Monthly Archives: April 2010
Did you know that beer is the most popular beverage in the United States? The United States produces about 6 billion gallons of beer annually, the most of any country in the world. While the majority of beer consumption are the mass produced American Style Lagers, 4% of the beer produced comes from the craft beer sector. The craft beer industry has slowly, slowly been growing and spreading its wings, but they are still a fairly new market. After Prohibition (I still can’t believe Americans were prohibited from drinking), it wasn’t until the late 1970’s that laws were lifted to allow smaller production breweries to start getting creative.
First let me give you a little history of beer in the United States. Most don’t realize that nearly all of your local breweries and brew pubs have been established after 1980. That’s not very old. Prior to Prohibition there were around 1,400 breweries producing a variety of styles. Prohibition forced nearly all of those breweries to close. The ones that escaped closing their doors were creative in making non-alcoholic malt beverages and tonics. Similar to the events in the wine industry, Americans lost their taste for small production craft brewing – which has been part of European culture for hundreds of years – and the market became dominated by a few large breweries producing lagers with adjunct grains and cushy marketing budgets. After Prohibition, World War II began and it limited the grain supply due to rationing. This forced big brewers to use low cost ingredients like corn and rice as a substitute for barley grains, which were still fermentable, but offered little flavor. This led to the American Style Lager which was perceived as poor quality to the rest of the beer drinking world.
Thank goodness for people like Fritz Maytag, the great grandson of the appliance guru, who worked hard to generate a spirit of craft brewing in America. When he bought San Francisco based Anchor Brewery in 1965, he helped continue the dream of the original German-born owner who first opened the brewery in 1896. I know it’s hard to believe, but in 1965 San Francisco there were no terms like “craft beer” or “microbrewing.” Maytag’s signature beer, Anchor Steam was the first craft beer style that originated in the United States, opening the doors that has eventually led to 26 styles of beer unique to America. In the mid1970’s, an interest in homebrewing quality European style beers as another option to American Lagers inspired people to start opening craft breweries on a small scale. Changes to the laws in 1978 made it possible for smaller breweries to produce and distribute on the public market. The opening of New Albion Brewing Company in Sonoma, CA by a homebrewing enthusiast inspired other homebrewers to open their own brewing companies. By the 1980’s there was an influx of breweries popping up all over the West Coast. Although they struggled, they persevered and began allowing the public access to full flavored, quality beers. The number of craft breweries in the United States has gone from 8 in 1980 to 537 in 1994 to 1,501 in 2008. As you can see by the statistics, craft beer is still relativity new industry.
Now that you have a little history, what exactly is craft beer? With all of the beer selections out there today, it’s hard to differentiate between mass produced, macro brewed, microbrewed and craft beer.
First off you may hear beer referred to in ‘barrels per year.’ It is basically the same measurement that wineries use to measure production. Wineries use cases per year and breweries use barrels per year. One barrel equals 31 gallons. This is what we will use to categorize breweries by production.
Secondly we need to discuss the discrepancy within the beer industry as to what constitutes craft beer. In some sense, breweries like the Boston Beer Company, makers of Samuel Adams, Sierra Nevada Brewing Company and even Coors Brewing Company who produces Blue Moon consider themselves makers of craft beer because they do not use adjunct grains (corn and rice), they use quality and unique ingredients and release seasonal specialties. They are not microbreweries because they produce beer on a larger scale, but they still embody the sense of craft brewing. Many argue that those breweries are not craft beer brewers because they have gotten so big and tend to be more focused on producing a product and the bottom line than the art of brewing. It is perceived to some that in the larger breweries, beer brewing ends up being more of a uniformed process than creative involvement anymore. Since there is no absolute definition for a “craft beer,” I am going to discuss each category in my own terms.
So let’s break it down.
Mass Produced/Macro Brewed
Any brewery producing more than 2 million barrels of beer a year. This includes Anheuser Bush and MillerCoors Brewing Company and Pabst Brewing Co.
Medium Sized Breweries
Breweries that produce between 15,000 and 2 million barrels per year. Lagunitas Brewing Company, New Belgium Brewing Company (Fat Tire), Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, Stone Brewing, Dogfish Head, Redhook Ale Brewery. These breweries use quality ingredients and produce some mighty tasty beverages but have outgrown their microbrewery production status.
