Deep roots

May 19th, 2010

Roots. Derived from image on:


My recent birthday trip as well as helping edit the article by David Brown currently featured on, have me thinking about roots.

David argues in his article that a truly unique American (as in the U.S. of A) wine identity hinges on fostering a wine culture based on grape varieties indigenous to the lower 48. In fact, his article concludes with an exhortation to cultivation of more of these varieties and the production of wines from these vines.

Of course, one might take an entirely novel approach and try to create new grape varieties. The only person willing to take on this mad scientist, perhaps quixotic, venture is Randall Grahm – as Blake Gray relates in another recent article.

As I anticipated while editing the David Brown article, a commenter has already pointed out that if these varieties (be they obscure vinifera cultivars, hybrids, native American species or whatever Randall Grahm creates) do not meet consumer expectations, they will remain an obscure curiosity in the American wine landscape. And that is a very real commercial hurdle.

There are examples of that already: Over four days, I visited numerous wineries in the Napa Valley and Carneros. I was also able to check out  a few offerings from Suisun Valley. Besides the usual Cab-Chard-Merlot-Zin lineup, I encountered a smattering of some uncommon but nicely made wines from uncommon (but not unheard-of) varieties. It was interesting to listen to the tasting room staff explain these rare varieties and to watch the faces of visitors as they listened and tried to assimilate the information to their root metaphor.

As David Brown, mentions, the history of native wine grape varieties in the United States is long. They are deeply rooted in this country’s winemaking heritage. But so are the brand equities of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chardonnay in the psyche of the American wine consumer. Those are the benchmarks and the root metaphors of the mainstream American wine consumer.

Business is business and one has to adjust to the whims of the marketplace. I, for one, hope more and more people will be willing to expand their root metaphor. After all, a plant’s health and vitality tends to be proportionate to how far and wide it sends its roots.


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2 Responses to “Deep roots”

  1. David Brown Says:

    Thanks Sooth, for the recent help with the editing for Palate Press. This is good stuff. If the micro-brew mentality that has taken hold in the beer industry transfers over to wine then we should expect consumers to branch out in search of that unique glass of wine. But possibly the higher price of a bottle of wine over a mug of bear will limit this. Thanks for the roots for thought.

  2. Todd Trzaskos - Vermont Wine Media Says:

    It’s true…the call of the known varietals is strong in this country. Was at a dinner with Randall Grahm early this spring, and we were talking about viticulture in the northeast…and even though he is a champion of the lesser known, he was still bent on figuring out if we could make pinot noir here. Even so, he gave me some good ideas about bootstrapping a new vineyard, and I appreciated the feedback.
    The public is generally so under educated about wine, and convinced that they have to be well educated to enjoy it, which in many cases is a disinsentive to trying at all…so a few varietals become the only common denominator. Between the local food movement, and a younger demographic that is just getting into wine and not burdened by preconcieved notions, I have to think that the roads less traveled should be seeing at least a little more traffic. Cheers.