Monthly Archives: March 2014

Establishing an Identity During Wine’s “Belle Epoch”

Within the amalgam of words written about growing local communities through wine, I found several paragraphs that shaped a point of contention for me.

The entitled piece, “A Manifesto For Change in The Wine Industry” is written in “Fermentation: The Daily Wine Blog,” by Tom Wark. Wark delineates the odyssey of California wine from prohibition through to the position of creative prosperity and influence that Californian winemakers enjoy today.

The identity and reputation of California wine arduously expounds through time from the leading producer of bland, portable, jug wine to the swelling hub of local, artisanal wineries, onward.

It would be a hateful thing to suggest, but its plausibility is too potent to ignore…

Earth, wind, and fire aside, in the element of restriction, do winemakers reflect the arduous success that they impose upon their vines? Perhaps. Did California need Prohibition just as much as California needed the tasting of 1979 in Paris? Perhaps. More aptly and less radically, I believe that the local-oriented, artisanal spark in Californian wine illuminated the beauty and pace of both a winemaker’s lifestyle and wine tourism in the New World. I believe it is this moment – more than any other – in the history of Californian wine that drove California to discover herself and formulate an identity for her wine.

Undoubtedly, California was the first example of New World. The French settled that score in the 70s. Without implying that those winemakers in Virginia or North Carolina or Georgia are attempting to recreate the tremor that pulsed from Paris to the polar icecaps at the tasting in 1979, east coast winemakers are not bashful about their appreciation for the candor of quality upheld in Californian wine. Reflecting on the brass, silver, and gold-laden bottles you encounter in tasting rooms throughout Virginia, North Carolina, and Georgia, the caliber of California wine and of the competitions hosted in San Francisco is garishly displayed.

To the defense of those medal bearers, there are many rumors to straighten out regarding the climatic limitations, the education and the goals of east coast vineyards. By placing a bottle from say, Dahlonega, Georgia up against something from Sonoma or Napa Valley –and winning, that Dahlonega winemaker returns home to instill greater pride within their winery and a higher grade of quality for the region. With hopes of elevating east coast wine alongside expectations for it, many winemakers are logging sleepless nights to research into this admiration for the west coast and exploit the conditions of the east coast to their benefit (and, hopefully someday to their edge).

At the very least, I think these competitions are a wonderful way to be involved in the conversation: California wine drinkers stoke creativity, innovation, and audacity in their winemakers. Perhaps California wine can lend their trademark personality. Perhaps the east coast wine industry requires her cities and their “foodies” to bolster and drive the surrounding wineries into a profitable and pivotal position.

There is a polymorphous wake rippling from north Georgia and I am upended with interest in the first generation of winemakers throwing stones into this lake. Truthfully, I think Georgia wines are too young to be entering into competitions with California. Not because they’re not capable of winning medals, but because Georgia has not carved a true, discernable identity for her wine to carry. Craig Kritzer, the owner and winemaker of Frogtown Cellars in Dahlonega, GA, is a purist who thirsts for Georgia to recognize herself without smoke and mirrors. An honest winemaker preserves the integrity of his wines and the conditions that give it rise. It is a graceful philosophy that ensures the winemaker of one thing: quality.

I think they need more help. Whether we take lead from those local communities in California that enabled the small, artisanal wineries to endeavor through that moment of bland, jug wine or from the Australians, who strictly limit their consumption to their own juice. What could become of Georgia wine if we spent a weekend winding through the tasting rooms of Dahlonega as we might spend a weekend in Napa Valley? What could become of Georgia wine if we bought it by the case, in true Australian fashion?

We are led to believe that we are drinking in the “Belle Epoch” of winemaking. That may be true. However, since we’re being truthful, what can we expect from our future if we are already living within the most plentiful array of beautiful wines? A Belle Epoch, by definition, has a beginning and an end. With respect to the life and vitality of wine, let us not harp on the end, but bolster those who seek creatively, endeavor boldly, and yield opulently. For, it is in those efforts that we will see a revolution in our products and in our perception of what is possible. And that is truly a beautiful time in which to live.

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