Wine from the Oregon Grape

Oregon Grape

The highlight for me of a recent Valentine’s Day Party was some wine made from the Oregon Grape.

There are at least two  very common varieties of this on the island. Both are named in the settler world after one Bernard McMahon, a friend of Jefferson. The most common in the forests is Mahonia repens, which is low to the ground and spreads out to protect its turf. Mahonia aquifolium or the holly grape, is tall and bushy.

And it can be quite prolific:  

Oregon Grape, aka Mahonia, aka Mountain Grape, aka Grape Holly, aka Tall Oregon Grape, aka Hollyleaf Barberry

Although the leaves look just like English Holly, Oregon Grape (Mahonia aquifolium) is really a barberry shrub. It grows seven to ten feet in height, & can be three to five feet wide. To limit its width, suckers can be removed as they appear, encouraging only the upward branches, creating very narrow upright specimens. If the species seems a bit big, there are smaller cultivars including “Compacta” & “Mayhan Strain” that are three by three feet or smaller. “Apollo” is a true dwarf that flowers heavily & makes an excellent evergreen groundcover under trees.
The dwarfs I’m fairly certain are always hybridized with the ground-creeping M. repens, either crossed in cultivation or even occurring naturally in the wild. A pure wild M. aquifolium is a very erect shrub, whereas specimens that grew from casual pollinization with M. repens will be more varied in form, being shorter, wider, clumpier, but only occasionally completely prostrate.
We have two specimens of M. aquifolium one planted under large evergreens in considerable shade, the other under the Paperbark Maple where it gets indirect sunlight at least. The above photo was snapped the day we brought one home & just before we planted it under the Paperbark Maple (it was not planted in front of that Camellia japonica the leaves of which can be seen behind it in the photo). It’s a June photo so it’s full of green berries that will not ripen until Autumn. I remember the day we bought this shrub, there were some very densely foliaged specimens we might have chosen instead, & the nurseryman seemed surprised we wanted this thin one, but after looking at scores of them offered by various nurseries,  this was the first one that said “Take me home!” We later added the bushier one farther along the cliff edge, because to fruit well, they need to be able to crosspollinate with other mahonias.
We’ve also two specimens of M. repens in shady dry ground not far distant from the aquifoliums, both a little farther down the tiny cliff. Their conditions are a bit harsh because a large holly tree & a fir tree suck the ground dry, & the shade is so deep even weeds don’t much grow on that slope. But if anythiung, the M .repens are doing even better, as they bloom first & better. All the four shrubs of the two species are doing just fine, though, whereas if they’d been in a sunny & well-watered location, they probably wouldn’t do as well.
Mahonias only fruit if they can pollinate with nearby specimens of its own species, or with a compatible species, & these two species do cross-pollinate at will.
Oregon Grape is the state flower of Oregon. M. aquifolium is native of the Pacific Northwest from northern California through Oregon, Washington & British Columbia. The genus name honors Irish-American pioneer nurseryman Bernard McMahon  (1775-1816), a pal of Thomas Jefferson who was a radical gardener for much longer than he was a president, & whose gardens persisting at Montecello to this day include much that was provided to Jefferson by McMahon.
The Philadelphia nurseryman became curator over the seeds & plants gathered in the west during the Lewis & Clark Expedition, & he was the author of the horiticultural classic The American Gardener’s Calendar (1806). Botanist Thomas Nuttall named the western group of shrubs mahonias in remembrance of McMahon within two years of the death of America’s first national nurseryman.
In the garden Oregon Grape is not at all fussy as to soil conditions. It grows in most any lighting condition from deep shade to full sun, though it definitely likes partial shade or dappled sunlight best. It gets redder in winter with more sun exposure, but has a better overall appearance year-round when provided with a bit of shade. With too much winter sunlight it will get spotty, ruining its bronzy coloration; ours being in deeper shade, they never get the winter spottiness, but instead have a bronzy winter cast to the green leaves that lasts until spring.
A first-rate hedgerow can be made from mahonia, for areas too shady to grow other hedgeable shrubs.  It can be cultivated from seeds sewn winter or spring, or by digging up suckers & babying them in pots for a while. They’ll also reproduce from autumn leaf-cuttings.
The fragrant flowers appear as early as January & last through May. In the most southerly part of its range into California, where it experiences fairly warm winters, it will bloom beginning in December. These flowers are  edible &  can be used raw in salads, or fried in tempura. The flowers can also be boiled to make a lemonade substitute.
Spring’s yellow blooms have turned into green berries by June. The berries darken to a beautiful dusty or frosted blue beginning in July, but will not really be ripe until autumn, when the blue-black berries on red stems amidst bronzy leaves place this lovely shrub at the height of its ornamental powers.
The fruit occurs in bunches & really do look like small grapes, the size of large black currants. They are quite tasty right off the bush despite being seedy & acidic. Cooked, sieved, & sweetened for jams is best. As with most acidic autumn berries, if they are harvested in winter after they have gone through a couple of frosts, they taste much better, as the cold breaks down the pectins & increases the percentage of fructose. All mahonia species have edible berries, but M. aquifolium is one of the best, & is the most heavily productive.
Unfortunately for us, the birds very much agree the grapes are tasty. We have many autumn & winter berries that the birds only eat sporadically because most cold-season berries are simply too tart to be a first choice of meal. But for the mahonia, as soon as a short cold spell sweetens them a bit, the birds get them all. One day the bush is full of berries, the next it has none! Wherever this is predictably going to happen, they can be picked the instant they turn black, & “frosted off” artificially in the freezer.
The First Peoples of Oregon, Washington & British Columbia made a bitter tea from the root as a general tonic to treat weariness, loss of apetite, venereal infections, digestive problems, or gargled for soar throat & bronchial infections. The fruit was used as a mild laxative. And a yellow dye was made from a substance taken from the underside of the bark, violet dye from the berries, & green dye from the leaves.
As a medicinal plant, Oregon Grape extract has been shown to be useful in treatment of skin disorders such as soriasis & fungal infection. Acting on reports of a Vancouver Island Salishan woman who successfully treated dermatitis with bark of the Oregon Grape, a 1992 dermatological study was conducted in Germany to assess the value of this folk-remedy & its known active ingredients, berbamine, oxycanthine, & berberine. The outcome of the study became notoriously exaggerated when filtered through the wild promises of herbal remedy manufacturers, but even so, the medical value of mahonia is worth taking seriously.

