Historical Wine Grape Variety: Mission

The following was a final project that I wrote for my Enology class at Santa Rosa Junior College, taught by Pat Henderson, winemaker for Valley of the Moon. It was regarding the Mission Grape’s role in California Wine Viticultural history. After my presentation, which included a tasting of a light but flavorful Malvadino Mission wine, Pat asked for permission to use this piece in future classes… Permission granted. You, too, are also able to benefit from this history.

[This photo is of the famed Santa Barbara Mission, which I purchased. I’ve never been there.]

So, today, I’m not going to rewrite what I can’t improve. In reviewing my footnotes, I found a New Englander friend, Mark Miller, still very much alive and on the move. I used one of Mark’s books for historical reference with this project. He inspired me, truth be told. Mark’s most famous for his Coyote Cafe in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Mark made the big “Wagons Ho” westward move years ago, and today he’s still out discovering the world. Sharing food and wine with him is a very memorable adventure. If fact, my sister Bonnie Bissonnette, who normally doesn’t taste wine, made an exception as Mark fed us and shared a couple of his personal Burgundies. Both of them came from single barrel productions that he purchased directly from wineries in France… How memorable and fitting for today. If you’re not lucky enough to grab that kind of attention from Mark Miller for an evening, then find a way to simply taste his food in one of restaurants world wide. This still proves to be a true culinary delight that will be just as memorable for you.

The Mission Period pre-California (1568-1662) – The earliest winemaking in the continental US is credited to the Spaniards of Santa Elena, South Carolina around 1568. The first wine grapes in New Mexico were planted by Franciscan missionaries at Mission of Socorro on the Rio Grande about 1626. In 1662, Franciscan fathers came from Mexico into El Paso Valley, Texas, where they established the San Ysleta Mission. They came with cuttings of the Mission grapes, strapped to the backs of their pack mules. Because the climate there was so drastically different from the United States’ East Coast, the grapes flourished under these perfect, viticultural conditions, i.e., dry, hot, stony soils. The earliest successful viticulture was established in the 17th century in the great Spanish province of New Mexico, stretching from El Paso, Texas to the Pacific Ocean.

The Mission Period in California (1769-1834) – In the 1700’s, New Spain (Mexico) was home to many Spanish missionaries who were determined to convert the new world’s heathens to Christianity. Establishing a mission had specific criteria; i.e., the site must not only be near woods and water, but it must also be on a rise of ground so that missionaries could clearly see the arrival of ships. Additionally, there needed to be open fields for both grazing animals and planting their food items. The items not only consisted of fruits and vegetables for their meals, but also included grapes for their sacramental wine and their brandy. Once fruit and vegetables were planted, and the vines were in the ground, they were tended and watered by their Indian converts.

Spaniard Father Junipero Serra had a dream of founding a chain of missions up the coast of Alta California. It is he who is known to have brought the first mission grapevines from Baja, California in an arduous, overland expedition to San Diego. Padre Serra established 21 missions stretching 650 miles along El Camino Real from San Diego to Sonoma, today’s California Coastal Highway 101. Each site was set at a one-day’s walking journey apart, and became way-stops for California’s first tourists. “To facilitate trade and communication, each mission was built the distance of one day’s ride or hard walk from the next.” *1

The mission grape is believed to be of Mexican and/or South American (Argentina) origin, related to the Spanish Criolla, and the Pais varietal of Chile. In the early 2000’s when I wrote this report, there are 36,872 acres planted to the Mission variety. Prior to being planted in California, the Mission was first grown in Mexico for 200 years. Criolla means “a New World scion of an Old World parent, adapted to the new condition.” *2 The grape flourished in California, producing a sturdy vine that didn’t require staking, and ripened well in almost any climate. The exception was Mission Dolores in San Francisco, whose climate was, and still is, consistently cool and damp.

Padre Serra arrived in San Diego on July 16, 1769, and established his first mission, San Diego de Alcala. Once the flag had been raised, the tireless Padre Serra, who was small and slight in stature, continued up the coast of California to establish 20 more missions. By 1823, 54 years later, the last of the Spanish missions had been established, stretching along the coast of California from San Diego to Fort Ross, located in Sonoma County, and under the command of Mariano Vallejo. The mission/forts were centers of civilization, trade and industry, manufacturing a wide variety of goods from wine and brandy, leather and saddles, to woolen items and soap. These commodities were traded for objects they could not manufacture; i.e., pots and pans, lighting fixtures, and musical instruments. In 1834, under duress of the padres enjoying the good life, by the provisions of the Secularization Act, missions were turned over to civil government.

