Wine Ink column: Wine rewind: People, places and things
UNDER THE INFLUENCE
“The Wine Bible” — Rather than suggest a wine this week, I am going to suggest a book that is filled with the people, places and things that make wine so splendid. Karen MacNeil, a wine educator, speaker and, of course, author, put together the first edition of “The Wine Bible” over a 10-year period and published it in 2001. It was a vibrant, well-written, meticulously researched tome that has become, well, a bible for me in my study of wine.
As the world has changed radically, so, too, has the world of wine. MacNeil has updated the book, and the newest edition, which came out last October, would make an outstanding Christmas present for your favorite wine lover or yourself. She’ll even autograph a copy for you. Find it at karenmacneil.com.
If you have read Wine Ink over the past year, then you know that while there is occasionally criticism, there is mostly celebration. Celebration of what I like to call “PPT,” the three things that make the wine world most interesting: people, places and things.
Over the past year, we have mutually explored 50 or more wine PPTs. Here’s a look at some of my favorites.
While it is easy to lose sight of this, wine is mostly about people: the people who plant the vines and harvest the grapes and the people who make, market and eventually serve wines. It just so happens that many of the world’s most interesting people are in the wine business.
We ended 2015 with a story about Jody Elsom, of the Seattle-based Elsom Cellars, who was in a cafe in Paris, sipping wines and having dinner, just as the terrorists struck nearby last November. Elsom recounted the horror and how she was only comforted for the first time when she finally got back to the refuge of her urban winery, surrounded by her fermentation tanks and bottles. It was a poignant reminder of not just how fragile life can be, but also of the solace that wine can provide.
Wine can also bring wealth and riches. This past year, we also chronicled the rise of another Seattle-based winemaker, Charles Smith, who ended 2015 by opening a new art gallery-worthy winery in Seattle dubbed Jet City and ended this year by selling off half of his brands for $120 million.
Wealth was also front and center in our examination of collector Bill Koch, who opted in May to part ways with some 20,000 bottles of wine ranging in age from a 1869 Mouton Rothschild to a Mazis Chambertin, by Louis Jadot, from the 2005 vintage. The sale at Sotheby’s did quite well, thank you, fetching in excess of $10 million over three dizzying days.
Then there was the story of a man inducted into the Vintners Hall of Fame at the Napa Valley-based Culinary Institute of America, who never produced a single bottle of wine. Cesar Chavez, the labor organizer who led the United Farm Workers Union and the “March on Modesto,” is one of the most important change agents in world wine history, and his contributions are priceless.
From Northern Italy, where we walked the vineyards of the Colli Orientali del Friuli region with winemaker Giorgio Colutta, to Aspen, where we sipped Oregon pinot from the pioneering producer Peter Rosback, to our conversation with Dan Kosta about the California Coastal gems he crafts for Kosta Browne, we have been able to profile many of the most creative winemakers on the planet.
Of course, place pairs with people in wine production. While there were profiles of Bordeaux and Burgundy, some of the most interesting places of the year were likely less well-known.
Wine lovers are familiar with sangiovese and the Chianti wines of Tuscany, but the real action in Tuscany is on the coast, creating classic wines in Maremma that marry the indigenous Italian grape varietals with the Bordeaux grapes.
Then there is Coombsville, the most southern appellation in the Napa Valley, where wines ranging from pinot noir to syrah are getting not just acclaim but attention from collectors. And lest we forget the emerging regions, we covered the approval of a new wine region that spans the Washington and Idaho border, dubbed the Lewis and Clark American Viticultural Area. Be the first on your block to try a wine from there.
While there were stories on winery dogs, the effects of wine on sex and California’s colleges of wine, I don’t want to let the year pass without a final shout-out to three of the most significant anniversaries of the year.
It can be argued that 1976, 40 years ago this year, was the year that fostered the American wine landscape that we enjoy today. In April of that year, the first issue of Wine Spectator was produced.
In July, American wines were deemed by a panel of French wine experts as being superior to the wines of Bordeaux in “The Judgment of Paris.” And Dan Margaret Duckhorn launched a Napa Valley wine venture that would fly to unprecedented heights.
In 2016, we covered all of the above and much more. Thanks for the ride. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.
Kelly J. Hayes lives in the soon-to-be-designated appellation of Old Snowmass. He can be reached at email@example.com.