Christmas (Wine) in the Roussillon

Muscat de Rivesaltes AOC—an appellation dedicated to vin doux naturel (sweet, fortified wines) based on white Muscat grapes—is also known for a wine dedicated to Christmas: Muscat de Noël.

The Muscat de Noël of Rivesaltes—produced using Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains and/or Muscat of Alexandria grapes—is allowed to be released on the third Thursday of November (and required to be estate bottled before December 1) of the year of the harvest, making it something of a nouveau wine (but let’s not say that in Beaujolais).

Muscat-based wines have been produced in the area for thousands of years and are well-documented throughout the Middle Ages and beyond. The tradition of Muscat de Noël can be traced back to time when the Roussillon was part of the Principality of Catalonia and ruled by the Crown of Aragon (and later by the Monarchy of Spain). The luscious, sweet, wines were sent to the rulers of the area—known as Comte de Barcelona (Counts of Barcelona)—to be served throughout the 12 days of Christmas—from Christmas Day through the Feast of the Epiphany (traditionally January 6). The light, sweet, and fruity flavors of Muscat de Noël provide an excellent accompaniment to Christmas feasts and celebratory foods of all kinds—from rich roasts to sharp cheeses and sweets.

Map via the INAO

Here are a few fast facts about Muscat de Rivesaltes and Muscat de Noël—perfect for wine students nerdy enough to be studying on Christmas Day (myself included):

  • All versions of Muscat de Rivesaltes must contain a minimum of 15% abv and 10% residual sugar.
  • The Muscat de Rivesaltes AOC is by far the largest sweet-wine appellation in France in terms of total geographic size.
  • The area within the Muscat de Rivesaltes AOC covers the entirety of the Rivesaltes AOC as well as the Banyuls AOC (both approved for vin doux naturel only) and occupies the exact same area as the Grand Roussillon AOC (see the accompanying map).
  • The Muscat de Rivesaltes AOC/Grand Roussillon AOC extends across the entire eastern third of the Pyrénées-Orientales Départment and a small portion of the Aude (to the north). Dominated by limestone-based scrubland, the region stretches for over 50 miles/82 km along the Mediterranean Coast from L’étang de La Palme (the La Palme Lagoon) to the border with Spain.
  • In addition to the Rivesaltes AOC and the Banyuls AOC, the area within the Muscat de Rivesaltes AOC/Grand Roussillon AOC also encompasses the entirety of the Fitou, Maury, and Collioure AOCs.
  • The town of Rivesaltes is named for a Catalan term meaning high banks. The topography of the area—consisting of hills and terraces alongside several significant rivers, ponds, and lagoons—easily lives up to the name.
  • Sweet, Muscat-based wines produced in the Roussillon were acknowledged—as far back as 1936—with some of the first AOCs of France. Five separate appellations—Muscat de Banyuls, Muscat de Maury, Muscat des Côtes d’Agly, Muscat des Côtes du Haut-Roussillon, and Muscat de Rivesaltes—were originally approved. However, in 1956, all five were consolidated under one single designation:  the Muscat de Rivesaltes AOC. Muscat de Noël was added in 1997.
  • Muscat de Noël is produced in tiny amounts—it may represent as little as 5% of the total production of the Muscat de Rivesaltes AOC.
  • The Roussillon was ceded to France in 1635 with the signing of the Treaty of the Pyrenees/Traité des Pyrénées that ended the Franco-Spanish War of that year. Traces of Catalan culture are still apparent in the area (including the name of one of the most important IGPs of the region, the Côtes Catalanes.)


Not to be forgotten—Christmas (wine) in the Languedoc: The Languedoc also gets in the Christmas wine spirit, with two appellations—Muscat de Lunel AOC and Muscat de Saint-Jean-de-Minervois AOC—also known for Muscat de Noël. Just like their cheery counterparts in the Roussillon, these wines are bottled by December 1 of the year of the harvest and meant to be enjoyed as a sweet, fruity complement to the holiday season.

References/for more information:

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas…

The First-Ever AOC Goes to…



The first-ever AOC goes to…Roquefort Cheese!  As a matter of fact, Roquefort Cheese was protected by a Parliamentary Decree in the year 1411 and as such, may be credited with starting the entire idea of terroir-based certification for agricultural products. Several centuries later, once the French government created the bureau of the Institut National des Appellations d’Origine (later called the Institut National de l’Origine et de la Qualité [INAO]), Roquefort Cheese was awarded the first-ever AOC in 1925.

I can hear you saying to yourselves, “but I thought this was a wine blog!” And indeed it is. But it’s always best to start with first things first, and it appears that  the concept of the AOC was first introduced for cheese—which seems apropos, as cheese is an icon of French gastronomy (and thus agriculture). There are now (by most counts) 36 AOC-designated French cheeses, and in the 1950s the concept was opened up to other types of products, which now include Le Puy green lentils, chicken from Bresse, and lavender essential oil from Haute-Provence.

Which leads us to another issue: What was the first French wine to be granted AOC status? Most people will say it was Châteauneuf-du-Pape. This is at least partially true; however, if we look at the rest of the story, it is more accurate to state that Châteauneuf-du-Pape was one of the first.



