Written in 2014, my first email regarding wine or champagne. From the Napa Valley Vintners:
As winemaking activity in the Napa Valley transitions from the vineyard to the cellar, we asked our vintners to respond to frequently asked questions about this year’s harvest.
When did harvest begin?
The first sparkling wine grapes were picked on July 30; however, for most vintners and growers, harvest didn’t really kick into high gear until the third week in August. (Earlier than normal, Aug. 4 at Gloria Ferrer)
How many grapes were picked?
It looks like 2014 will be the third abundant harvest in a row for the region, but no one is expecting any records to fall.
Has the drought impacted this year’s harvest?
Quality was not affected. Perfectly timed, heavy rains came just prior to bud break, and a warm spring allowed vintners to save water that would have been used for frost protection. (They always put a positive spin on it no matter what the conditions)
What about the August 24 earthquake?
The earthquake did not affect the grapevines or the fruit, and even the most significantly damaged wineries were still able to proceed with “harvest as usual” in spite of the quake.
How are vintners and growers summarizing the 2014 Napa Valley harvest?
Early, excellent, quality, demanding but fruitful, and another great year are just some of the words and phrases we are hearing.
(I love Napa, but really, their wines are a little pricey. Look elsewhere for bargains)
In honor of my last visit to the famous K&L Champagne Tent Party in the City today, here is one of the first articles I wrote about my favorite adult beverage: Vineyards in the Champagne region of France go back well before Roman times. Winemaking in Champagne began long before the invention of sparkling wine. Strangely, with the increased influence and power of the church, many important vineyards were bequeathed to monastic orders (or should it be disorders?). Many of the most valuable vineyards ended up nationalized in the hands of clerics. I think they drank more than they sold or exported. In fact, the importance of this region was such that the kings of France were crowned in Reims in the heart of the Champagne region) between 898 and 1825.
Of course, these grand coronations had free flowing champagne. The cooler climate of the region created still wines from red grapes that were high in acid, but delicate in taste. So envious of their neighbors in Burgundy, they tried to match the fuller-bodied red wines from the Burgundy region. As a result, the first sparkling wines were created in an attempt to create wines fit for royalty.
When word of the sparkling wines of the Champagne region began to spread, they captured a devoted and noble following. Champagne became the nectar of the ruling elite, whether French monarchs, Tsars of Russia, as well as Napoleon Bonaparte and Winston Churchill. Here is what they said:
Napoleon came up with, “I drink champagne when I win, to celebrate…and I drink champagne when I lose, to control myself.” Not to be outdone, Churchill said, “Remember gentlemen, it’s not just France we are fighting for, it’s Champagne!”
However, the technology of champagne languished in the 19th century. Creating bubbles during the second fermentation was not very sophisticated or reliable. The hero turned out to be a French pharmacist (naturally), who discovered a method to determine the level of carbon dioxide produced in the wine by measuring the residual sugar, thus improving consistency. Production and sales increased exponentially. This process, called the Methode Champenoise was born and champagne production grew from 300,000 bottles per year to 20 million bottles in 1850. From a 1915 English magazine
But all was not smooth for this nectar of the gods. Champagne encountered many historic and economic challenges. Both World Wars, as well as the Great Depression cut champagne production and sales world wide. But since the 1950s, champagne has grown like wildfire. Champagne was featured in Hollywood films, and often photographed in the hands of the world’s most glamorous stars. Charles Dickens said “Champagne is one of the elegant extras in life.” I must disagree with Chuck, and say that champagne and sparkling wine are absolute necessities in life!
In the 20th century, champagne became accessible for people like me for the first time. Sales went crazy, and the love affair with champagne became stronger than ever, with some calling it the “democratization” of the bubbly. Champagne became synonymous with the great moments in life, like milestone birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, and New Year’s eve. Or, if you are like me, any chance you get, weekends, parties, reunions, good friends, weekends, weekdays, you get the idea! Champagne is said to have inspired many famous artists. Chopin, after moving to Mallorca, claimed champagne made him witty. Beethoven wrote a symphony praising champagne. Even Wagner claimed that champagne renewed his zest for life. Ian Fleming made James Bond into a champagne connoisseur. Even Oscar Wilde sipped champagne on his deathbed!