In the fall of 1769 in San Diego, Indians were taught to plant, then to tend Padre Serra’s first grapevines. These vines bore abundantly in September of 1772, and the Indians were then taught to make wine. It was fiesta time at Mission San Diego with the first vintage. Mexicans and Indians hurried to press the grapes. The press was a cowhide suspended from four corner posts set in the ground. Baskets of grapes came up, balanced on the heads of scurrying Indians. When they arrived, the baskets were handed to a man on a short ladder that emptied the grapes into the cowhide. When it was full enough, two Indians with scrubbed feet began to trample the grapes. When the grapes became pulp, it was put into cowhide bags for fermenting. More grapes were then put into the press for stomping. The wine was racked into new skin bags for storage.

The missionaries’ contributions to the wine industry were many:

  • Brought the Mission vine to CA
  • Trained growers and winemakers
  • Proved that CA is a world-class winegrape growing region
  • 1986 — 1,800 acres located in CA
  • Links the modern industry to its origins
  • Likes hot country
  • Is very productive, yielding good, off-dry wine
  • The Mission grape remains a significant crop in CA, though rarely seen as a varietal name
  • Created a profitable business, a glimpse of how the future might become
  • Much easier to preserve in difficult conditions than low-alcohol dry wines

Mission wine, which has thus become practically extinct in the second quarter of the century, nevertheless had a curious survival…In the 1920’s, in Paris, an English wine lover encountered an expatriate Pole who told him at the turn of the century, at Fukier’s, the best restaurant in Warsaw, “the choicest and most expensive dessert wine came from California.” The Englishman, finding himself not long after Warsaw, remembered what he had been told, went to the famous restaurant Fukier and asked for its California wine. He naturally supposed that it must be California wine such as other restaurants had, and was curious to know how it could be both the most expensive and the best available in a distinguished restaurant. The waiter told him that, fortunately, there were a few bottles still left, some of which were brought to the curious dinner: “Imagine my surprise when I found that they were of wine from the Franciscan missions of California grown during the Spanish period, a century and a half ago. The wine was light brown in color, rather syrupy, resembling a good sweet Malaga in taste, and in good condition.” *3

Judgment of early Mission wine was harsh, as fermenting and aging in skin produced a wine of inferior quality versus the now familiar barrel and stainless steel fermenting and aging. “One judgment, expressed in 1827,” the grapes of Los Angeles, Captain Duhaut-Cilly wrote, were quite good, but the wine and brandy made from them were “quite inferior, and I think this inferiority is to be attributed to the making rather than to the growth.” *4

Famous California Mission Viticulturists:

  • In 1841, George Yount (the first white settler in Napa Valley) planted at his Caymus Rancho, among other fruit, a vineyard of Mission grapes, and made wine from them for his own enjoyment and that of frequenting guests, using the Spanish method of storing in hides. This planting was located near what later became Yountville.
  • British-born John Patchett cleared some land a mile west of Clay and Calistoga Streets in Napa, and planted a vineyard of Mission grapes for winemaking, hiring a German gentleman by the name of Charles Krug to be his winemaker.
  • Charles Krug, revered as the founding father of Napa County’s winemaking, learned the craft in the town of Sonoma from Agoston Haraszthy, personal friend of Mariano Vallejo.
  • Gottlieb Groezinger, a very prolific vintner, bought land from Henry Boggs in Yountville, which is now part of the Vintage 1870 Mall. By 1873, Groezinger was producing 160,000 gallons of wine; 100,000 of it from the Mission grape.
  • J.H. McCord, a ’49er, had a winery, Oak Grove on the corner of Highway 29 and East Zinfandel Lane in Napa Valley. McCord claimed that his vineyard of Mission grapes was the oldest in the Valley, and was producing 50,000 gallons per year by 1890.
  • Los Angeles vintners: John Chapman planted a vineyard of 4,000 Mission grapevines in Los Angeles in 1824. Dutchman Juan Domingo (a.k.a., Johann Groningen), Frenchmen, Louis Bouchet and Victor Prudhomme were among the first viticulturists of influence. One of the most important Los Angeles vintners was Jean Louis Vignes. Vignes was from the winemaking region Cadillac in France, and in 1833 imported European varietals from France, thereby laying claim to being the first American to plant vitis vinifera. Mexican viticulturists were Manuel Requena, Tiburico Tapia, Ricardo Vejar and Tomas Yorba. One estimate gives Los Angeles 100,000 vines as early as 1831: such a quantity would have yielded 30,000 gallons of wine a year.

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Public Relations,Wine

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Event,PR 101,PR Advice,Wine

PR 101 – The Art and Costs of Being on “The List”

Who’s on “The List” at any wine event?

