Why Wine?

Last week, I did a piece on Tempranillo, and referred to it as a “ramble.”  Why did I call it that?  Here is your answer: Wine is my work venue, and it touches almost everything in my life, so I find it interesting to go from the wine connection node to one life linkage to another.  So this weekly “ramble” will not just be a critic’s review of wines, a collection of wine and grape factoids or a dialogue on trends in the wine world — though those will be main components in future articles — but rather a brief synopsis of my personal take on the state of micro agriculture which is the foundation of modern wine making.  I may talk about anything wine brings to my mind, but I will always try to give you at least one wine pick to try.

Today’s connection is my reason for working with wine and grapes, and that is: Small Agriculture.  I grew up on a small family farm in Nebraska, and I have seen the erosion of the ability of the small farmer to make a living when confronted by the forces of corporate agriculture. Be it corn, bean and/or wheat growers in Nebraska; Citrus farmers in Florida; or Chambourcin Grape producers in Pennsylvania, the small, independent farmer (and wine-maker as it relates here) holds the key to the future of our food supply: Not the large Corporate Farms (Agribusiness) interested in monopolizing food production for profit at the expense of the environment and small family farms like the one I hail from.

There are several distorted prevailing myths about American agriculture that make the whole agricultural production and marketing system socially dysfunctional and allow corporate agriculture to continue to dominate our food system:

  1. Efficiency of production and farmer income is better the larger the farm size and the more concentration on commodity cropping.
  2. American farmers are the mythic Hollywood equivalent of cowboys.
  3. Groceries in the stores are created by and the income goes to these mythic farmers.
  4. The American agriculture system has no vital connection to our social or political system or our personal security.

I believe that local agriculture is the key to the future of American farmers, because it will give small farmers the ability to take back a larger portion of the food dollar that has shifted over the last century to corporate farming and the large agribusiness processors.

I will explore these issues in future articles that are not tied to this weekly wine ramble.  So now, my weekly wine picks.

My Picks:

2008 Pinnacle Ridge (PA) Pinot Noir (moderate  price, $20, excellent quality, tasted 2009): In the spirit of full disclosure, I have worked with Pinnacle Ridge in the past and its winemaker Brad Knapp. Rather than give my ‘tainted’ opinion of their excellent Pinot, a grape that has limited and sporadic success in the Lehigh Valley, I thought I would let the good folks at Pennsylvania Wine & Wineries do the work for me:

“Despite the regional success of chambourcin, Knapp said he believes in the potential for pinot noir in the Lehigh Valley. ‘When it’s good, it’s very good, and it hits heights in this area that other reds don’t reach’ in terms of Brix levels and quality, he said. However, Knapp acknowledged that the variety is something of a gamble in the East due to the region’s climate and relative humidity; pinot noir grapes often rot on the vines before they ripen. ‘Financially, a good dry red pinot will only work here in one out of every two or three years.'” (Richard Leahy)

2006 Chaddsford (PA) Chambourcin (moderate price, $26, excellent quality, tasted 2008): The Chambourcin grape has had great success throughout Pennsylvania and has even been dubbed “Pennsylvania’s Zinfandel” (for those in California who might not realize great wine is actually produced outside of the Napa Valley in this country).

Located ironically enough (for those not familiar with PA) in the Brandywine Valley, Chaddsford Winery and Vineyards has been producing quality grapes and wines for over 25 years. Chaddsford owner and winemaker Eric Miller is:

“…in the vinifera camp. But he concedes chambourcin is reliable. The grape’s thick skin resists disease and helps produce a wine with intense color and flavor. ‘Nine of 10 years, chambourcin makes solid wine while red vinifera may deliver seven good vintages out of 10,‘ said Mr. Miller, who has made outstanding chambourcin. ‘Those who back chambourcin have good reasons.'” (D. Falchek, Times Tribune, October, 2009)

On that note: while you are savoring your favorite glass of red, white, sweet, dry…. keep in mind the hard work of the independent grape growers, the unsung heroes of Small Agriculture.

*Dr. Menke is the Associate Professor of Enology; Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture, Colorado State University.

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