Jan. 26, 2011 8:35 am
Updated: Feb. 5, 2011 9:20 am
There have been some good wine stories in the news lately.
The first was from a few weeks ago. Archeologists, working in an Armenian cave, discovered a winery that dates back some 6,000 years. It's the oldest winemaking operation ever found --complete with wine press and areas for stomping grapes and fermenting the
Wine-making itself, then, must go back a ways further. It has to. For one thing, nothing is easier than making wine. At its simplest, wine makes itself: a few grapes get mashed into the indentation of a rock, say; maybe there are some natural yeasts clinging
to the skins; a little fermentation follows; and there's your first wine. Wine drinking, then, was just one lucky passer-by away.
At any rate, they've been digging through the layers of this Armenian cave for years; and you may recall that a while back they uncovered the oldest sandal ever found! The sensible footwear of a forgetful (or intoxicated) grape stomper?
Then today there was a story about how a lack of genetic diversity in wine grapes could spell trouble for the wine industry. For centuries, wine vines have been grafted onto other vines without the normal recombining of genes passed on through normal plant
sex. (It's a pretty steamy topic.) Then there is cloning of varieties and other controls to ensure consistency. Anyway, the bottom line is, without genetic diversity, the grapes are susceptible to pests and diseases against which they might otherwise have
developed defenses. This helps explain why wine grapes require heavy doses of pesticides and other hardcore chemicals.
Now, one of the great things about wine vines is that they can grow in pretty hopeless conditions. In fact, sticking vines in soil that is too fertile is a sure way to produce crummy wine. Wine vines love the fight. They stretch their roots down through rocky
soils deep into the earth in search of nutrients. It helps make them vigorous.They don't need rivers of water either. It's best to give them a measured amount from time to time. Wine vines are the ascetics of the agricultural world.
Maybe for those reasons, wine grapes are the one agricultural product I consume without thinking too much about how they're grown. I certainly haven't thought too much about pesticides on my wine grapes. But I can say almost none of the other fruits and veggies
I eat or drink routinely take nasty chemical showers. They're organic, farmer's market, and all that. Wine grapes are the one glaring exception. Once crushed, the grape juice swims in the skins for a spell--soaking up color and tannins...and toxins? A pesticide
soup? And then there are environmental concerns (affected salmon runs in the Pacific Northwest, for example). Close to none of the wine I drink is organic. Until now I have not thought all that seriously about drinking organic wine. But I'll do some research.
Anyway, the article is worth a look. It's from The New York Times, the January 24, 2011, Science section, and it's called "Lack of Sex Among Grapes Tangles a Family Tree."