Thursday, May 26, 2011

Can you taste sweat in wine?

Memorial Day weekend is a big wine tasting time here in the Pacific Northwest. Many wineries, not normally open to casual visitors, throw open their doors to hordes seeking that rare wine experience. (What are they looking for anyway?) I too will be joining the masses.

But as I taste, images of vineyard and winery workers float through my mind. I'm amazed at the amount of sweaty
backbreaking work, throughout the year in rain, snow and heat, that goes into each glass of wine. I picked grapes one year for college money. I'm also blessed by being able to photography in worldwide vineyards and wineries all year long. Check out this video I created on One Year in the Oregon Vineyard.

Can you taste sweat in your wine?

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Why do you travel?

Snuggly flying 35,500 feet above the Rocky Mountains towards destination Missouri Wine Country, I'm re-reading Phil Cousineau's book The Art of Pilgrimage: "We travel as seekers after answers we cannot find at home, and soon find that a change of climate is easier than a change of heart. The bittersweet truth about travel is embedded in the word, which derives from the older word travail, itself rooted in the Latin tripalium, a medieval torture rack."

So why did I heed the invitation of JaiMin Dierberg to visit Hermann, MO, exactly when I have two big article deadlines? I suspect that a journey without challenge has no meaning and one without purpose has no soul. My thread is finding Vineyard Light. My passion is discovering the spirit, the why of people.

Why do you travel?

Wine critic: Missouri's Norton grape will rival Europe's best

At the 1873 Vienna World Exposition, a Norton wine from the Hermann, Missouri, region was named "Best Red Wine of All Nations," according to one historical record. (Can't confirm. I didn't catch that particular Expo.)

The same year as the Expo, one well-known wine critic of the time (I won't mention his name to prevent embarrassment to his grandkids) definitively declared that Missouri's Norton grape will rival the best Europe had to offer. (Of course, that was about the same time the Phylloxera louse wiped out Europe's vineyards.)

On the hill overlooking Hermann, Stone Hill Winery had become the second-largest wine producer in the United States by the late 19th century. (Take that Santa Cruz Hills and Napa.)

Then in 1920, puff, prohibition deflated the Hermann Norton balloon.

Honestly, unless you are from Virginia, like my assistant Tamarah, had you ever heard of the Norton grape?
But wait till you hear about the health benefits of Dr. Norton grape in my next blog. Pinot noir and Cabernet sauvignon, pull over to the slow lane.

Above: View of Hermannm, Missouri, from one of Stone Hill Winery's vineyards. In the distance is St. George Catholic Church (build 1915) and the courthouse– the only such public building in America erected entirely with private funds.
Above: Hermann, which sits on a bluff above the Missouri River, seen from the deck of one of the historic Inn at Hermannhof suites. Sorry about the foreground trees being in the way. I couldn't get a permit to cut them down.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Found this under Hermann, Missouri Wine Country

About 4 feet under the ground in the dusty-with-history village of Hermann, is this cellar for Hermannhof winery.

Originally built in 1848, as a winery and brewery, hand-dug into the hill under the building was a system of limestone and brick catacombs used for the cellar. When prohibition shut down the operation, people simply dumped their trash into the cellar. Why not?
Out of sight, out of mind.

Then come along Jim and Mary Dierberg, who bought the building in 1974, and spent four years cleaning out the cellar and restoring the winery. One of the finds was the candle holder designed to hang from wine barrels. People had to see in the damp darkness. Check it out in the foreground of the photo.

Oh yes, there is a spring that runs through a channel carved in the ocean-formed bedrock that is the cellar floor.

That's Paul LeRoy, the winemaker and general manager, in the background stirring the barrel contents.
This is the restored winery building, now listed as a National Historic Landmark. I believe that the vines in the foreground are Norton, since that is the big varietal in the area. Never heard of Norton? Well, Norton roots were grafted in the replanting of France's wine industry after phylloxera.