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Friday, December 21, 2007

Jeffersonian viticulture

Wine is now being made in all 50 US states, as NPR notes in this story. The piece marks the second time I've heard discussion of Thomas Jefferson related to viticulture in the past few days. The Grape Radio guys recently posted a video from Virginia where the grower mentioned the early colonists' obsession with planting vineyards and Jefforson's own experiments with vitis vinifera in the east. "He failed miserably," notes Fletcher Henderson of The Winery at La Grange.

But the NPR story mentions that this Jeffersonian vision of a nation of backyard vineyards is finally coming to fruition more than two centuries later. It also cites that the number of wineries in this country has doubled in the past ten years. There is a renaissance happening. There are vineyards going up all over the place, a fact to which I can attest.

What's contributing to this change? Why are people planting vines on their farms or in their back yards in places like Minnesota? Is it Thomas Jefferson's prescience about the American spirit? Is it evolving conditions due to global climate change? Information sharing enabled by the "so-called Internets?" New cultivars? New techniques?

A certain amount of this can be attributed to the pioneering American spirit, Jeffersonian innovation if you will. But then China is also planting new vineyards at an incredible rate.

What seems to be happening here, though, isn't industrial viticulture. It is something done not necessarily for money, but because people are driven to do it. I'd love to make money off of our vines, but if I were to never break even I'd just be satisfied with producing good fruit. There is a sort of neo-pastoralism at work here, and I can't quite put my finger on it. I remember seeing dooryards in Beaune and Tuscany where every house featured its own vineyard, and it seems we are recapturing that sort of of pastoral Old World sensibility. Whether we do it as a natural pursuit of some rural aesthetic, or if is happening in artificially planned vineyard communities for the well-heeled, a broad cross-section of our society is getting into viticulture. Grapes are going in the ground. Wine is being made. And it's a beautiful thing.

I just called to add 50 more vines, another row, to next spring's planting of Cab Franc.

Happy holidays!


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