Archive for the ‘US wine’ Category

California wine country

Thursday, August 19th, 2010

Alexander Valley - Sonoma

The Wine Country is a region of Northern California in the United States known worldwide as a premium wine-growing region. Viticulture and wine-making have been practiced in the region since the mid-19th century. There are over 400 wineries in the area north of San Francisco, mostly located in the area’s valleys, including Napa Valley in Napa County, and the Sonoma Valley, Alexander Valley, Dry Creek Valley, Bennett Valley, Livermore Valley and Russian River Valley in Sonoma County. Wine grapes are also grown at higher elevations, such as Atlas Peak and Mount Veeder AVAs. The region is defined not only in terms of viticulture, but also its ecology, geology, architecture, cuisine, and culture. The majority of the grape harvest, in terms of both area and value, derives from Sonoma County.

Communities associated with the Wine Country include Kenwood, Healdsburg, Sonoma, Santa Rosa, Napa, Yountville, St. Helena, Calistoga, Geyserville, Petaluma, Sebastopol, Guerneville, historic Fort Ross and Ukiah.


Sonoma Mountain AVA with background of the Mayacamas Mountains

Wine Country proper is generally regarded as the combined counties of Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino. However, some reference works include part of Lake in the term Wine Country. These counties contain the following American Viticultural Areas (AVAs):

  • in Mendocino County: Anderson Valley, Covelo, Mendocino, and Potter Valley.
  • in Napa County: Atlas Peak, Los Carneros, Mount Veeder, Napa Valley, Oakville, Rutherford, Saint Helena, Stags Leap District, and Yountville.
  • in Sonoma County: Alexander Valley, Bennett Valley, Chalk Hill, Dry Creek Valley, Green Valley of Russian River Valley, Knight’s Valley, Los Carneros, Northern Sonoma, Rockpile, Russian River Valley, Sonoma Coast, Sonoma Mountain, and Sonoma Valley.
  • in Lake County: Clear Lake, Guenoc Valley, High Valley, and Red Hills Lake County.

The six-county North Coast AVA overlaps with the Wine Country as defined here. In addition, the names of the counties themselves are legal for use as appellation names.


Yountville historic rail station, Napa Valley

The earliest prehistory of the Wine Country involves habitation by several Native American tribes since approximately 8000 BC. The principal tribes living in this region were the Pomo, Coast Miwok, Wappo and Patwin, whose early peoples practiced certain forms of agriculture, but probably not involving the cultivation of grapes. During the Mexican Colonial period and after, European settlers brought in more intensive agriculture to the Wine Country, including growing grapes and wine production. Some of the historical events that led to the establishment of California as a state transpired in the Wine Country. In particular, the town of Sonoma, is known as the birthplace of American California. Agoston Haraszthy is credited with being one of the forefathers of the California wine industry in Sonoma by his planting of grapes in the lower Arroyo Seco Creek watershed of Sonoma County.

As home to both Buena Vista winery, California’s oldest commercial winery, and Gundlach Bundschu winery, California’s oldest family-run winery, the Sonoma Valley is known as the birthplace of the California wine industry.


Pygmy forest along a popular Wine Country hiking trail of Hood Mountain. Note darker vegetation in upper right is a mixed oak woodland

A diversity of aquatic and terrestrial organisms populate the Wine Country and its riparian zones. Winter-run Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tsawytscha), Delta smelt (Hypomesus transpacificus) and steelhead (Onchorhynchus mykiss) are the most prominent fishes. Anadromous fish movements in Sonoma Creek and the Napa River as well as the Laguna de Santa Rosa have been studied extensively not only in the mainstems, but in many of the tributaries. These investigations have demonstrated a historical decline in spawning and habitat value for these species, primarily due to sedimentation and secondarily to removal of riparian vegetation since the 19th century.

A variety of salamanders, snakes and frogs are also present in the Wine Country. The federally listed as threatened California red-legged frog is present in the northern reach draining the south slopes of Annadel State Park. Several endangered species (mostly associated with the Napa Sonoma Marsh) present include California clapper rail (Rallus longirostris), California Black Rail (Laterallus jamaicensis), California brown pelican (Pelicanus occudentalis), California freshwater shrimp (Syncaris pacifica), Salt marsh harvest mouse (Reithrodontomys raviventris ), Suisun Shrew (Sorex ornatus sinuosus), Sacramento splittail (Pogonichtys macrolepidotus). The above are endangered species with the exception of the splittail, steelhead and black rail, which species are federally designated as Threatened.

