Is it little wonder why I feel grape vines are unique, wondrous and sometimes, mysterious things? Yes, that’s my personal opinion. But I’m sure not alone in my assessment here. What I’m alluding to is that just when we think we’ve got this so-called “wine from grapes” equation thing figured out, Mother Nature takes us on a ride through the vinous equivalent of the Twilight Zone.
I’ve always been intrigued how the wine grape genus Vitis Vinifera can express its terroir in the finished wine. Plant an apple orchard near your plot of Chardonnay and don’t be surprised if you taste Red Delicious undertones in your glass. Ever get a whiff of black olive in your Cabernet Sauvignon? Well, if you have an olive grove nearby, a la B.R. Cohn, there’s no need to wonder why your wine has a twinge of olive essence.
Man has been tinkering with grape varieties for years in an effort to bend the will of a varietal to meet our perceived needs, often with mixed results. Cross-pollenate Cabernet Franc with Sauvignon Blanc and science produces Cabernet Sauvignon, which turned out to be a very good thing. However, just ask any French Rhone winemaker how another genetic cross between Syrah and Peloursin worked for them. Good luck finding a bottle of Durif anywhere in the Rhone Valley – there isn’t any. But take the same grape variety, rename it Petite Sirah, and plant it in the warmer climes of California and you end up with a satisfying glass of vino. Sometimes it’s all about location, location, location.
Most often it’s Mother Nature herself weighing in on how the grape variety cards are dealt. Leave a grape vine alone long enough and sooner or later it will morph into a different clone. Occasionally it will create a wholly new varietal or family of varietals. The classic case here is of course the original fine wine grape, Muscat, once enjoyed by the ancient Greeks and Romans. Over the millennia, it has mutated into a complete household of grape kinfolk including Muscat of Alexandria, Muscat Ottonel, Black Muscat, Brown Muscat – well, you get the picture.
This leads back to how the red grape of Spain, Tempranillo, managed to produce its albino progeny. Back in 1988, a cluster of white grapes was discovered in Rioja with yellow-green skins instead of the typical indigo-blue. Testing determined that its DNA was truly Tempranillo. These new grapes were propagated and in 2000 the first acre was planted. The first varietal product was bottled in 2005 and now at least two wineries in the region are routinely producing the wine with more wineries showing an interest in doing the same. The future for this new grape sure looks bright.
And it’s us wine lovers who will continue reap the fruits of Mother Nature’s bounty. Cheers !
Jim Greeley, Wine Supervisor, SW Florida