Poverty Bay and the Bay of Plenty

Vineyards in New Zealand's Gisborne/Poverty Bay area (photo via http://www.nzwine.com/)

Vineyards in New Zealand’s Gisborne/Poverty Bay area (photo via http://www.nzwine.com/)

This post is totally based on my own curiosity about geography—which pops up at random times during wine studies—such as last night while I was reviewing the wine map of New Zealand. I noticed that Gisborne is also known as Poverty Bay. What place on earth would want to be known as Poverty Bay?

To me, this is a burning question, in need of well-researched answers—and some wine-related context as well! There’s a fine line, it seems, between a wine geek and a geography geek; and we might as well throw history geek in there as well, because the name Poverty Bay, and its (perhaps) better half up the road a bit, the Bay of Plenty, relate back to Captain James Cook (1728-1779), a captain in the British Royal Navy who made three voyages to the Pacific Ocean, and is believed to be the first European to reach Australia and the Hawaiian Islands and to circumnavigate New Zealand.

Poverty Bay

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There is a lovely series of bays where the city of Gisborne, on New Zealand’s North Island, meets the South Pacific Ocean.  The largest of these is known as Poverty Bay, which stretches for about 6 miles south to a place called Young Nick’s Head. (This too must be explained…it seems that the area, a headland, was the first land sighted by the crew of Captain Cook’s ship, The Endeavour, on October 7, 1769. A reward of a barrel of rum and the right to name the landmass had been offered to the first crewman to sight land; the reward was claimed by 12-year-old Nicholas Young.)

Later that day, the ship’s crew went ashore.  They encountered the residents of the land, the Maori, and it did not go well. The first meeting led to the death of 6 Maori, and the crew, quite battered themselves, returned to their ship without any of the provisions they had hoped to acquire. For this reason, Captain Cook gave the area the name “Poverty Bay.” Perhaps they should have stayed with Maori name, which at the time was Teoneroa; today it is Te Kuri o Paoa.

From the department of I thought this was a wine blog: These days, Gisborne/Poverty Bay is the third largest producer of wine (in terms of volume) in New Zealand, and yet it seems to be somewhat obscure. Perhaps it’s the out-of-the way location. The area currently has 4,735 acres (1,915 ha) of vines. Chardonnay is the most widely planted variety, at about 2,312 acres (936 ha). Pinot Gris is next, with 950 acres (381 ha). Gewurztraminer, Merlot, and Viognier are widely planted as well. New Zealand’s super-star grape, Sauvignon Blanc, actually comes in around sixth place in Gisborne, with about 138 acres (56 ha) planted.

Vineyards in the Waikato/Bay of Plenty area (photo via http://www.nzwine.com/)

Vineyards in the Waikato/Bay of Plenty area (photo via http://www.nzwine.com/)

Being part of the widest part of the North Island, Gisborne records some of the most sunlight hours and warmest overall temperatures in New Zealand, so much so that the grapes here are often the first in the country to be ready for harvest. Gisborne is also the easternmost part of New Zealand, meaning the vineyards here are the first vineyards in the world to greet each new day.

The Bay of Plenty

After the unfortunate encounter at Gisborne, Captain Cook’s crew sailed north to what is now known as the Bay of Plenty. Here he was able to get the provisions he needed, and noted that it was an area “full of plantations and villages” that was “a bay of plenty.” Bay of Plenty is still a lush area, with orchards of kiwi fruit, avocadoes, and citrus, not to mention the vineyards and abundant seafood nearby. The Māori name for the Bay of Plenty is Te Moana-a-Toi (“the sea of Toi”), in honor of the Maori explorer Toi-te-Huatahi.

In the interest of the “wine” part of this blog: The regions of Bay of Plenty and its neighbor-to-the-west, Waikato, are generally lumped together when discussing the wine of the area. These regions, located just south of Auckland, currently have a tiny but growing wine industry—mainly small vineyards tucked between fruit orchards and dairy farms. Chardonnay is the leading grape variety here, followed by Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc.

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The area is one of the warmer regions in New Zealand, owing to its more northerly location (remember this is the Southern Hemisphere),  the width of the land mass, and the protection of the Hakarimata Mountain Range  The soils are quite fertile, due to the wide floodplain of the Waikato River and several other rivers.  Some areas around Waikato/Bay of Plenty were previously swampland, made accessible for agriculture via large drainage programs implemented by European settlers.