Here are the true facts and figures about the first time an AOC was granted for wine: In 1935, the Comite’ National des Appellations d’Origin (CNAO) for wine and spirits was created (recall that a similar group had been created in the 1920s for cheese).

By early 1936, the CNAO had received and approved six applications for protected designations of origin for French wine. On May 15, 1936, French President Albert Lebrun signed the first six decrees for wine AOCs into law. The designations, published in the Official Journal on May 17, were (in order of their appearance in the journal) Arbois, Tavel, Cognac, Cassis, Monbazillac, and Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

As for the rest of the story concerning Châteauneuf-du-Pape, it goes back to 1894 when there was rampant fraud concerning the wines of the area. In response, the winegrowers of Châteauneuf-du-Pape formed a Syndicat Viticole presided over by the mayor of the town. The Syndicat worked for years and in 1919 managed to pass a law that defined the geographic boundaries of the Châteauneuf-du-Pape wine-producing region. This was one of the earliest geographical designations in France.

While it helped, the 1919 wine appellation law in Châteauneuf-du-Pape did not put a stop to the ongoing fraud,  and it was soon seen as too general and essentially limited to the question of geographical boundaries.



By 1923, the winegrowers decided it was time to enforce more specific legislation in order to protect their appellation. A delegation of wine growers went to Château Fortia and asked its owner, Baron Le Roy (a lawyer and winegrower), to help. Soon thereafter, on October 4th, 1923, the first meeting of the Winegrowers Union of Châteauneuf-du-Pape took place, and Baron Le Roy was elected President.

The newly-formed Winegrowers Union met many times to codify and define all the conditions necessary to entitle wines to the use of the name of Châteauneuf-du-Pape.  After presenting their case to the court in the Commune of Orange, the court found that there was no precedent for the legal definition of a wine, and assigned the case to a panel of experts. This panel was tasked with establishing the legal foundation for the “conditions of territorial origin and faithful, constant, and local traditions concerning the Châteauneuf-du-Pape appellation.” After four years of deliberations, the panel of experts published their report, and on November 21, 1933 a law was passed by the Cour de Cassation (French court of last resort) that defined the geographic boundaries and production requirements of the wine known as Châteauneuf-du-Pape. It is believed that this was the first set of laws in all of France concerning not just geographic boundaries but also production parameters for a specific wine.



So…was Châteauneuf-du-Pape the first AOC? Well, not exactly. There were five other AOCs established on the same day, and Arbois—with the first listing in the Journal—might want to claim the first spot for their own. However, Baron le Roy always insisted that his application on behalf of Châteauneuf-du-Pape was the first to be presented to the CNAO and the first to be accepted—so why not give it to him? What do you think?

References/for more information:

Cahier des Charges for the “first six” AOCs – note the date on each:

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas…









Wine Icon: The Crumbling Castle of Châteauneuf-du-Pape



It is one of the most enduring symbols of wine that I can think of…the crumbling castle on the hill in the middle of the commune (and the vineyards) of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. You see it on labels and in textbooks, and I use the picture to symbolize the Old World of wine in my CSW classes. (The Sydney Opera House symbolizes the New World.)

The first written reference to the commune of Châteauneuf-du-Pape is in a document dated 1094, from the records of an estate belonging to the Bishop of Avignon known as Castrum Novum. “Castrum” actually means “fortified town” rather than “castle,” however, the two meanings bounced around quite a bit over the centuries.

The next mention of the village is dated 1213, in documents of the Bishop of Avignon that refer to the town as “Castronovo Calceranrium” and “Châteauneuf Calcernier.” The word calcernier was most likely added to the name of the town to distinguish it from others of the same name, and refers to the limestone quarry located nearby. It’s also known that in keeping with local traditions, there were vineyards established in the area by this time.

The fates changed for the sleepy town of Châteauneuf Calcernier and its wines in the early fourteenth century, when a series of seven Popes took up residence in Avignon rather than Rome due to the volatile political situation in Rome (and between Rome and the King of France).

1th Century Engraving of Pope John XXII (public domain)

1th Century Engraving of Pope John XXII (public domain)

The first of the Avignon Popes was Clement V. Clement V, a Frenchman, served as the Pope from 1305 until 1314. In 1309 he moved to Avignon, where he stayed as a guest at the Dominican Monastery. You can pay homage to Clement V by drinking a glass of Château Pape Clément, a property in Pessac-Léognan whose vineyards were originally planted in 1300; Pope Clement V was one of the property’s first owners.

The successor of Clement V was John XXII. Pope John XXII began the expansion of the now-massive Papal Palace in Avignon and built the Pope’s summer residence in Châteauneuf Calcernier. It is said that John XXII chose Châteauneuf Calcernier for the summer residence because he wanted a spot far enough away from Avignon to “discourage courtiers, sycophants, and scroungers,” yet close enough so that a courier could make a round-trip between the two spots in a single day.

John XXII oversaw the total construction of the immense summer castle that began in 1317 and was completed in 1333. Grapevines and olives trees were also planted on the estate, and according to the records of the Apostolic Chamber, the area had over 3 million grapevines by 1334. John XXII had a great appreciation for the wines of the area, and granted them the rank of “Vin du Pape.” As such they were served to foreign courts and dignitaries, and soon began to be shipped in barrels to areas far and wide.

