Interesting, from Winespeed: While there are over 500 species of oak (scientific name Quercus—derived from the Celtic quer, meaning “fine,” and cuez, meaning “tree”) in the northern hemisphere, only three species are suitable for wine and spirits barrels. Oak contributes a wide variety of desirable flavors to wine, and is porous enough to allow air flow while remaining liquid tight when quartersawn (American oak) or split along the grain (French/European oak). Slavonia is a region in northeastern Croatia, part of the former country Yugoslavia.
Many Italian producers have favored Slavonian oak (Quercus robur) for their sangioveses and nebbiolo-based wines. The Caucasus is a region on the European border between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea. Caucasian oak (also Quercus robur), primarily from Russia, imparts less tannin and fewer aromatics, which is useful if you want a more fruity, straight-up expression of the grape itself. Wisconsin (as well as Minnesota, Missouri, and Oregon) supplies Quercas alba for American oak barrels. American oak is well-known for its generous amounts of wood sugar that caramelizes when charred, introducing toffee and brown sugar notes. Classic Rioja winemakers and Australian shiraz producers often use American oak. Other regions supplying oak for wine barrels can be found throughout France, Hungary, Romania, and Slovakia.
More about oak: The influence of the France on the wine industry of the Priorat goes back to at least 1136, when the Cartoixa d’Escaladei Priory was established. The resident Carthusian monks, who had learned vineyard techniques in Provence, tended the land in the region for nearly 700 years until 1835, when lands were claimed by the Spanish government and redistributed. Following the ravages of phylloxera and a mass exodus of the population to find work in the cities, many of the vineyards were abandoned to the elements. That was until the early 1980s, when a group of enthusiastic young wine visionaries arrived in the region, led by René Barbier, Bordeaux-trained descendent of French viticulturists. Together with his friend, Rioja-born Alvaro Palacios, Barbier set about recruiting a handful of like-minded winemakers to join them in their quest to revive the area. They introduced fine winemaking techniques (like small new French oak barrels) and, in addition to indigenous Spanish varieties, used French grape varieties—including cabernet sauvignon, syrah and merlot. They adopted the French-inspired site-specific term of clos, meaning “protected” or “walled” vineyard in their winery names. These original five labels—Clos Mogador, Clos Dofí (now Finca Dofí), Clos de L’Obac, Clos Martinet , and Clos Erasmus–all received international acclaim for their outstanding wines in the middle 1990s, and have been making stellar wines ever since.
And some funnies from Karen at Winespeed (she called it Laughably Litigious):
We were heartened to hear that JaM Cellars invented butter. The first (and only) time we had one of their chardonnays, we said to ourselves, “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter!” But it WAS butter. And we have JaM Cellars to thank. What brilliance! What insight! The wine world should genuflect. If it were not for JaM Cellars, we’d be sensorially deprived–driven to wander, butterless, in a linguistic wine desert. Butter, alas, was only the beginning. JaM has also given us jam. And god knows we need jam in our lives, especially right now. So, dear wine friends, a toast (with butter and jam) to JaM Cellars.
Napa-based JaM Cellars, maker of the wine brand Butter Chardonnay, has sued 6 wine producers for trademark infringement based on their use of the word “butter” to describe chardonnay. Just recently, they also sued Franzia for its use of “jammy.”
And some falcons?
As part of their sustainable farming practices, many California vintners recruit trained raptors and their handlers (falconers) to scare away the thousands of birds that descend each harvest to eat ripe wine grapes right from the vines. Many bird species enjoy the vineyard smorgasbord. Some will cleanly remove the berries (wild turkeys can consume the equivalent of a full bottle of wine in a single day), but others simply peck at the grapes to get at the pulp and seeds, leaving a damaged cluster that can harbor bacteria and fungal pathogens that can lead to off-flavors and textures.
For centuries, viticulturalists have relied on a cornucopia of creative methods to keep their vineyards from becoming an Alfred Hitchcock movie. Over time, however, birds acclimate to static scare tactics such as loud booming air cannons and balloons painted with giant eyes. Chemical repellants aren’t a good option either since they fail to meet growers’ sustainability standards. And bird netting is expensive and labor-intensive to install each year.
Falconry, on the other hand, minimizes crop losses, while treading lightly on the environment. Falcons are ferocious hunters that can see up to eight times better than a human, spot prey from more than 100 feet in the air, and dive at more than 200 miles an hour. The mere sight of a predator falcon or its shadow triggers smaller birds to flee or find cover. And no bird is complacent when a falcon is flying near them. Raptors leave behind no toxic chemicals, and they cost half as much as netting.
For 2020, a challenging year in just about every part of our lives, try to enjoy the holidays, with a favorite wine. I will have a good champagne on Christmas Eve, and a good Cab on Christmas Day.