Wednesday, November 14, 2012

California Sparkling Wine, 1879

From "Facts About Champagne and Other Sparkling Wines", 1879.

In California the manufacture of sparkling wines is carried on with considerable success, and at the Vienna Exhibition the Buena Vista Vinicultural Society of San Francisco was awarded a medal for progress for the excellent samples it sent there.

The society was originally organised by Colonel Haraszthy, the pioneer in recent times of Californian viticulture. It commenced manufacturing sparkling wines with the assistance of experienced workmen from Epernay and Ay; but the endeavours, extending over some three or four years, were attended with but indifferent success, very few cuvées proving of fair quality, whilst with the majority the wine had to be emptied from the bottles and distilled into brandy. The son of Colonel Haraszthy subsequently succeeded, in conjunction with Mr. Isidor Landsberger, of San Francisco, in discovering the cause of these failures, and for ten years past the wine has been constantly improving in quality owing to the increased use of foreign grapes, which yield a vin brut with a delicate bouquet and flavour approaching in character to the finer champagnes.

The wine is perfectly pure, no flavouring extracts or spirit being employed in the composition of the liqueur, which, is composed merely of sugar-candy dissolved in fine old wine. A French connoisseur pronounces sparkling Sonoma to be the best of American sparkling wines, “clean and fresh, tasting, with the flavour of a middle-class Ay growth, as well as remarkably light and delicate, and possessed of considerable effervescence.” The Sonoma valley vineyards produce the lightest wines of all the Californian growths, some 211 of the white varieties indicating merely 15° of proof spirit, and the red ones no more than 17½°.

The vintage takes place towards the end of October, and the grapes are gathered by Chinese laborers, who will each pick his 12 to 14 cwt. of grapes a day for the wage of a dollar. Light wooden boxes are used for holding the grapes, which are stripped from their stalks on their arrival at the press-house, and then partially crushed by a couple of revolving rollers. An inclined platform beneath receives them, and after the expressed juice has been run off into cask they are removed to the press, and the must subsequently extracted is added to that forced out by the rollers. When white wine is being made from black grapes the pressure is less continuous, and the must is of course separated at once from the skins.

The fermentation, which is violent for some ten or twelve hours, ceases in about a fortnight, providing a temperature of from 70° to 75° Fahr. is maintained in the vaults. The wine is racked at the new year, and again before the blending and bottling of it in the spring.

The Californian sparkling wines not only find a market in the eastern States, but are sent across the Pacific to the Sandwich Islands, Japan, China, and even to wine-producing Australia, which has not yet succeeded in producing sparkling wines of its own.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Wines of Italy, 1911

From a major British encyclopedia, 1911 edition.

The vine is cultivated throughout the length and breadth of Italy, but while in some of the districts of the south and centre it occupies from 10 to 20% of the cultivated area, in some of the northern provinces, such as Sondrio, Belluno, Grosseto, &c., the average is only about 1 or 2%. The methods of cultivation are varied; but the planting of the vines by themselves in long rows of insignificant bushes is the exception.

In Lombardy, Emilia, Romagna, Tuscany, the Marches, Umbria and the southern provinces, they are trained to trees which are either left in their natural state or subjected to pruning and pollarding. In Campania the vines are allowed to climb freely to the tops of the poplars. In the rest of Italy the elm and the maple are the trees mainly employed as supports. Artificial props of several kinds—wires, cane work, trellis work, &c.—are also in use in many districts (in the neighbourhood of Rome canes are almost exclusively employed), and in some the plant is permitted to trail along the ground.

The vintage takes place, according to locality and climate, from the beginning of September to the beginning of November. The vine has been attacked by the Oidium Tuckeri, the Phylloxera vastatrix and the Peronospora viticola, which in rapid succession wrought great havoc in Italian vineyards. American vines, are, however, immune and have been largely adopted.

The production of wine in the vintage of 1907, which was extraordinarily abundant all over the country, was estimated at 1232 million gallons (56 million hectolitres), the average for 1901-1903 being some 352 million gallons less; of this the probable home consumption was estimated at rather over half, while a considerable amount remained over from 1906. The exportation in 1902 only reached about 45 million gallons (and even that is double the average), while an equally abundant vintage in France and Spain rendered the exportation of the balance of 1907 impossible, and fiscal regulations rendered the distillation of the superfluous amount difficult.

The quality, too, owing to bad weather at the time of vintage, was not good; Italian wine, indeed, never is sufficiently good to compete with the best wines of other countries, especially France (though there is more opening for Italian wines of the Bordeaux and Burgundy type); nor will many kinds of it stand keeping, partly owing to their natural qualities and partly to the insufficient care devoted to their preparation.

There has been some improvement, however, while some of the heavier white wines, noticeably the Marsala of Sicily, have excellent keeping qualities. The area cultivated as vineyards has increased enormously, from about 4,940,000 acres to 9,880,000 acres, or about 14% of the total area of the country.

Over-production seems thus to be a considerable danger, and improvement of quality is rather to be sought after. This has been encouraged by government prizes since 1904.