After John XXII, none of the succeeding Avignon Popes used the enormous summer residence. However, during the time of the Great Schism (1378-1417) when there were two competing Popes (one in Rome and one in Avignon), Clement VII stayed in the castle for security reasons.



After the departure of the Popes, the great castle passed to the ownership of the Archbishop of Avignon. However, the building proved too large and too expensive to maintain, so the building was slowly dismantled and its stones and hardware were used for building projects in the town. At the time of the French Revolution, the name of the town changed again, first to Châteauneuf d’Avignon, and later to Châteauneuf-du-Pape. At this time, the remaining buildings of the Pope’s once-magnificent summer estate were sold and dismantled, and only the fortified tower remained.

During World War II, an attempt was made to demolish the tower with dynamite, but only the northern half of the tower was destroyed. Today, the southern half survives, looming over the village, keeping a watch on the vineyards, and remaining as one of the most enduring symbols in the world of wine.

Click here to read the amazing-but-true story of the flying cigars of Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

References/for further information:

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas…

Piquepoul: A Stinger or a Spider, a Beak or a Peak


As many of you know, lately I’ve been taking a very, very deep dive into the grape varieties of the Rhône. More specifically, I’ve been diving for the grapes of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, in preparation for a mini-conference presentation. If it is part of the Châteauneuf 13 (or is it 18), I’ve studied it.*

One of the grapes I’ve been studying is Piquepoul. This is an interesting grape! For starters, while its most famous (and widely planted) incarnation is the white variety (blanc), there is also a PIquepoul Gris and a Piquepoul Noir. There are also a quite a few ways to spell the grape, all of them considered correct in certain places—such as Picpoul, Picpoule, Piquepout, and Piquepoule.

The leader if the Piquepoul pack is definitely the white version—Piquepoul Blanc. This grape has 4,000 documented acres (1,620 ha) in France and additional acreage in California. Most people would recognize this grape from the 100%-Piquepoul wine produced in the Languedoc’s Piquepoul de Pinet AOC. This is a popular wine for summer sipping, especially appreciated for its wide distribution and reasonable price point (ranging from around $10 to $15 a bottle). These light-bodied, high-acid wines are crisp, clean, and refreshing. Typical aromas and flavors of Piquepoul de Pinet include lemon, grapefruit, lime, peach, apricot, white flowers, yellow plum, and a hint of crunchiness or minerality.


Piquepoul Noir is planted to about 200 acres (81 ha) in France, with about 7 acres in Spain. On its own, it tends to produce pale, acidic wines with oddly high levels of alcohol—in other words, it is not great on its own. However, it is very well suited to red blends and (in some cases) rosé. It’s an allowed variety (mostly in small amounts) in the Tavel, Vinsobres, Minervois, Gigondas, and Vacqueyras, and is allowed in the reds and rosés of the Luberon AOC—but only if planted before 1988.

The pink-skinned version, Picquepoul Gris, does not have any documented acreage in France (or elsewhere), and would be considered extinct save for a few cuttings and samples lurking in nurseries and university vineyards. Of course, being a color mutation, it might just decide to rise up one day in the middle of a vineyard somewhere. And it lives on in spirit, as Piquepoul Gris is still listed as an allowed variety in a few AOCs. Well, I could only find two AOCs that allowed Piquepoul Gris in their wines: Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Tavel, but surely there are plenty of vin de pays that have not yet kicked Piquepoul Gris out of the patch.


A stinger: As for the name Piquepoul, it has long been rumored to be based on the French word piquer, meaning “to sting,” and many people say that it is based on the Occitan term for “lip stinger.” Both versions of this “stinging” allusion relate back to the piquant acidity of the grape (and subsequent wine). However, it is now thought that while the term Piquepoul has a different background, the word piquer (to sting) is indeed the etymological root to a similar but separate grape variety (also grown throughout Southwest France) known as Picardan.

A spider: Picardan is also known as Araigan; and the name Araigan is thought to be based on the French word araigneé, meaning “spider’s web” and referring to the spider web-like hairs that grown on the underside of the leaves.

A peak or a beak: There’s at least one more theory as to the meaning of the name Piquepoul.  In his book “Les Cépages du Sud Ouest—2000 Ans d’Histoire” (“The Grape Varieties of the Southwest – 2,000 Years of History) French botanist Guy Lavignac makes the claim that the name Piquepoul is derived from the Oc dialect word for “peak” as in “mountain peak” or “place with a peak.” Alternatively, he believes it might refer to a “beak” as in a bird’s beak.


There you have it: blanc, gris, and noir—all named after a stinger or a spider. Or was that a peak or a beak. I’ll take two glasses of Piquepoul de Pinet and think it over.

*There are thirteen grapes if you count varieties; and 18 if you add in the color mutations of Grenache, Piquepoul, and Clairette

References/for further information:

  • Lavignac, Guy. Les Cépages du Sud Ouest—2000 Ans d’Histoire. Paris, 2001: Roergue/INRA
  • Robinson, Jancis, Julia Harding and José Vouillamoz: Wine Grapes. New York, 2012: Harper Collins Publishers
  • Robinson, Jancis and Julia Harding: The Oxford Companion to Wine, 4th Edition. Oxford, 2015: The Oxford University Press

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas…

Cassis: the Town, the Wine, the Liqueur


What do you mean by cassis?