Any brewery that produces less than 15,000 barrels of beer a year. Basically your local brewery or brew pub. Two of my favorites from where I grew up are Scuttlebutt Brewing Company out of Everett, WA and Mac & Jacks out of Redmond, WA. Mac & Jacks only produce an African Amber and can only be found on draft at the local bars. You are not going to find that beer anywhere outside of Seattle area and they specifically keep it that way.
An American craft brewer is described by the Brewers Association as “small, independent and traditional. ” Whereas the prior three categories are solely based on production, the craft beer definition leaves more to the imagination.
Dan Chivetta, brewer at Trailhead Brewing Company describes craft brewing in his own words:
“In craft brewing, there is a love, a passion for brewing. It’s an art form, where quality, taste and presentation matter more than the bottom line and quantity. Quality ingredients and perfection of process and technique make craft beer superior to its bigger counterparts.”
The Brewers Association describes craft brewers as those that are innovative and interpret historic beer styles with unique twists. They often use alternate ingredients for distinctiveness such as coffee, fruit essence and spices. Craft brewers are typically involved in the community and believe that beer brewing is more of an artistic outlet built on a foundation of passion, than a producing a product and making a profit. The Brewers Association also states that to qualify as a craft brewer, “less than 25% of the craft brewery is owned or controlled by an alcoholic beverage industry member who is not themselves a craft brewer.” That means that 75% of the owners are craft brewers. That’s a significantly large amount of people involved in the actual brewing process who aren’t just corporate investors.
It seems to me that craft brewing more a state of mind than anything. For craft brewers, it’s about the process and involvement of brewing, passion for their creation, and pride in their outcome. I suppose they would like to make a few dollars while they are at it, but many small brewers believe that you don’t get into the brewing business to make a ton of money, because for the most part, you don’t make a ton of money.
So take what you have just read and decide for yourself when you are enjoying your next brewski whether it is a macro brew, a microbrew or a craft beer. Think about the beer you are enjoying and where it came from. Do you believe the people responsible for your beer were passionate? Were they craftsmen, expressing their creative talent? Or were they just trying to sell a product? You be the judge.
It is springtime in Naples, Florida which here means 80 plus degree days and increasing levels of humidity. Funny but after a cold and dreary winter humidity feels good! Springtime means two things to me…boating and rose.
Over the last twenty years or so, Rose has received a terrible reputation from it’s cousin – blush wine or White Zinfandel as we foundly call it here in the states. Many times I think that rose is misunderstood and undervalued as a premium product due to the popular stereotype and miseducation of many wine drinkers in this country. So here’s the truth behind rose, how it’s made, where it comes from, and why it is a premium wine…straight from the source in Provence, France.
A little history
In 600 B.C. the Greeks invaded the area now called Southern France – more specifically Provence. They brought vines over with them and began planting, harvesting, and producing wine. Since the Greeks moved in, winemaking has become a way of life not only in Provence but all of France. However, the blush style is one thing that has remained unique to this region.
What is rose?
Rose is a category of wine, pink to be exact which is the French translation. Rose wine can be made of a multitude of different grapes, but in general you’ll see Grenache or Syrah quiet often especially from Provence. Roses are dry, crisp wines. Roses may differ in structure, color and flavor but some of the tastes you’ll experience are often strawberry, citrus, floral but always very fresh, bright, and crisp, clean wines.
What makes it pink?
A true rose is made from red (or black/purple) grapes. Like red wine, the natural color in the skin of the dark grapes give the wine a pigment as well as more tannins and structure. To achieve the rose color rather than a dark red hue, these wines are femermented with the skins for a very short period of time. While some reds are fermented with the skins for an extensive periods, roses may only see skin contact for anywhere between twenty minutes and a few hours. The longer the wait, the darker the color.
What do I pair it with?
The best part about rose is its exquisite pairings with food. French style rose melds perfectly with mediterranean cuisine, but also some other types of food that aren’t so easy to pair wine with: Asian, Indian, Middle Eastern, Thai, Spanish paella, Tex-Mex…generally anything with strong flavors or spice. It is also the classic wine to pair with roast turkey and Thanksgiving-like feasts. We also find it the perfect wine for the beach, pool, even early morning/afternoon.