Upland ecosystems drained include mixed California oak woodland, chaparral and savannah woodland. In these upland reaches one finds plentiful Black-tailed Deer, coyote, skunk, raccoon, opossum, wild turkey, turkey vulture, red-tailed hawk and occasionally bobcat and mountain lion. Prominent higher elevation trees include: Coast live oak, Garry Oak, Pacific madrone, California Buckeye, Douglas fir, whereas Valley oak is prevalent on the Wine Country valley floors.


The Wine Country has undergone a boom in tourism. In 1975 there were only 25 Napa Valley wineries; today there are well over 400 wineries in Napa and Sonoma Counties. Tourists come to the region not only for wine-tasting, but also for hiking, bicycling, hot air ballooning, and historic sites, as well as the extensive culinary choices. Numerous notable chefs and restaurateurs are present in the Wine Country, including Thomas Keller, John Ash, and Sondra Bernstein. Besides the obvious winery attractions, the Wine Country is known for its hot springs baths, petrified forests and other natural areas.

The Wine Country tourism boom has its downside, exemplified by traffic congestion on State Route 29, particularly on summer weekends, when the number of tourists often exceeds the carrying capacity of the road. The Napa Valley is also experiencing pressures for increased urbanization and roadway upgrading.

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Missouri wine country

Tuesday, July 1st, 2008

In June 2005 I visited Missouri. St. Louis is a great weekend getaway on its own merits: history, shopping, wonderful ethnic dining (especially the Italian food on The Hill), the Cardinals, the Arch, and even gambling if you are so inclined. Throw in wine tasting and you have an empty-nester’s getaway par excellence. Head west on scenic Highway 94 from U.S. 40 and you will parallel the Missouri River and Missouri’s wonderful Katy Trail: a hiking and bicycling tour that spans across most of the state.

Missouri WeinstrasseThe Missouri Weinstrasse, or wine road, includes four family owned and operated
wineries: Sugar Creek, Montelle, Augusta, and Blumenhof, which stretch from historic St. Charles county to the Washington bridge. Originally settled in the early 1800’s by German immigrants seeking to duplicate their Rhineland from the old country, the Missouri valley is actually home to thirteen wineries if you traveled all the way to the town of Herman. Herman holds a great Oktoberfest each year.

Sugar Creek Winery will be your first stop: watch for bicyclists as you cross over the railroad tracks and up the hill. Ken and Becky Miller specialize in dry, semi-dry, and fruit wines and often serve on a beautiful outdoor patio with a view. Live music is offered weekends from April through October. We especially enjoyed Michel’s Signature Red, a Merlot-style wine, La Rustica White, a blend of Seyval and Vidal that starts sweet and finishes dry, and Boone Country White, a Riesling-style wine. Yes, Daniel Boone lived near here, too. 314-987-2400.

Montelle Winery made one of the most unique ‘heartland’ wines we have tasted: a Dry Vignoles. Resembling a very high quality Chenin Blanc or Vouvray, this wine excels with any food you would enjoy with white wines. We learned later this wine won a silver medal at the New World International Wine Competition. 1-888-595-WINE.

The town of Augusta was next and it was one of the most scenic on the trip. Founded in 1836 on bluffs overlooking the Missouri River, the home of Augusta winery is undergoing a sort of ‘rural renewal’. We were ready for red wines to accompany the delicious crusty breads we purchased across the street at The Bread Shed. 314-228-4121.

We found two wines that were especially noteworthy. Chambourcin
and Cynthiana are hybrid grapes which can grow and flourish in our river valleys in the midwest and midsouth. Augusta’s Chambourcin was dry, rich, and full-bodied. The Cynthiana was very nearly world-class: intense, mouth filling, and tasting of its oak barrel aging, a wine for the Cabernet lover looking for something a little different. 1-888-MOR-WINE.

Certainly our friendliest stop, Blumenhof Winery was hosted this day by James Blumenberg, owner and frequent visitor to Europe and Germany. He pegged me immediately as a Bavarian (funloving and expressive). Located outside of Missouri’s oldest German settlement, Dutzow, this picturesque winery produces such wines as Seyval, two Vidal Blancs including a vintage reserve, and Chardonel, a very tasty clone of Chardonnay.
Their version of Vignoles is sweeter than that of Montelle, but was no less satisfying. 1-800-419-2245.

