What’s it all about, Bergland?

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The wine regions of Austria have always seemed a bit confusing to me. Actually, that’s an understatement—but the issue is with me, not with Austria. I just need to focus. So here goes—I’m diving straight into the area that has (in the past) confused me the most, and am determined to develop a crystal-clear understanding of Bergland.

For starters: Austria has four main Weinbaugebiete (we’d call them “quality wine regions”). They are: Burgenland, Niederösterreich (Lower Austria, referring to being down-river on the Danube from the region they call “Upper Austria), Wien (Vienna), and Steiermark (Styria). These four regions are also states (or, in the case of Vienna, a capital city that serves as its own state, much like Washington DC here in the US) and can therefore serve as a PDO designation of origin—and—these regions may also contain more specific subregions (which may or may not be a Districtus Austriae Controllatus [DAC]). Did someone say confusing???

What’s Bergland got to do with it: Austria also has three large Weinbaugregionen (Landwein regions), or regions that are approved for PGI (protected geographical indication) wine. Two of these—Weinland Österreich and Steierland—neatly overlap with the PDO regions and are simple enough. However…there’s Bergland (not to be confused with Burgenland)…with no subregions and no overlap with the Quality Wine Regions of Austria.

If you check out my handy-dandy map, you’ll see that all of Bergland lies in the western section of the country which has typically been thought of as too cold, too mountainous, and too alpine for high-quality wine production (but a fantastic place for schnapps and beer—keep in mind that a good portion of the area is just south of Germany’s Bavaria). However, as we’ll see, there are some nooks and crannies of this rugged area that make for decent vineyard land, and wine is produced here.

Here is a closer look at the Bergland PGI, divided up by the five federal states that comprise the region:

Hochosterwitz Castle

Kärnten (Carinthia): Carinthia is the southernmost state of Austria, is entirely situated within the Eastern Alps, and is home to the eastern edge of the Grossglockner—the highest peak in the country. Viticulture in this area centers around the area near Hochosterwitz Castle as well as the valleys of the Lavant and Drava Rivers. The area currently has 170 hectares (421 acres) of vines, and the wines of the region have proven popular with tourists and locals alike, showing “promising potential.”

Oberösterreich (Upper Austria): It makes sense that the region upriver on the Danube would be a fine region for viticulture; after all, after the Danube crosses the political boundary separating “Upper” from “Lower” Austria, it flows through the famous wine regions of Wachau, Kremstal, Traisental, and Vienna. The area of Upper Austria did (historically) have quite a dynamic wine industry, and after several decades of decline, is back in business. Upper Austria currently has about 112 acres (45 ha) of vines, both in the Danube River Valley and the hilly regions closer to the center of the state.

Salzburg, with Mönchsberg Mountain in the background

Salzburg: Apparently there is more to Salzburg than the Sound of Music. However, if you are familiar with the classic musical (movie version), you no doubt noticed the soaring Alps surrounding the city, and indeed, the city of Salzburg is known for its five mountains, one of which—Mönchsberg—is home to vineyard overlooking the city. While apparently a new phenomenon, it seems there are now several vineyards in the state of Salzburg (totaling about 18 acres [7 ha]), and even a few within the city limits. This version of what they call “Mönchsberg Sparkling Wine” looks fascinating!

Voralberg: Voralberg is the westernmost state of Austria, bordering Switzerland, Germany, and the tiny country of Lichtenstein. Voralberg touches on Lake Bodensee and the Rhine River, and is close to a few outlying portions of the Württemberg and Baden wine regions of Germany. As such, it makes sense that there was once a thriving wine industry here; by some accounts the area had over 500 hectares planted to vines once upon a time. However, phylloxera reared its ugly head, and the industry has been slow to bounce back. Currently, Voralberg has 25 acres (10 ha) of vines, including one located in the town of Röthis, just a few miles east of where the Rhine River forms the border between Austria and Switzerland.