What do I try?
I only drink red…
Gargiulo Rosato di Sangiovese
This rose is made from 100% Sangiovese grown in Napa Valley. It provides intense flavors and structure with even a touch of tannin on the end, perfect for the red wine drinker.
I like my California Chardonnay…
Chateau D’Esclans Whispering Angel
One of our favorite roses, it is smooth and silky with light strawberry flavors and acidity. This producer makes some of the very best roses in Provence – their highest end (over $100) is better than some of the best white Burgundies!
I don’t like rose…
Charles & Charles Rose*
My sister and her fiance know very little about wine (just starting to get into it), hate sweet wines, and turned their noses up at the thought of rose. That was until we ordered this bottle at dinner last year. Three bottles later they were definitely rose lovers. Crisp and clean with the right balance of acidity and fruit.
Thank you readers!
Anyone who would like to purchase these wines can get a 10% discount off at Decanted by mentioning this article or using the coupon code BLOG online.
*Charles & Charles Rose is available for pre-order only by email. The wine is due to arrive in early May.
St. Supery’s Elu blend is as intriguing on the inside as the outside. The St. Supery estate wines sport the classic, no frills label, but their red and white Meritage blends stand out on the shelf. Joel Nakamura is the artist responsible for the beautiful design on the 2005 Elu label. This Santa Fe, New Mexico artist is inspired by Native American folklore and mythology. Nakamura’s design for Elu is a true artist’s rendition of St. Supery, intertwining grapevines, a harp, disco attire and weather patterns for the wine drinker to decipher the meaning for themselves. His vivid colors and use of visual texture not only tell a story, but involves the wine drinker into deeper legends of the winery itself. As you study the label, you can’t help but wonder what stories are hidden in the design. Face value it is a pretty picture to the outsider, but you know his artwork houses special meaning and to those intimately connected to the winery and wine makers. His artwork is inspired by the writings of Joseph Campbell, American mythologist. Campbell insightfully states that “myths are public dreams and dreams are private myths.” Nakamura’s artwork can be found nationwide and abroad in the commercial landscape, from the 2002 Salt Lake Olympics, to the Denver Museum, beer and wine distributors and the International Headache Society.
Although there is substantial beauty on the outside of this bottle, on the inside is rivaling beauty of a well crafted wine. This wine is produced with St. Supery’s estate-grown fruit by winemaker Michael Scholz. American Oak stands out on the nose as a lovely vanilla tone. All of your favorite red fruits come bursting into play on your palate, raspberry, cherry and strawberry. On the finish is a wonderful cigar box and nicely structured tannins. The 2005 Elu is a blend of classic Bordeaux grape varietals, 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 19% Merlot, 3 % Petit Verdot and 3% Cabernet Franc.
The St. Supery Elu meritage has been on our favorites rack for sometime now. For those of you that missed the St. Supery tasting the other night, we still have the Elu in stock. It’s worth a stop in to discover it’s intriguing label and the beauty of the wine within.
Further examples of Nakamura’s work can be found at his website http://www.joelnakamura.com
This past week Dem. William Delahunt, Massachusetts, sponsored bill H.R. 5034 to support alcohol state regulation or effectively jeopardize legal wine shipments from wineries and retailers to consumers. The bill is starting to gain momentum and is now co-sponsored by 21 House Representatives across the nation, including Florida’s Connie Mack.
Introduced by the National Beer Wholesalers Association (NBWA), the bill would strengthen the power of state governments’ control of alcohol sale – protecting the three-tier system greatly – and reduce consumers power to challenge state rulings.
So what exactly does this all mean? Well there are a few highly disturbing portions of the bill to consumers, small wineries and small businesses listed below:
Basically the bill would counter, deregulation established in the 2005 Supreme Court Case, Granholm vs. Heald, which ruled that discriminating between in-state and out-of-state winery shipments was against the Commerce Clause. In lay-mens terms, you can’t let your wineries ship out-of-state if you don’t allow others to ship it…kind of monopolistic. This case resulted in a domino effect of deregulating shipping regulations that has resulted in over 37 states allowing wine shipments today. One of the states directly affected by this case…Florida. H.R. 5034 threatens to overrule this Supreme Court case and overturn some laws that the states were forced to make by the federal governing body.