Stay tuned for more on New Zealand’s landmarks—such as Cape Foulwind, the Farewell Spit, and Cape Kidnappers (complete with wine information from the regions of “Sunny Nelson” and Hawke’s Bay).

 The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas… missjane@prodigy.net

The Icy Benguela

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I’ve been curious about the Benguela Current for a while. My original curiosity about the Benguela Current was about the name —how did it get that very cool name? It seems it all begins with Portuguese sailors in the 1500s.

In the Age of Discovery, Portuguese Sailors—known for skill and courage in ocean navigation —often sailed the long and arduous ocean journey around the continent of Africa to Asia. During such voyages, they had to fight against two mighty ocean currents: the icy Benguela current that flowed northward along the coast of Africa while they were trying to sail south; then, after they rounded the Cape of Good Hope, they sailed north while fighting the warm and southward-flowing Agulhas Current. If the journey was successful, they reached Asia and accessed the famed Indian Spice Routes. Such accomplishments helped the Portuguese form their empire, which at various times included parts of Africa, the Middle East, India, South America, and South Asia.

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The namesake of the Benguela Current (as it is now known) is a city in present-day Angola.  The area surrounding Benguela, due to its location near the coast and a well-traversed deep bay, has been a center of commercial trade since ancient times.  While there is no written record of the history of the area before the arrival of the Portuguese in 1546, it is believed that the area was formerly known as ombaka, which means, literally, “commercial (or ‘market’) port.” When the Portuguese colonized the area, a town was founded and named São Felipe de Benguela (Saint Philip of Benguela) after King Philip II of Spain and Portugal.

So back to ocean current: the icy Benguela Current flows from the Southern Ocean near Antarctica and moves north along the west coast of Africa. It reaches as far north as Angola (close to the city of Benguela, in case you missed that point) before it turns west and heads to South America. The Benguela Current is part of a large circulating ocean current known as the South Atlantic Ocean gyre. The western edge of the gyre is known as the Brazil Current; the Brazil current flows southward down the coast of Brazil, then turns east and flows across the ocean until it reaches Antarctica. From Cape Point in South Africa (at about 33°), the cold portion of the current known as the Benguela current flows northward along the west coast of Africa to the area around Angola/Benguela (about 16°S).

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            Cape Agulhas…pick your ocean!

Near Cape Point, where a portion of the cold Benguela Current of the Atlantic meets the warm south- and west-flowing Agulhas Current of the Southern Pacific Ocean, the waters become wild and turbulent. It’s a common practice while on vacation in Cape Town to journey down to Cape Point, take a short hike, get your picture taken by the sign, and stare out to sea at the “place where two oceans meet.” (Hey, I did it.) However, the truth is that the ocean currents actually intermingle for hundreds of miles in either direction—both east and west of Cape Point—and that the “point where two oceans meet” is likely to be anywhere between Cape Point and about 100 miles west at Cape Agulhas (which is actually the southernmost point on the African continent and worth a visit as well).

From the department of I thought this was a wine blog:  Good point. All I can say is that my curiosity concerning Benguela Current peaked while studying the wines of South Africa. The winelands of South Africa’s Western Cape are cooled by the moist fog and gentle breezes generated by the Benguela Current, which also generates the not-so-gentle south-easterly wind known as the “Cape Doctor.”

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Super-sharp students of wine might also have perked up with the mention of Cape Point, which is the former name of the Cape Peninsula wine district; and Cape Agulhas, a wine district located in the Cape South Coast. Cape Peninsula is a small area located on a narrow, rugged area just south of Cape Town and east of Constantia (both wine regions are easily accessed via taxi or tour bus from Cape Town). Cape Peninsula produces snappy, cool-climate white wines and is particularly adept at Sauvignon Blanc. The terroir of Cape Agulhas, about 100 miles down the coast, is also markedly maritime—distinctly cool and breezy—and known for a crisp, snappy style of Sauvignon Blanc, apricot-and-lemon laced Semillon, and a unique cool-climate style of Shiraz.

References:

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas… missjane@prodigy.net

 

 

 

 

 

Whole Lotta Ancellotta

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The Ancellotta grape is native to Italy’s Emilia-Romagna area and used in small amounts in some styles of Lambrusco. When I read that, I thought to myself, “Now there’s an obscure grape variety”!

