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Varietal Promiscuity—Those Pesky Grapes Are At It Again

By Charles Olken

Those of you who regularly frequent this place, and especially those of you who wander around to other blogs, are already aware that I love to stick my two cents in wherever there is a good target. I have been at this wine business for some four decades now, and while it is true that I never lacked for a voice, the Internet, both on this blog, and in other locations, has allowed me to spread the gospel according to Charlie far and wide.

Yesterday, over the Steve Heimoff’s eponymously named blog, which is one of the very best anywhere, Steve take aim at the assertions by a Mr. Haydon that there was something very wrong at Trefethen because they produce both Riesling and Cabernet from their vineyard in the Oak Knoll District.

His bias, for that is what it is, re California and Napa Valley wines is as plain as day. He recently claimed that wines like that are only being drunk in Nebraska and its vinous intellectual equivalents. Somehow he forgot to include California in his equation. But be that as it may, and admitting that my biases are not exactly without notice either, I do have a bone or two to pick with the notion that California is somehow derelict in its duty to wine because we have different rules from Europe.

The whole conversation can be found over on Steve Heimoff *, and if you have a strong stomach or a hankering for a good laugh at his or my expense depending on your point of view, then wander over there and read Steve’s blog from yesterday.

I have left an invitation to Mr. Haydon on that blog to comment here. We’ll see if he decides to wade into our waters. Below, you will find my further comments to Mr. Haydon as posted on the Steve Heimoff blog. My note below was occasioned by his criticisms of Trefethen and his praise for Chappellet—the juxtapositioning of which seems more than a little odd to me.


Mr. Haydon—

Following your logic about Trefethen, how is it possible to grow good dry Chenin Blanc on Pritchard Hill right next to very ripe, deep Cabernet Sauvignon. The site at Chappellet has very little in common with the Loire and the wine has very little in common with dry Chenins of the Loire.

Yet, both the Chenin and the Cab from Chappellet are quite good. Old World limits were developed practically in Dark Ages--at least in viticultural terms--and those limits today are vestiges of the past, not proven facts of the 21st C.

Have you ever thought about what Chardonnay grown in the chalky soils of upper Vouvray might taste like? How about Syrah on Beaujolais’ Mont Brouilly where the soils and exposure and climate is nearly identical to Cote Rotie?

I am not quite the fan of Trefethen Riesling as Steve, but there is no one ideal for picking time for grapes. Riesling, as you well know, can be picked early. Whether it is the equal of the great wines from the Nahe is a very different question, and a giant red herring. If all Riesling had to taste like Donnhoff, aside from being far too boring, Riesling would not be grown in many other places in the world, including the Mosel.

It is true that Napa is turning into CA claret country, but the economic roots of that evolution are at least as important as the best place to achieve wine quality roots.

And just to finish the thought, there is not much Zin left in the Napa Valley, and almost none that I know of on the West Rutherford Bench, yet the Zin that Mondavi used to grow in To Kalon was some of the best ever. Funny thing is that To Kalon is not just great for Cab or Zin but also produces what is arguably one of the very best Sauvignon Blancs around.

CA is not Europe, and there is no point in pretending that it is or that CA has follow practices that are centuries old and vastly out of date—not to mention having their own roots in economic reality as much as in wine quality considerations.

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