We need help…we, meaning any small winery, small business, believer in free trade, or just wino that appreciates good wine. H.R. 5034 could threaten an already injured industry by picking on the smallest of producers. For example, even if H.R. 5034 was successful in overturning Granholm v. Heald, New York and Michigan would once again begin restricting shipments in. As the second biggest wine market in the U.S. (behind California), New York provides a huge number of customers for those small, mom and pop wineries in Napa and Sonoma. Follow that by Florida (#3 wine market and also recently approved wine shipments) and those wineries are in big trouble. We love small production facilities, they have a story, character and most importantly fantastic wine. Jordan was once a small boutique winery, Far Niente, and Pahlmeyer. Where would the industry be today if they were not allowed to grow? Do we really want to see our cellars dominated by big brand labels, or do we want to be able to discover the next Prisoner or Robert Foley without flying to California.
Freethegrapes.org: Follow this great organization as they track the status of this and other bills threatening or encouraging wine shipments.
Facebook.com: Join this group to support the movement against H.R. 5034
WRITE YOUR REPRESENTATIVE: Click here to contact your local representative (click on contact your representative halfway down in the right hand toolbar). Don’t have time to write a letter or just bad at it? Not a problem, click here for a form letter provided by Free the Grapes.
If you’d like to read more about H.R. 5034 or about who supports/opposes it, click through to the links below.
OpenCongress.org: All the details, straight from the source.
Wine Spectator.com: Great overview of the bill.
Wine Institute: Comment against the legislation.
Family Winemakers of California: Comment against the legislation.
Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America: Applauds the legislation.
National Beer Wholesalers Association: Applauds the legislation.
I hear it all too often – a strange and unnecessary fear of dark beer. Many folks have come to the conclusion that dark beer=bitter, heavy motor oil, unworthy of sipping on a sunny day. I’m going to flat out say, NOT TRUE. Not in all instances at least. You just have to know what you are drinking because dark beer can be heavy, hearty and bitter. But it can also be surprisingly sweet, mild and malty. Stouts, Porters and Brown Ales are becoming increasingly common in the islands, of all places, as a thirst quenching refreshing afternoon beverage. Are you surprised? Sands Brewing Company out of Freeport, Bahamas recently released Strongback Stout and it’s popularity has kept it flying off the shelves. Previously the only beer you could find in most establishments in the Bahamas was light styled Kalik Lager and Sands Lager, Guinness and Heineken. Although try choking on the price tag of a case of beer in the Bahamas, a staggering $50!
Many are under the impression that all dark beer tastes like Guinness, because they tried Guinness, decided the didn’t like it and stopped there. Personally I am not a huge fan of Guinness, although I love dark beer. How does that work? Well there are actually several types of Stout styles with a range of flavors from mild and malty to strong and bitter. Guinness is a Dry Irish Stout, meaning it has more hop or bittering characteristics than other types of Stouts and carries a toasted, coffee flavor. A sweeter style Stout is the Oatmeal Stout and Milk Stout. A Milk Stout is made with lactose, which does not contribute to fermentation, so it adds a creamy, sweetness and silky body. It was traditionally given to nursing mothers because it was thought to be nutritious. An Oatmeal Stout is made with oatmeal as part of its grain contribution. While Oatmeal Stouts do not actually taste like your breakfast cereal, it does add a smoothness because of the oat’s high protein and lipid content. The stronger, higher in alcohol Imperial Stout boasts a kick, but is still milder in hops than the dry Irish Stout. British brewing company, Young’s, also makes a fantastic Double Chocolate Stout. Try that and tell me you don’t like dark beer!
Then we look at Porters. Porters and Stouts were essentially the same beer back in the London 1700’s, their name combined, referred to as Stout Porters. They developed their own characteristics and tiered sub-styles over time. Porters tend to be smokier and stronger than Stouts, not necessarily hoppier or more bitter. Most Porters are aged longer than other ales, giving it a higher concentration of roasted malt flavors, often they are aged in oak or bourbon barrels, giving them a distinct flavor. Smoked Portershave increased in popularity recently as well, pairing nicely with appetizers. Porters have a stronger flavor for a dark beer, so if you are hesitant of dark beers, start with something a little more friendly such as a Brown Ale and work your way into Porters from there.