Photo of Zirl by Svíčková via Wikimedia Commons

Tirol (Tyrol): If you are familiar with Italy’s South Tyrol (Südtirol, aka Alto Adige) wine region, you may have wondered if there is a “North Tyrol.” Well, there is—except that it is known simply as “Tyrol” (Tirol)—and it is just north of Italy, in Austria. The state of Tyrol is discontinuous, divided by a 4.3-mile- (7 km-) wide strip; the larger area, straddling the area between Italy’s South Tyrol and Germany’s Bavaria, is known as North Tyrol; the smaller portion is East Tyrol. There is some historic connection to wine production here, including a (no longer cultivated) 14th-century vineyard located in Zirl—the products of which were greatly appreciated by Emperor Maximilian I (1459-1519). Modern winemaking is springing to life as well, and Tyrol currently has 12 acres (5 ha) of vines and over two dozen wineries; check out the website of the Weinbau Verband Tiroler here.

Grapes and wines produced in Bergland are similar in variety and style to the overarching wines of Austria. White grapes prevail—particularly Grüner Veltliner, Riesling, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Müeller-Thurgau. The main red grapes are Zweigelt and Blauer Burgunder (Pinot Noir).

References/for more information:

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

Five Fast Facts about the Yakima Valley AVA

Photo by Agne27 via Wikimedia Commons

Here’s five fast facts about the beautiful, historic, and tourist-friendly Yakima Valley AVA. Time to plan a trip!

#1: The Yakima Valley was the first AVA in Washington State: In April of 1983, the Yakima Valley AVA was the first AVA established within Washington State (the larger Columbia Valley AVA was established about a year-and-a-half later, in November of 1984). The Yakima Valley area is home to some of the oldest vineyards in Washington State, with winemaking in the area going back as far as 1869. The first vines in the area were planted by Charles Schanno, a winemaker from the French region of Alsace-Lorraine. Later, in the early 1900s, an attorney from Tacoma named William Bridgeman planted vineyards and pioneered irrigation in the area. Following Prohibition, Bridgeman opened Upland Winery and—along with winemaker Erich Steenborg—began producing varietally-labeled wines in the Yakima Valley, including the state’s first dry Riesling.

#2: The Yakima Valley has three sub-AVAs (with one more [maybe] on the way): The Yakima Valley AVA stretches for over 60 miles from the town of Union Gap (just south of the city of Yakima) and along the valley of the Yakima River until just before the point where the Yakima flows into the Columbia River. The sub-appellations of the Yakima Valley are:

  • Red Mountain: the smallest AVA in the state, located on the south/southeast slope of Red Mountain facing the Yakima River, and a powerhouse area for Cabernet Sauvignon.
  • Snipes Mountain: the second-smallest AVA in the state, located in the southeast corner of the Yakima Valley atop a ridge including the peaks of Snipes Mountain and Harrison Hill. This is the area where William Bridgeman’s original winery, Upland Winery was located; the original property (now owned by the Newhouse family) is a large working farm—Upland Estates—complete with an area known as Upland Vineyards.
  • Rattlesnake Hills:  The Rattlesnake Hills AVA is located to the north of the Yakima River, along an expanse of hills running from east-to-west. The vineyards here are found at elevations ranging from 850 feet and rising as high as 3,085 feet.
  • Candy Mountain—the one on-the-way: In January of 2017, the TTB accepted an application for the proposed Candy Mountain AVA, to be located in the far-eastern part of the Yakima Valley, to the east of Red Mountain. If accepted, Candy Mountain will be the smallest AVA in Washington State.

Field of hops

#3: The Yakima Valley is known for Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot, and…hops: The leading grape varieties of the Yakima Valley (listed in order) include Chardonnay (at 3,180 acres), Merlot (at 2,090 acres), Cabernet Sauvignon (at 1,350 acres), Riesling (at 920 acres), and Syrah (at 650 acres). In addition to grapes and wine, the Yakima Valley is a major producer of apples, cherries, pears, and hops. The Yakima Valley contains more than 75% of the total hop acreage in the country and accounts for 77% of all hop production in the US.