First, it’s the primary influencers. They’re invited and the hosts are happy to have them. They’ll attend, and today’s social media responses don’t even have to wait for a paper to be printed (dinosaur), or a blog story to be written (so yesterday). Today, it’s Instagram and the onus is on you, the observing world, to write the dialogue. And so, the following evolved among people related to wine.

The Art of Being on “The List”

Gwendolyn Lawrence Alley (winepredator.com): I live 60 or so miles (1-3 hour drive) from downtown LA. I am on a number of lists and get invited to events, trade and consumer alike. Tomorrow I was invited to one, a really cool Rhone wine event with seminars and more, and then I learned about another. I figured it was worth trying to do both: one trade and one consumer. A friend in the trade who helps me with food and notes for my blog is going with me to the Rhone event, and they are excited to have us. At the other event, they will admit me 90 minutes into the consumer tasting and my colleague would pay full price or I could leave her on the street while I go to the event. Am I out of line with my response? (Yes I sent it already…)

Sarah May Grunwald (Taste Georgia) I don’t know the nature of the invite, but honestly don’t know why you would think your friend is entitled to something she is not invited to. As a business owner in wine/food travel, I get media requests all the time from people who want to come to Georgia. It is expensive to organise events, let alone travel. When I did some wine tastings in the states last year, I invited a few people (some from this group) to the tastings, and then the requests came in to allow partners, friends, etc. I am just mentioning it because it is not just one person who is asking for some sort of favor, it is usually many. If they organized the event to be a consumer event and organized it in a specific way I don’t really understand why you would think that you’d get special treatment just because you traveled. See clarification from Sarah at the end of this stream, for her thinking. It’s worth it.

Gwendolyn Lawrence Alley: I think you make a good point Sarah, and I don’t usually ask for a plus one because usually no one can go. And when I have asked for a plus one, it’s never been a big deal. But in this case, the two of us were already going to be in LA a few miles away. I wasn’t going to ditch her –leave her on the street or in a bar somewhere — to go their event.

Sarah May Grunwald: It is totally understandable, I just wanted to give you my perspective from the other side.

Jo Diaz: When I put on events, I always allow a partner to attend. It’s good PR… But then, that’s my first job, and holding events is my second. Bringing someone with me to someone else’s event also allows for a designated driver. Can you afford to have a DUI professionally? I can’t. Steve Heimoff taught me that a long time ago, and I’m glad he did. I’ve always loved having you at events. I will even arrange for childcare, or send a car for someone special.

The Cost of Being on “The List”

Here’s the one thing missing from most organizers’ understanding, if they aren’t a writer:

  • Journalists
    • Paid to travel
    • Paid to write.
    • They have benefits: health care, food costs, mileage, etc.
  • Bloggers (As a publicist, I’m paid over $100/hour, so when I go to an event that’s in San Francisco, for instance, here’s what I begin to lose, with none of the journalist benefits
    • 3 hours of travel time = $450
    • Gas and mileage on my car = $30
    • Bridge toll = $7
    • Dinner = $40 (very modest, right, in SF?)
      • This is $527, so far.
    • 3 hours of the event = $450. So, before I even begin to write my blog story, it’s rounded to $1,000.
    • Then I spend 5 hours writing the story… Yes, I takes me that long to write over 1,000 words that have been researched, photos processed, story developed, links provided.
      • That’s $750.
      • Total, rounded = $1,750.

The organizers get a value of $1,750 from me. If they can’t give me a second ticket, I can’t afford to take a day off.

Clarification from Sarah May Grunwald

Sarah May Grunwald: There is also the other side. When people are posting blogs like “How to travel and eat for free” etc.

It is one thing to invite, and keep those things in mind. But I literally get at least 5 emails a day from “bloggers” asking for free trips. These aren’t people who I have heard of half the time, and they just happen to want to come to Georgia (the country). So they think their 1200 followers on Instagram merits me spending $3000 on them.

And, this one is yet another story on “Who has the nerve to asks for trips?”



Petite Sirah,Wine,Wine of the Week

Wine of the Week ~ 2014 Laughinghouse Petite Sirah

The Wine ~ Laughinghouse Petite

Why I’m writing about this one is that it’s an “American Dream” wine. The dream was there to create a brand and now it’s being actualized.

I love wine negotiates. They get to dabble with what others have brought forth as they go on a buying trip to make that important bridge connection. This makes their wines a collaborative partnership; from someone who loved making it, to some who would love marketing it. It’s a huge process… to make AND sell the wine. It also takes a major investment to take it all the way, from vine to wine bottle and to the streets.

For some, who already enjoy a successful career, having a brand to market to the right sources can also be immeasurably rewarding and satisfying. If I told you that I know someone whose “house wine” is “the” House wine… Yeah, it’s like that.