By this time, we were ready to head back to the hotel and swing south through Washington, Missouri, and then east to St. Louis.

Have you travelled the Missouri wine road?

Missouri grape varietals

Tuesday, June 3rd, 2008

The varietal wines made in Missouri mainly use international vine varieties. Yet some of them are made from typical varieties: cayuga, concord, catawba, norton (cynthiana), seybel, chambourcin, vignoles, st. vincent, vidal, and chardonel.

Missouri vineyard

Cayuga (ki-u-ga)

This hybrid from New York is generally made in a style similar to the Rieslings of Germany. Light, fragrant, fruity, and semi-dry, this white is very good for sipping on its own or with light foods and appetizers.

Concord (kahn-kord)

Called America’s original dessert wine, Concord is famous for its signature deep purple color and classic sweetness. Concord’s intense fruity flavor is perfect as a after-dinner sipping wine.

Catawba (ca-taw-ba)

A pink grape used in the production of a blush and rosé wines, Catawaba produces a medium-bodied sweet, fragrant strawberry-like wine.

Norton (nor-ton) a.k.a. cynthiana (sin-thee-ana)

Norton grapes produce a rich, full-bodied red wine with a dry character similar in style to Cabernet Sauvignon, yet with the spiciness of a Zinfandel. Norton’s berry flavors pair well with red meat, smoked meat and wild game.

Chambourcin (sham-bor-san)

Chambourcin produces a medium-bodied red wine with a fruity aroma and cherry and earthy/spicy complexities – much like a Pinot Noir. Chambourcin goes well with barbecue, pork, and pasta dishes.

St Vincent

This hybrid makes reds of delicacy and elegance. Often used for Nouveau style wines in the Fall, it also can have a Burgundian character and occasionally slightly sweet. Serve with pork, veal, or barbecue. May be slightly chilled.

Vidal (vee-dahl)

A white grape used to make a dry to semi-dry, full-bodied wine with fruity characteristics somewhat like Italian dry whites. Vidal’s clean citrus flavors of lemon and grapefruit create a nicely balanced wine perfect with seafood and poultry.

Chardonel (shahr-du-nel)

As a cross of the famed Chardonnay grape with the popular Seyval, Chardonel is usually barrel fermented, very dry and full bodied. This is great with heavier seafood dishes as well as chicken with cream sauces.

Seyval (say-vahl)

A white grape which makes a dry to semi-dry, clean, crisp medium-bodied wine with an herbal, fresh flavor similar in style to Chenin Blanc. Barrel fermented Seyval takes on an oak complexity indicative of a Chardonnay, Seyval pairs well with pork and Asian cuisines, while a barrel fermented Sayval complements the flavor of poultry and rich cream and butter-based sauces.

Vignoles (veen-yole)

One of the most versatile of Missouri’s white grapes, Vignoles is used to produce wines ranging in flavor from dry to a sweet late harvest dessert wine. Vignoles’ luscious floral aroma and fruity flavors of pineapple and apricot are somewhat similar in style to a German Riesling. Vignoles is a ideal accompaniment with Chinese food, fresh fruit, and fruit desserts.

Another site shows information about the Missouri appellation.

In a month I’ll post a report on the Missouri wine road. Your feed reader will show this if you subscribe to the blog.Cellarer feed blog RSS.

US growth and wine consumption

Thursday, May 15th, 2008

Statistics show that a steady reduction in violent crime is followed by a steady increase in the volume of wine consumed in the USA. That was between 1994 and 2004.

Wine consumption is negatively correlated to crime

Here is the graph which plots US total violent crime and wine volumes bought in the USA over the year. Conversely crime rise is followed by a decrease in wine consumption. It was the case in the USA between 1983 and 1994.

What does it prove? To me it demonstrates nothing. It only illustrates that statistics are not truthful in themselves. They even may appear to show a relationship where there is none. Some people may even use them to mislead. (I stop at the top of the slippery slope of politics but feel free to comment.)

US growth and global warmingHere is another nice illustration: US growth and global warming are highly correlated. The chart plots US GDP and yearly average anomaly of temperatures worldwide. Maybe it could mean that an unstable climate is good for your wealth? Obviously it does not. It only illustrates a point that is being proven at the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. This point roughly is that the output of material goods induces climate change.