It’s a question I have heard quite often—usually at wine tastings, when someone with a nose in a glass of Cabernet claims it as one of the wine’s aromas. Several others in the group may nod in approval at the spotting of a black currant jam- or Cassis liqueur-like aroma in the glass. Others have never heard of it—and thus, the question at hand.

Cassis is actually many things—a seaside resort town in Provence, a French AOC wine-producing region dominated by white wine, and a black currant-flavored liqueur produced in many parts of the world, but particularly famous in Dijon. Read on for a bit more information on the many faces of Cassis!

Cassis—the Town: If you happen to find yourself on the Mediterranean Coast, perhaps in the Provencal town of Marseille, and if you drive south on coastal route highway 559 for about 15 miles, you’ll end up in the seaside resort of Cassis.  The waterfront of Cassis is a picturesque fishing port lined with cafes and restaurants, making it both a wonderful place to stroll as well as one of the most popular tourist destinations in Provence. While there, you can take the petit train touristique around the town, walk along the waterfront, or grab a boat tour to the impressive calanques (narrow, very steep rocky inlets found along the Mediterranean coast).

The town of Cassis

The town of Cassis

The town is snuggled at the foot of Cap Canaille–a 1,293-foot (394 m) high seaside cliff (the highest in France).  The very picturesque Route de Crêtes (Corniche des Crêtes) runs over the top of the cliff, linking Cassis with the nearby towns while offering stunning views of the cliffs, the sea, and the towns in between.

If you’d like to find the sunniest part of the town, follow the signs to La Cheminee du Roi Rene (King Rene’s Fireplace)—a sun-drenched area at the junction of the two water-side walkways known a s the  Quai Jean-Jacques Barthélémy and the Quai des Baux.

Cassis—the Wine: Red, white, and rosé wines are produced in the Cassis AOC. The reds and rosés, typical for the area, are based on Grenache, Cinsault, and Mourvèdre with a smattering of other red grapes allowed in the mix. The white wines, of which the area is rightfully quite proud, are based on Marsanne (30–80%) and Clairette. Other allowed white grape varieties include Bourboulenc, Sauvignon Blanc, Pascal Blanc, Ugni Blanc, and Terret Blanc.

The Cassis AOC is unique in rosé-heavy Provence in that white wines dominate its production; in fact, three out of every four bottles of Cassis AOC is a white wine. These wines are known for their aromas of citrus, white flowers, pears, and honey along with a touch of minerality. Generally fresh, dry, and medium-bodied, these wines are delightful when young, but may also improve in the bottle for 2 to 5 years. Not surprisingly, they pair perfectly with Mediterranean fish dishes as well as dishes made with tomatoes, olives, and herbs.

Cassis—the Liqueur:  Cassis (sometimes known as Crème de Cassis is a sweet, dark red liqueur flavored with black currants (sometimes known as cassis fruit). It is quite famous as an ingredient in the Kir cocktail—white wine (ideally Burgundy Aligoté) and crème de cassis—as well as its fancier cousin, the Kir Royale (ideally made with champagne). As with many things in life, you can get an inexpensive version of generic cassis at just about any corner liquor store and be done with it (try it on ice cream or in a Pompier cocktail [3 parts dry white vermouth, 1 part cassis, served tall over ice with soda]).

On the other hand, there is the good stuff: France has several PGI versions of cassis, including those that hail from Bourgogne, Dijon, and Saintonge. Of these, the original—and most say the best—is the Cassis de Dijon.

Sweet, fruit-flavored beverages were made in many places around Europe in the eighteenth century. These were often referred to ratafias and generally made with fortified wine or unfermented grape juice flavored with a variety of berries (and sometimes produced with a spirit base as well).

True cassis began to be produced in Dijon in 1841 by a gentleman name Auguste-Denis Lagoute. Lagoute was a fan of the sweet ratafias but wanted to produce a beverage of a higher quality using local fruit. He began by soaking black currants, which grew in abundance around Dijon, in oak barrels along with high-proof spirits and beet sugar. Soon the family’s brand of cassis, Lejay (named after the son-in-law), was wildly popular, particularly when served over ice with a splash of vermouth de Chambery, and later, when served as a Kir along with the white wine of the region. Lejay is still produced, and is one of the few producers approved to use the PGI of Cassis de Dijon.


The PGI for Cassis de Dijon was first approved in 1923. The regulations specify that the finished product contain at least 400 grams of beet sugar per liter (cane sugar is not permitted).The specific type of black currant is not defined, but in general there are two varieties of high-quality black currants: Noir de Bourgogne (known for its aromatics) and Black Down (considered to be a rounder, smoother, and sweeter variety).

The finest Cassis is described as having aromas of black currants, cherries, and plums; a rich, velvety texture; intense, fruity flavor; and a sweet taste balanced with a bit of an acidic “snap.” Sounds good to me!

