Just An Experiment

By Celia Strong

So much of what has been accomplished in the world of wine has been the product of mistakes or experiments. Centuries ago, even the “discovery” of wine was a sort of mistake. 

Nomadic people wandered around the Mediterranean, going from one watering hole or small village to the next. At some of these sites, wild grapes would be growing and they would pick some to carry with them for their next meal on the road. Sometimes, not only would the grapes taste a little different, but these people would find that they felt different after eating them. 

Alcoholic beverages were not unknown. Fermented honey and malted beverages date back to the ancient Egyptians and earlier. So alcohol in the grapes was recognized, but the accidental “discovery” was that yeast on the grape skins did the fermenting inside the skins of the picked grapes. As soon as more people started living in settlements, experimenting to control this process was easier, and serious winemaking began. 

But let’s fast-forward a few millennia. 

Pine Ridge Vineyards, founded in 1978 by Gary Andrus, is located in the middle of the Stags Leap District of California’s Napa Valley. They started with 50 acres of vineyards and a little farmhouse tasting room. Their first Chardonnay was released in 1979 and their first Cabernet, for which Stags Leap is so famous, came in 1980. Over the following years they acquired more vineyards in Stags Leap, Carneros, Oakville and Rutherford. In 1995, they launched a white wine — the Chenin Blanc-Viognier blend — a big “experiment” that no one expected to be anything serious. Despite the fact that these two varieties have been blended in France, blending in California was not the norm. And, yet, this wine continues to be one of their most popular. 

The Chenin Blanc grapes for this wine come from the Clarksburg appellation. This area, known as “the Gem of the Delta,” is perfect for great Chenin Blanc. It has a long growing season, with a Mediterranean climate and breezes off the Sacramento River. These grapes are harvested at low sugar levels which ensures bright fruit flavors, low alcohol and bright crisp acidity. The Viognier grapes come from Lodi, which also has a Mediterranean climate featuring warm days and cool nights. And nature-made air conditioning from river breezes produces grapes with plenty of acidity. These grapes are picked riper with more sugar, which brings floral and spicy notes to them. 

After crushing, the two press wines are blended with free run juice. This adds weight, or body, to the finished wine. The juice is inoculated with two special strains of yeast, chosen to augment fruit flavors. Fermentation is cold (also for fruitiness) as is aging, both in stainless steel tanks.  

Pine Ridge CB+V is an aromatic white wine. Made from 83 percent Chenin and 17 percent Viognier. (This can change a bit from vintage to vintage, but always more Chenin.) It is crisp, bright and vivacious. Its flavors and aromas include honeysuckle, flowers, citrus, mango, papaya, star fruit, fresh green herbs, lychee nuts, peaches, nectarines and more. The wine is clean, gentle and refreshing — and well-suited to many types of food, including salads, seafood and shellfish, curry and other spicy foods, Chinese five spice flavored dishes, sushi, egg dishes, avocados, soy sauce, crudités, mild cheeses and aged cheddars and gouda. For $15.99. Enjoy. 

Celia Strong works at Billís Liquor & Fine Wines on Ladyís Island.

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