#4: There’s a movie about it: It’s not quite Sideways, and I’m not sure the powers-that-be in Yakima Valley want to go shouting it from the rooftops, but there is a funny, semi-wine related and very charming movie set in the town of Prosser, smack in the middle of the Yakima Valley. It’s called “Cement Suitcase” and stars Dwayne Bartholomew as Franklin Roew. Franklin is a semi-slick wine salesman at a local tasting room, smack in the middle of a quarter-life crisis complete with a cheating girlfriend and a goofball roommate (as well as some unresolved grief about the recent death of his mother). It’s a great film to watch on the plane en route to your winetasting tour of the Yakima Valley. Cement Suitcase was directed by J. Rick Castañeda as his first feature film.

Photo of the Stone Chapel at Red Willow Vineyard by Agne27 via Wikimedia Commons

#5: The Yakima Valley has its own hilltop stone chapel: The historic and renowned Red Willow Vineyard, located in the far western part of the Yakima Valley AVA, has its own hilltop chapel. Built from stones collected during the original planting of the vineyards, the chapel is built at the apex of the Chapel Block of the Red Willow Vineyard at a height of about 1,250 feet.

References/for more information:

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

Waitaki World

The Waitaki River near Kurow (in the Waitaki District)

Waitaki World—the river, the lake, the district, and two regions for wine

I am a huge fan of everything about New Zealand, in particular New Zealand wines. I’ve been a fan of New Zealand wines since the release of Cloudy Bay Vineyards’ first Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc back in the 1980s. I’ve grown to be an even bigger fan over the years as I’ve been able to experience the rise of Central Otago Pinot Noir, red blends from Hawke’s Bay, serious Méthode Marlborough sparkling wines, and even “carbonated” Sauvignon Brut (delicious).

As such a fan of New Zealand wines, it makes sense that I have been following—with something resembling giddy excitement—the long discussed but newly activated laws regarding the wine and spirit geographical indications of the country. For some background information on the ten-year legal process leading up to this point, click here.)

One thing I discovered during my almost daily check-ins of the website of the Intellectual Property Office of New Zealand/Geographical Indications is that there are two Waitaki Valleys. This was confusing enough, however, upon further research I discovered that there is an entire Waitaki World—including not just the two valleys, but a river, a lake, and a district.  Let’s start at the beginning:

Vineyards in the Waitaki District

The Waitaki River: The Waitaki is a river that begins with several small streams that flow from the Southern Alps (somewhat in the central portion of New Zealand’s South Island) towards Lakes Ohau, Pukaki, and Tekapo. Once past the lakes, the streams weave together to form the Waitaki. The Waitaki River, named for the Maori term for “weeping waters,” then travels eastward for about 130 miles (210 km) until it meets the Pacific Ocean near the town of Glenavy on the island’s east coast. The Waitaki River is a braided river, meaning that it consists of a series of river channels connected and separated by small (and sometimes temporary) islands.

Lake Waitaki: The Waitaki River is also home to one of the largest hydroelectric power projects in New Zealand, and is home of several large dams that create several man-made lakes—such as Lake Benmore, Lake Aviemore and Lake Waitaki—along its path. Lake Waitaki is the smallest and the furthest downstream of the three lakes on the Waitaki River.

The Waitaki District: Here’s where it gets interesting—the Waitaki River served as a traditional—and now political—boundary between the large political regions of Canterbury (to the north) and Otago (to the south). With the hydroelectric plants and other developments along and on either side of the river, it was decided that it would be best to include the entire catchment of the river within one political district. The Waitaki District, with approximately 60% of its area in the Canterbury Region and 40% in the Otago Region, is the only district on New Zealand’s South Island that is split between two political regions.

