I know its pretentious to name the first and only five bottles of my ultra-micro-batch wine, particularly when I’m not releasing it to anyone, nor is it likely to be good, but I am doing it anyway. “Vintage” also assumes some sort of tradition or wine knowledge where I have control of the process beyond smashing grapes, adding yeast and putting it in bottles. I’m naming the experiment, though, because wine is basically about pretention these days, no?
During all these long months with my wine sitting on lees, and my laziness to rack it, I read The Judgment of Paris, by George M. Taber. It is a good book that describes the wine industry, with all the players invovled in the 1976 Paris wine tasting, where California wines, for the first time, were heald up to French wines and met there match. The event was controversial then, and now. There is even a movie about it to, but it tells the story quite differently. Taber was the only journalist there, and the book he has written is filled with all the back stories and consequences of the Paris tasting, as only a “Time Magazine” journalist could tell it.
I started reading the book while enroute over the Atlantic. It was my first time traveling to Europe, a trip that included time in Spain, France, and Germany, and included three nights in Paris. My good freind Sarah Chavis, my partner in crime with the Eat Grow Think podcast suggested the book (we will be talking about in a future podcast.) There was a lot in the book I hadn’t known, and there were tons of moments where I would tell myself, “Oh, that’s where that name comes from,” or “Oh, I’ve seen wine from that winery on the top shelf way out of my reach. Now, I know the back story.” My trip had me driving through Bordeaux, and visiting wine Caves (only a few), so it was super cool to be getting the full experience from multiple sides of the historic wine tasting of 1976.
I grew up in California, and still live near many of the wineries in the book, and from the tasting. Our local markets, the ones with good wine selections, actually have products from many of the famous California wineries that came into prominence back in the seventies. A couple of names even rang some bells, because I’ve met their children/grandchildren, or seen buildings named after them at UC Davis, or various other northern California institutions.
So much of what was in that book, not only lined up with my experiences on my very recent trip to Europe, but also growing up near Napa Valley and the Santa Cruz mountains. It touched on the history I have been reading about of my city and neighborhood, and it kindled my passions and hobbies of growing, eating and fermenting foods and drink.
I was inspired to go down and check on my wine from last fall, and finally put it into bottles. I checked it first, thinking it would be vinigar. It was dark and tawny, and I was convinced it was spoiled. To my surprise, it still tasted like wine, though it was a little rough. In fact it was pretty much exactly how I made it, strong and acidy, and I would consider it very drinkable. It is still very young, for any sort of wine, and even more so for I wine with so much acid in it (I crushed it down to seads and stems, including a lot of the juice that would be thrown out in a winery, since I had so few grapes to work with.) Even so, It smelled wonderful; my wife agreed, which says a lot considering she smells a million times better than I do. It also had good mouth feel. Some of that acid was buttery, and coated the mouth. It had strong fruit notes with a hint of suger left, but lasted long and finished sharp. All that gives me hope that it might age well for the next year or two.
Now, I am excited about growing grapes and making wine in addition to drinking and exploring the amazing wineries nearby. My wine was an experiment at first, but now it means something else. It means that adding some knowledge and hands on experience could lead me to some fun new food and drink vistas. The fun of connecting to history, experiencing new tastes and smells, and learning about my place is also rewarding. I am eager to keep delving deeper into this world. Now, I just gotta figure out where to get more grapes, and plan out some trips to the local wineries.