Monday, October 25, 2010

First Review Of Vintage 2010: Great Jelly

Harvest crew at Charles Spinetta Winery before storm
In just being herself - artisan, farmer, cook - Laura Spinetta has come up with a sweetly American way to fill a curious void in the nation's wine appreciation. Other wine cultures have homegrown and original rituals to celebrate the yearly harvest of grapes, but not the United States. In Germany and France, for example, winemakers have entire festivals built around the fermenting juice. On a recent tour in Bordeaux, I didn't attend any such festival, but at virtually every chateau we visited the winemaker pulled some cloudy and fizzy sauvignon blanc or semillon from a fermentation tank and filled our glasses while calling for a toast to the success of the harvest. Almost without exception, the partially fermented wine tasted like pineapple, banana or apple juice, prompting someone inevitably to quip that the vintner should be bottling it as a breakfast wine. The French also, of course, are responsible for Beaujolais Nouveau, the first wine of the most recent harvest, the promotion of which over the years has been a commercial and promotional boon for the region's winemakers.

In the United States, some vintners have tried to emulate Beaujolais Nouveau by releasing their own versions of fresh, young and simple wines within a couple of months of the harvest, but results have been mixed both critically and commercially.

Up at the Charles Spinetta Winery in Amador County's Shenandoah Valley, however, Laura Spinetta naturally and routinely goes through a fall exercise that could be the foundation of a distinctly American way to acknowledge the yearly harvest of wine grapes. From the vineyards surrounding the family home, she gathers baskets of grapes just when she thinks they are ideally ripe, which is just before her husband, Charles, and their three sons think the fruit is ideally ripe for their purpose, which is to make wine. She, on the other hand, uses the grapes to make jelly. If the grapes are zinfandel, she makes zinfandel jelly. If they're barbera, she makes barbera jelly. She even does some blending. Her 2010 blend of primitivo and zinfandel is all deep bright color and sweet berry fruit. If the wines from the same vineyards are as forthright, refreshing and balanced as the jelly, the 2010 harvest will go down as successful.

Right now, Charles Spinetta calls this year's picking "the harvest from hell," even though he brought in the last of his grapes just before this weekend's storm, which dumped 3.5 inches of rain on his vineyards. A few days earlier, he'd been fretting, noting that his harvest this year got under way six weeks later than usual, the consequence of a prolonged spring and an unusually cool summer. Even before this weekend's storm his vines had been dampened with showers, though not damaged extensively. "Each of the past five years we finished in September," he remarked while giving a tour of his winery and vineyeards.

In the cellar, he pulled a sample of his nearly finished rose from the 2010 vintage. A fruity and firm blend of zinfandel and orange muscat, it is expected to be released in time for the year-end holidays. Whether in wine or jelly, the Spinetta family knows the appeal of sweetness. The rose is just a little sweet, but two-thirds of the winery's sales are for their definitely sweet "fun and yummy" wines, such as a proprietary zinfandel called Zinetta. They also make dry wines, including petite sirah, primitivo and barbera. For now, they're continuing to hang their commercial success on the wines and on the art gallery that Laura Spinetta oversees in the tasting room. Charles Spinetta, however, acknowledges that the family is "toying with the idea" of making the jellies commercially. But for the time being, Laura Spinetta makes them solely for family and friends. If she can be persauded to put them up for sale, and other wineries also get into the practice of releasing new jellies just as the harvest commences, a decidedly American wine tradition could be established. Eventually, maybe wine competitions will have a division for varietal jellies.

1 comment:

  1. Beaujolais Nouveau is such a great tasting not to mention great smelling wine.....