More Waitaki Vineyards…

The two Waitaki Valley wine areaa:  Both sides of the Waitaki River include some prime (if remote) viticultural areas, and both political regions—Canterbury and Otago—can lay claim to some of them. So there are indeed two wine regions known as the Waitaki Valley. Here’s where it gets interesting:

  • Waitaki Valley/North Otago: The area to the south of the river (located in the Otago Region) is known as Waitaki Valley/North Otago. This area has applied to be an official geographical indication under the new scheme now taking form in New Zealand. (Central Otago, located just to the south of Waitaki Valley/North Otago has also applied to be a GI.)
  • The Waitaki Valley of Canterbury: This area is listed on the website of Wines of New Zealand as a sub-region of the Canterbury GI. (Canterbury has applied for, and has been granted, official status as a new Geographical Indication.) However, the Waitaki Valley of Canterbury has not applied for GI status—as of today (November 4, 2017)—so for now it joins a long list of New Zealand wine areas that will be considered “unofficial.” As such, the Waitaki Valley area to the north of the river is considered to be an unofficial sub-region of the Canterbury GI.

Map of the Waitaki Valley/North Otago Region via: https://www.iponz.govt.nz (click to enlarge)

The Waitaki Valley viticultural areas (on either side of the river) follow the course of the Waitaki River for 46 miles (75 km). The area has unique limestone-based soils—a reminder of its ancient past, when it was covered by the sea—as well as loess and alluvial deposits. The Waitaki Valley(s) are remote, cool-climate areas that are planted mainly to Pinot Noir, Riesling, Pinot Gris, and Chardonnay.

References/for more information:

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

Five Fast Facts about the Mayacamas Mountains

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The Mayacamas Mountain Range is a short mountain range—stretching just 52 miles (80 km) in a northwest-southeasterly direction—but it is very well-known to wine lovers as the range that forms the dividing line between Napa and Sonoma counties. However, the famous Napa/Sonoma divide only accounts for about 30 miles of the famous mountains’ total length of 52 miles. Read on to see what else makes the Mayacamas Mountains famous!

#1—Cobb Mountain: Cobb Mountain, peaking at 4,720 feet (1,439 m), is the highest point in the Mayacamas Range. It lies just outside of the town of Cobb in Lake County. The mountain is located outside of the range of any Lake County AVAs, but is only about five miles south of the southern edge of the Red Hills—Lake County AVA (and the larger Clear Lake AVA). This portion of the Mayacamas is responsible for the rolling hills and high-elevation vineyards of the Red Hills-Lake County AVA, which range in elevation from 1,600 to 2,500 feet (490 to 760 m) above sea level.

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#2—Mount Saint Helena: Mount Saint Helena, located at the boundaries of Napa, Sonoma, and Lake Counties, has five peaks that form something of an “M” shape. One of those peaks is located within the Knights Valley AVA and is the highest point in Sonoma County. The second-tallest peak—at 4,200 feet (1,280 m)—is the highest point in Napa County (this peak is located within the Napa Valley AVA but to the north of the Calistoga AVA). Both of these peaks may be reached via hiking trails located within Robert Louis Stevenson State Park.

#3—The Napa River: Mount Saint Helena is the source of the Napa River. The Napa River runs for 50 miles (88 km) from the southeast slope of Mount Saint Helena through the revered Napa AVAs of Calistoga, St. Helena, Rutherford, Oakville, Yountville, and Oak Knoll (as well as the city of Napa) before heading towards the Napa/Sonoma Marsh. The last 17 miles of the Napa River take it from the Trancas Steet bridge in Napa to the city of Vallejo through the Carquinez Straits—a long estuary bordering and empyting into San Pablo Bay.

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#4—The Watersheds: Towards their northern edge—just before the Mayacamas Mountains blend into the Mendocino Range in Mendocino County, the Mayacamas Mountains form the boundary between the watershed of the Russian River (as it flows south into Sonoma) and Clear Lake. This is one of the differentiating factors between the terroir of Mendocino County and Lake County.

#5—The Howell Mountains: The famous Howell Mountain AVA (of Napa Valley) is actually located within a mountain range known as the Howell Mountains. The Howell Mountains blend into the Mayacamas in northern Napa just north/west of their famous namesake mountain and namesake AVA. The Howell Mountains begin just north of San Pablo Bay and form the border between the Suisun Valley (of Solano County) AVA and the Napa Valley AVA. From there, they extend to the north/northwest for about 40 miles (64 km), after which they blend into the Mayacamas. The Howell Mountains are also known as the Mt. George Range; the southern portions of the mountains are often referred to as the Napa Hills.