Laughinghouse Petite came to me as a brand so pleased with their Petite that I was asked to just taste it. And I have, and it delivers exactly what’s promised. Let’s review their label, and I can point – counter point with it.

LABEL: This wine combines two clones of Petite Sirah grown by the Tanner family on the rocky volcanic soils near Vallecito. 2014 was an excellent growing season that gives a wine redolent with powerful dark fruit, blueberry, blackberry pie. Hints of spice aromas, very fine texture and mineral flavors.

COUNTER POINT: CLONES ~ We talked about clones. For me, it’s good to know that there are now more than four. When I started my Petite journey, there were only four clones: Clone #1, Clone #2, Clone #3, and Clone #4. And, Clone #3 turned out to be a Pinot Noir. Kind of a joke on the Petite Buyer… not. Then Foppiano’s Clone came on board, as did a Stags’ Leap, and now Laughinghouse has the Bogle Clone. That makes my heart sing. Patty Bogle of Bogle Vineyards and Winery was very special to me. It remains that way, since her passing.

COUNTER POINT: Tanner Vineyards, as they also make some of their own wines and are a great resource for Laughinghouse.

COUNTER POINT: Vallecito ~ Where? From the, can’t know everything chapter – and – not having their own town website, here’s new from an unlikely source ~ Ohio!

There is no counter point to this. It’s exactly as it should be written:

2014 was an excellent growing season that gives a wine redolent with powerful dark fruit, blueberry, blackberry pie. Hints of spice aromas, very fine texture and mineral flavors.

Since it’s July, you’ve plenty of the summer season left to fire up your grill and will need a good size red for meat that has some marbleized fat in it. Those drips will be blended with an acidity begging for a rich piece of meat, or an egg plant wish with eggs and/or cheese. It’s not a sipping wine, It’s a wine meant to be enjoyed with food. It’s 13.7 percent alcohol. The lower the alcohol, the more food friendly it is.

You can purchase from their Website: www.laughinghousewine.com


Bubbly Wine,Chile,Sparkling wine,Wine

Es Rosé, José… un Estelado de Chilé!

That’s what I’ve been saying all spring into summer, “It’s Rosé, José,” and this time it was an Estelado from Miguel Torres de Chilé!


A list of what’s been pouring in, in an unprecedented amount…


Santa Digna Estelado Rose Sparkling Wine

Santa Digna Estelado, from Miguel Torres, has recovered the oldest grape variety from the Chile’s past. It’s called the País. So rare, in fact, it’s number 161 on my Wine Century Club list. I’m now working toward a Doppel Membership (having tasted 200 different varieties).

This wine is 100 percent País… pure joy, refreshing, satisfying, and tiny bubbles sparkling in my glass… Amor, amor, amor… Mucho muy bien, tambien. Being very partial to pink, the pale rose color took my breath away… Blood orange flavors were the definition for this one.

About País: Mission: it’s also known as Criolla Chica in Argentina, and País in Chile. In the US, we know it as the red grape variety Mission. It’s a grape of major historical importance for the world. I’m so thrilled to see this grape variety making its way back into wine being made today.

How the grape got from Spain to Chile and beyond

Jesuit Missionaries transported original vines from Spain to the new world in the middle of the 1500s. Cultivated in Mexico and then into South America, for nearly a century, it then began to migrate north into California. The mission grape is believed to be of Mexican and/or South American (Argentina) origin, related to the Spanish Criolla, and the Pais variety of Chile. In the early 2000s when I wrote a report for a Viticulture 101 class, there were 36,872 acres planted to the Mission variety. Prior to being planted in California, the Mission was first grown in Mexico for 200 years. Criolla means “a New World scion of an Old World parent, adapted to the new condition.” The grape flourished in California, producing a sturdy vine that didn’t require staking, and ripened well in almost any climate. The exception was Mission Dolores in San Francisco, whose climate was, and still is, consistently cool and damp.

Crafting this Wine

The Estelado was made following the traditional ethos with a  second fermentation in the bottle. The winemakers recovered Chile’s earliest grape variety, which arrived in the 16th Century. The grapes were grown by a large number of small farmers, the variety was all but forgotten, until it was recently rediscovered by making wines and realizing they were of high quality. According to Miguel Torres, “Each bottle of sparkling País consumed helps to create demand and, as a result, better conditions for the winegrowers of Chile.”  — I drink to that!

As I wrote part of this blog story, I listed to the following for inspiration, while sipping this Rosé Uva País.. It’s a truly delightful sparkling wines. I highly recommend it for the rosé, bubbling crowd that’s trending, right into Indian Summer.


