This is the time of year for our annual State of the Wine Industry report. Each year in Mid-February the California Department of Agriculture puts out its Preliminary Grape Crush Report on the previous year’s harvest. I’ll try to summarize and not bog you down with too many figures. All in all, the future for the wine industry seems bright since more and more of you are having one to two glasses a wine a day.
The actual winegrape tonnage crushed into wine was a big surprise. Because of the screwy weather (extended June gloom, record heat spell at the beginning of harvest, more gloom just a few weeks later and then the rain), it was expected that the harvest would be up to 15% less than average. It came in as the third biggest crop behind 2005 the granddaddy of all and just 3% less than the second biggest harvest in 2009. One thing that hasn’t been clearly investigated is how much of what normally would have been table grapes and raisins went into wine because of weather problems. The early white and Pinot Noir grapes did take more of a hit being down 6% from 2009 as compared with the red varietals that came in later only down 1%.
The leading wine varietal once again was Chardonnay with 16.4% of the volume followed by Cabernet Sauvignon at 11.2%, Zinfandel (9.9%), French Colombard (all in the Central Valley @ 8.2%), Merlot (7.8%), Pinot Noir and Pinot Grigio/Gris (3.7% each). Pinot Grigio (Italian) and Pinot Gris (French) are the same grape with Grigio and Gris translated as “grey” which they really aren’t but have a tinge of that color. They are, year in and out, always the prettiest grapes of all in the fruit bin.
OK, now for the juicy part of the story – did you know that there has been very little sex among winegrape varietals in the last 8,000 years? Wouldn’t you figure that they, like other living things, would get horny by now! Even more shocking is that with what little sex that has taken place in all this time has almost been completely incestuous. Studies by Dr. Sean Myles, a geneticist at Cornell University, were reported to the National Academy of Sciences and published by The New York Times (1/24/11). They have shown that grapes have gone through very little breeding since they first became domesticated. For example, Merlot is intimately related to Cabernet Franc which is the parent of Cabernet Sauvignon whose other parent is Sauvignon Blanc which is the daughter of Traminer which begot Pinot Noir the parent of Chardonnay. How’s that for a thumbnail sketch of a family’s lurid ancestry.
Dr. Myles found that 75% of the thousand or so grapes he checked in the USDA’s extensive archives were closely related as parent and child or brother and sister. “Previously people thought there were several different families of grapes, Dr. Myles said. Now we’ve found that all those families are interconnected and in essence there’s just one large family.”
It all makes sense when you think about it because by just breaking off a shoot or a pruning and putting it in the ground or grafting onto a rootstock, a vine can be developed true to the parent. This is all a benefit to the grower because it gives us uniform crops plus we do not have to rely on bees for pollination nor have the danger of cross pollination leading to other mixed varietals of dubious quality in the vineyard. What we have now is that our winegrapes are still closely related to their wild ancestors with the exception of better berries, sugar content, colors, size, etc. that have been developed by plant breeders. We do have that occasional “Wild Child” mutant that pops up now and then which has lead in a few cases to better rootstocks and clones.
“Wine is inspiring and adds greatness to the joys of living.” Napolean