References/for further information:

 The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas…


Bacchus and Bacchus

Photo Credit: Dr. Joachim Schmidt, via Wikimedia Commons

Bacchus grapes on the vine: Photo Credit: Dr. Joachim Schmidt, via Wikimedia Commons

The name “Bacchus” means a lot to wine folk. First and foremost, Bacchus is the Roman god of wine and as such, he is the subject of a good deal of famous artwork produced from antiquity to modern times. Bacchus is also a grape variety of the vinifera species, a double-Riesling cross that thrives in  cold climates, but doesn’t do nearly as well at retaining acidity as its parent(s).

There’s also a Bacchus Wine Bar in Houston, a Krewe of Bacchus in New Orleans, and a European Research Initiative pertaining to clouds known as BACCHUS.  But for today, let’s focus on the god and the grape.

Bacchus: the god

Bacchus (or, as he was known in Greek mythology, Dionysus) is known as the god of wine and viticulture, and is often credited with the “invention” of wine. He is also–understandably so–the god of drunkenness (or, as the Greeks referred to it, “ritual madness”) and fertility. In later mythology, he was seen as a great patron of the arts and the god of the theater.

In the Greek myth, Dionysus is the son of Zeus (king of the gods) and Semele, a princess of Thebes. Thus, he is the only Greek god with a human parent. When Hera, the wife of Zeus, found out about her husband’s out-of-wedlock son Dionysus, she became enraged and ordered Dionysus to be killed. She succeeded, and the baby was murdered. Dionysus was next miraculously brought back to life, and Zeus conferred him with immortality. Zeus gave the baby to the mountain nymphs to be raised. In artwork, Dionysus is often depicted during this pampered stage of his life, as a fat, happy (and often naked) baby surrounded by wine, fruit, and luscious furnishings.

Bacchus by Caravaggio (c. 1595–Uffizi Gallery, Florence)

Bacchus by Caravaggio (c. 1595–Uffizi Gallery, Florence)

Dionysus is one of the few characters in Greek mythology credited with both being brought back from the dead himself and bringing someone back from the dead (he once rescued Semele [his mother] from the underworld). It is said that this cycle of birth and death is reflected in the annual cycle of viticulture, where the vines go dormant each year and must be pruned back before spring in order to ensure a good crop the following harvest.

Dionysus became one of the most important figures in the Greek and Roman mythology, but unlike the other gods, his followers did not always meet in temples dedicated to his worship. Instead, his followers held their worship services in the woods. In this way, Dionysus became “one” with his followers and during religious events his followers would become like gods themselves; first experiencing joy and ecstasy but often devolving into anger and rage. This represents not only “Greek god-like behavior” but also the dual nature of wine.

The festival for Dionysus was held in the spring in order to coincide with bud break. This festival became one of the most important religious holidays in the Greek calendar, and many Greek plays were originally written to be performed at the festival of Dionysus (beginning the tie between Dionysus and theater).

From its Greek beginnings, the cult of Bacchus became important to the Romans around 200 BCE. The Roman festival of Bacchus, the Bacchanalia, became well-known (and well documented) as a frenzied, sexual, scandalous, and extremely volatile rite that included both genders as well as people of all ages and social classes. Not surprisingly, the Roman Senate tried to shut down the cult of Bacchus. However, instead of being trampled, the cult of Bacchus merely moved “underground” and became a secret society. Decades later, the Senate approved a sanitized version of the worship of Bacchus and Bacchanalia became legal and outwardly popular once again.

Bacchanal before a Statue of Pan by Nicolas Poussin (c. 1633, National Gallery London)

Bacchanal before a Statue of Pan by Nicolas Poussin (c. 1633, National Gallery London)

This adoration of Bacchus continues, in a way at least–even in modern times.

Bacchus: the grape

The Bacchus grape variety is a white vinifera cross created by German agronomist Peter Morio in 1933. Morio, working for the Geilwilerof Research Center (now the Julius Kühn Institut) located in Germany’s Pfalz region, also created the Domina, Optima, and Morio Muskat grape varieties.

Bacchus is the offspring of an unnamed Silvaner X Riesling cross with Müller-Thurgau (a Riesling X Madeleine Royale cross).  So we’ll say that Bacchus is a double-offspring of Riesling instead of saying that its parents were siblings (enough said).

Like Riesling, Bacchus thrives in cold climates and can be quite expressive with fruity and floral aromas and flavors. That, however, is where the comparisons with Riesling should probably end, as Bacchus is not known for elegance–which Riesling exudes. Bacchus is also an early, high-sugar-ripener akin to Müller-Thurgau, and tends to be low acid. For these reasons, particularly in Germany, Bacchus is typically appreciated as a blending partner rather than a stand-alone variety.

Bacchus is grown in small amounts throughout Germany, including plantings in Rheinhessen, Franken, Mosel, the Nahe and the Pfalz. The total acreage in Germany is about 5,000 acres (2,010 ha).

These days, Bacchus might have found its place in the sun in England, where it is the second most widely cultivated white grape variety behind Chardonnay. Bacchus is made into varietal wines in both England and Wales, where the cooler climates help the grape hold on to its acidity and produce fresh, aromatic white wines. In the vineyards of the English countryside, Bacchus is noted to produce grapes that show a green-grassy character, leading to its nickname as “the Sauvignon Blanc of England.”

