Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Taste of History

Mt Cook April '03
It occurred to me that, generally speaking, each wine region of the world has a whole set of winemaking practises, tools and wine styles that have evolved and are being passed on generation after generation. Some regions have legislated blends, specific grape growing areas, down to even the closure to be used. 

Throughout Europe there’s a long history of vine grooming, of maintaining the soil and vineyard orientation to capitalize on seasonal changes along with an accumulation of inherited rituals for grape selection, pressing and fermentation that ultimately lead to one thing… the ‘taste’ of their wines. Although still responding to world markets Europe has essentially stabilized. Their wines are known around the world by their taste. They have history.

As vine growers and winemakers migrated around the world, continent after continent and country after country, regional histories of plantings and wine production had their beginning. Each of these regions can now look back and examine their history that has some commonality but also is unique to their place and time. The taste of their wines reflect this. They have history.

Local wines, up to the 70’s, unfortunately were noted for their inferiority on the world stage. Thankfully a lot has transpired since then. But what are the factors that contributed so positively to improvements in the industry that produced the prize winners of the late 90’s.  Was it the foresight of pioneer grape growers that uprooted domestic vines planting varietals that matured in that period? Was it the sons and daughters followed by grandchildren venturing into this new crop learning their craft by hands-on, by University training or by apprenticing themselves to established wineries acquiring the know-how as winemakers on home ‘estates’?  Has it been the amateur brewer applying winekit formulas on a commercial scale? Has it been the airlifted winemakers from other regions of the world … and by the success that each of these transplant-ees have been in applying their craft to local climates and soils? Perhaps another influential element has been local entrepreneurial spirit willing to dabble in new, borrowed or bought wineries bringing with their investment new methods and equipment? Has the higher production capacities, blending of offshore wines or excess local grapes as marketed by Corporate consolidations added their effect?  What has constituted our history and ultimately the character of today’s wines? 

Taste the choice of oak: barrels, barriques or chips …the choice of clones, vine or yeast …viticulture options, conventional to biodynamic? ...variations based on localized old-world or new-world processes, and variations based on European ‘standards‘ or to address perceived market niches?  Perhaps too often do you not sense more than a nuance of something neither fruit nor terroir, something unnatural or chemical? Will these variations authenticate local wine styles?

I believe the answer is ‘Yes' …and it’s continuing to evolve under the detrimental effect of our monopolistic marketing system.  

Only in Fairy Tales!

My view is based on the breadth of characteristics I’ve tasted in local wines - more noticeable at lower price points. Rather than converging, this latitude appears to be expanding each year as more players, from opportunists to idealists, enter the fray. 
The taste of our history is in our local wines.

Eventually the idealists fade - ego and optimism lose to capability. The dedicated premium wines competing with premium imports, given inflated import prices and a loyal following, will succeed. The middle tier will continue to keep their heads above with seasonal tourism and LCBO promos. A portion, the beverage wines, of the lower tier will expand offerings competing favourably with overseas labels as the LCBO increases import prices. Local wineries will find the flavour preference of the Ontario consumers and compete with our and foreign conglomerates - both will be successful. 
And Yes, everyone is 'doing their best'.

The LCBO is part of the industry and must be included in its history. Its impact is greater than any other influence. Under a profit (tax) motivated system the opportunistic investor has a distinct advantage selling beverages that are entertaining in appearance and with a flavour profile suited to an Ontario consumer accustomed to inferior imports. A free marketing system would put the industry on a competitive base, one which would return higher revenues with lower prices and along the way produce a higher standard and broader diversity of wines - but this is nowhere in sight. And so this is where we are today. Aisle after aisle of manufactured wines and a small section of ’fine’ wines at high prices both competing with inflated imports with no way to break the cycle.

The taste of our history unfolds predictably.    

My view anyway .... Ww 

PS. On a related issue... For an outline of the onerous process wine sources must tolerate to gain a LCBO listing Michael Pinkus describes the experience in his OntarioWineReview Newsletter - 169.

There's always room for one more...

No comments: