Scenes of Harvest 2012, Champagne, France.
Local wisdom is predicting an exceptional year for Chardonnay, especially.
[Pinot Noir, Moët & Chandon]
Yes, the World Cup is just days away. And as you gather with friends to watch the games, you likely will be inspired to do some tastings of the very reputable S. African wines. After all, their vineyards are some of the oldest under cultivation.
A novelty that hasn’t been lost on the nation’s baboon population!
Taking the notion of “critter” wines to an altogether new level, South African vineyard managers have to outsmart and outmaneuver a pest of the monkey variety…turns out baboons find the sugar and starch of grapes altogether irresistible! They particularly go in for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes.
Here’s what’s been reported in the popular press:
Baboons, it seems, prefer pinot noir. They also like a nice chardonnay. Largely undeterred by electric fences, hundreds of wild baboons in South Africa’s prized winelands are feasting on ripe, succulent grapes, forcing winemakers to use noisemakers and rubber snakes to try to drive them off during this harvest season.
“The poor baboons are driven to distraction,” said Justin O’Riain, who works in the Baboon Research Unit of the University of Cape Town. “As far as baboons are concerned, the combination of starch and sugar is very attractive – and that’s your basic grape.”
Growers say the picky primates are partial to sweet pinot noir grapes, adding to the winemakers’ woe, for pinot noir sells for more than the average merlot or cabernet sauvignon.
Wine Spectator’s Harvey Steiman has even gone so far as to report that South African vineyards are now training baboons to harvest the grapes. So if you plan on lending a hand during crush, you might just find yourself harvesting side-by-side with a few brethren baboons…
It turns out that the baboons are actually being trained to harvest the grapes themselves (the trick is keeping them well-fed so that they don’t do any on-the-job snacking). It’s all part of the latest viticultural movement known as FaunaDynamics, in which human labor is all but eliminated in the vineyard. Zoologists at the San Diego Zoo claim their 100 percent FaunaDynamic teaching vineyard will be online by 2014 (rhesus monkey-directed draft horses have just completed plowing a 4.1-acre parcel). Peregrine falcon nests surround the vineyard to protect it from grape-hungry starlings, and several of the zoo’s primates have been sent to the Cape to learn harvest methods from Stellenbosch’s simians. Not surprisingly, PETA has already announced plans to protest the first harvest.
If you’d like to drink some of the wines made from the grapes the baboons go in for, we suggest starting with these:
The Quoin Rock winery is located in Stellenbosch where the climate is continental (warm and dry summers, cool winters), although Carl van de Merwe was keen to stress that the summer temperatures are hot rather than merely warm. He clearly has no problems with ripeness of fruit, although he has had challenges protecting the sugar-rich fruit from the local baboon population prior to harvest; the marauding monkeys have a habit of responding to the sweet aromas of ripeness with a pillaging of the vineyard. The solution has been to install electric fences to protect the harvest and vines.
There were three wines on show from Quoin Rock, including recent vintages of the estate’s Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. The Sauvignon Blanc is mostly fermented in steel, with a minor portion fermented in barrel. The wine is left on its lees for six months before bottling, the intention being to engender a fuller, more creamy mouthfeel. The Chardonnay meanwhile is 100% barrel-fermented, with 30% of the oak new in this vintage. The third wine was a 2004 Syrah.
by Paige Donner
Pinot noir is a very fickle grape, requiring the utmost attention and respect in every phase of the winemaking process. Winemakers are the first to testify to this, claiming that grapes that have been handled too much can end up making wines that lack flavor and harmony.
Clearly, Pinot noir is a risky (and more expensive) proposition for the winegrower, the winemaker, and the wine drinker. But it is precisely this high-stakes gamble that makes pinot noir all the more alluring and rewarding.
There is much debate as to the origins of the variety, although one currently popular theory is that the Pinot noir grape is an offspring of Pinot meunier and Gewurztraminer. This union helps explain the characteristics behind the beloved Pinot noir. As author Stuart Pigot notes in Planet Wine, “Pinot meunier gave Pinot noir its bright, berry aromas and initial charm, while Gewurztraminer its silkiness, extravagance, nobility, and fickleness.”
The name Pinot Noir is derived from the French words for “pine” and “black” in reference to the varietals’ tightly clustered dark purple cone-shaped bunches of grapes. Therefore, Pinot noir refers both to the grape varietal as well as the wine that it produces. The skin of the Pinot noir grape is relatively thin, making it a tricky, albeit rewarding, candidate for wine production.
As mentioned by Karen MacNeil in The Wine Bible, “Winemakers adopt a minimalist approach, and often a percentage of the grapes is not crushed. Instead, whole grapes are put directly into the fermenting tanks, which also helps maximize fruity flavors in the wine. To keep those fruit flavors dominant, many wine-makers are also extremely careful and sparing in their use of new oak for aging.”
Oregon, inspired by the similar climate characteristics of Burgundy, staked its reputation on Pinot noir with much success. Thanks to ocean fog, California has shown that it too has no shortage of spots cool enough to keep Pinot grapes on the vine as they develop fine fruity flavors and texture. Notable Pinot regions in California include Los Carneros, the Russian River Valley in Sonoma and Santa Maria north of Santa Barbara.
Pinot noir is what put Oregon on the map internationally, and is the most planted in the state by far. Wineries in Oregon tend to be small family affairs. Chardonnay, Riesling and Pinot gris follow. Oregon has no such thing as cheap, bulk wine. The climate is distinctly cloudy and cool, especially in the Willamette Valley where most of the wineries are clustered. This gentle climate, which highly resembles that of Burgundy, allows for wines of good acidity and balance, moderate alcohol, and an ideal degree of flavor.
Summer Wine Reads: Johnson, Hugh. The World Atlas of Wine, Ed. 4. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1994; MacNeil, Karen. The Wine Bible. New York: Workman Publishing, 2001; Pigott, Stuart. Planet Wine. London: Mitchell Beazley, 2004; Robinson, Jancis. Jancis Robinson’s Wine Course. London: BBC Books, 1995.