As first impressions often are, I was wrong! Italy has over 11,000 acres of Ancellotta, and while that can’t compare to Sangiovese’s 200,000 acres, it certainly doesn’t place it at the bottom of the very long list of grapes grown in Italy.

The Ancellota grape is a vigorous red grape known for small, very dark berries. The high level of anthocyanins in the skins mean that this grape is often used, in small amounts, to add a punch of color to otherwise lightly hued red wines. This feature also means that the grape is sometimes used in concentrated musts used for coloration. Besides its color and structure, Ancellotta grapes are known for ripe red fruit flavors and aromas, such as plum, blackberry, and blueberry; as well as a spiciness characterized as “sweet spice” or “baking spices.”

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Ancellotta is perhaps best known as a minor allowed component of several styles of Lambrusco. It is allowed to be used up to 15% in the blend of Lambrusco Salamino di Santa Croce DOC and Lambrusco Mantovano DOC. It’s also allowed, up to 15% in Lambrusco di Modena DOC and Lambrusco di Reggiano DOC. In Colli di Scandiano e di Canossa DOC, it may be used in Lambrusco—but only those produced with a minimum of 85% of either the Lambrusco Montericco or Lambrusco Grasparossa variety.

But here’s where it gets interesting: did you know that Ancellotta is required to be at least 30% of the blend of Reggiano Rosso DOC? True fact! Plus, it is allowed to be up to 60% of the blend. So that’s where the 11,000 acres of Ancellotta are headed! The rest (40—70%) of the Reggiano Rosso DOC blend may be Cabernet Sauvignon, Fogarina, Malbo Gentile, Marzemino, Merlot, Sangiovese, or various members of the Lambrusco grape variety.

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The Ancellotta grape variety is also planted in Brazil where it is believed to cover at least 1,000 acres, mainly in the Serra Gaúcha area.  At the Don Guerino Winery in Alto Feliz, it is used in “Top Blend,” a gran reserva blended red wine, alongside Merlot, Teroldego, Tannat, and Cabernet Sauvignon. Don Guerino also produces a 100% varietal Ancellotta that has been described as having a deep intense color, aromas and flavors of plum, blackberry and spice; great structure, and ripe tannins.

Ancellotta is also grown in Switzerland. It is often used, in small amounts, for its color-enhancing quality in the Pinot Noir of the Valais region. It is also used in the blended wine known as Dôle. Dôle, which must contain a combined minimum of 85% Pinot Noir and/or Gamay, is considered to be among the finest wines of Switzerland. Other grapes used in Dôle may include Carminoir (a recent Cabernet Sauvignon X Pinot Noir cross), Merlot, Syrah, and—you guessed it—Ancellotta.

References:

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas… missjane@prodigy.net

Tannat Hero

Pascual Harriague in 1880 (Gobierno de Salto)

Pascual Harriague in 1880 (Gobierno de Salto)

Every good wine student knows that Uruguay is the fourth largest wine producer in South America. And every good wine student knows that Tannat is the leading grape of Uruguay – accounting for close to 45% of all vineyard plantings in the country, and producing a unique style of wine when grown in the vineyards around Montevideo in southern Uruguay.

But did you know that in Uruguay, Tannat is often referred to by the name Harriague? And that Don Pascual Harriague—a Frenchman from the Basque country—might as well be called the hero of Tannat?  As you may have suspected, there’s a story there!

Pascual Harriague was born in 1819 in Lapurdi—a traditional Basque province that is now part of the French Pyrénées Atlantiques département. In 1838, at the age of 19, he moved to Uruguay. Settling in the capitol city of Montevideo, he worked in a saladero del cerro—basically a meat processing/tannery facility—making meat jerky, lard, soap, and other products.

In 1840, Harriague moved to Salto, at the invitation of John Claviere, the owner of the Saladero Quemado Ceibal. He became a partner in the business and while living in Salto developed an interest in farming. Over the years, Harriague acquired a bit of land and found what might have been native grapes growing there. He tried to cultivate them for use in wine production, to no avail.

Photo of Tannat grapes by Pancrat, via Wikimedia Commons

Photo of Tannat grapes by Pancrat, via Wikimedia Commons

He then consulted Juan Jauregui, a viticulturist from Concordia (an Argentine city located just across the Uruguay River from Salto). Through this connection, Harriague acquired some grape cuttings from Madiran in Southwest France, a region not too far from his home in the Basque Country.

