Technological change continues to race forward in media. But even as you may be reading this magazine on an iPad or your computer screen, you’ll be reading about winegrowers racing backwards in California.
Well, not exactly backwards. Morgan Twain-Peterson and Mike Officer may be focusing their efforts on some of California’s oldest mixed plantings, but, as Luke Sykora discovered in his research for Anatomy of a Field Blend (p. 28), they are using advanced technology such as DNA mapping to take a census of their ancient vines. Their goal is not to separate out the various varieties, but to learn to farm them as contributors to a great field blend.
In most corners of the wine world, varietal wine is a relatively modern concept. Prior to phylloxera, growers hedged their bets with a range of local vines, with each vintage bringing a somewhat different mix to ripeness. Many of those vines did not perform well on phylloxera-resistant rootstocks and as the selection of varieties narrowed in many regions, varietal character slowly became a recognized notion. Varietal labeling followed soon thereafter.
By the late 20th century, growers, winemakers and wine drinkers had learned to view the character of a site through the lens of a variety—or a carefully articulated blend of a small number of varieties. But there remained a few winemakers in Old World regions such as Champagne (Aubry) or Alsace (Deiss) or Douro (Niepoort), who stood by their local vines and blended them as they found them in their vineyards.
This not only bypassed the notion of varietal wine, but it also often challenged the separation of red and white, with both black grapes and white grapes finding their way into the same blends. Such field blends have been a tradition in California as well, but Twain-Peterson, Officer and a small coterie of others are acknowledging the genetic diversity among these vines, and learning to thrive on it as growers and winemakers.
Their work parallels the Historic Vineyard Society, an online registry of California vineyards planted before 1960 (see page 10). In the past, preserving old vines was the province of Luddites. As we develop a taste for genetic diversity in these old vineyards, Luke’s story places mixed blacks on the leading edge of technological change.
With the recent explosion in the blogosphere over “pay to play” accusations toward a respected competitor, I want to take a moment to assure readers that we will continue to provide transparency in our wine recommendations. Every wine we recommend in our tasting section has been tasted blind, in our offices; we do not review wines from tastings with anyone involved in their marketing, nor do we charge for tasting wines. We adhere to these parameters even when it means we miss wines (some producers and importers insist on being present for tastings) but we do this in order to deliver the most comprehensive tasting results under circumstances we believe to be the most transparent, credible, fair and balanced. (Our policies are detailed on page 45.)
When we travel to write a feature story on a region’s wines, we sometimes do accept assistance from the local government, but only when such an organization allows us to write our own itinerary. Otherwise, we pay our own way. On occasion, our editors are hired to take on promotional projects for regions; we never accept such projects for brands. This may take the form of speaking engagement here or abroad (as in the Wines of the Pacific tasting I was hired by the government of Chile to help plan and moderate (see page 14). If we are paid for such activities and we end up reporting on them in some way, we will be sure to alert readers to the fact. Even as the media environment becomes increasingly challenging, we are determined to maintain our commitment to you, our readers, to provide fair, unbiased reporting on great wine.
This story appears in the print issue of February 2012.
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