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Lightly Toasted: Chronicles of the Friday Night Cocktail Club

booze nooze 
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 juice.

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."
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Jan. 26, 2011 9:32 am
On my way to read the article you mentioned. You always have great blogs whether they are amusing or informative, etc. Thanks a "bunch".
Jan. 26, 2011 2:15 pm
Yes, great! I can't wait to tell my future niece (who was born in Armenia) about this.
Feb. 5, 2011 9:20 am
I was just reading about how contaminated the soil in old apple orchards is. I'm guessing you know what they're doing with apple orchards on the east side...
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About Me
My wife and I and our two devilish kittens live on Capitol Hill in Seattle. A few years ago, I got a masters in gastronomy. I'm a food/wine writer. I’m also blogging about cocktails.
My favorite things to cook
We cook fairly simple dishes using fresh local ingredients that we pick up at the Seattle farmers market. My favorite thing is making a nice slow-braised or long-roasted something on a lazy Sunday afternoon. I like cooking with wine (in the dish and in the glass...and in the cook).
My favorite family cooking traditions
My mom never liked to cook, but she did well despite herself. Her mother, my omi, was from Munich and made delicious rouladen, sauerbraten and other traditional German and American dishes. Always bins and bins of home-baked cookies at Christmas. Wonderful rye bread. And beer. Opa would say, "Brotzeit ist die beste zeit."
My cooking triumphs
We’ve made the signature timpano dish from The Big Night a couple times. And for Thanksgiving 2007, we made Turducken. My wife and I are always volunteering to cook the big holiday meals with the family. We mix a signature cocktail, and get down to it.
My cooking tragedies
I made Thanksgiving Dinner for myself once when I was snowed-in in Denver. I nearly burned down the neighborhood.
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