Bordeaux,Education,Imports,Wine,Wine Education

Bordeaux ~ Banking on Iconic Wineries ~ partie quatorze

[Image: © CIVB, 2012. Design: Siksik – Cartography. Édition Benoít France]

As I look at this map to the right, I realize how much farther I have to go to understand Bordeaux. I’ve written about the Left and Right banks; as we look at this map, we have much more to learn.

  • Left Bank
    • North-West
    • South-West
  • Right Bank
    • North-East
    • East
    • South-East

What separates each one within the Left and the Right regions, besides latitude?

~~~ Water, Water, Water ~~~

  1. Gironde Estuary
  2. Garonne River is on its western side, and is an extension of the Spanish Río Garona. This river is 357 miles long and is considered to be the most important river of southwestern France. Emanating from the Spanish central Pyrenees, it flows into the Atlantic Ocean by way of the Gironde Estuary.
  3. Dordogne River is on its eastern side, and is the third longest river in western France.

~~~ Water Influences ~~~

  1. For the Left Bank, it’s the city of Bordeaux itself.
    • North-West Bordeaux
      • The Atlantic’s Bay of Biscay is to its west
      • The Gironde Estuary is to its east in the north and central portions
      • The last fifth of the North-West has the Garonne to its east
    • South-West Bordeaux
      • Decidedly inland
      • Only the Garonne to its east
  2. For the Right Bank regions, it’s all about waterways being on its west side
    • North-East Bordeaux
      • Gironde Estuary is a large bay area on its west side
      • With the base being fed by the Dordogne
      • Closer to the Atlantic than the East and South-East regions
    • East Bordeaux
      • The Dordogne River is to its west
    • South-East Bordeaux
      • This region is inland
      • Garonne River is to its west

A Player From Each Region

My Research Experience: The Right Bank Wines Are Much Harder to Find

Winery descriptions have come from each winery’s Website:

Left Bank


  • Pauillac
  • Chateau Lynch-Bages
  • In the heart of the Médoc on the banks of the estuary, Pauillac (Gironde, France) has been the true birthplace of Grand Cru Classé wines since 1855. The Lynch-Bages vineyards are planted across 100 hectares in the region. Its enjoys a mild climate, homogeneous geology and a topography of well-defined outcrops in the South and South-West of the town. These factors all contribute to bringing Lynch-Bages’ soils their warmth and excellent natural drainage towards the river which ensures optimum water supply to the vines.



  • Pessac-Leognan
  • Domaine de Chevalier ~ C’est si bon
  • The Domaine de Chevalier is a clearing in the forest that protects it, a kind of secret garden away from the media circuits. It’s a little paradox of this excellence believed that rivals the greatest vintages of Bordeaux.
    “Only a great terroir can produce a great wine … When I present the Domaine de Chevalier, I like to start with these words. They express our deep philosophy, which is enshrined in the approach of the vineyard but also in the minds of men and women who work here, year after year refining their skills to what is essential to my eyes, ie equilibrium … “


Right Bank


  • Blaye
  • Chateau Montfollet Le Valentin
  • At the heart of the best soils of the appellation, this family owned 67 hectares of vineyards located on hillsides and red clay and limestone clays overlooking the Gironde estuary opposite the most prestigious wines of Margaux. It belongs to the Ramon family for three generations. Today, anxious to reveal the potential of these beautiful lands, while respecting the environment, Dominique Raimond, passionate winemaker, uses all the technical means to achieve the production of a great wine.
    • SOIL: Clay and gravel and clay-limestone on slopes facing south, southeast and southwest.



  • Pomerol
  • Vieux Chateau Certan
  • Covering 35 acres in one single block,  The Vieux Chateau Certan Vineyard is the fruit of a century of painstaking work and careful decision making.



  • Loupiac
  • Chateau Pontac
  • An exceptional vineyard : The Terroir is composed of graves in surface and clay and limestone in depth, which enables a typical blending from the Médoc, ideal for qualitative wines.  The vineyards are planted by 45% of Merlot, 40% of Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% of Cabernet Franc and 5% of Petit Verdot. The vineyard is running on a sustainable agriculture. The Château Pontac Lynch is one of the Medoc winegrowing estates using the least phytosanitaries, since 2010. The manually done harvest and a very selective sorting of the grapes are the key elements for a great elegant wine.



Wine Blog Bordeaux Series to Date

Credit to Millesima for originally inspiring me to learn about Bordeaux.



PR 101,PR Advice,Wine,Winery

Sage Advice on Writing From an Unlikely Source ~ PR 101

The sage advice is the very last “Dear Jo:” at the end of this blog post. If you follow from the top, you’ll see how I make decisions on what I have time for, when it comes to helping people with their brands on this blog. It’s not so much the brands I enjoy, it’s their PR people.