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In terms of mountainous parentage, the Mayacamas Mountains are considered to be part of the Coast Ranges of California—which (in addition to the Mayacamas Range) include the Vaca Mountains, the Mendocino Range, and the Santa Cruz Mountains. The Coast Ranges of California span for over 400 miles (640 km) from Humboldt County, through Mendocino, onward through Napa and Sonoma—all the way south to Santa Barbara County.

References/for more information:

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

The Melancholy Seewinkel

Lighthouse on Lake Neusiedl

For the title (and the rest of this article) to make any sense at all, I need to start this post with a quote, lifted directly from the website of the Neusiedllersee DAC Association  (or, as they like to call it, the Verein Neusiedlersee DAC):

“The Neusiedlersee vineyards are situated along the eastern shore of the Neusiedl Lake, ranging from the hills of the county capital, across the large wine growing community of Gols, over the flats of the Heideboden, down in to the melancholical Seewinkel.”

For those of us who are not too well-versed in the wines of Austria, let me break this down a bit:

  • Neusiedlersee is a politcal region as well as a DAC wine region located in the Austrian state of Burgenland.
  • One of the main geological features of the area is its namesake Lake Neusiedl—a large endorheic (closed-basin) lake that extends in a long, narrow swath between the  wine regions of Neusiedlersee and Leithaberg, and crosses over into the neighboring country of Hungary on its southern edge. The large water surface of the lake heats up in the summer and releases stored heat at night. Certain areas planted around the lake are conducive to the growth of botrytis, and the area is known for both dry, red wines and sweet, botrytis-affected white wines.
  • The vineyards of the Neusiedlersee are planted across an area of about 15 miles (25 km)—when measured from north to south—and are centered around the east side of the lake and extend slightly eastward from there.

  • Gols (located near the northern tip of the lake) is a town of about 4,000 people that is largely centered on wine in addition to lake-centric tourism (bird watching, lake excursions).
  • The Heideboden is a flat area located just to the south of Gols.  The name Heideboden does not show up on the wine map (or most other maps) as it is not an actual town or appellation, but is the traditional name given to the area between Lake Neusiedlersee and the Danube River.  Heideboden covers parts of both modern-day Austria and Hungary.
  • Seewinkel (which means lake [see] corner [winkel]) is the area located at the southern end of Lake Neusiedlersee, closest to the Hungarian border. The area has a unique microclimate due to the presence of many small lakes and ponds, and is well-known as a producer of botrytis-affected sweet white wines.  While grape varieties vary, Welschriesling is the focus. (The famous sweet-wine-producing town of Rust is just to the west, on the opposite side of the lake.)

Neusiedler See-Seewinkel National Park

The area of Seewinkle is well-known for its natural beauty which includes—in addition to vineyards—the Neusiedlersee-Seewinkle National Park that serves as both a park and a nature reserve. The park is unique in that it stretches across the borders of Austria and Hungary, where it is known as Fertő-Hanság National Park. Combined, these areas encompass the Fertö / Neusiedlersee Cultural Landscape, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2001. The park is famously home to over 340 species of birds and a landscape of sand dunes, reed beds, and shallow salt water ponds. Year-round activities include guided hikes, cycling, canoe excursions, photography classes and llama walks (yes, llama walks).

Once I figured out all of the above, I was still obsessed with why Seewinkel is described as “melancholy.” Hours of research failed to provide a solid answer, but I did find a few references to a certain melancholy beauty of the sunsets and a melancholy edge to the folk dances and traditional music of the area.

Reed Belt landscape in Neusiedler See-Seewinkel National Park

It certainly isn’t the wine!

Note:  The Neusiedlersee DAC is approved for Zweigelt-based red wines only, so the sweet wines of the area are labeled with Burgenland as their region-of-origin.

References/for more information:

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

 

The Hunt for Red Mountain

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During the years when I taught my Professional Wine Studies class at a local culinary school, I had a standard set of wines I used on tasting days. Red wine day always included Napa Cabernet, Argentine Malbec, Australian Shiraz, Sonoma Zinfandel, Oregon Pinot Noir, and Washington State Merlot. You have to admit, it’s a pretty good flight for wine newbies.