Old Slug Porter $5.25
A delicious traditional porter with a full bodied taste of chocolate, coffee, blackcurrant and black cherry with a good aroma. A near black color with a good white head when served through a tight sparkler.
A surprisingly mild lighter dark beer is the Brown Ale. Brown Ales are mild, sweet, low in hop flavor and low alcohol content. There is a variance of Brown Ale styles as well. I would suggest starting with an English style Brown Ale as they are milder than North American Brown Ales. If you want to break it down even further, Northern England styles are stronger, malty and nutty (think Newcastle) and those from Southern England are darker, sweeter and lower in alcohol (Manns Original Brown Ale). The English Brown Ale is the perfect gateway beer to dark beers. North American Brown Ales are usually drier and slightly hoppier than English Brown Ales due to American hop varieties.
Sprecher’s Pub Brown Ale $2
Seven varieties of malted barley are combined to give this English-style ale its complex flavor and deep, brown color. A select British yeast culture adds a subtle fruitiness and a blend of choice hops gives this non-bitter ale a soft finish.
Smuttynose Old Brown Dog Ale $2
Old Brown Dog has been cited as a classic example of the “American Brown Ale” style of beer. Compared to a typical English Brown Ale, Old Brown Dog is fuller-bodied and more strongly hopped.
If you want to try something different, and surprisingly smooth and mild, try this Brazilian Black Lager. Pronounced “shin-goo” this beer is from heart of the Amazon rainforest, named after the Xingu River. The recipe is inspired from the ancient Indian beers.
Xingu Black Lager $1.75
Don’t be deceived by the dark color, this beer has a surprisingly mild flavor and body. With caramel and chocolate overtones, this beer refreshes and revitalizes on a sultry, humid day.
I am sure many of you are familiar with this varietal, but do you know the story behind it? And why it is typically only produced in Chile? Carménère – I had to copy and paste so that I had the correct accents, but for the remainder of this article, the e’s will be sans accents – comes from the French word carmin which means crimson, due to the bright red color of the leaves in the fall. Carmenere was considered one of the six original Bordeaux grapes, the others being Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot. Vine clippings were transported to Chile in the mid-1800’s, just before the phollexera virus ravaged Europe destroying many varietals, including Carmenere. When the Carmenere grape was first grown in Chile, it was thought to be Merlot. The wine makers blended the Merlot and Carmenere grape, which gave the Chilean Merlot’s different qualities than Merlots in other parts of the world. It wasn’t until years later in 1994, when they did extensive testing that the so-called Merlot grape was actually found to be Carmenere. Since then, the Chileans have capitalized on their newly re-found varietal and have been producing some outstanding wines. The Carmenere grape is somewhere in the middle ground between a Cabernet Sauvignon and a Merlot, the tannins are softer than that of a Cabernet, but it has a bit more bite to it than a Merlot, with cherry, fruit, smoke, spice and earth. It is typically not meant to age.
One of my personal favorite Carmenere’s is produced by Puerto Viejo. Their signature wooden label with the burnt impression of an old time sailing ship makes this wine memorable on the outside. On the inside it is a wonderfully valued, full-bodied quintessential Carmenere. Puerto Viejo is a United States subsidiary of Vina Requingua, which owns AR and Vina Tunquelen as well. We actually paired this wine with chicken cooked in red wine, garlic and tarragon. But its versatility would allow this wine to hold up to a hearty beef meal as well.
Puerto Viejo Carmenere – $12
Winemaker’s Tasting Notes
Deep ruby red with purple reflections. Intense nosewith blackberry and plumb followed by hints of tobacco and caramel. On the palate this wine is round and generous with blended tannins and a sweet caramel finish.