Dear Ms. Diaz:

After reading the use/content section of your website, I’m writing to ask if you’d be interested in tasting the wines from Ernest Vineyards.


Owners Erin Brooks and her husband Todd Gottula produce elegant and nuanced wines that offer transparent expressions of clone and place. They founded Ernest Vineyards out of their love for family, art and Burgundy.  Each wine is named after the character, career and accomplishments of a beloved family member and the portrait on the front label is of Todd’s Grandfather.

The wines are charming, and Erin and Todd equally so. They’re wonderful, hard-working, humble people who are committed to elevating the profile of artisanal winemaking in the United States.

Would you mind if I sent you samples?

Sincerely, Jennifer Chin

My response:

Thanks for contacting me. Right now, between my day job and all of the wines backed up for my wine of the week program I’m really swamped.

I don’t see any lightening of my load for a while… Also packing the house for a move in the fall.

I would like to help you, but I can’t at this time. — jo

Dear Ms. Diaz:

No, thank you for getting back to me so quickly!  I appreciate your frankness and agree that moving sucks.  It’s right up there with going to the dentist and waiting at the DMV.

Would you mind if I followed up with you in the Fall?

Sincerely, Jennifer

My Response:

I don’t mind at all, if you do.

This move isn’t like that, though. We’re headed into the mountains in Geyserville, and a lap pool (salt water) awaits us.

The work load is so heavy, that’s my exhaustion. All I seem to do is write my brains out. Moving will give me at least a month off from that 😉

I’ve been writing furiously since 1993… — jo

Dear Jo:

I’ve always thought that writing is one of the most difficult of occupations.  Colette, the French novelist, had several pithy thoughts on this; one which I particularly like goes something like this…. “Put down everything that comes into your head and then you’re a writer. But an author is one who can judge his own stuff’s worth, without pity, and destroy most of it.”

In other words, no wonder you’re tired!!!

Jennifer Chin
Founder, Strategic Wine Solutions

My response, 10 days later…

Hi, Jennifer,

A bit of blue sky has opened up for a new opportunity.

Please send a sample of what you’d like for me to taste.

Thanks.  — jo



Verona ~ Who Are You, Anyway? ~ seconda parte #IAMarone

[The map of Italy, with the Vento region highlighted, is borrowed from the Italylogue.com Website.]

My husband said to me, “You don’t know what Amarone wine is?” like I really should know. “No,” I answered, “I don’t have a clue.”

With the last 25 years of my life devoted to learning about and working with wine, he had high hopes. Sorry to say, I had to burst the bubble. If there’s anything I’ve learned about wine, it’s that the depth of the subject is endless. If I asked you, “Do you know who Yegor Leontievich Chernykh is?” I’m betting that only a very few of you – if anyone reading this now – could tell me that he put the “Russian” into Russian River Valley.

Wine Blog:

In 1836, the Russians sent Moscow-trained agronomist Yegor Leontievich Chernykh, to the Sonoma Coast, in order to improve the crops being grown for their consumption. Chernykh settled in Green Valley, and established a farm along Purrington Creek. This land is just west of what’s now called Graton in Green Valley, just between today’s towns of Occidental and Graton.

My education has been elsewhere; Russian River Valley, New Zealand, Portugal, Oregon, all of California now (really), Washington State. I am, however clueless, eager to learn anything new, because it delights me to peel away more layers of this mysterious elixir. So, here we go.

#IAMarone 101 ~Let’s Explore

What is an Amarone wine?

Amarone della Valpolicella is usually known as Amarone. It’s a rich, Italian dry red wine, and crafted from the partially dried grapes from the Corvina cultivar.

  • A bit complicated, even for me, knowing that Italy has more cultivars, rivaling Portugal’s 500+ varieties, these are now new names to know and remember.
  • Amarone is comprised of 45 to 95 percent of Corvina grapes
    • Up to 50 percent could be substituted with Corvinone and Rondinella grapes (from five to 30 percent)
    • And, other approved red grape varieties, up to 25 percent

As Complicated as a Menage a Trois, right?

