Sunday, August 22, 2010

It has begun

For Tassos, estivating on Paros

Hatzidakis vineyards, Santorini

In the viticultural regions of the shorter growing seasons in the northern hemisphere, as in the Greek islands, the wine grape harvest has begun, while acids are at their vivid, structuring best and before sugars cost the fruit its character. There's a murmuring in the earth quite near to me, in earliest mornings and often now at night, to take the fruit in optimum coolness. This is obdurate work, this husbanding of vines, but now a sécateur relieves the frond of its weight, and fills the grateful hand with its gift.

Vigil of the Farmer ~ Collection Laurent
These are the days, the gathering, anxious weeks, to pick in proper coolness, which will infuse us with their time and place, and savour of the vigil of the vintner in the Georgics, this year and forever.  

Alcohol levels in these wines will be moderate, and radiantly food-friendly - that tautology of jargon that would contemplate a place with us for bellicose, unlucullan wines - but in exchange for brevity of finish and of life in bottle, our oysters will be lapped in proper vibrancy, salinity absolved of sting, and virgin oils requited in their glazings of our pasta. The fisherman at Santorini has his Assyrtiko, the bargeman on the Loire his Sancerre, the Venetian, Pinot Grigio, to place them in their care. 
It has begun.

One has to cite two translations of Virgil's poem, whose second book contains the narrative of the day. The 1st is David Ferry's for FS&G, one of the ornamental houses left standing today. Ferry's is not only persuasive and conspicuously scrupulous in metre, this printing contains the Latin text on the facing page, where everyone can resort for the refreshment of its music. Even if we've forgotten it all, the juxtaposition makes for a vigorously illuminating appreciation of this work - which is certainly the greatest book on viticulture ever written.
The other, depicted above, is Janet Lembke's: extremely beautiful, superlatively annotated, sweetly bound and something else - to thrill a partisan of Pope in a maxim published yesterday at Little Augury, Taste preserves. Her project was financed, and feels that way, by an undergraduate society, Scroll and Key, sometimes seen as aloof. Such are our aspirations of the vine, that ingratitude to youth would be an astounding paradox. This volume is a husbanding of civilisation in every sense. One is the last to make excuses for Yale, but there it is, a beneficence as pastoral as one found in Serse ~

Ombra mai fù
di vegetabile
cara ed amabile
soave più . .

Never was the shade
of any plant
more dear and lovable
or more sweet.

Monochrome Portrait of the Baron, Chouzy
Henri Cartier-Bresson, 1945


  1. I had the opportunity to educate the staff at my restaurant on the terroir of Virginia while tasting Kluge Estate's Simply Red. Your mention of the beginning of harvest makes me eager to return to the Blue Ridge.

  2. hi laurent

    curiously, my family came to australia from france in the 1850s and established a vineyard and winery which still exists today - now producing only a chablis, a hermitage (an old-fashioned red) and a port.

  3. How shrewd of them to skip New Orleans.

    What I'm about to suggest, NWS, could be misinterpreted, so I need to be especially careful. There has never been a plausible reason proposed, for the export of the practice of viticulture from, say, the "France" of Charlemagne (to allow for wines we think of as German), other than that it is a pursuit men enjoy, leads to a product they like to be sure to have available, or that it seems to suggest a nifty return on investment in their land. The diaspora of Europeans has not furnished neutral 3rd-party observers with a beverage they need to know about. A natural exception (as in all things) has to be made for Greece, the Iberian peninsula and fragments of the Levant. Italy, however, never exports its good wines anyway, so one has to go there, where the benignity of France does not extend much south or east of Piemonte, and even there is subject to Byronic egotism.

    Take your own family's especially intriguing range of production - the chardonnay in the style of chablis comes from one part of France, with extremely specific preconditions of terroir, and the syrah in the style of hermitage quite a different sort of ground (while, you can make "Port" from anything). The fact that these continue to be produced in a single setting, elsewhere, demonstrates their potability, but it does not make them chablis or hermitage. It makes them interesting new things.

    So, the story of viticulture outside of France is not necessarily about vanity, in the slightest, any more than the cultivation of guytummy outside of San Diego (where, I do think, evolution has placed it in an altogether unapproachable plâteau) is about folly. This is because these stories are about aspirations of men, and in that dimension, needless to say, there are no acceptable limits.

    There is no coincidence that the Context laid out to the right contains an access toggle to the most sensible wine writer active today, Andrew Jefford. Almost as much as the mind reels to contemplate the diaspora of viticulture, it pretty much seizes up to recognise there are more wine blogs on this planet than there are vines in the ground. You may very safely ignore them all, including this one (cautious as it has been, to distribute that confession). I refer you to this recent lecture to Australians, from Jefford -- -- considerably more humane than St Paul, and nearly as witty as Hesiod.

    But we'll talk further, NW (and how does a French boy get a W for an initial?).