Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Why We Plant What We Plant

I realized today that I have a different view on time.  The older I get, the days and hours fly by.  I used to think that five years was an eternity.  Now, I think it's just around the corner.  (Yeah, I know that it has to with the relativistic perspective we have of time and how it relates to how much time we have spent on this planet.)

I'm also in love with vineyards.  There's something timeless about vineyards even though the fruit of their lives is about as time-bound as can be.  (That's a subject for a whole other post: how wine is a year bottled up.)
Getting ready to plant.....

But then I believe that we plant vineyards for the next generation.  Hell, that's why we planted that three acre block of Merlot 181.  But I also know that we've been growing vinifera grapes successfully for over 50 years, and we know where to plant what these days for the most part.  Yes, there are subtleties that need to be teased out, and we haven't shown what exactly is best exactly where.  But we know that Concords and Niagaras grow well in Erie and the Finger Lakes, that Riesling needs cool nights along with Pinot, that it's too cold for Merlot north of I-80 in PA and it's best to plant Bordeaux south of the turnpike.  

It's like when I tell someone I don't know much about growing grapes here yet.  It's not like I'm telling them that they should go and start from square one.  But my "ignorance" is based on 18 years of growing grapes, and talking to people with decades of experience.  It's ignorance from an omniscient point of view, but people take it as a license that our industry has no clue what we're doing and that they can be pioneers here.  The pioneers were all done and gone by 1990.  We're standing on their shoulders.

New vine growth
This industry is slowly moving towards vinifera due to consumer acceptance of our wines that are better than they used to be.  Not that any winery is abandoning hybrids and natives.  Allegro isn't.  But the wine drinking community is starting to take notice of vinifera wines.  As is the press.  The hybrid/native common denominator will always be there, but local communities don't usually "take pride" in them.  They are proud of their vinifera, and that's what starts to get noticed by the media and on a national level.  

We don't need to grow hybrids for the reason that we think we don't know if vinifera will grow or not in a certain place.  Willy Frank disproved that years ago.   (But shot himself in the foot by saying that hybrids caused cancer.)  The real question is, does a person want to make wines that are going to have to compete against regional, nation, and international wines in the  marketplace or does a person want to make local wines with a local following (from hybrids and natives).  (That said, Hazlitt, Duplin, and Oliver have transcended the local with some of their hybrid and native wines, but they aren't national by any stretch of the imagination.  

I like to tell my tours that people usually plant grapes where they want, wondering if they'll grow. I tell them, of course, they'll grow.  It's between the 30th and 40th parallel.  That's where grapes grow.  The real question is, should we be growing a certain variety here?  And more importantly, do we want to drink the wine made from that variety grown in that place.

Americans have a need to reinvent the wheel.  They think that if nobody has done it before, then they can be first.  Usually they haven't done enough research.  We know so much about wine, but it's mostly in the other words, what not to do.  Just because someone has never blended Chardonnay and DeChaunac for a blush wine doesn't mean it should be done.  (I saw that once at a's the way homewinemakers think.)
Old vine showing its old character

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