Let’s get down with it:

  • The Corvina cultivar
    • Sometimes also referred to as Corvina Veronese or Cruina
    • Grown in the Veneto region of northeast Italy (map above)
    • It’s an original red grape of Valpolicella (sub region of Vento)
    • See map above, borrowed from the avvinare Website
    • It is high in acidity
    • It is best grown in the Veneto wine region
  • The Corvinone cultivar
    • Corvinone is not to be confused with Corvina; they’re two different grape varieties
    • Corvinone and Corvina are both from the Veneto region
    • Corvinone is also blended into other wines, like Bardolino and Valpolicella
    • It’s less alcoholic and higher in acid than Corvina
    • It grows best on hills
    • It’s sensitive to the “noble rot,” Botrytis
  • The Rondinella cultivar
    • Translated, Rondinella means a “small swallow,” with its small berries
    • Rondinella can comprise up to 20 to 30 percent of the blend for Amarone wines
    • This wine has a high sugar content
    • It’s easy to grow for vineyardists
  • “Other”
    • Molinara ~ May contribute to an Amarone by only five to 10 percent
    • Negrara ~ Widely used in the extended Valpolicella area
    • Forsellina ~ Resistant to diseases, but it produces a small bunch = quality
    • Pelara ~ Excellent to dry, because of its very loosely packed bunch
    • Oseleta ~ High in tannins = small berries full of seeds and a thick dark skin

As I wrote, it’s a pretty complicated wine, as regards what is proper to use when it comes time to making it. If you’ve worked with it all of your life, I’m sure that it’s as simple as crafting a Bordeaux blend. For those of us just getting into the groove, we’ve now been given the recipe.

The Amarone Tours website has been extremely helpful in nailing down what grapes go into making an Amarone Wine. How to construct it? Next time, kiddies. This time, we’ve assembled the players.

#IAMarone ~ Thanks to Cesari Vineyard of Verona, one of the finest Vineyards of the Valpolicella region. Cesari Vineyard of Verona is celebrating 80 years of producing some of Italy’s greatest wines this year. To mark this occasion, Cesari invited me to be part of an elite group of 80 influencers selected to represent Cesari Amarone! Cesari will be taking over Manhattan with events and giveaways all summer that you will have exclusive access to.


Carménère,Chile,Wine,Wine of the Week

Wine of the Week ~ 2014 Reserva Casillero del Diablo Carménère

I love Carménère, especially when it comes from Chile.  Chile has over 460 years of wine heritage. When the Spanish arrived in sixteenth century, there was no phylloxera Chilean vine rootstock (at the time) grew own-rooted, which turned out to be a valuable genetic material. This allowed Carménère to thrive hidden among Merlot vines for over a century, even after its near extinction in France from phylloxera.

The Winery Story ~ Concha y Toro

In the closing years of the 19th century Don Melchor de Concha y Toro discovered that his most treasured wines had been pilfered from the “casillero” (cellar) beneath his family home. To discourage further theft, the enterprising Don spread a rumor that his deepest, darkest cellars were haunted by the devil. Today, the original Concha y Toro family estate, complete with its Devil’s Cellar, is Chile’s leading tourist destination!

The wines may have been stored in hell, but they are made in heaven. With its steady sunshine, cooling winds and pestilence-free vineyards, Chile is a winemaker’s dream. Add to this a winemaking tradition based on French grape varieties and winemaking techniques, and you have a winning combination. High quality wines can be made inexpensively, which Concha y Toro successfully demonstrated with the release of its Casillero el Diablo wines in 1963.

2014 Reserva Casillero del Diablo Carménère

This wine has a silky soft and spicy character, with a beautiful, velvety body. Think cherries and dark plums and a hint of chocolate.

When we write and talk about minerality, this wine exudes it. My food and wine choice was simple… It was a Saturday afternoon and I reached for some Harry & David chocolate covered cherries… Pure decadence and passion. For a brief moment in time, I didn’t need another blessed thing. So smooth… Grilling ribs? You won’t be disappointed. The tannin structure will be smoothed out by and all will remain silky smooth.

About Carménère

In the Cachapoal Valley, it is comprised of tranquil lands and modest, colonial homesteads. Winemakers arrived late in the 19th Century. By 1980, it became recognized for its Carménère, but at that time it was thought to be Merlot. By 1990, the DNA identity of Carménère came from the Maipo Valley. Carménère is named for its “carmine” color. Think of vibrant, autumnal leaves. Synonyms: burgundy wine, maroon, crimson, vermilion, oxblood, ruby, puce, and claret. [IMAGE: From Flower, honey and milk.com]

The soil of the Cachapoal Valley has fertile alluvial terraces, comprised of clay, sand, and silt. When Carménère was nearly wiped out of France by Phylloxera, there is no such pest in South America, so it survived. South America continues to be very careful to not import the devastating pest.

Phylloxera is indigenous to North America, and was brought to France during the late 1800s. This just about wiped out the fickle-to-France grape. As a result, when it came time to replant, Carménère wasn’t a priority.

Carménère is very particular about what soil it grows best in, and the Cachapoal Valley sets the gold standard for South America. The best location is in the town of Peumo, because of the breezes from the ocean, to river beds, and then across reservoirs.