My favorite wine to use for the Washington Merlot was from Fidélitas Wines. Fidélitas Red Mountain Merlot, to be exact. I adore that wine—rich with aromas of blackberry, strawberry, pomegranate, and dried cherry—with a hint of sage, tobacco, and rose petal as well. It was a great example of Merlot for my students, and remains one of my favorite red wines.

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When my husband and I decided to embark on a road trip after this year’s SWE Conference in Portland, we had the idea to drive through Oregon and Washington, down through Idaho, and onward to Salt Lake City (we’d fly home from there). This was a great trip, and we planned some wonderful experiences, including hiking though the Columbia Gorge, seeing the actual “rocks” of Milton-Freewater, lunching at the Crossings Winery in Idaho, and visiting Shohone Falls. But I had one main goal—to seek out and find the source of my long-time favorite Washington State wine: Fidélitas Red Mountain Merlot.

And thus began our hunt for Red Mountain.

To begin the hunt, we headed west from our hotel in Richland assisted by our handy rental car GPS device and anticipating an easy 15-mile drive. The first part of the drive was a bit confusing, as we rolled past suburban strip malls and then a whole lotta nothing…but then we experienced one of those magical wine touring moments where the lazy highway looped around a corner and suddenly we were at the bank of the Yakima River staring at an expanse of vineyards as far as the eye could see.

Obviously, we were getting warmer and when the GPS squawked at us to take a sharp turn off the highway and head north, we obliged. It wasn’t long until madame GPS told us get off the highway altogether and make a sharp U-turn and turn south, followed by a quick turn east. It made sense, seeing we were surrounded by vineyards, but the very road we had been ordered to take soon turned to gravel, and then to dirt, and then to cinder blocks, abandoned tractors, and  a few discarded washing machines. This was not the place.

Without beating the story to a pulp, let’s just say that after four more tries, we gave up on GPS and switched to iPad navigation—with the same results. After giving that a try, we decided to just drive around and see what we could find. We soon found a street called Antinori Drive. Well…what wine lover could resist a drive down Antinori Drive?

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We didn’t know it yet, but we had driven around in circles enough to find ourselves in the heart of the Red Mountain AVA, and as we slow-drove down Antinori Drive we passed Force Majeure Vineyard, Longwinds Canvasback Vineyard, and the Hedges Family Estate. We turned on North Sunset Road and stumbled upon Red Mountain Vintners and the Kiona Ranch at the End of the Road.

We decided to make our way home and opted for more scenery by taking a different road out—and drove directly into the parking lot at Fidélitas Wines’ Red Mountain Tasting Room. Of course, we made an afternoon of it and sampled an array of delicious wines—the Malbec and the Chardonnay were among my favorites—they were almost as good as the Red Mountain Merlot. They had a large map of the Red Mountain AVA on the wall and we were able to figure out where we had been (and how to get home in one piece). We purchased a slew of bottles, enjoyed the amazing view from their back patio, and even ran into some folks from the SWE Conference that had ended just a few days earlier. All in all, it was a pretty good day in wine country.

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Here are a few fascinating fast facts about the Red Mountain AVA:

  • At just 4,040 acres, Red Mountain is the smallest AVA in Washington State.  Just under 3,000 of these acres are planted to vines.
  • Red Mountain is a sub-appellation (along with Rattlesnake Hills and Snipes Mountain) of the Yakima Valley AVA (which is itself a sub-appellation of the Columbia Valley AVA).
  • The AVA  has an elevation of 1,410 feet (430 m) at its highest point.
  • The name “Red Mountain” derives from the invasive Cheatgrass that covers parts of the mountain—it turns a reddish color in the summer.
  • The entire AVA is located on the south/southeast slope of Red Mountain (which really looked like more of a hill to me) that faces the Yakima River. This combined with the northerly latitude (46°N) and minimum rainfall (just 7 inches in a typical year) means the area has long days, an extraordinary amount of sunshine during the growing season, and a large diurnal temperature variance.
  • Red Mountain is largely planted to Cabernet Sauvignon, but Syrah, Viognier, Grenache, Mourvèdre, Merlot, Malbec, Petit Verdot, Sangiovese and a smattering of other grapes are seen here as well.
  • In 2002, Quilceda Creek Winery used Cabernet Sauvignon grapes from the Red Mountain and Heaven Hills AVAS to produce the first American wine from outside of California to earn a 100-point score from Robert Parker.  As of this year (2017), Quilceda Creek Winery has produced six wines that have earned “100 Parker Points.”

