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  Corti Brothers Newsletter for Summer 2002    Page 1 

To Our Customers,
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With the arrival of summer, food and drink take on another perspective. Dishes become lighter, wines fresher and more fragrant, and there is a more casual attitude to eating and drinking. There are some new, delicious items in this newsletter which should see you through the early summer and very possibly into the warm days to come. As the song says: "Summer time and the livin' is easy...."

Darrell Corti


Practically everyone enjoys grapes, and I hope most of our customers enjoy wine. One of the world's greatest grape breeders, Professor Harold Olmo of the University of California, Davis, is now in his 93rd year. I think this would be a very good time to acknowledge some of the wonderful things he has done creating new grape varieties, both for the table and for wine making.

Creating new grape varieties is not for the faint of heart. From the time a cross is made, to the time when the result is released, decades may pass. But this is Olmo's work. He is also responsible for several investigations studying the possibility of growing grapes in previously unthought of locations. The Frankland area of Western Australia was practically his creation. Work done almost 40 years ago on grape growing in Iran and India is more of Prof. Olmo's innovative instruction. But it is in the California wine industry where Olmo remains somewhat of an unsung hero. So, it is of a hero I now sing.

If you have ever bought fresh grapes with names like Perlette, Redglobe, Emerald Seedless, or Ruby Seedless, you have Harold Olmo to thank. He created them for specific purposes. (You might be confused with some technical terminology, but in grape breeding a cross is made with varieties from the same family, vitis vinifera x vitis vinifera; a hybrid is a cross between different families (vitis vinifera x vitis rupestris, for example.) Perlette was crossed in 1936, but was introduced only in 1946 to be early season table fruit. In his wine grape work, his clonal research--propagation from superior mother vines, not just productive ones--led to improvement of California Cabernet Sauvignon. The "super clone" of Chardonnay which improved production of this varietal in California is due to Olmo's work.

New red wine varieties--Ruby Cabernet, Centurion, Carmine, Carnelian, Rubired, Calzin--are all Olmo's creation. Their creation was mainly to improve red wine quality in warm/hot climate areas. Some have worked well; others less so. In white crosses Olmo produced some very interesting ones: Flora, Gold, Emerald Riesling, Helena, July Muscat. I would like to point out two of them: Early Muscat and Symphony, of which Corti Brothers has two wonderful examples.

Early Muscat was bred in 1943 and introduced in 1958. The crossing of Symphony was made in 1940, introduced in 1981, and patented in 1983. Early Muscat was created as a table variety for California, but in Oregon it produces a delicious, aromatic wine. Much like in other countries where certain table varieties produce wine--Chasselas in Switzerland and France, Blanc de Morgex in Italy, or Madeleine Angevine in Washington state for instance--Early Muscat has found a home in the Willamette and contiguous valleys between Portland and Eugene, Oregon.

Its parents are two table varieties, one black, the other white. The crossing was of Muscat Hamburg (popular in England as a hothouse variety and itself a cross of the black Italian Schiava grossa with Muscat Alexandria) and an Hungarian variety, a cross made in 1916 by Jean Mathiasz called Muscat Queen of the Vineyard. On this side of the family there are several Hungarian varieties, a French one, a Scottish one (Duke of Bulleuch) and a very early ripening Pinot noir.

Sylvan Ridge, known also as Hinman Vineyards, vinifies Early Muscat planted in the Willamette and contiguous valleys as a low alcohol, lightly sparkling wine, similar to Piemontese Moscato d'Asti. In California, Early Muscat ripens very early and what is not eaten by birds, is used for blending.

I like this wine very much. We bought a quantity, put our label on it, and have changed its name to honor its creator. There is now a new Corti Brothers wine labeled H.P.O. for Harold Paul Olmo. A charming wine, it is low in alcohol, lively scented with nutmeg, pear and tropical fruit, with very lively acidity and a slight sparkle. It keeps well for two/three years, and is a tribute to its creator and a very creditable job by Sylvan Ridge Winery that made it. This is a perfect summer wine and probably a perfect anytime wine.


Another versatile variety that Olmo created is Symphony. This is a simpler cross since it is just two varieties, Muscat Alexandria and Grenache gris, a lightly colored cultivar of Grenache, akin to Pinot gris. In the fall of 1998, I wrote about this wine from the 1997 vintage. Although the cross was made in 1940, it was not released until 1981. Its name comes from its "symphony of flavors" as Prof. Olmo suggested.

The first time I tasted it on the wine judging circuit was in 1986. It is a fascinating varietal, capable of making dry, slightly sweet, and sweet wines with notable perfume and flavor. The typical bitterness of Muscat has been tamed by the Grenache gris. Michael David Symphony 2001 is from the same producer and vineyard as I wrote about in 1998, Phillips Vineyard. The different name now is due to a label conflict with another winery. Rather than being called Phillips Vineyard, the family name, the winery name is now Michael David, the personal names of the two brothers who are owners.

Michael David Symphony 2001 has a lowish 12.5% alcohol with 2.5% residual sugar. Bottled in early May, it will last in bottle very well and develop, but because it is another of those wonderful wines that drink so easily when chilled, it rarely gets aged. It can be used to good advantage as an aperitif wine or salad wine for composed salads--so refreshing in the summer--and as a light wine for desserts made from fresh peaches and nectarines. You get the idea!

A number of other noted wineries use Prof. Olmo's creations. Schramsberg produces its Cremant, a lovely lightly scented demi-sec sparkling wine, from Flora. Emerald Riesling was produced by several wineries; Dickerson Vineyards in Napa Valley produces the only Napa Valley Ruby Cabernet; and Au Bon Climat in the Central Coast produces a Carmine. When you see some of these wines, taste them. When you enjoy these wines and table grapes, thank Harold Olmo.

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