Mandy, the Famous Scientist : Adventures in the Land of the Grapes

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Most wine drinkers have heard of, if not tasted Port, the dark, rich dessert wine named after the town at the mouth of the Douro river in the country's north. Fewer wine lovers have In fact, Laurence Feraud is hard to characterize as anything but light, even after a full day skiing and a long drive to meet me at her little winery on the edge of town. Bundled in her ski parka, her hair in braids, Feraud may be tired, but she still exudes the casual, gregarious charm that has endeared her to just about everyone I know who has ever met her. This is a woman in command of her life, and at the top of It sounds like the beginnings of a joke: how do you hook a wine writer?

The answer, it turns out, at least in my case, involves offering to put on the most comprehensive tasting of Santa Cruz Mountains Cabernet ever held. Just in case it was a trap, I brought my friend Elaine with me you can read her writeup of the event here. As it turns out, the event was a trap, and a cleverly designed one Winemaker Erich Krutzler has carried a lot of baggage in his life. At 46 he is still a relatively young man, but when he smiles from under his mop of slightly graying bangs, you can see the miles he has traveled in the corners of his eyes.

Even leaving aside the difficulty of purchasing vineyards in the very limited market of Austria's Wachau valley, beginning a wine label wasn't going to be easy for Krutzler. Many things motivate the ambitious wine lover, but the curious joy of discovery often ranks highest among the forces that drive us to drink widely.

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Few things compare to the electric thrill of opening a completely unknown bottle or taking up an inscrutable glass only to be rewarded not just with something tasty, but something fantastic. This feeling remains one of the main reasons I continue to dutifully work through all the unsolicited wine that comes to my door. Because for all the mediocre and totally uninspiring wines I get, there are gems.

This is the story of one of There is no single recipe for greatness when it comes to Napa wine, but starting with a great plot of land can take you a long way. The only problem is, a lot of people don't necessarily know a great plot of land when they see one. Sometimes these plots of land can be hidden in plain sight until the right person comes along to notice. When Jeff Smith's father moved the family to St. Helena in , he wasn't thinking about wine, he was thinking about real estate development. He was also thinking about the tiny trickle of But putting my nose in the outsized Burgundy glass I hold in front of me, and smelling an intoxicating perfume of crushed juniper, forest berries, and wet loam, I recognize, as I have every time I have had a chance to taste his wines, the fruits of an obsession that can easily bear up to that characterization.

Like others Austria, for good reasons, continues to be better known around the world for its white wines than its reds. And in truth, far more bad red wine is made in Austria than good. But over the last decade or two, Austria has been making serious strides in its red wine production, following the lead of a few producers who have long been dedicated to the potential of Austria's native red grapes. Few would deny that Josef "Pepi" Umathum belongs in that number, and many would Jason Drew is talking to me about ripeness.

There is that perfect moment of ripeness that occurs, but the challenging part is figuring out when to strike to get it. The perfect point isn't clear to the observer at the time, though. You have to have some kind of instinct or intuition, and to pick the grape before it crosses that line.

In Austria's Wachau valley, it's hard to pay attention to what winemakers tell you, especially when they're talking with you in a vineyard.

The Danube twists olive and lazy below incredibly steep hillsides terraced with centuries-old rock walls, each containing but a single row of vines, climbing for thousands of feet from the floodplain. Never mind the vertigo that anyone susceptible to heights might feel perched on these ledges that perch precariously on slopes many would not ski down -- the view is so incredible that you easily lose yourself in the vast majesty. When I first visited Veyder-Malburg, Few things excite me more than getting a peek into the birth of a promising new winery.

Especially when such beginnings are humble and hard fought. I knew I was in for something good when I pulled up in the driveway of Chateauneuf-du-Pape's newest winery only to find a tin shed on a slightly overgrown lot. We leapt over large puddles in the muddy gravel of the driveway to take shelter under the corrugated metal overhang that shielded the door, and were met by the young and delightfully cheerful Nathalie Reynaud, who sweetly began apologizing through an interpreter for We're funny, us humans. We like to draw these imaginary lines on the earth and give names to the places on either side, and then we treat those figments of our imaginations like they mean something.

The mental model of a map becomes so ingrained in us that when we look at the world around us, its as if we can see those imaginary lines. Grapes, of course, don't care much for maps.

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They like to grow where they like to grow, just as the soil that makes this so meanders without regard to the political boundaries we draw We hear a lot and I certainly write a lot about wineries or wine labels that represent the realization of a lifelong dream. Or equally as often they are the expression of someone's ultimate vision, usually something like: "I want to make the most awesome [fill in the blank with varietal or appellation] ever.

But there You can take the boy out of Friuli, but you can't take the Friuli out of the boy. One quick flash of his boyish smile and it's easy to understand the bright conviviality that you taste in Enrico Bertoz and his wife Letizia's wines.

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Like the man, they are positively brimming with big love -- a zesty, sunny cheer that is, like his smile, quite infectious. Bertoz, 37, spends his days making wine for Flora Springs Winery in Napa and as a brief aside, seems to have made a wonderful improvement to the wines in his recent years there.

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I've decided that Matthew Rorick, despite his muscular frame and the weathered crow's feet of a classic California surf bum, is the crazy cat lady of California wine. When I tell him this, he puts his strong-jawed, blonde-stubbled face in his hands with a mock sob and shakes his head. His longish blond locks spill over wine-stained fingers. He raises his head with a smile. OK, OK come on in, come on in," he pantomimes, ushering yet another obscure grape variety into the fold of What would you do if someone offered to hold a tasting of all the best Cabernets in Napa according to you?

You'd give them a list, and then do a little dance, and then you'd show up early with bells on. That's not entirely how it went down, but a few weeks ago I was indeed invited to help put on a tasting of many of Napa's top wines for a group of visiting writers, sommeliers, and wine buyers from all over the world.

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  4. Organized by the Wine Institute, this tasting and the dinner that followed were the penultimate If there is anything that could be described as a fabric of winemaking influence in Napa, it consists of a loose-knit network of shining threads connecting winemakers and wineries. There was a time in Napa when this network consisted of a few bright nodes from which all other connections spread.

    Icons such as Andre Tchelistcheff and Myron Nightingale were some of the strongest hubs of winemaking influence that spread to populate an entire valley with a next generation of vintners. With each generation, the web of influence has become more diffuse. Still, there are defined constellations of winemakers who Wines are always a link to our past. At the very least they tell a story of a previous season, capturing in the bottle and in the glass the sum of one circuit around the sun.

    But there is still more. Wine is also the repository of hopes, dreams, struggles, and levity -- all the humanity that conspires to harness the soil, the weather, and the unruly grape into something delicious. But occasionally, wine can be yet even more. Some wines tell stories and represent a past much deeper and more profound than one, or even several, generations of toil When Caroline Diel was seven, she was old enough to wonder whether or not her father loved her as much as her older brother, Victor.

    After all, her father had been making a wine called Cuvee Victor for several years.

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    The question was clearly too much for her father, who capitulated immediately and began to make a Riesling named Cuvee Caroline. We have to put it all into Cuvee The longer I write about wine, the more roads to passion I discover. It was only a matter of time, then, before the ranks of successful winemakers became populated with wine bloggers.

    William Allen is one of several people I know of whose passion for wine led them first to blog about it, and then more recently to make it. Such a journey is not remarkable on its own -- more than a few wine writers have decided to try their hands at making the stuff they've spun yarns about for years. The fact that Allen happens to have been Some great wines obscure their own greatness, and seemingly get noticed out of the corner of your eye, and then only if you're only paying close attention.

    Some great wines sidle up next to you, inclining their heads as if to say, "Hey there, good lookin'. Eva Frick's eyes are the same shade as her electric turquoise tennis shoes. They are so arresting that it can be hard to concentrate on her soft-spoken and humble answers to my somewhat persistent questions about how a young lady like herself, who didn't even like wine when she started her career is now making some of the most interesting wines in the Rheingau region of Germany.

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    I liked the individual, creative part of the profession. You can see it as plain agriculture, if you like, but you can also Few places so viscerally evoke their terroir as do the vineyards on the slopes of Mount Etna in Sicily. Especially when the mountain booms ominously, belching lava, smoke, and ash thousands of feet into the air above. Standing in the black soils from which gnarled year-old vines reach like arthritic hands while fine bits of pulverized volcanic rock drift down from the sky, to add a few more powdery grains to the fine-grained soil at your feet, you can all but taste the terroir.

    You certainly can smell it, a faint flinty brimstone tinged with sea air. Standing a Let's begin with the fact that, in my opinion, Dan Petroski makes the single best bottle of Sauvignon Blanc in the entire state of California. This wine makes you want to violently grab your nearest Napa winemaker whose Andrea Franchetti is worrying about a door.

    It's two days before the Contrada dell'Etna, the main seasonal tasting of Etna wines, and Franchetti is hosting the event at his winery, in the new salon behind his main winery building.


    A crew of workers is busy pressure testing the fountain that has also recently been installed in the courtyard in the fading light of the afternoon. My Italian is poor, so I can't quite tell just how annoyed the soft-spoken Franchetti is, but it's clear he's not happy that the doors to his tasting salon are hanging a good inch When was the last time you thanked the Cold War for giving you a great glass of wine? In fact, it turns out that Marlborough Pinot Noir as a whole owes a lot to the nuclear arms race, but hold that thought for One of the most often proclaimed credentials for winemakers in California consists of having been trained in the Old World.

    While plenty of California winemakers often "work a harvest" somewhere, it still remains uncommon to find those individuals that have spent multiple years abroad making wine before coming back to the U.

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    The number of winemakers in California that have not just consulted, but lived and worked for three or more years in Bordeaux or Burgundy before coming back to make Cabernet or Pinot locally is quite low, but there are those such as David Ramey and Ted Lemon whose Michele Faro loves his mother, and I do too. In fact, I wanted to kiss the woman after a long day of driving from the northern tip of Sicily down to the eastern slopes of Mount Etna.

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    Tired and hungry, I arrived at the tiny boutique hotel that Faro has named after his mother, Donna Carmela, and sat down to a bowl of her rustic pork ragu and freshly made pasta, and practically burst into tears it was so good.