The new, hot alcohol trend across the U.S. has been micro-brews. Breweries are popping up everywhere from small towns in the Rocky Mountains to city dwellings like Philadelphia. Everyone has to try the new hometown brew and is even more excited if they discover something ‘unknown’ to their friends and fellow beer-geeks. Here in Florida, it has been a slower process. We are not surrounded by breweries and even have a hard time getting some of these unknown beers in the state. But with demand increasing, a few are starting to creep in.
Beers are very similar to wines. There are different types of styles, regions, and brewmasters. It almost seems overwhelming when you address the number of different options that you have. A few months back, Food & Wine published an article about the best beers for wine lovers (click here to read the full story). We’re republishing and expanding the list for those of you who are thinking about branching into new waters and discovering your beer personality.
If you like: Riesling, Dessert Wines
Cider is typically made from apple ciders varying in alcohol percentage from 2 – 6%. Ciders can be made sweet and fruit flavored (apple, pear, black currant) or ultra dry. Cider is most popular in the UK, but starting to make an emergence in the states.
Explore: Ace Pear Cider ($2), Fox Barrel Black Currant ($2), Blackthorn Dry Cider ($2)
If you like: Sauvignon Blanc, Light & Dry Whites
Try: Wheat beers.
Wheat beer is brewed with a large amount of wheat and malted barley. There are two traditional styles of wheat beer: witbier (Belgian white beer) and weissbier (German white beer). The flavor profiles of wheat beers can differ significantly but in general are light and crisp, slightly sour, and often a citrus flavor.
Explore: Tangerine Wheat ($1.75), Wittekerke ($1.50)
If you like: Pinot Noirs, Light Reds
Try: Full-bodied ales.
Ale is brewed from malted barley and fermented relatively quickly giving the beer a more fruit-forward, floral and full-bodied taste. Ales come in a multitude of options: pale ale, Belgian ale, brown ale, and scotch ale are just some options. In general, the darker the color the more hops you will taste in the beer.
Explore: Pinkus Organic Pale Ale ($4), Anderson Valley Boont Amber Ale ($2), Tripel Karameliet Trappist Ale ($5)
If you like: Cabernets, Heavy Reds
Try: Porters and IPAs
A porter is a dark-colored and full flavored beer made popular in London. Very similar to stouts, these beers can be made with pumpkin, honey, vanilla, chocolate and bourbon flavors. IPA, or Indian Pale Ale, is a medium to dark-colored ale characterized by a bitter, hoppy and malty flavor. IPAs have gained popularity in the U.S. and are made in a number of small micro-brews in the west.
Explore: Old Slug Porter ($5.25), Anderson Valley Hop Ottin IPA ($2), Great Divide Hercules Double IPA ($3.50)
There are so many gadgets these days to decant your wine. You can use a Vinturi ($40), Soiree ($20), Decanter ($20 – $500), and now you can even shake (Free) your wine. Although I think there is a need and purpose for each of the above contraptions, this new concept of shaking is most intriguing.
Can you shake all wine? Well you can, but I wouldn’t recommend it. I reserve the shaking process for one particular brand who has created the Mollydooker Shake.
Mollydooker is an Australian winery developed by husband and wife team, Sarah and Sparky Marquis. Both nationally renowned in the own projects, the pair left their jobs in 2005 to fully focus on their own winery. Since the launch Mollydooker has received great press and some fantastic reviews from wine critics around the world, most notably Robert Parker. Mollydooker produces a breadth of Shiraz, Verdelho, Cabernet, and various Blends.
So what is the Mollydooker Shake?
At Mollydooker, the Marquis’ make their wine in a specific manner. Infusing Nitrogen in the wine making process, they are able to skip the process of adding sulfites in order to preserve the wine and prevent oxidation (For more about sulfites in wine click here). However, the nitrogen tends to flatten the round fruit flavors in the wines making the shake necessary. Here’s how you do it…
1. Open the bottle and pour half a glass (so the wine just hits the top of the shoulder of the bottle).
2. Reseal the bottle (All Mollydookers come with a screw cap).
3. Flip the bottle over and shake like hell. If you really want to do it Dooker style, use your left hand (Mollydooker is Aussie for Lefty).
4. You’ll see little bubbles rise to the top of the bottle (this is the Nitrogen). Put the bottle back down and open to release the bottle.