References/for more information:

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

In my Mind I’m Going to Porto Santo

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Porto Santo is a Portuguese island located in the Atlantic Ocean, 27 miles (43 km) northeast of the island of Madeira. It forms the Madeira Archipelago along with the island of Madeira and a small string of islands known as las Ilhas Desertas (literally “the Deserted Islands”).  Porto Santo is a small island, measuring 9 miles (14 km) long and just 5 miles (7.7 km) across.

The earliest record of the history of Porto Santa dates from 1418, when a group of Portuguese ships were (accidently) blown into its sheltered harbor. The ships were in the service of Infante Henrique of Portugal, and had been blown off-course by an intense storm. They named the island Porto Santo (“Holy Harbor”), as their arrival in a sheltered bay during the storm was seen as the result of divine intervention. .

The Ilhéu de Baixo along the unpopulated northern coast

Geologically, the island is divided into two parts—the mountainous northeast, and a relatively flat coastal plain in the southwest, which includes a 4.5 mile-long (7 km) golden sand beach. Laid-back tourism is one of the main industries, and visitors can enjoy hiking, biking, motorbiking, off-roading, windmills, forts, or golf; and may choose to take a two-hour boat ride to Madeira aboard the ferry Lobo Marinh. Waterfront wining and dining may be found in Vila Baleira, the one and only “city” on the island.

History buffs can pay a visit to the Christopher Columbus House Museum and learn that Christopher Colombus was once married to a Portuguese woman and that they lived on Porto Santo for a period of time. Colombus’ wife, Filipa Moniz, unfortunately passed away during childbirth just a few years after their marriage.

Topographical map of the Madeira Archipelago by Bourrichon via Wikimedia Commons

In the 1420s, the Portuguese King sent a group under the command of Captain Bartolomeu Perestrelo to colonize the island. The group planted grapevines and sugar cane, and introduced rabbits to the island. The introduction of rabbits turned out to be not such a good idea, as they rampaged their way across the island and soon dominated the local environment. In a matter of a few (rabbit) generations, they basically ate everything else up.

Another not-so-smart move by these early settlers involved the local Dragon Trees. The valuable sap of the trees, known as “dragon’s blood” is a type of resin used for medicine and dyes. The colony chopped down the trees and literally bled the trees dry to the point that they became extinct on the island. As such, the island lost its original wind protection—and with the help of the ravaging wild rabbits—the area was left rather rugged, wind-blown, and barren. While it certainly has  its own style of natural beauty, the island has never recovered to its original lush state.

Despite the challenges, there is some viticulture on the island of Porto Santo. As Porto Santo is included in the geographic territory of the Madeira DOC, the Madeirense DOC and the VR Terras Madeirenses, these wines may be produced on the island of Porto Santo. Despite the limitations, grapes are a pretty big deal here—agriculture is limited on the island, making grapes, melons, and rabbit the three biggest commodities.

Grapes or wine from Porto Santo may also be sent to the island of Madeira for use in the wines bottled there. There are some obvious logistical challenges to such a project, however—it has been known to happen. For instance, the Madeira Vintners used Listrão and Caraco grapes from Porto Santo in their 2013 vintage. That same year, Porto Santo grower J. Santos produced a sweet white wine from locally grown Listrão as well as an off-dry white wine from the Porto Santo-grown Caracol grapes. You can read reviews of both of these wines on Niklas Jörgensen’s Mad about Madiera blog.

References/for further information:

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