When it came to branding and marketing, the producers of Champagne from the seventeenth century onward were so ahead of their time that they could give lessons to today's marketing gurus. The makers of this type of wine have always been wily protectors of its name as well as its reputation. When you get your product associated with royalty and nobility, you're going to benefit. But you're also going to fight tooth and nail to keep your brand exclusive, and protect the reputation you've built up.
That's why in today's world of sparkling wine, the name “Champagne” only technically applies to wine made in the actual Champagne region of France. The name is legally protected by French law, and there are specific rules about how the wine is made and with what sort of grapes. As far back as 1891, the Madrid Agreement concerning the International Registration of Marks gave legal protection of the name to France, and today most countries have granted similar rights.
Practically speaking, that means that the bubbly you drink or make yourself, having been created somewhere other than the Champagne region, must be given a different name. We usually call it “sparkling wine,” but other places use different designations. In Germany, it’s “Sekt;” in Spain, it’s “Cava;”and in Italy, “Spumante.”
But even if one primary goal of the name restriction is protecting profits, there are concerns involving a long previous history and methods of production too. The character of the wine developed over centuries of cultivation and experimentation, taking into account the soil, weather conditions, and grapes that grew best in the area. Even the original method of production – bottling before the fermentation was finished – was gradually replaced by what is now known as the “method champenoise” – adding sugar to the finished wine in the bottle, to induce a secondary fermentation. Take the wine's association with the crowning of kings, add a rigid set of rules and regulations for its production, and you have today's official Champagne.
Does any of this affect the general world of sparkling wine? It preserves Champagne in a special category, but probably doesn’t make an immense amount of difference to how sparkling wine itself is made and marketed elsewhere. In fact, other winemakers, free from so many of the rules, can use different methods to create that “sparkle,” and even have the luxury of trying out different grapes. Many people serve sparkling wine at special occasions, and much of it is less expensive than the original with the name.
This is where Champagne, on the one hand a shining example to modern marketers, could possibly morph into a cautionary tale. Being made in such a defined region, which can only produce so many grapes, genuine Champagne continues rising in price. While this makes believers in the sacred nature of Supply and Demand squeal in delight, the winemaking houses themselves now fear a potential consumer backlash that could seriously hurt their industry. So for the first time since 1927, France's governing body for such things is considering an expansion of the region's legal boundaries. This would allow new areas to produce Champagne, and ease some of the economic pressures, yet scientific review must also ensure that the quality of the wine remains the same. The regulators must walk a fine line here, between collapse and compromise.
Since the Romans first planted vineyards in what is now the Champagne region in the fifth century BC, we've come a long, long way. The next time you raise a glass of sparkling wine, whichever name it bears, think of the history, economics, and even politics involved in putting that glass in your hand. And remember that no matter how great your marketing is, there may finally be such a thing as too much exclusivity.
As summer slowly cools into autumn thoughts of next year are already dancing in my head. This would normally be harvest time but, being the second year for the vines, most of the clusters were cut off to promote the growth of root and structure. The loss of the Mourvèdre means two years lost on the maturation of a vine for producing wine. Given Mourvèdre’s long cellaring requirements I have opted to shift to Barbera, Syrah, or Sangiovese, all of which should grow well here in San Diego and be ready to drink in the same time frame, or less, than the Mourvèdre would have been.
The overall plan for the three Zinfandel vines is that the training system will be spur pruned Vertical Shoot Position (VSP). This is the familiar T-shape with the shoots trained upward through the wires. The trunks of the first and third vine have both grown quite thick. The central Zinfandel vine has significantly less girth than the other two but seems healthy with considerable canopy growth. All three vines have provided great options for cordons. With the Surround WP treatment I have not seen any Glassy Winged Sharpshooters this year, except for that first one early in the season. If the vines have remained PD free, their future should be promising.
The worrying discoloration on some leaves this summer still persists. The symptoms are mostly yellowing with some red spots with a handful of leaves displaying some scorching on the edges. In an attempt to be the optimist and not jump directly to PD, I am beginning to think it is most likely a soil deficiency such as magnesium. A soil test prior to planting the vines had showed sufficient magnesium but the symptoms seem to match images of magnesium deficiency much more than images of PD. I am considering retesting this winter to see what amendments may be needed for next year. If the same symptoms show early next year, I will then take some samples down to the county Department of Agriculture, Weights and Measures to assess for PD....
If you've become a maker of wine kits in the past few years, you may have noticed something pretty significant in today's environmental climate: there are no 100% organic wine kits! That's probably a big surprise, when you think that you can get an organic version of almost everything else, from tomatoes to toothpaste to drain cleaner. So what's up with the kits?
If you promise not to roll your eyes, I'll tell you the two main reasons you don't find organic wine kits anywhere. One: paperwork. And two: fence posts. And you rolled your eyes anyway, didn't you? Well, it's good exercise, but let me explain in more detail....
For any winemaker deciding to plant and grow their own grapes, there is a required down payment of patience. Since cookies don’t often survive past the dough stage when I’m around, and crosswalk buttons get repeatedly pushed (despite knowing it makes no difference after the first push) I would not typically be considered the patient sort. It is a challenge for me to wait several years before I have an opportunity to make wine from my grapes.
I am following the typical advice for growing vines, which suggests that the first three years be focused on building up the roots and the structure of the vine. For my urban vineyard, the first year emphasized the trunk and root system. Year two is focused on developing the trunk and cordons, so when the flower clusters appeared on the main shoots, I removed them. Knowing that these would eventually give rise to grapes, it is always difficult but continued root development and the base structure of the vines is vital to future production.
Despite cutting off all the initial flower clusters, the Zinfandel vines managed to produce a few small clusters from secondary shoots. The vines are all so vigorous this year that I decided to leave several of the clusters on. As you can see in the picture above, the clusters are very small and irregular. It is a mistake to keep them perhaps, but we have established two things; I don’t know much about growing grapes, so I won’t always make the right decision, and I’m impatient. Letting them grow means I get to taste the base of my potential, future wine. Despite the yellowing leaves, the encouraging thing is that all the clusters have gone through veraison (for the uninitiated like me, veraison essentially indicates a transition from growth to ripening through a change in berry color) and there are no signs of mold or rot on any of the clusters....
Earlier this year as I was kicking around future brewing ideas over a glass (or two) of wine, one particular flavor combination kept coming up: orange and vanilla. But I kept wondering, in what form? I already had plans to make an orange wit beer, one of the outlets of my recent fascination with the aromas and flavors of oranges, and the only experience I had with fermented vanilla was from a local mead crafted by Moonlight Meadery in Londonderry, New Hampshire.