5. Pour yourself a glass!
Although skeptical at first, I have done the Dooker shake multiple times now and it has never failed. Sure you can also decant these wines, but why wait? The Shake takes a matter of minutes…decanting a bit longer. Still don’t believe it? Reserve that half glass of wine you first poured and compare it to the glass after the shake, I guarantee you’ll notice a difference.
Mollydooker “The Boxer” 2008
McLaren Vale, Australia
91 Points Wine Advocate & Wine Spectator (Best Buy)
To read more about Mollydooker and the shake, click here.
Whenever I look at something that refers to “History of (insert boring title here)” I tend to find myself nodding off before I finish the preface. So I will attempt to make this article both informative and entertaining. I mean, it is “History of American Wines,” it can’t be too dreary, right?
A lot went on from when the first settlers arrived bearing precious European vines, to several centuries later in this day and age where wine production is both a commercialized enterprise and an art form. I will try to consolidate and spare you too many details. There are plenty of books and references, so if you find yourself enthralled with the topic, you can look no further than your local friendly bookstore for additional reading.
Five hundred years ago, when the first European immigrants began arriving, they realized they were missing a very important part of their daily lives. From a culture that drinks wine as a lifeblood, I imagine it must have come as a shock to involuntarily jump on the wagon. Shipping wine from Europe proved extremely expensive, as most imports usually are. However, the settlers were delighted to find grapevines growing wild all up and down the East Coast. The earliest recordings of wine making were by the French Huguenot settlers in Jacksonville, FL, around 1562. The new wine makers soon began to realize that the native American vines were not the same vines as their homeland, and not nearly as palatable. This led to attempts at importing and growing the European vine, vitis vinifera. The vines were met with numerous hardships with pests and diseases that challenged the European vines but the American grapes, vitis labrusca, were immune to. The European grapes were fighting a losing battle and the wine makers turned to the American vine for small production every day drinking wine. In 1683, William Penn planted the first vineyard in Pennsylvania The vines were a cross breed of American and French vines, creating the hybrid grape, Alexander. This grape was successful in holding up against the native diseases and today is the main grape varietal grown on the East Coast.
Now let’s move on to California, the hub of American wine production. Wine production in California started with the Spanish.
The first winery in California was opened in 1769 by the Franciscan missionaries near San Diego. Although the first vines were a vitis vinifera relative, brought up from Mexico by the Spanish settlers, the wine was only really used as sacramental holy wine and was average quality at best. Wine gained popularity in California during the mid-1800’s when the Gold Rush brought new settlers from the East Coast and Europe with their ingrained wine making traditions. In 1861 the governor of California funded the selection and planting of European grapes in California soil. Riesling, Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay were among those chosen.
In 1863, Europe faced a severe hardship as the phylloxera disease took over their precious crops. Phylloxera is an aphid pest that is native to the East Coast. It was accidentally brought over to Europe on American vines that were used for experimentation. The disease ravaged the European vines and lowered production drastically. This raised demand for the California wines because it was the only other place in the world growing European style wines. California was producing both affordable, drinkable table wine as well as high quality wines.
Then came Prohibition. Now, I could say a piece on Prohibition and talk about how the descendants of Europeans could possibly promote the ban on an everyday drink like wine in the “Land of the Free,” but I’m not going to get political. Needless to say, Prohibition prohibited and basically destroyed the previously flourishing and lucrative wine industry in the US. The only wine that was allowed during the period of 1920-1933 was for sacramental or medicinal purposes. By the end of Prohibition, Americans had lost interest in quality wine. It would be nearly 50 years before California returned to its place as a regarded wine making region of the world.
In the 1960’s and 1970’s, a small group of California wine makers began experimenting with the revived European style wines. They focused on quality wines and soon began to be recognized by writers and wine enthusiasts around the country. These wine makers realized they needed to distinguish themselves from the table wines that used generic names like Chablis and Burgundy. They began naming the wines by grape name and it caught on. Wine drinkers were able to easily remember the wines they liked by the specific taste of the grape. By the 1980’s naming wines by grape varietal became the standard.