Small plantings are also found in Switzerland, Canada, and Japan. Bacchus (the god) would be proud.

Sources/for further information:

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas…

Of Saints and Satellites



Saints and satellites help paint the story of Saint-Émilion

The Saint:

History tells of a Benedictine Monk named Émilion who lived in Brittany during the eighth century. He swore his loyalty to a count in southwest France and agreed to go with him and work in his household. Émilion was a baker and would often give some of his master’s bread to the poor. When the count found this out, he fired Émilion from his service and threw him out of his house.

Upon his ousting, Émilion vowed to spend the rest of his life in worship and solitude. He journeyed a ways up the Dordogne River and settled near an enormous piece of limestone rock. Émilion spent the next several years carving an underground cave out of the limestone, complete with a stone bed and chair carved into the wall. With time, it was said that Émilion was able to perform miracles, and people began to visit the hermit monk for healing. Faithful people soon developed into a following who lived with him, helping him carve out his cave. Émilion lived the rest of his days in the cave with his followers. He died in 787.

The Monolithic Church of Saint-Émilion

The Monolithic Church of Saint-Émilion

After his death successive generations of monks carried on with Émilion’s project and carved a vast network of underground caves and catacombs. The fame of the area, now known as the town of Saint-Émilion, grew and it became a major religious center. Many faithful passed through on the pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela. Some of these faithful remained and these followers are credited with the planting of vineyards and the growth of the region’s wine industry. With time, the tiny town of Saint-Émilion became a center of religious importance with a reputation for its excellent wine.

The Monolithic Church of Saint-Émilion was originally constructed in the early twelfth century from the same limestone rock where Émilion first dug his cave. The now-famous church stands watch over the 2,000 inhabitants of Saint-Émilion as well as the world-renowned vineyards that surround the town. Deep below the church–with its three naves, its gothic windows, and its 175-foot high bell tower–lies the original cave of Émilion, the hermit monk.

The Satellites:

Today the town of Saint-Émilion is a UNESCO World Heritage site with Romanesque ruins, religious monuments, and a maze of medieval streets. It is also one of the leading wine regions of the world, renowned for its red wines based on the Right Bank version of the Bordeaux blend–heavy on the Merlot, a good dose of Cabernet Franc, a sprinkle of Cabernet Sauvignon and filled out (perhaps) with tiny touches of Malbec, Petit Verdot, and Carmenère.

Statue of Saint-Émilion

Statue of Saint-Émilion

The four leading properties of the region–the Premier Grand Cru Classé A châteaux of Cheval Blanc, Angélus, Ausone, and Pavie–are known to wine students and wine lovers alike. (You may even be able to recite the 14 châteaux of the Grand Cru Classé-Classé B, and if you are really good, take a stab at the other 64 properties of the Grand Cru Classé.)

Surrounding this luscious region are several villages that produce deep, flavorful red wine similar in style and standards to those of Saint-Émilion itself. Four of these have earned the right to append the name of Saint-Émilion onto the name of their village in the labeling of their wines and are thus considered to the satellites of Saint-Émilion. These four satellites are the villages of Saint-Georges, Montagne, Puisseguin, and Lussac.

Saint-Georges-Saint-Émilion: Located directly to the north of Saint-Émilion, the Saint-Georges-Saint-Émilion AOC is the smallest of the four satellites and occupies a tiny spot along the edge of the Saint-Émilion region itself. The vineyards are planted to approximately 75% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc, and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon. The village of Saint-Georges (often referred to as a hamlet) has a population of around 500 people and is part of the Montagne Commune. The wines produced from the vineyards of Saint-Georges are allowed to use either name (Saint-Georges or Montagne).

Montagne-Saint-Émilion: The Montagne-Saint-Émilion AOC literally surrounds the Saint-Georges region and lies along the remainder of the northern boundary of the Saint-Émilion AOC, which is itself–for the most part–defined by the path of the Barbanne River (La Barbanne). Montagne is the largest of the satellites of Saint-Émilion. The Montagne (the Butte de Calon) itself is the highest point on the Right Bank. The soils range from sand and clay in the north, to a central plateau of clay and limestone and limestone slopes in the south. Vineyards are believed to be planted to 75% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc, and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon. The wines of Montagne-Saint-Émilion are known to be full-bodied and rich with supple tannins.


Puisseguin-Saint-Émilion: The Puisseguin-Saint-Émilion AOC is located north of the border with Montage and east of Lussac. The town of Puisseguin (population: 861) is filled with ruins from Roman times, and takes its name from two words, “Puy” and “Seguin.” Puy is an old Celtic term for “the hill of powerful wine.” Seguin is the name of a Roman officer who served under Charlemagne and settled in the region around 800 AD. The terroir of Puisseguin is similar to that of the surrounding regions and contains a mix limestone, clay, alluvial gravel, and sandstone soils. The vineyards are reported to be planted to 80% Merlot, with the remainder mainly Cabernet Franc (and a bit of Cabernet Sauvignon). The wines of the region have been described a quite fruit-forward while young, with aromas and flavors of licorice, mint, and other herbs evolving as the wines reach 6 to 8 years of age.