History,Petite Sirah,PS I Love You,Wine,Wine HIstory

Congratulations, Paul Draper, on your retirement

Dear Paul,

I’ll always remember the day I called you. When I realized that Ridge also made a Petite Sirah, besides your fabulous Zins, I just had to call and ask for help. With Petite Sirah being such a minor player in the world of wine, but such a major contributor to the history of California’s wine industry, you’ve been one of our important Petite Sirah stakeholders.

It didn’t take much to have you see the light… that Petite Sirah’s mission is to promote, educate, and legitimize Petite Sirah as a heritage variety, with a special emphasis on its terroir uniqueness.

Ridge is part of another small group, which I greatly admire: the Historic Vineyard Society. As a tribute to you, I’m going to re-run an earlier story on wine-blog, when I discovered your other connection to historic wine grape varieties.

My hat’s off to you, sir, as I join the legion of others who celebrate all of your contributions. You not only enriched the PS I Love You agenda, but you have enriched my life, too. I asked, you helped. What more could anyone ask of another and be so rewarded for years to follow?

Best wishes for a lovely retirement…

This is a group, even though I’m not involved, that’s near and dear to my heart. With my involvement on behalf of Petite Sirah, and PS being a heritage grape variety, I get what this group is doing… Preservation and historical relevance, I can dig that.

I’ve been fighting hard for the last nine [now 14] years for Petite Sirah, and it’s paying off. I hear people (and I’m referring to important people in high places, like UC Davis) talk about Petite Sirah as a heritage grape for the California wine industry. This wasn’t the buzz on Petite Sirah when we began our marketing campaign in 2002. Most people didn’t even know what Petite Sirah was back then.

Did you know the following?

  • Petite Sirah was one of the varieties that was produced during Prohibition and sold to family winemakers?
  • In the 1960s, Napa Valley was planted to Petite Sirah by 60 percent?
  • When Petite Sirah was replaced in the 1960s by Cabernet Sauvignon, those vineyards were ripped out and replanted to Cab, leaving much of the history behind…

Along comes the Historic Vineyard Society, and I’m thrilled. Their mission is listed as the following, from their Website:

HVS (Historic Vineyard Society) is a non-profit, 501 C-3 organization dedicated to the preservation of California’s historic vineyards. HVS’s Mission is accomplished through educating the wine-drinking public on the very special nature of this precious and depleting state, national and global resource.

[Photo: Left to right: Mike Dildine, Mike Officer, Tegan Passalacqua, Morgan Twain-Peterson, and David Gates; borrowed from their Website]

Key players are the following:

David Gates (Ridge Vineyards), Mike Officer (Carlisle Vineyards), Jancis Robinson (author and wine critic), Tegan Passalacqua (Turley Wine Cellars), Morgan Twain-Peterson (Bedrock Vineyards), and Mike Dildine.

From the HVS Website: “The idea was born when Zinfandel enthusiast Mike Dildine [pictured above] asked a simple question to an internet wine forum, “California’s great old vine Zinfandel vineyards … What are your favorites?” The response was remarkable and passionate. Hundreds of Zin lovers began building to a list of vineyards that represent California’s heritage vineyards.”

And, their objective is to compile a comprehensive, fact-based and consistent directory of California’s Heritage Vineyards.

My mind immediately goes to Field Stone Winery (all vineyard shots in this story), for instance, that has a Petite vineyard which was planted in the 1890s. The vines in this field blend just make you want to marvel when you’re standing in it. I love that Dr. John Staten, owner and my dear friend, is not all about pulling the vines out in order to have a vineyard that produces more fruit. A vine, like a human being, has a life cycle. It has a time of being young and tender, a time of being fruitful, and a time of delivering great wisdom. It’s the vines with wisdom that the Heritage Vineyard Society has as its concern, and there’s much to be learned in these old vineyards.

Did you know, for instance, that in old field blends in the US, vineyardists planted a variety of Vitis vinifera (different grape types of exceptional quality for winemaking), and whatever the season delivered for an overall flavor, that was it for that harvest?

Did you know, another fun fact, that a red wine field blend also contained white varieties, to deliver even more exceptional and varied flavors?

It’s these old vineyards that speak our history to us, and can teach us as we search for answers of days gone by, when stories were orally handed down from one generation to the next.

In order for a vineyard to qualify, it must be a currently producing California wine vineyard that was original planted no later than 1960, and at least a third of its existing producing vines can be traced back to the original planting date.

For more details on how to have your vineyard become part of this group, if this interests you, click here for the form on their site.

The current registry is extensive… Much more extensive than I would have imagined, which tells me that their passion is every bit as intense as mine and they’re “on it.” That’s great news…