Today, wine is produced in all fifty states. Believe it or not, Florida actually has forty-two wineries, the majority of them specialize in sweet fruit based wines. Wyoming has the least amount, coming in at two. The typical wine drinker today has a more distinguished palate and has access to a wealth of knowledge on the subject with local wine tastings and educational sessions, specialty shops, means of shipping and delivery of quality wine direct to their doorstep.
Information from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_wine
When most of the world (and even citizens of our country) look at the US wine industry we immediately think of three areas as the dominate wine producers: California, Oregon, and Washington. With the expansive space and different climates our nation offers though, it is just a matter of time before the ‘Big 3’ become five or even ten.
After reading a recent article about the next up and coming wine regions of the world (click here to read), I was inspired to do a little research on the up and coming wine regions of the good old U.S. of A. Sure, most of us are aware that New York, New Jersey, and even Virginia make wine. But Idaho, Texas and Ohio? And which of these shows the most promise? Below is some research notes I put together and my votes for the ones to watch out for.
Primary Varietals: Chardonnay, Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir
Regions: Long Island, Finger Lakes, Hudson River, Lake Erie, Cayuga Lake
History: Some vines were planted as long ago as the 1850’s, however the New York wine revolution in the northern part of the state in the 1950’s with Long Island following in the 70’s.
Evaluation: With fifty some years under their belt, I think New York shows the most promise as the new U.S. wine region. Press from popular wine magazines, like Wine Spectator, has been extremely positive for the most recent vintages.
What I’m Excited About: Red Hook Winery. Based in Brooklyn, New York; Red Hook is a partnership of Abe Schoener (Scholium Project) and Mark Synder (Angel’s Share Distributors). Under the direction of Robert Foley, the grapes will come exclusively from the North Fork region of Long Island. They are debuting with a Chardonnay which I tasted the other day. Very Burgundian in style, with a balanced oak finish. I guess the really can make everything in NYC.
Primary Varietals: Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel
History: The second oldest wine growing region in the U.S. (Florida is the first!), planting of grapes began in the early 1600’s. Although traditionally focused on Sparkling, the region is starting to grow in whites and spicy reds.
Evaluation: Close your eyes when you are drinking sparklings from New Mexico and you could swear its a great value Champagne. The high altitudes of the Rockies provide perfect growing conditions. Paired with some excellent and focused producers, I think wines in this region will continue to excel.
What I’m Excited About: Gruet. This sparkling producer makes a Blanc de Noirs and Blanc de Blanc that is fantastic on the palette and wallet.
Primary Varietals: Chardonnay, Riesling, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc
History: Established during the Jefferson area (Jefferson is one of the most famous American wine connoisseurs), Monticello is the heart of this region although it spans the length of most of the Blue Ridge mountains. Virginia and North Carolina provide some of the arguably most picturesque wineries in America displaying architecture much older and classic than their Western counterparts.
Evaluation: The wines from this region tend to be a little on the sweeter end for my palette, however with the amount of wineries and land the area and winemaking skills continue to develop to produce some premium products.
What I’m Excited About: Cabernet Franc. Some of the better value Cabernet Francs I have had lately have come from the southern Virginia/northern North Carolina areas. A sucker for 100% Cabernet Franc, I’m still a little price conscious and not willing to spend the amount that the Californians demand – this area offers a great alternative.
Relatively young (really started in the late 70’s), Texas grows about fifteen varietals most notably Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer, and Cabernet. I haven’t tasted any Texans wines so I can’t completely comment, however I do feel they have some things to prove.
Our neighbors (from Michigan) tell us everyday how good the wine is. So one day we’ll have to go up for a research trip. Producing Chardonnay, Riesling, Merlot, and Gamay (only area I know of in this country) does peak my interest a bit.
Some wine regions here date back to 1825. The climate seems promising, especially in low-lying areas. The wineries here are also starting to experiment with European vines and hybrid grapes.
This is the newest I have heard of and some are preaching that this could be the next ‘wine region.’ However with the could winters, I expected sweet, high residual-sugar wines that will be out for some debate.
Ah, good old Jersey. Since I’m from New Jersey I can say this. Although the state has potential (it’s close neighbor is currently making good wine – see above), the stuff they are making now is just flat. Oh and wine made out of cranberries will never be good, even if you’re a few bottles deep.