Lussac-Saint-Émilion: The appellation of Lussac-Saint-Émilion is the northernmost of the satellites. The village of Lussac, named for a gentleman called Lucius or Lucaniacus who is credited with introducing viticulture to the area during Roman times, is so low-key that the tourist bureau lists a visit to the town of Saint-Émilion (5 miles away) as the top tourist activity. The topography of Lussac- Saint-Émilion is diverse; the south-east covered with slopes of clay and limestone, the north a mix of gravel, clay, and sand; while the west, a slightly elevated plateau, is mostly sandy gravel. Vineyards are reportedly planted 70% to Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc, leaving just 10% planted to Cabernet Sauvignon (with a rare sprinkling–perhaps–of Malbec, Carmenère, and Petit Verdot). The wines of Lussac-Saint-Émilion tend to be elegant, velvety, and generous and are often compared to those of Montage-Saint-Émilion–its neighbor to the south.


The Lost Satellites: Between 1936 (when the AOCs for Saint-Émilion and its satellites were approved) and the 1970s, two other regions–Parsac and Sables–were allowed to append their names to that of the Saint-Émilion AOC. However, they are no more. Sometime in the 1970s, Parsac merged with Montagne, and Sables was annexed into the Saint-Émilion AOC.

Click here for an excellent handbook of the regions of Saint-Émilion (and the rest of the Right Bank as well), provided by the Union des Maisons de Bordeaux.

References/for further information:

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas…

Cape Kidnappers and the Farewell Spit

This post, along with my last post on Poverty Bay and the Bay of Plenty, is a result of my wandering mind while studying wine…I tend to wonder how “Poverty Bay” acquired such a name, and why Nelson (on New Zealand’s South Island) has a land feature known as the “Farewell Spit.” If these kinds of things inquire your mind as well…read on!

Farewell Spit: Nasa Satellite Image

Farewell Spit: Nasa Satellite Image

Sunny Nelson and the Farewell Spit

Nelson—a region on the South Island of New Zealand and a wine-producing area as well—enjoys one of the sunniest climates in the country, due to the rain shadow of the West Nelson Mountains.  Tucked behind an area known as Golden Bay, the region seems to be a wonderland for natural beauty and tourism (and it is). So why…does it include a feature known as the “Farewell Spit?” Just sounds nasty.

A spit doesn’t sound as weird when one uses the full  terminology: sandspit.  A sandspit is a type of coastal landform found along the coast where the direction of the shore changes, causing the ocean current to spread out and deposit sand. The longest spit in the world—at 68 miles long— is the Arabat Spit in the Sea of Azov (Crimea).

Nelson’s Farewell Spit (known to the Maori as Onetuhuna) on New Zealand’s South Island is approximately 20 miles long. It is made up primarily of sand eroded from the Southern Alps and deposited into Golden Bay. The name “Farewell Spit” was derived from the name given to the area by Captain James Cook as he departed NZ NelsonNew Zealand for Australia in 1770. The Cape was the last landform the crew was able to see as they sailed away, and the maps produced from his visit showed the area as the “Farewell Cape.”  The name stuck among English speakers and today the sandspit is known as the “Farewell Spit.” The New Zealand Department of Conservation administers the area as a sea bird and wild life reserve.

  • From the wine department: Nelson is one of the smaller regions in terms of wine production; with just 2,700 acres (1,120 ha) of vines, this region produces a mere 2.4% of New Zealand’s wine. The region, known for being the only wine growing area on New Zealand’s South Island that is located to the west of the Southern Alps, still enjoys its “sunny Nelson” reputation due to the presence of smaller mountain ranges that protect its west and south sides from excessive rainfall, while the Southern Alps cradle it to the east. Nelson grows a little bit of Pinot Noir, but focuses on Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc as well as a spattering of aromatic whites such as Gewurztraminer, Riesling, and Pinot Gris.

Hawke’s Bay and Cape Kidnappers

Cape Kidnappers

Cape Kidnappers

Cape Kidnappers is a headland located in the south-east extreme of the Hawke’s Bay region on New Zealand’s North Island. A headland is a narrow piece of land that projects from a coastline into the sea; sometimes otherwise known as a cape, bluff, or promontory. Cape Kidnappers extends from Clifton–a small beach town and camping area–into the Pacific Ocean.

Cape Kidnappers takes its English-language name from Captain James Cook’s 1769 voyage to–and around–New Zealand aboard the ship Endeavor. With the caveat that this may be only one side of the story, it was named after an attempted kidnapping. As the story goes, when the Endeavor was anchored off-shore, a crewmember named Tiata was in the water beside the ship when a Māori fishing boat pulled alongside and attempted to drag him aboard. Sailors from the Endeavour opened fire on the fishing boat, killing and injuring several of the Māori. The surviving Māori sped off, and Tiata returned to the Endeavour. Cook, who described the region as having steep white cliffs on either side, thus named the area “Cape Kidnappers.”

NZ Hawkes BayCape Kidnappers is now a protected area and home to several colonies of the Australasian Gannet. The bird reserves are closed to the public, but may be viewed from the beach which is which is accessible by foot, off-road vehicle, or kayak.

