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Monday, September 15, 2014

Some Wine Trivia

A few things you may not know about wine looking at the history, how things are currently, and what the future may hold.

  • The first reference to a fermented grape beverage was 9000 years ago in China.
  • The earliest Western evidence of wine is in the Georgia-to-Iran area 8000 years ago. The wild grape vines from this region are the ancestors of modern cultivated grape vines.
  • Wine making improved greatly during the Roman Empire.
  • The Greeks and Romans both worshiped wine gods (Dionysus and Bacchus).
  • Wine showed up in the New World with the first Spanish Conquistadors in Mexico as the Catholic Church required wine. These original Mission grapes are still found in a few areas.
  • In the last half of the 19th century an aphid from North America, Phylloxera, wiped out nearly half of France's vineyards. Phylloxera feeds on the root systems. North American grape rootstock isn't nearly as susceptible, so today most wine grape vines have North American rootstock grafted onto the vines.
  • At the start of Prohibition in 1920 there were over 250 wineries in Sonoma County. Most were gone within a few years. We didn't reach that number again until a few years ago.
Bacchus in his creepier-looking days
Later he was softened up to look more like a regular party guy

Modern Times
  • Phylloxera is still a problem, but is more-or-less held in check. The other main insect problem is the Glassy Winged Sharpshooter which carries a disease that kills grape vines and other fruits. So far most of the damage from the Sharpshooter is confined to the Temecula area of Southern CA.
  • Premium wine grapes are very particular about where they grow. They prefer a warm, dry growing season, but with a cooling influence (like an ocean breeze). They want well-drained soil and a soil that's not too rich so as to promote too much vine growth--you don't want energy going into the vines that should be going to the grape clusters.
  • Grape varieties are very finicky to growing season weather. Some, as Chardonnay and Pinot Noir (these two grapes are related), want cooler temps to produce the best wine. Cabernet Sauvignon won't ripen in these same areas and wants somewhere that averages just a few degrees warmer. 
The Future
  • What happens to the famous areas of Bordeaux and Napa, for instance, if global warming really does take effect mid-century as many scientists say? Do Cabernet vines move to areas like more northern California or Oregon? And maybe from Bordeaux to Burgundy?
  • Technology will have its influence on wine quality and costs with everything from drones in the vineyards to robotics. Currently, grape growing and wine making are very labor intensive.