Pinot Now

Radical Wine Thought

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Convert Your Front Yard Into a Vineyard

I have 20 Pinot Noir vines growing in my front yard. Actually, instead of my front yard.

Convert your front yard into a vineyard

Better than grass: Pinot Noir growing in my front yard.

When I bought my home, it had a front yard full of grass that was kept alive by a sprinkler system and  regular watering. The problem with grass is that you can’t drink it. Well, okay, you can. And I’m not saying wheatgrass juice is disgusting, I’m just saying it triggers an uncontrollable gag reflex in me.

The point is that your typical lawn is not meant for, nor would it be very good for consumption. Yet it tends to take up a lot of land. Sometimes acres. When I bought my house it became a mystery why someone would spend so much money buying land, and then spend more money to water and upkeep a lawn, usually by running some gas-burning lawn mower. A lawn is something that only takes from your wallet and the environment and never gives anything back.

Maybe because I value the earth, maybe because I see real estate as an investment that should produce returns, maybe because after renting landless apartments for years all I wanted was a patch of dirt to grow something edible on, to know where my food came from, to decrease the carbon footprint from importing and shipping, to not conform to some wasteful standard of property usage that came from a tradition of thoughtless suburbanizing, for the health of myself and the world, and for sure with inspiration from people like Ron Finley and Julie Bass… for so many reasons I see so much more potential to land than a yawn, I mean lawn.

So I ripped out my grass and put in a vineyard. And not just any vineyard. These vines are the clone descendants of  Grand Cru vines from around Vosne Romanee… the mothership and ground zero for all things Pinot Noir. The crazy thing? You can easily get some for your front yard too.

If you haven’t heard of Foundation Plant Services then you haven’t heard of the Library of Congress for grapes. FPS is, to my knowledge, the largest living library of grapevines in the world. There’s nothing like it. They catalog and cultivate samples of every variety of known grape that they can get their hands on, and some that they can’t. When I die I hope to go to FPS, not heaven.

AND…. AND…. you can buy pretty much any of the vines in the library!!  And they can ship them to you! (I know that’s a lot of exclamation points, but FPS is totally deserving.) And you can grow them right there in your front yard where all that useless grass is wasting space.

What could happen if you and your neighbors started growing grapes instead of grass? Imagine a neighborhood wine co-op where grapes and wine are shared and exchanged and tasted. Imagine your suburb becoming an AVA. Imagine your world transformed into a garden.

Okay, before I fully begin channeling John Lennon, let me just wrap this up by saying that future posts will give the how-to, step-by-step for growing and making wine from your front yard.

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What we do here is about enjoying life to the fullest… draining your glass with gusto.

Original Zin

My vote for the most unassuming grape grown in the U.S. is Zinfandel. Until recently this varietal was shrouded in mystery. What language is that name? Where did it come from? Zinfandels only come from the U.S. for the most part. As it turns out, Zinfandel may be the quintessential American grape.

In 1832 plantings from Austria, the imperial Viennese collection no less, arrived in Boston. They were purchased wholesale by nursery owner, Samuel Perkins, who promptly put a sign on his door saying “Zinfandel for sale.” No one knows why he named the shoots Zinfandel, but voila! the new grape was given a uniquely American identity.

Since then Zinfandel has left an indelible cultural stain (and I mean that in the best sense) on the U.S. wine industry. Zinfandel is a red grape, and makes bold, zesty, full-bodied premium red wines. However, by a happy accident, Zinfandel revolutionized the American wine industry in its sweet, pink embodiment as White Zinfandel.

As you may know most pink wines, blushes or rosés, and some whites are made with red grapes. The reason this is possible is that contact with the grape skins while it ferments is what gives the juice its red color. If the juice is removed from the red skins as soon as the grapes are crushed, the juice will stay clear, or “white.” If the juice gets to stay on the skins for a few hours, but not for the entire fermentation, it will turn pink.

1973 was a good year for Sutter Home winery in Napa. The sun shone bright and long and they had an abundance of ripe, juicy grapes at harvest as they began crushing the grapes for their premium Zinfandel (the red kind). Too juicy, in fact. To make the Zinfandel more concentrated and flavorful, they drew off some of the juice during fermentation, leaving them with some plush red and some pink “throw-away” stuff. That pink stuff didn’t ferment completely, so it was sweeter, and it didn’t spend as long on the tannin imparting skins, so it was smoother. When they tasted it again at the end of harvest to see what to do with it, it turned out to be quite tasty. So – what they heck – they bottled it.

White Zinfandel turned out to be the most popular wine in America until it was out-sold in 1998 by Chardonnay. Today there is more acreage planted to Zinfandel grapes in California than any other grape varietal.

It was recently discovered that the Zinfandel grape is genetically identical to Primitivo, a grape grown in Italy, and that the vine most likely originated in Croatia. But you can’t get a real Zinfandel anywhere else but here. Zinfandel has become both in name and in style, uniquely American. The Italians even recently requested permission of the EU to call Primitivo Zinfandel. I dare anyone to find any other instance in history where this has happened. It would be like asking to call pizza a cheese pie.

Another interesting bit of oenophilic patriotism: Both Zinfandel and White Zinfandel pair wonderfully with Thanksgiving Dinner – the quintessential American holiday.

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