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The Winemaker’s Dance: Exploring Terroir in the Napa Valley

Copyright Date: 2004
Edition: 1
Pages: 243
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  • Book Info
    The Winemaker’s Dance
    Book Description:

    There is a saying among winemakers that "great wine begins with dirt." Beginning from this intriguing premise,The Winemaker's Danceembarks on an eye-opening exploration of "terroir" in one of the greatest places on earth to grow wine-California's Napa Valley. Jonathan Swinchatt and David G. Howell weave a tale that begins millions of years ago with the clash of continental plates that created the Napa Valley and go on to show how this small region, with its myriad microclimates, complex geologic history, and dedicated winemakers, came to produce world-class wines. A fascinating look at the art and science of winemaking and the only comprehensive book that covers Napa's geology, history, and environment,The Winemaker's Dancewill help wine enthusiasts better understand wine talk and wine writing and, most importantly, wine itself.The Winemaker's Danceis animated by the voices of Napa's winemakers talking about their craft. The book also contains two driving tours through the valley that highlight the landscapes and wineries discussed. An array of unique illustrations-including shaded relief maps overlaid with color aerial photographs-provide a new and illuminating look at the region: its bedrock, sediments, soils, sun, wind, and rain. The expansive narrative considers how these elements influence wines from particular vineyards and how specific winemaking practices can bring out or mask aspects of terroir. It concludes with a discussion of the state of the winemaking industry today.Unraveling the complex relationship between the people, the earth, and the vines of Napa Valley,The Winemaker's Dancebrings the elusive concept of terroir to a broad audience, adding a vibrant dimension to the experience of the valley's wines. It also provides insights that enhance our understanding of wines and winegrowing regions the world over.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-92920-3
    Subjects: Environmental Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. INTRODUCTION: The Place and the Notion
    (pp. 1-10)

    The Napa Valley is perhaps as well known for its glamour, its lifestyle, and its chic and successful attitude as for its wine. The notion of the “wine country life” has made Napa the second largest tourist attraction in California, surpassed only by Disneyland. On almost any weekend, its highways are lined with cars and limousines. Its restaurants are as famous as any in New York or San Francisco; one, the French Laundry, is considered by some to be the finest dining establishment in the country. The Napa Valley Wine Auction attracts some of the highest rollers in the land...

    (pp. 11-28)

    FLYING FROM DENVER to San Francisco at thirty-five thousand feet, you see below, west of the Rocky Mountains, a vast desert cut through by sublinear mountain ranges. This geologic province, known as the Great Basin, extends from the Utah-Colorado border west for several hundred miles. Seared brown flats, with the remains of lakes long ago dried up, separate mountain heights and discourage most human activity. Anonymous dirt roads that seem to come from nowhere end in small clusters of buildings. It is a land that breeds paranoid fantasies of men in black uniforms, of UFOs crashing and being hidden by...

    (pp. 29-60)

    LATER IN THIS BOOK (chapter 3), we make a distinction that is basic to investigating and understanding the connection between physical terroir and wine character. That distinction is between soils, which are produced by soil-forming processes such as leaching of chemical elements by acid water and the work of bacteria and other microorganisms, and the materials on which soils form, which are created by more general geologic processes such as those that build alluvial fans and river deposits. One person to whom we described this notion suggested, perhaps jokingly, that we were committing “agricultural heresy” by intimating that geology is...


    • [Introduction]
      (pp. 61-72)

      YOUʹVE COME TO NAPA, MOSTLY TO VISIT WINERIES AND TASTE THEIR PRODUCTS. As you drive up Highway 29 or the Silverado Trail, you note the wineries you pass, make plans to visit some of them, and start thinking about where to eat lunch. You stop at the Oakville Grocery for picnic supplies, jostling through the crowd at this trendy place. The sun is shining, youʹre with your friends, and youʹre having a great time. You take a Mondavi tour, or maybe you belly up to one of the tasting bars to get the sales hype along with your ounce and...

