CRAFT by Under My Host® Issue No. 18 Made in America: Part III | Page 82
W W W. C R A F T BY U M H . C O M
Over the decades of industrialization, consumers of alcohol became
less and less aware of any connection between the products being
sold, the producers who made them, and the farmer that grew the
ingredients. In brewing, this led to marketing campaigns less about
brewers, ingredients, or origin and more about why we should drink
Brand X or Brand Y. In spirits, we didn’t hear much about how spirits
were made, or especially where they were grown. Our awareness of
beer and spirits was very much limited to the brand products them-
selves and some clever ad campaigns on why we should drink them.
We have kept a stronger association between wine and the winery that
produces the wine over the years. Wine is likely the alcoholic bever-
age we most associate with agriculture. Most of us know wine is made
from grapes; we know what a winery looks like, and typically, we even
understand that grapes are harvested once a year. Despite this ag-
ricultural heritage and reputation, the wine industry has still faced
consolidation and industrialization, which has influenced consumers’
awareness and trust towards wines from lesser known regions, varie-
tals and wineries.
It took some time and good fortune for American wines to earn cred-
ibility against the older, more established international wine regions
in Europe, most notably, in France. It was 1976 when a couple of
Californian wines upended the patriarchy at what became infamous-
ly known as “The Judgement at Paris.” In a blind tasting by several
French wine experts, two American wines were recognized as the best
tasting wines in their category. The 1973 Chardonnay from Chateau
Montelena won in whites, and the 1973 Cabernet Sauvignon from
Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars won for reds. This was so startling to the
wine world, that bottles from these victorious underdog vintages are
on display at the Smithsonian Institute.
Upon hearing the 1976 competition results, Odette Kahn, a judge at
the competition, unsuccessfully demanded her ballot back and want-
ed to dismiss the entire competition as fraudulent. Perhaps this is a
compelling example of how xenophobic, or at least close-minded we
can be to wine growing and wine making regions.
This American victory via California wines in the 1976 competition
was inspired by a confluence of agricultural influence from all over
the world-- neither French or Californian. Chateau Montelena’s
winemaker Miljenko (Mike) Grgich came from a wine making family
on the Dalmatian Coast of former Yugoslavia, while Warren Winiar-
ski of Stag’s Leap discovered an appreciation for wine on a research
trip to Italy, as a student at University of Chicago. Back in Chicago, it
was a wine from New York that revealed itself to Winiarski, creating
his “Athena moment” and inspiring his move to California to found
Stag’s Leap vineyard.
American wine was viewed differently from 1976 forward. California,
and the coastal region to its north, including Oregon and Washing-
ton, have long been considered preeminent American wine-growing
regions. The Judgment at Paris however, also reminds us to look past
the established epicenters and ask, “Where else in the U.S. are we
growing beautiful wine?”
Living in Michigan near a few wineries, I am aware that there has
been wine made here since the seventies because the Lake Michigan
shore contributes generously to a wine-making climate. Yet I notice
that many people are surprised to hear Michigan is a wine-growing
region, especially when they come across world class wines, as I have.
New York and Missouri are also long-standing, yet lesser-known ex-
emplary regions for American grown wine.
In order to dig deeper, and find out what else we’re missing, I con-
nected with Doug Frost, one of only four people in the world to hold
both certifications as master sommelier and master of wine. Frost
is an internationally recognized expert, educator, and author on the
subject of wine, and interestingly enough, he lives in Kansas.
Frost’s excitement for what’s happening in multiple wine growing
regions in the U.S. is palpable. To help us understand what’s exciting
now, he first explained some challenges. “With a good deal of trial and
error, we have figured out where grapes can grow, and how to grow them.
Some of the grapes we’re growing now, didn’t exist thirty years ago,”
“One principal is figuring out how to create the longest growing season
before the grapes are ripe, and there’s a key difference between sugar
ripeness and flavor ripeness,” Frost explained. “The wrong grape in a hot
and sunny climate will ripen too soon and lack the complexity of the same
grape given the opportunity to flavor ripen. In cooler climates like the
Northern Plains, the trick is to find varietals that will survive the winter.”
Frost described some of the progress made in matching grape to cli-
mate, as well as creating hybrids well-suited for specific areas. “We’ve
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