Norton and Vignoles are varieties not grown in California for winemaking, but they are grown in Missouri. Yes, Missouri is a winegrowing state--in fact an important winegrowing state, home to 33 wineries. In 1869, the 105 Missouri wineries produced 42% of this country's wine, compared to California's 27% and New York's 13%. Prohibition in 1920 changed all this. Until 1965, Missouri made no legal wine.
Hermann, Missouri, is the site of Stone Hill Winery, which in 1900, was the second largest winery in this country, and third in the world. I would like to present two very fine wines from Stone Hill. These are the Norton 1999 and the Vignoles 2000. Both have won numerous medals in the US on the 2001 tasting circuit. The Norton won a silver medal and the Vignoles, a gold and Best of Class at the Los Angeles County Fair tasting in May, 2001. They are wines you should try.
Norton, which also goes by the name of Cynthiana, is not Vitis vinifera. It is Vitis aestivalis, the Summer vine, another of the vine families. Originating, apparently from Virginia, once known there as Virginia Seedling, it was further cultivated and promoted by Dr. David Norton, for whom it was named. It was accepted in Missouri due to its resistance to summer diseases, not rotting, ripening evenly, and being winter hardy. It is a difficult variety to grow from cuttings and is mainly propagated by layering; taking a cane, allowing it to root, then cutting it from the mother plant. Called "provinage" in French, this was the way vineyards were propagated before the use of grafting.
A Norton wine from Hermann won a gold medal at the 1873 Vienna World Exhibition, prompting Henry Vizetelly, the period's foremost English wine writer, to proclaim Norton as "full bodied, deep colored, aromatic and somewhat astringent...only needing finesse to equal a first-rate Burgundy." One has just to taste the Stone Hill Norton 1999 to confirm Vizetelly's comment as "first rate." According to the winery, 1999 had the best harvest weather since 1994.
Vignoles, also known as Ravat 51, is a white variety with a more modern history. It is a hybrid created in the late 1920's by J-F Ravat, who crossed a hybrid created by Albert Seibel (#6905) with pinot. The character of Vignoles is spicy, somewhat like Gewurztraminer, but with more exotic fruit overtones and crisp acidity. Stone Hill Vignoles is just off dry. This is a wine for serving with certain Southeast Asian dishes, anything made with tropical fruit, or just for its immense drinkability. It is remarkable.Some might object that these wines are not from Vitis vinifera. But so what? They are delicious tasting, have interesting histories, and are wines that age well and develop. Lack of familiarity with them is no reason not to try them. I think Corti Brothers customers are sophisticated enough to appreciate them. A short historical aside: It is to Missouri that the wine growers of France owe thanks for the millions of rootstocks which regenerated their phylloxera devasted wine regions in the late 1800's. The idea of grafting vinifera on these rootstocks was the brainchild of the Missouri state entomologist, Charles Riley. A monument to Missouri was erected in Montpellier by the ever grateful French.
Just as new rice and new wine are eagerly awaited, new oil is highly prized. Now you can experience a unique olive variety and oil produced from it for the first time in California. Corti Brothers has been in the forefront of the renaissance of olive oil production in California and it is with great pleasure that we offer this new oil. Our customers will be the very first to taste and enjoy this new oil made from Arbequina olives, grown in a high density planting in Butte County in the the Sacramento Valley. Planting was begun in the fall of 1999.
This new oil is from California Olive Ranch, a 485 acre planting based on the renowned Catalan cultivar Arbequina. A small sized olive, justly famous in Spain for the quality of its oil, it has never been planted commercially in California. The Sacramento Valley was chosen by the California Olive Ranch due to its soil, climate, and available gentle sloping land. Arbequina, a selected clone of this variety, and Arbosana, an old, almost forgotten variety similar to Arbequina, with a tiny bit of Koroneiki from Greece, comprise the varieties in this high density planting. There are 325,000 trees on 485 acres, the very first of this type of planting in California, therefore, the U.S. A traditional planting system would have about 200 trees per acre, compared to 670.
The idea behind high density olive planting for oil production is to be able to use the lack of vigorous growth in varieties like Arbequina and Arbosana. The trees are planted in rows close together, and then harvested with an over-the-tree mechanical harvester much like for grapes. The romantic view of silvery, tall, ancient olive trees is out of place with practical notions of harvesting for oil production and having a competent labor force. The basic idea for this planting comes from Spain's autonomous region of Catalunya where it has been successful for some time. The California Olive Ranch is a first for the Sacramento Valley and for California olive oil production.
The first harvest of the California Olive Ranch is actually a trial one producing only 3,000 bottles of oil. But the results show that it is a giant step forward. Harvested in mid October, from almost fully ripe fruit, California Olive Ranch Arbequina Extra Virgin Oil is a greenish golden hued, unfiltered oil, delicately apple fruity scented, typical of Arbequina. Its flavor is soft and ripe with low astringency and a delicate pungency due to the fruit ripeness. It is classified as a light fruity oil. This delicacy is the hallmark of Arbequina and deservedly admired. The famous oils of Siurana and Les Garrigues in Catalunya share this same character with the new oil of the California Olive Ranch. Light fruity oils are very useful with delicate dishes and have no substitute.So there you have it-- an olive oil first for California. Our customers are the first to be able to experience this new oil from the revolutionary new production system of high density planting with the splendid cultivar Arbequina. Sacramento Valley has much to be proud of.
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