Speaking Volumes: Uncle's passing brings thoughts of wine

September 18, 2013 

As you open a bottle of wine and start to pour yourself a glass, have you ever considered what went into producing the wine that you are about to drink? How old were the vines and what stories could they tell if only they could speak?

There are vines that are more than 100 years old and also wines, such as the Veuve Clicquot Champagne that was recently found some 180-feet beneath the Baltic Sea that were produced more than 230 years ago.

Having regularly visited the wine regions of Northern California, I have had the opportunity to see some of the oldest vines in the United States, and to taste the wines that are produced from these ancient gems. In looking at these gnarly vines, I have often wondered about the stories they would weave if only the vines could somehow come to life and provide a spoken history of what they have seen, heard and produced with the fruits of their labor.

There are vines in France that were producing fruit during the World War II and they survived the skirmishes that took place in their vineyards as well as having been taken hostage by the enemy.

Speaking of the fruits of labor, my uncle, who recently passed away at age 80, worked in the construction industry his entire adult life other than a few years when he served our country. Although he wasn't a true farmer with his own vineyard, he was meticulous about the way he groomed his lawn and flower beds, and his prized orchids. Unlike vines, my uncle could give his family a living history of what took place during

his life, but there was no way that he could pass on his skills and abilities to raise orchids.

If my uncle had been raised in wine country, his green thumb could have grown the best grapes known to man. Because he was born and raised in Northern Kentucky in an area that reminded many immigrants of the Rhineland, he would have produced those unctuous white wines that are not too sweet, but are just sweet enough. If you ever have visited the Alsace region of Germany/France I am certain that you know the wines that I am writing about. But then again, he probably would have bucked tradition by growing barley and hops to produce beer.

In addition to rating specific wines, wine publications such as the Wine Spectator and Wine Advocate provide ratings for entire vintages. The word vintage is descriptive of the year in which the grapes were harvested, not to the year that the wine was bottled. Almost all wine critics believe that 1934 was the best vintage of that decade -- but I would have to say by experience that 1933 was an excellent vintage as well.

Jim Rawe, a family attorney in Bradenton, is an avid collector of fine wines. His column appears weekly. He can be reached at jimrawe@gmail.com.

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