Napa Valley History - Pt. 1

 

by Doruk Gurunlu

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Napa Valley is considered California's little slice of wine heaven as it is only 30 miles long and a few miles wide. Arguably, it is the New World’s most important fine wine region.

The first vineyards were planted by George Yount in 1831 and later bore his name as the town of Yountville. At this time California was still a part of Mexico. In 1850 California became a state of the United States of America which was the same year gold was discovered in the Sierra foothills. As a result, California’s population boomed. Charles Krug, a German native, started the first commercial winery in 1861.

Tragedy struck the region in the 1880’s as a plague of phylloxera insects destroyed crops and many plants suffered from rootstock disease. This event alone caused the loss of 19,000 acres to the Napa Valley region. During the early 20th century two events shaped the region, World War I, followed by prohibition which started in 1920. While prohibition could have killed the wine industry during that time, some resourceful farmers found ways around the law and kept a small production afloat.

The wine industry in Napa did not start to come back to the pre-phylloxera levels until the 1960’s. In 1976 the ‘Judgment of Paris’ was formed, a wine competition organized by wine merchant Steven Spurrier. This event was a blind tasting held in Paris and graded by French judges. Who could predict that this event would bring international attention to the Napa Valley? When Napa wines took first place in both red and white, European investments began to migrate to the Napa Valley.

Devastation came again in 1986 when Napa Valley received massive flooding and the return of phylloxera, which forced vintners to replant wineries. During the replant, many Napa vintners modeled the composition of their vineyards after Bordeaux. High density planting and low fruiting zones were designed to maximize the warmth and sunlight of the hot and sunny California weather. As a result the grapes produced ripe and fruity wines.

In 1991 “60 minutes” did a special on the French paradox, promoting the consumption of red wine as a part of a healthy diet. This publicity ensured that in 1992, Cabernet Sauvignon became the desired wine over the Chardonnay.  This is considered to be the beginning of the modern Napa Valley.

By 1997, that year’s vintage proved to be an extremely successful year. There was so much fruit on the vines, most of the wineries did not have the tank space to process everything at once. They harvested the first wave at “normal” ripeness levels and left the remaining crop hanging until the initial batches finished fermentation. Finally they harvested and vinified the second wave, they found the result to be concentrated, lower acid and smooth tannins. Many winemakers blended the “first” and “second” batches together. When the wines hit the market a of couple years later, consumer and critics responded with enthusiasm. This event paved the way for the extended hanging time to become the new norm.

During the beginning of the 21st century, both ripeness and the prices continued to climb. In 2008 the national housing market crashed and hurt consumption as people did not want to spend money on expensive wine. This set back was short lived as younger producers started a new California movement. They rejected the Bordeaux/Burgundy domination and took their inspiration from different wine regions of the world and even used techniques from Napa’s own past. The result was that the wines varied widely in terms of varietal compositions and tended to be lower in alcohol and higher in acidity. This led to the exciting diversity of wines available on the market from the Napa Valley region. George Yount would not recognize the growth started so long ago in his backyard.

 
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DORUK GURUNLU

Originally from Turkey, Doruk Gurunlu has lived in the United States since 2005 when he came to South Walton. Doruk has many passions – wine being one of them. He truly enjoys talking about wine with his friends and guests at Pescado in a way that makes the knowledge of wine accessible and relatable.

Beaujolais to 30A

 

by Doruk Gurunlu

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Many of you have heard about Beaujolais Nouveau, which comes out on the third Thursday of November each year. It’s a light, fruity red wine meant for early consumption. It accounts for 53 percent of the sales of the whole region. Though, Beaujolais is much more than that. The Beaujolais region is in the southernmost part of Burgundy, which is the home of the most expensive red and white wines in the world. While hailing from the birthplace of Pinot noir and Chardonnay, Beaujolais Gamay reigns king. 95 percent of the production is red, but there are also some rosé and white wines, stylistically like Saint-veran or Chablis.

While most of the red wines are simple and ready to consume, the northern part of the region produces more structured and fuller wines. There are 3 appellations in Beaujolais, Beaujolais AOC, covers most of the region, Beaujolais-Villages AOC, covers most of the center and north of the region, lastly Beaujolais Cru, northern end of the region. There are 10 crus (or vineyards) which consist of seven villages and three sites. The wines from these crus vary enormously in style – the lightest and fruitiest come from the Brouilly, Regnie and Chiroubles crus. The fruity, but a little more structured crus are Saint-Amour,Fleurie and Chenas. The most structured crus are Cote de Brouilly, Julienas, Moulin-a-vent and Morgon.

There are number of officially recognized parcels in that crus that are more sought after, such as Les Capitans in Julienas, La Madone in Fleurie and Cote du py in Morgon , which we serve at Pescado by the glass and bottle. The crus are in a small 15 mile radius, but the rolling hills and soil structure, where the winery is located makes the end product completely different from one parcel to another.

For instance, Jean-Marc Burgaud Morgon-cote du py, comes from an unusual mixture of iron-rich schist and basalt with manganese soil. While not as long-lived as Moulin-a-vent, this wine is a full-bodied expression of Gamay with finesse. Beaujolais is located right outside of Lyon, the third largest city in France and the culinary mecca of French cuisine. The late Paul Bocuse, started Nouvelle Cuisine there, and several other top chefs hail from Lyon. Naturally, Beaujolais wines are perfect food wines, with the right amount of acidity, tannins and a floral nose – a perfect match for anything from seared tuna to duck confit. At Pescado, you can easily pair many of our small plates, main dishes, shareables and finish with camembert cheese. Cheers!

 
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DORUK GURUNLU

Originally from Turkey, Doruk Gurunlu has lived in the United States since 2005 when he came to South Walton. Doruk has many passions – wine being one of them. He truly enjoys talking about wine with his friends and guests at Pescado in a way that makes the knowledge of wine accessible and relatable.