The Māori name for Cape Kidnappers is Mataupo Maui, meaning “the fish hook of Maui.” Another name, used less often, is Tapuwaeroa, which refers to “long footsteps” left behind by the giant Rongokako.

  • From the wine department: Hawke’s Bay is New Zealand’s second largest wine-producing region (placing a very distant second behind Marlborough) in term of production. The region enjoys an overall maritime climate, but its location in the wider portion of the country means that it is, in spots, quite a bit sunnier and warmer than other parts of the country. For this reason, along with its now-famous gravelly, well-drained soils (particularly in the Gimblett Gravels area), Hawke’s Bay has a reputation for red-Bordeaux blends featuring Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, as well as Syrah–mainly grown in the areas further inland. The areas closer to the coast produce Chardonnay and Pinot Gris as well as plenty of wine using NZ’s signature grape–Sauvignon Blanc.

Bonus question: Why is part of the ultra-cute town of Westport known as Cape Foulwind? Cape Foulwind is a headland on the New Zealand’s South Island, located close to the art-deco town of Westport (itself located on New Zealand’s west coast overlooking the Tasman Sea). The headland was previously named Rocky Cape, but was christened Cape Foulwind by Captain James Cook after a strong wind off the cape blew the Endeavour quite a distance out to sea.


 The Bubbly Professor is…”Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas


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…

 Uruguay map


Keeping Santa Cruz Weird

Santa Cruz

Visitors and residents alike (both of which I have been, at various points in my life) agree: Santa Cruz is unique. Witness the surfing santas, omnipresent drum circles, kooky politics, and even the tag line “Keep Santa Cruz Weird” (borrowed from Austin, Texas, which can also boast all of the above). Combine this with incredible natural beauty, a moderate climate, 29 miles of coastline, the University of California at Santa Cruz, the historic Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk with its Giant Dipper wooden roller coaster – and you have a heck of a place.

Viticulture as well has a unique place in this inspired environment. The area has been home to famous winemakers in the past—including Paul Masson, Martin Ray, Randal Grahm, and David Bruce—and it remains a vibrant center of wine production as well as a leader in organic and sustainable winemaking.

The Santa Cruz Mountains AVA was established in 1981. It was one of the first AVAs to be established according to elevation, and largely follows – and sits above – the fog line along the coast. The boundaries of the region encircle the ridge tops of the Santa Cruz Mountain range—which reach over 3,000 (920 m) in elevation. The eastern boundary of the AVA rests at 800 feet (240 m), while the western edge, located close to the Pacific Ocean, extends down to 400 feet (120 m).

Santa Cruz 3However, the area within the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA—which is tucked in betwixt and between several other AVAs—is the only section of the coastal region from Santa Barbara to the San Francisco bay that is NOT part of the larger Central Coast AVA. As a matter of fact, it is “specifically excluded” from both the Central Coast AVA and the overlapping San Francisco Bay AVA.  Sounds a bit tough, doesn’t it?

The story goes as such: When the Central Coast AVA was first created in 1985 (four years after the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA was born), it was much smaller than it is today, and, due to differences in topography and climate, did not include or extend above Santa Cruz. The southern boundary of the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA was (at the time) contiguous with the northern border of the Central Coast AVA.

However, 1n 1999, a petition was made for a new AVA, to be known as the San Francisco Bay AVA. It was proposed that this new AVA would include the counties of San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Alameda (which includes Livermore), and Contra Costa, as well as parts of Santa Cruz and San Benito Counties—including the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA. At the same time, it was petitioned that the Central Coast AVA be expanded to include the new San Francisco Bay AVA. The Central Coast AVA would—if all was approved—contain virtually all of the California coastline from the North Coast AVA on down to Santa Barbara.

santa cruz 2However, when the proposal was open to public comment, the TTB received almost 50 comments. Thirty-three of these were opposed to combining the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA with either the new San Francisco Bay AVA and/or the expanded version of the Central Coast AVA.

One comment claimed that combining the established Santa Cruz Mountains AVA—where so many farmers and vintners had worked diligently build the the quality, reputation, and distinction of the area—with the Central Coast AVA would cause “incalculable damage.”

Others stated that combining the areas of the Santa Cruz Mountains with such far-flung regions as Livermore and metropolitan San Francisco would “undermine the meaning of American viticultural areas.” Another respondent made the point that, culturally, people that reside in Santa Cruz do not consider themselves residents of the San Francisco Bay area, and that if Santa Cruz could be called part of the “San Francisco Bay Area,” then the North Coast AVA could be called the “Napa Area,” and the Central Valley could be called the  “Yosemite Area.” It was a vinous version of “hell no, we won’t go.”

Screen shot via

Screen shot via retrieved on September 26, 2015

The San Francisco Bay AVA was approved in 1999, along with an expansion of the Central Coast AVA (both were expanded again in 2006).

However, the boundaries of the new and expanded AVAs “specifically excluded” the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA, as well as its sub-region, the Ben Lomond Mountain AVA.  And it remains so – keeping Santa Cruz weird.

Click here to read the official documents relating to the petition and public comments of the: Central Coast Expansion -Federal Register Jan 20 1999

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas –