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Varietals or Place-names?


Craig Camp
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Quote from the Times article, "In the long run, it doesn't really matter. Even now, the sons and daughters of American winemakers are working in vineyards and cellars all over the world and their counterparts from Tuscany, Penedes, Alsace and Coonawarra are here with us. There are appellations in wine country, but fewer and fewer borders. What kind of wine will come out of all this? Hard to say, but it should be pretty good. "

Since I am founded in the classical European wines, both the vineyard and the grape variety matter to me. Knowing both allows one to have a sense of who made this wine and the grower a sense of pride in making the wine.

I do not believe that the outcome is inevitably 'pretty good'. Different wines from the past but not inevitably 'pretty good'. -Dick

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American vineyardists did not have the benefit of hundreds of years of experience with the soil when grapes were planted in California. If they had, Yountville would be synonomous with Cabernet Sauvignon, Carneros with Pinot Noir and Santa Maria with Chardonnay. If you remember the vineyards in California in the 60's and 70's, it seemed most vineyards included gewurztraminer, colombard, chenin blanc, riesling, cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay, pinot noir and very little merlot. As long as wineries feel the need to produce multiple varieties of wine, grape variety will remain as important as place name. Today, still, only a handful of wineries are devoted to a single grape variety.

Mark

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This is an instrumentalist understanding of wine, that learning techniques is more significant than where the grapes come from. I doubt I'll get much argument here that this is horseshit (though unfortunately in my price range it is too often true). As Mark said, Californians are still trying to figure out their terroir (or at least they should be), even if they go about it oddly. Anyone else noticed all those vines on the napa valley floor? I do believe that there are grapes that can excel here, but we have to figure out where before we can change to a more meaningful labelling system.

I think "varietal vs. place-name" is a falsely agonistic dichotomy. At some level, at least ideally, they should be the same thing. If grapes aren't actually autochthonous, they have evolved over thousands of years of natural and human selection in the place where they're grown. I mean, I'm sure that UC Davis could engineer an exciting cab. clone that would thrive on Hermitage. (Ha -- I bet some of you just recoiled in horror). But of course that would be stupid (I leave it to others to speculate on the merits of planting that same clone in the Maremma). What we need to do in california is the opposite. And, returning gracefully to the point, until that is done, I can't think of a better way to label wines here (except to require full disclosure of all varietals and vineyard sources).

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badthings said: "autochthonous"

I don't know what that means.

'Self-placing' I think - i.e. Naturally occurring in their habitat. Kind of non-farmed.

But I may be wrong. Might be another word for prawn.

slacker,

Padstow, Cornwall

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I think so. You see, auto is the easy bit, but I remember vaguely from my Greek that Chthonos means place.

Best use the word for a particularly tricky wine description!

slacker,

Padstow, Cornwall

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I'm going to use that word in a sentence. Maybe when the mail man drops off today's mail. "Watch out for the dog shit in the yard. It's not autochthonous but it could still stink up the central post office if you tracked it in."

egullet: making me a better person every day.

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I'm going to use that word in a sentence. Maybe when the mail man drops off today's mail. "Watch out for the dog shit in the yard. It's not autochthonous but it could still stink up the central post office if you tracked it in."

egullet: making me a better person every day.

I'm not sure you can apply the adjective here. The shit isn't (or should not be) living, so the 'auto' part cannot apply.

Word abuse.

Edited by slacker (log)

slacker,

Padstow, Cornwall

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badthings said: "autochthonous"

I don't know what that means.

'Self-placing' I think - i.e. Naturally occurring in their habitat. Kind of non-farmed.

But I may be wrong. Might be another word for prawn.

Italian wineries love this word. I shows up on almost every website and brochure translated into English. I never saw it before that. All I can think is that the British use it everyday (UK members?) or it is the translation they give in some big Italian dictionary.

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Actually, this is an interesting word to me because of research I've been doing on local foods. Save the sunflower, there isn't one main stream food product that we eat in the U.S. that didn't come here from another country. We eat morels in the spring, which are, if I understand the word correctly, autochthonous, but most everything else came from Europe. So did most of the weeds we fight in our gardens.

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I wasn't trying to blow anyone away with my big words. I like the word not as a fancy synonym for indigenous, but in the literal greek sense of "sprung from the soil itself" (which is just a more emphatic or literal sense of indigenous).

OED (for autochthon the noun):

1. lit. A human being sprung from the soil he inhabits; a ‘son of the soil.’

 

1660 N. INGELO Bentiv. and Ur. II. (1682) 83 [They] suppose men to be Autochthones, Intelligent Mushromes.

This probably isn't making me sound less pedantic...

EDIT: though apparently I pronounce it wrong! (I defy anyone to say that word with the stress on the first syllable).

And, Jwagnerdsm, aren't there edible squash varieties native to the U.S.? Plus, of course, the temperate corn that was domesticated here well before the Europeans arrived. I guess wild rice isn't a major crop. Have you read Sophie Coe's America's First Cuisines? Very good, though she doesn't go north of the Aztecs. Also, Guns, Germs, and Steel.

Edited by badthings (log)
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