      (pp. 73-104)

      NOT MANY YEARS AGO, winemakers regarded vineyard earth as secondary at best—wine was made in the winery, and grapes were just a commodity. Today, however, Cathy Corison makes wine only from grapes grown on Bale gravelly loam. David Abreu loves Akin Series soils, with their deep red iron stain. Steve Rogstad of Cuvaison avows that “the soil is always knowable, the climate uncertain.” Tony Soter is increasingly focused on wines from specific plots, for both Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir. The Mondavis now produce some wines whose labels feature the district designation more prominently than the grape variety. The...

      (pp. 105-124)

      TOPOGRAPHY IS THE PHYSIOGNOMY of the land, and climate is its expression; they are linked as closely as a face and the emotions it displays. Because they are so familiar, they have also become a context we seldom notice, like the painting hanging for years in the same place or the view we walk by every day. It’s not often that our senses become so alive that we notice the shadow on a ridge in the late afternoon that controls sun exposure, see the differences in vegetation that reflect levels of moisture, or become aware of the path of the...

      (pp. 125-154)

      AFTER THE PARIS TASTING of 1976, in which his Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon was deemed the best, Warren Winiarski and others in Napa realized that they did in fact have land that could produce “wines of global interest.” Winiarski believes that the Paris event provided the motivating force that led Napa winegrowers to search for ways of improving the fruit.

      By the late 1970s, winemakers had largely overcome the problems posed by the absence of experienced mentors by approaching winemaking with courage and audacity—they knew they could produce great wine, and they plunged into the task with...


    • [Introduction]
      (pp. 155-168)

      SHORTLY AFTER TURNING ONTO THE SILVERADO TRAIL FROM HIGHWAY 121, youʹll see a rocky ridge ahead (Figure 73). The road here runs nearly due north—you are seeing the segment of the Vaca Mountains that rises up on the northeast side of the Stags Leap District. At Soda Canyon Road, the Silverado Trail bends left, to the northwest, and the view opens out. The ridge of the Vaca Mountains is on the right (Figure 74); on the left, in the distance, you can see the Mayacamas Mountains, which form the western boundary of the Napa Valley. The rounded hills on...

    • six THE WINERY: Preserving Character or Shaping Style?
      (pp. 169-182)

      IN MOST OF BORDEAUX, terroir is the focus; the goal in the winery is to capture and preserve the character and quality of the grapes as they arrive from the vineyard, doing only what is necessary to maintain the elements that express the land. The winemaker plays a supporting role, performing a formal dance determined by well-established conventions and long experience, with little room for creativity.

      In Napa, the winemaker is more likely to be an active force and to have top billing, with the owner/producer in the supporting role. Just established a new vineyard? If you have enough capital,...

      (pp. 183-198)

      ONE DAY AS WE WALKED through Fay and SLV vineyards with Warren Winiarski, he commented on the movement of knee and foot that results in a step. While analyzing our walking patterns, we discussed subjects ranging from the ripeness of grapes, the development of the vines, and hedging techniques to fly-fishing, tendonitis, and whether some wildflowers were Queen Anne’s lace or hemlock. (Hemlock is a vector for Pierce’s disease, Napa’s latest potential scourge, and Winiarski was concerned about this plant appearing anywhere near his SLV vineyard.) It was August, and Winiarski was in the vineyard keeping an eye on the...

      (pp. 199-212)

      YOU’VE TRAVELED A LONG PATH with us, from 145 million years ago to the present and from bedrock, sediments, and soils into the winery and beyond. Fundamental to our journey has been the assumption that wines do reflect terroir, in all its natural beauty and complexity. Some dispute this, maintaining that terroir is simply a marketing tool or just plain hogwash. Others wonder whether the technology of winemaking, particularly in California and Australia, hasn’t by overuse destroyed any possibility that a wine will reflect terroir rather than the hand of the winemaker. Still others are concerned that extreme styles—in...

    (pp. 213-214)
  10. INDEX
    (pp. 215-229)
  11. Back Matter
    (pp. 230-230)