These grapes turned out to be the Tannat variety. Harriague cultivated the grapes and had his first successful harvest of Tannat in 1878. Harriague’s winery became the leading winery in the country, and its success led other farmers to enter the fields of viticulture and wine production. Soon, there were more than 90 wineries in the country, located mainly in Salto and around Montevideo (closer to the coast).

In 1888 the government of Uruguay awarded him the Medalla de Oro (gold medal) for the quality of his crops and his contribution to the industry of Uruguay. That same year, his Tannat-based wines won a silver medal at the Universal Exposition in Barcelona, and again in Paris.

After many successful years of viticulture, phylloxera eventually ravaged the vineyards of Uruguay, and Pascual Harriague returned to Europe. After his death in 1894 at the age of 75, his daughters, fulfilling their father’s wish, brought his ashes to Salto.

Uruguay has honored the legacy of Don Pascual Harriague in many ways. In 2001, the public high school in Salto was renamed Escuela No. 69 – Pascual Harriague.  In 2011, the municipality of Salto began to renovate some of Harriagues’s old cellars, which had been severely damaged by a fire in 1910. The cellars and the surrounding areas have been made into a public promenade—El Paseo Pascual Harriague—in honor of one of the leading pioneers of the wine industry in Uruguay.

References (all in Spanish):

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas… missjane@prodigy.net

 Uruguay map

 

English PDO Wine – Who Knew?

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We’ve been hearing a lot about English wine lately – especially sparkling wine. I’ve even heard that wineries in Sussex have applied for PDO status. When I heard that I thought that English wines must have truly arrived – who would have imagined a PDO wine from England!

Little did I know that English Wines have had PDO status since 2007. Welsh wines have a PDO as well. And both regions—England and Wales—have had PGI status for wine, also since 2007. We’re going to have to get used to using terms like Chapel Down, West Sussex, and Hush Heath in relation to quality wine.

Who knew?

The PDO for English wine specifies that the wine must be produced 100% using grapes that are grown in England at a maximum elevation of 220 meters (722 feet) above sea level. Enrichment (chaptalization) is permitted within certain guidelines, as well as sweetening (after fermentation). Acidification is not allowed (although exceptions can be made in exceptional years at the discretion of the Commission). The list of approved grape varieties has about 80 grapes —including both vinifera varieties and hybrids.

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English PDO sparkling wine  must be produced using the traditional method.  Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Noir Précoce, Pinot Munier, Pinot Blanc, and Pinot Gris are the only varieties allowed for use in English PDO sparkling wine.  The wine must spend at least 9 months aging on the yeast lees in the bottle before being disgorged.

The main difference between the PDO and PGI standards seems to be that there are no limits on the elevations for grape growing for PGI wines. Other production regulations are similar, yet a bit less stringent in terms of yields (100 hl/ha allowed as opposed to 80 hl/ha), enrichment, and sweetening. English PGI sparkling wines also have a long list of allowed varieties (as compared to the short list of six allowed in the PDO).

Here’s a few more fast facts on wines from England and Wales:

  • Number of vineyards: more than 470
  • Number of wineries: more than 135
  • Average annual production (2010-2014): 3.77 million bottles
  • Acreage under vine: 4,940 acres (2,000 hectares)
  • Largest single vineyard: Denbie Wine Estate (165 acres/177 hectares)
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    Style of wines produced (approximate): 66% sparkling, 24% still white, 10% red/rosé

  • Most widely grown grapes: Chardonnay (21%), Pinot Noir (19%) and Bacchus (9%)—followed by Seyval Blanc, Pinot Meunier, Richensteiner, and Müller-Thurgau.

The United Kingdom (which includes England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland—at least for now) has protected many of its products with geographical indications and designations of origin. They include 62 different foods—including Traditional Cumberland Sausage, Stilton Cheese, and Cornish Clotted Cream—as well as Irish Whiskey, Scotch Whisky, six types of cider and three types of beer (Kentish Ale, Kentish Strong Ale, and Ruland Bitter). Other protected products include Native Shetland Wool, East Kent Goldings Hops, and Anglesey Sea Salt.

Who knew?

