A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhoods
Last week I attended a remarkable virtual meeting of growers and winemakers of the Russian River Valley Winegrowers Association (RRVWGA). The purpose was to hear a report from a “Neighborhoods” committee tasked with distinguishing neighboring tracts of land that are not only defined by geographic features, but also bear their own unique chemical and sensory fingerprints. This investigation has yielded a large body of data, much of which already been generated by UC Davis. More definitive information will be forthcoming, but for a teaser, check out this video on the Russian River Valley Neighborhoods for more information. What really bowls me over, as a scientist and long-time winegrower, is how the elemental chemistry is really showing just how each neighborhood is unique, and even more importantly, it validates what generations of winegrowers have been saying for years. Each neighborhood is distinct and that the wines produced from their vineyards owe much of their uniqueness to their neighborhoods. This is like being in Burgundy hundreds of years ago with everyone agreeing: “This is definitely Batard Montrachet, and is different than Montrachet” and then leapfrogging forward those hundreds of years, having scientific analytical tools to validate all of this. It is a thunderclap. It is a huge validation of the palates of winegrowers all over the world, teasing out the nuances of their plots of land. Dumas once said, hundreds of years ago, that a great Montrachet should be approached “bare-headed and kneeling”. What did we know 30 years ago that science is just now discovering in our own Northern California backyards? This is just the beginning for those of you who have the science background to interpret the data and see for yourselves how important this is. And for those of you who have the palates to dare to experience and lodge the differences in your own internal data banks, we are on the edge of something truly important in the understanding of terroir, and of ourselves as creatures of sensory discrimination.
As excited as I am about the findings of our research, I’d like to speak further on what was remarkable about this recent video conference. The people who make up the RRVWGA are indeed remarkable, in their own quiet way. I have seen many of these winemakers grow up, experience the first joys of becoming parents, carry that through with steadfast parenting even through their kids’ teenage years (a remarkable feat in and of itself), carry on legacy of their elders and all the while sharing and caring for each other through fire, flood and financial woes. They are humble, collegial, and mostly unheralded but share a single purpose: to grow grapes that make some of the best and most well-cherished wines on the planet. In that sense, we here in Sonoma County, in the Russian River Valley, are making wines for all of the remarkable people out there, for those who, unheralded, go about the business of living life, raising children, caring for others in so many ways. We make wines to celebrate your lives, be it just a quiet evening at home with loved ones or a special occasion. We do that for ourselves; we do it for you.
In Vino Veritas,
Greg La Follette