Kelly J. Hayes: WineInk
Aspen Times Weekly
Imagine a world where it is always spring, summer or fall. Where, if you try hard enough, it will forever be the harvest season.
That, my friends, is the planet Earth. The world of wine.
When you go into a wine shop or open a wine list, you are presented with wines from California, France and Italy. In another section of the list or store, there will be wines from Australia, South Africa and Argentina. Five continents, two hemispheres.
As the earth makes its annual journey around the sun and turns on its axis, there is always a place where grapes are budding in the spring with the genesis of a new vintage, or where they are getting ready for the harvest. It is one of the wonders of our world that, much like the trio in the epic surf film “The Endless Summer,” those who love wine can travel to the edges of the Earth and forever find a growing season.
There are people who do just that. In the 1990s, the term “Flying Winemakers” was coined in reference to a group of young, free-spirited winemakers, mostly from California and Australia, who went roaming around the world in search of constant harvests and new regions where the sun was always shining and the grapes were always growing. In February, they make wine in Stellenbosch in South Africa, or in Marlborough on the South Island of New Zealand, or on the Margaret River on Australia’s southwestern coast. In August and September, they head to Alsace or Sonoma or Canada’s Okanagan Valley.
Much like a ski instructor seeking 300 days a year of fresh snow and fresh faces to teach, these winemakers long for the experience they get working with different grapes in different soils all year long. It is a little like cheating nature by getting in two vintages during a calendar year but hey, that ‘s one advantage of jet planes.
As of this writing (Jan. 15, 2008), the skies were cloudy and the temperature was a comparatively cool 70 degrees in Stellenbosch, where the pinotage is raking in the moisture before a high pressure system clears out the clouds giving way to a summer warming. In Mendoza, the Malbec vines are sucking up the sun and the heat of a 90-degree day. And in Adelaide, gateway to the Barossa Valley of Southeastern Australia, cool winds are keeping the temperatures in the high 70s, but be assured that it is much warmer inland where the Shiraz bakes to perfection.
Yes, all the bottles of wine on the shelves look mostly alike, but the fact is they are as different as the places they came from. They are all products of the natural evolution and revolution of the planet. The way the soils set in the sun, the way the wind blows and the way the rain falls. It is this global variation, this constant change that makes the world of wine so dynamic.
You can enjoy the places and the seasons of wine by simply buying bottles from different places, cracking them open and sniffing and tasting. But if you have an inkling to go a little further, you don’t have to be a flying winemaker, or in the business. Simply pick a place and book a plane. Wine country is almost universally beautiful and the people who work in wine are almost universally welcoming.
There are places you may have never heard of – Hawkes Bay in New Zealand, the Colchagua Valley of Chile, the Yarra Valley in Australia – where the sun is shining today and there are short-sleeved and sweaty growers and makers walking the vineyards and tending the vines for the wines you’ll drink in the next few years.
Take a trip to the sunshine.
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