References:

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas… missjane@prodigy.net

Marselan from Marseillan

Photo of Marselan Grapes by Vbecart Photography, via Wikimedia Commons

Photo of Marselan Grapes by Vbecart Photography, via Wikimedia Commons

I first heard of the grape variety Marselan while studying – for the first time – the wines of China. China, as you may have heard, recently became the world’s second-place country in terms of vineyard holdings – coming in on the list right after Spain, and before France. While many of China’s vineyards are dedicated to table grapes, wine grapes, including vinifera varieties, now account for at least 10% of the vines. Of the vinifera varieties grown, Cabernet Sauvignon dominates, followed by Carmenère, Merlot, Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, Shiraz, Gamay, Grenache, and Marselan.

There it was: Marselan – a grape variety I had never heard of before – so of course I had to investigate…

Marselan is a vinifera cross (Cabernet Sauvignon X Grenache) created in 1961 by French ampelographer Paul Truel. Truel was working in Montpellier, France at the Institut National de la Recherché Agronomique (INRA). His goal was to create a high yielding grape with large berries of at least moderate quality. Marselan produces grape berries of small-to-medium size, so the variety was shelved and not expected to have a future in commercial wine production.

However…by the 1990’s viticultural priorities had shifted, and disease resistance, particularly to threats such as powdery mildew and coulure, brought Marselan out of cold storage. The grape was approved by the French as a commercial variety in 1990 and in 2007 was approved by the TTB (United States) as a varietal wine name.

At its best, Marselan is said to combine the finesse and quality of Cabernet Sauvignon with the heat tolerance and high yield of Grenache. According to Jancis Robinson’s book “Wine Grapes,” varietal Marselan “tends to produce deeply colored and highly aromatic wines that have supple tannins and the potential to age.”

In addition to its plantings in China, Marselan is planted – albeit in small amounts – throughout the south of France. It is allowed to be up to 10% of the blend in the wines of the Côtes du Rhône AOC, and is produced as a varietal wine in the Languedoc. Small plantings may also be found in California, Argentina, Arizona, Spain, Uruguay, and Brazil.

The grape was named “Marselan” by its creator, in homage to the town of Marseillan, France. Marseillan is the home of the phylloxera-free vine collection of Domaine de Vassal, operated by the INRA. Domaine de Vassal provided the parent Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache vines from which the original Marselan was bred.

References:

  • Robinson, Jancis (et al): Wine Grapes. New York, 2012: Harper Collins Publishers
  • Robinson, Jancis and Harding, Julia: The Oxford Companion to Wine, 4rd Edition. Oxford, 2015: The Oxford University Press
  •  http://www.winechina.com/en/

Gin de Mahón

photo via: http://www.pviglobal.com/mahon/

Here’s a question for those “in the know” when it comes to distilled spirits: Name a IGP Gin from Spain! It’s a tough question – but the answer is: Gin de Mahón, produced on the island of Menorca (one of the Balearic Islands located in the Mediterranean Sea, off the east coast of Spain).

The production of gin began on the island of Menorca during the island’s occupation by the British in the 18th century (1712-1802). This time in history coincided with London’s Gin Craze, and the British soldiers on Menorca woul ask for gin during their visits to the local taverns. The island, at the time, didn’t have gin – or any similar spirit – so the locals found a way to re-create (and, most likely, improve upon what was at the time) the London style of gin.

Using a brandy base made from wines of the region (remember, this is Mediterranean Spain and grapes and wine abound), the spirit was produced in wood-fired copper pot stills, re-distilled with juniper berries (grown wild on the island) and lemon zest, and aged in American oak barrels. This created a unique, earthy style of gin with the distinct botanical-piney-resiny aroma and flavor of juniper, along with a hint of bitter citrus and a smoky, earthy undertone and clean finish.

After the British left the island, the locals continued to produce and enjoy their unique style of local gin. By the 20th century, several brands began to emerge and the gin became an international commercial success.  One particular brand – Xoriguer – was started by Miguel Pons Justo, a member of a family with a long history of craftsmanship. Xoriguer was (and continues to be) the name of their family business, and the picture on the bottles  is of a windmill built on the family estate in 1784. Xoriguer – which appears to be the only producer of Gin de Mahón left – is still a family business and produces a range of spirits and liqueurs.

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Gin de Mahón is produced using a base ferment of the local wines of the region, distilled in wood-fired copper stills, flavored with local juniper, and aged in American oak before bottling. Gin de Mahón achieved its PGI (Protected Geographical Indication) in 1997.

References:

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas… missjane@prodigy.net

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