare feet in
a large reservoir or cooler, (not the cleanest operation in the world,) which has an inclination to the point where the spout or spouts are placed for taking off the expressed juice, which is conveyed to large open vats, that are thus filled with this juice to within ten or twelve inches of the upper edge; this space is left to make room for the fermentation, which spontaneously takes place in this liquor.

After the first fermentation is over, and the wine begins to purify itself, which is ascertained by means of a small cock placed in the side of the vat, and takes place generally by the middle of February, or beginning of March, in the following year; it is then racked off into hogsheads, carefully cleansed, and a match of sulphur burned in each cask before filling; when thus racked off, it is bunged up, and immediately bought up by brokers for the Bordeaux merchants, and here it is made to undergo the second or finishing fermentation, in the following manner: It may be proper here to remark, that claret wine is generally divided into three growths, first, second, and third; the first growths, namely, Latour, Lafeet, and Chateaux Margo, are uniformly rented for a term of years, at a given price, to English merchants, through whom, or their agents _only_ is there a possibility of procuring any portion of this wine. The second growths are shipped to the different markets of Europe, North and South America; and the third growth principally to Holland and Hamburgh.

In order to strengthen the natural body of claret wine, and to render it capable of bearing the transition of the sea, the first and second growths are allowed from ten to fifteen gallons of good Alicant wine to every hogshead, with one quart of stum. The casks are then filled up and bunged down. They are then ranged three tier high from one end of the cellar to the other, each tier about eighteen inches, with two stanchions of stout pine plank, firmly placed between the heads of each hogshead, from one end of the cellar to the other, until they have reached, and are supported by, the end walls of the building. This precaution is necessary to guard against the force of fermentation, which is often so strong as to burst out the heads of the hogsheads, notwithstanding the precautions taken to secure them in the situation during the summer heats. The wine cooper, who has the charge of these wines, regularly visits them twice a day, morning and evening, in order to see the condition of the casks, and when he finds the fermentation too strong, he gives vent, and thus prevents the bursting of the casks.

The third, or inferior growth, is exactly treated in same way, with the single exception of having Benicarlo wine substituted for Alicant in preparing them for their second fermentation, as cheaper and better suited to their quality; both these wines are of Spanish growth, and brought to Bordeaux by the canal of Languedoc: they are naturally of a much stronger body than native claret. Thus mixed and fermented, the claret becomes fortified, and rendered capable of bearing the transition of seas and climates. About the latter end of September, or beginning of October, the fermentation of these wines begins to slacken, and they gradually become fine; in this state they are racked off into fresh hogsheads carefully cleansed, and a match of sulphur burned in each before filling. After this operation, they are suffered to remain undisturbed (save that they are occasionally ullaged,) till about to be shipped, when they are racked off a second time, and fined down with the white of ten eggs to each hogshead; these whites are well beat up together with a small handful of white salt; after this fining, when rested, the hogsheads are filled up again with pure wine, and then carefully bunged down with wooden bungs, surrounded with clean linen to prevent leaking; in this state the wines are immediately shipped.

Here it may be proper to state, that the lees that remain on the different hogsheads that have been racked off, are collected and put into pipes of one hundred and forty, or one hundred and fifty gallons each, and this lee wine, as it is termed, is fined down again with a proportionate number of eggs and salt. After which, it is generally shipped off as third growth, or used at table mixed with water.

This article is from " THE AMERICAN PRACTICAL BREWER AND TANNER", BY Joseph Coppinger, 1815.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Paul Masson Mountain Winery

Today, thousands of music lovers gather for the Music in the Vineyards Concerts held at the Paul Masson Mountain Winery every summer high in the hills above Silicon Valley. The view is still as stunning as when Paul Masson, a Burgundian born in 1859, cleared the hilltop to plant his vineyards here in 1901. Masson came to California in 1878 where he met Charles Lefranc, one of a number of French immigrants who had expanded the viticulture introduced into the Santa Clara Valley by the Catholic mission fathers. While in California, Masson took a number of business courses at the College of the Pacific in San Jose, and in 1880 returned to France to work in the wine industry there. When the vine pest phylloxera depressed the Burgundian viticulture, Masson returned to California where he went to work for Lefranc. In 1887 Lefranc died, and Masson married his daughter Louise. After their honeymoon in France, Masson returned to California to take over management of the Lefranc properties, then owned by Lefranc's two sisters and his son Henry. After a short-lived partnership with Henry LeFranc, Masson bought out Henry's share in the Almaden Vineyard. In 1892 Masson's first champagne was introduced at Almaden, and he eventually became know as the "Champagne King of California."

Masson later centered his champagne production here in Saratoga while other wines were developed at the Almaden operation. In 1905, on a knoll above the winery, Masson built his house, dubbed "The Chateau," where he developed a reputation as an unrivaled host. Louise Masson was a prohibitionist and did not attend the lavish dinner parties held at The Chateau. Masson was able to weather the strains Prohibition placed on the wine industry by selling grapes to the wholesale market and by receiving a special dispensation to sell medicinal champagnes. The sandstone winery was rebuilt after the 1906 earthquake, making use of sandstone blocks from the Saratoga Wine Company's building on Big Basin Way, also destroyed in the great quake. At this same time the ancient entrance portal was added to the structure, reputed to be medieval and imported from Spain for use in St. Patrick's Church in San Jose. Wine making ceased in 1952, and the concert series began in 1958. Today, new owners interested in the wine making tradition are planning to plant vineyards once again.

-- From a US Govt website