WineInk: Along the 38th Parallel in Napa — and the World
UNDER THE INFLUENCE
Hunnicutt 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley
Situated at 38 degrees and 39 minutes north on the Silverado Trail in the Napa Valley is Justin and Seana Stephens’ charming and efficient Hunnicutt Winery. While a plethora of other winemakers utilize the facility, this is home base for Hunnicutt. This Napa cabernet sauvignon (77 percent) and merlot (23 percent) blend sourced from vineyards ranging from Coombsville to Calistoga is a blended work of art. Tasting distinctly Napa, it is ripe, rich and redolent of the earth and terroir of the valley. These are wines with a future.
A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the location of various wine regions in the world based upon their respective distance from the equator, either north or south. The genesis of that column was a trip I had taken to the Napa Valley this past fall, shortly before the devastating fires.
I had a notion that I wanted to experience differences that existed in wines produced in close proximity but in different terroir, or growing regions. With the help of the Napa Valley Vintners, the trade organization for the Napa Valley, I was able to set appointments at three wineries. These wineries occupied a place within a latitudinal zone that is about a mile wide from north to south. However, the actual locations of the wineries were about 16 miles apart from west to east as a dove would fly. Two of the wineries were located in different mountain ranges, while one rested on the valley floor.
But, as I became involved in this exercise, a quirky observation instantly caught my attention. I discovered that the Napa Valley and the wineries I was to visit sit just slightly above the 38th parallel. If you follow geopolitics, you know that is perhaps the most famous latitude on Earth, as it is the approximate location of the Korean Demilitarized Zone.
The 38th parallel is a line in the sand, as it were, that was arbitrarily used to separate the people of North and South Korea. It is today, as we all know, one of the most contentious places on Earth. Following World War II, global governments established the 38th parallel as the defacto border and separation point between the two Koreas. Then, following the Korean Conflict, as we called it, the DMZ was slightly modified. Now it does not run in a direct line along the parallel, but instead crosses it on its 150-mile-long, 3-mile-wide path of demarcation and separation.
All this led me to the sobering realization that, if a dove of peace took off and flew from St. Helena in the Napa Valley, on a due west course heading across the Pacific, 4,700 miles or so later it would land smack dab in the middle of the hottest conflict zone on Earth.
So what does that have to do with wines? Well, not much, per se.
But I found it interesting to pick a line on Earth and follow it around the globe to see what connections and intersections can be made. Not just in a social or, to use that phrase again, geopolitical sense, but also with regard to which world wine regions share a latitude with the Napa Valley. A latitude line is approximately 70 miles wide. So, if you consider the entire planet, the swath of land between the 38th and the 39th parallels is pretty minute indeed. But it has great significance in the world of wine.
Indulge me, if you will. If that dove of peace flew east instead of west from Napa, and stayed roughly on the 38th parallel on its journey, it would cruise over many significant wine regions. First would be the zinfandel vineyards of Lodi, then the West Elks AVA in Colorado, and eventually, get this, the Trump Winery in the Monticello AVA of Virginia. Ironic, eh?
The dove would cross the Atlantic coming ashore in Portugal just south of Lisbon and the Portuguese DOC wine region of Setúbal, where they make a golden, fortified wine from indigenous white grape varietals. Southern Spain would be the next domain to pass under the dove’s wing with Jumilla and its intense wines made from the monastrell (mourvedre) grape.
Continuing over the Mediterranean Sea, the dove would be compelled to stop in Sicily for some of the Italian Island’s Nero d’Avola, or perhaps sample the white wines made from the malvasia grape. For the next few thousand miles, the flight path would traverse the ancient vineyards of Central Greece and Iran, as well as a few “Stans” before crossing the border with the People’s Republic of China. There it would fly above Chandon China, Moet and Hennessey’s new sparkling wine facility that is located almost exactly in a latitude line with their Domaine Chandon Winery in Yountville in, you guessed it, the Napa Valley.
And all of these places along the 38th parallel have something in common. All are kissed on the summer solstice by the sun, which shines on that day, along this line of Earth, for 14 hours and 48 minutes.
Let the sun shine.
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Perhaps it’s because we are in the abbreviated days of winter and I instinctively know that the sun is shining down-under. But every January I go through a nostalgic period where Australian wine dominates my mind.