During Prohibition, a provision in The Volstead Act, allowed households to make up to 200 gallons of wine a year for personal consumption. Virtually overnight, demand among average Americans for wine grapes exploded, sending California growers scrambling to plant grape varieties hardy enough for the cross-country railroad journeys. It was the red pulped varieties that were known to possess the antioxidant qualities that kept spoilage to a minimum. Following Prohibition’s repeal, the market for these grapes dried up and their vineyards were replanted with European noble varieties.
First Vineyard Designated in Napa Valley
From Winespeed: While in the Army and stationed near Fresno during WW II, Joe Heitz got a part-time job at Italian Swiss Colony in Asti, Sonoma County. After getting bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the University of California at Davis after the War, Joe worked under the legendary André Tchelistcheff at Beaulieu Vineyard.
In 1961, he left to start Heitz Cellars. Five years later, in 1966, he made the first famous vineyard-designated Napa Valley wine—Heitz “Martha’s Vineyard” Cabernet Sauvignon from Oakville’s “Martha’s Vineyard,” owned by Tom and Martha May. When it was released, the 1966 Heitz Cellars “Martha’s Vineyard” was $7 a bottle—an astronomical price since Heitz’s regular cabernet sauvignon, released just three years earlier, was only $1.99 a bottle.
Tucked against the Mayacamas mountains on the west side of Oakville, Martha’s Vineyard is surrounded by giant eucalyptus trees, often credited as the source of the wine’s distinctive minty aroma and flavor. And the plant material is a unique proprietary selection that produces tiny, thick-skinned berries of great concentration and deep color.
For over half a century, Heitz has had the exclusive use of the grapes from Martha’s Vineyard. As for the other options, while Ridge Vineyards released their first “Monte Bello” designated cabernet sauvignon in 1962, beating Heitz by four years, the vineyard is not in Napa Valley, but in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Although the To Kalon Vineyard was established in Oakville in 1868 by H.W. Crabb, Crabb did not vineyard-designate his wines (which included Burgundy, Sauterne, Claret, Riesling, Zinfandel and others).
Crabb’s original name for the winery was Hermosa Vineyards which he later changed to the To Kalon Wine Company. The winery burned down in 1939. Planted in 1961 by Nathan Fay with cabernet sauvignon, the Fay Vineyard was the first significant planting of cabernet in Napa Valley south of Oakville. Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars purchased the vineyard from Nathan Fay in 1986 and began putting the name of the vineyard on the label in 1990.
For a period of time in the Sixties and Seventies, our family sold wine grapes to Italian Swiss Colony, part of Allied Growers.
Not the cellular phone company: Veraison (ver-AY-zhun) is happening right now all over California. It’s the time in a vine’s growing cycle when grape berries begin to soften and change color. “White” grapes go from green to yellowish, and red grapes go from green to dark red or purple. Veraison is important to winemakers because it signals the onset of final ripening before harvest.
My favorite wine: The name Champagne was first used in the sixth century and is derived from campagnia remensis, a Latin term for the countryside around the city of Reims. There is only one appellation in Champagne—Champagne—but the region encompasses five main vineyard areas: Montagne de Reims, Côte des Blancs, Vallée de la Marne, Côte de Sézanne, and Côte des Bar (also known as Aube).
The artist/scientist/inventor Leonardo da Vinci was a great lover of wine. In 1498, he accepted a small vineyard from Ludivoco Sforza, the Duke of Milan, as payment for “The Last Supper” which da Vinci painted for the refectory of the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan. (The vineyard was destroyed by a fire that resulted from bombing during World War II). And what grapes grew in da Vinci’s vineyard? In 2009, Italian viticulturists and geneticists excavated the site, and based on the DNA of extant roots, determined that it was malvasia di candia, an aromatic white variety, which of course is still grown in Italy today.
More Winspeed: Teinturier (TON-ter-ee-AYE), French for “dyed or stained,” varieties are the result of rare natural mutations that produce grapes with red flesh (pulp) as well as red skins. Most red grape varieties have red skins, but white flesh. Among the leading teinturier varieties are alicante bouschet, saperavi, and chambourcin.
Alicante bouschet (ah-lee-CAHNT boo-SHAY) is the most well-known, long used to add deeper color to inexpensive wines made from prolific varieties that were paler in shade. Saperavi, the leading variety in the Republic of Georgia, on the other hand, makes mostly single-varietal wines with age-worthy potential.
Chambourcin (SHAM-boor-sin), a French-American hybrid popular in Canada, appeared in the early 1960s, bred for its disease and cold-resistant properties. During the 1920s and 1930s, as much as a third of California’s entire wine grape production was teinturiers.
So, another stay at home weekend. Time to open a good bottle of wine. Bonzai!!!!