FROM 1898.


Berberis Aquifolium.—Oregon Grape.

Fig. 47. Leaves of Berberis aquifolium. Photo: Mahonia aquifolium 1. Preparations: Fluid Extract of Berberis Aquifolium Related entries: Berberis.—BarberryHydrastis (U. S. P.)—Hydrastis

The root of Berberis aquifolium, Pursh (Mahonia aquifolium, Paxton). Nat. Ord.—Berberidaceae. COMMON NAMES: Mountain grape, Oregon grape. ILLUSTRATIONS: Pursh, Vol. I, Plate iv; Botanical Register, 1425.

Botanical Source.—Berberis aquifolium is a shrug having stems about 6 feet high, erect, and of rapid growth. The leaves are alternate and consist of 3 or 4 pairs of leaflets, and an odd one. They are evergreen, coriaceous, bright and shining upon the upper surface, and very ornamental; hence, the shrub is frequent in cultivation, often under the improper name “holly.” The leaflets are smooth, ovate, from 2 to 3 inches long, and one-half as wide. They are acute, sessile, pinnately veined, and the margin is indented with from 15 to 30 repand spiny teeth. The lower pair of leaflets is from 1 to 2 inches distant from the base of the common petiole. The flowers are numerous, small, yellowish-green, and appear in early spring, borne in fascicled, terminal racemes. The calyx has 9 distinct sepals, colored like the petals and disposed in 2 rows, the outer of which consists. of 3 sepals (bracts?). The petals are 6, distinct, orbicular, and in rows of 3 each. The stamens are also 6, and opposite the petals; they have irritable filaments, and extrorse anthers, opening, each by 2 little valves, hinged at the top. The fruit, which is known as “Oregon grape,” is a cluster of purple berries, each containing an agreeably acid pulp, and from 3 to 9 seeds.

History.—This is a tall shrub, native of the western section of the United States. It grows from Colorado to the Pacific Ocean, and is especially abundant in Oregon and the northern part of California. Berberis aquifolium belongs to the section Mahonia of the genus Berberis, which section is considered by some botanists a distinct genus, The following synopsis of the difference between the two sub-genera is taken from “Berberidaceae ” (a pamphlet by C. G. and J. U. Lloyd, 1878):

“The Berberis proper has simple leaves clustering in the axis of a simple or 3-parted spine. The petals have two glands on the inside of each, at the base. The filaments have no teeth. Berries 2 to 3-seeded.

“Mahonia has oddly, pinnately, compound leaves, with no spine at the base, but with spiny-toothed leaflets. The petals are glandless. The stamens have a tooth on each side of the filament, near the top. Berries 3 to 9-seeded.”

The section “Mahonia” is represented in the western United States by six species, viz.: Berberis pinnata, Lag., a tall shrub with the general appearance of B. aquifolium, distinguished from it by the leaflets, which are glaucous underneath, and the lower pair approximate to the base of the petiole; Berberis repens, Lind., a small creeping plant, with leaves often ternate, and leaflets nearly orbicular, and which has been much confounded, and frequently described as Berberis aquifolium. Berberis nervosa, Pursh, a small erect shrub, with leaves often longer than the stem—it appears to be more generally distributed than the other species. The chief characteristics of this species are, the leaflets are three-veined from an oblique base, the common petiole is jointed “like a bamboo stem,” and the flowers are in slender racemes. The two other species, B. Fendleri and B. Fremonti, are of rare occurrence.

Berberis aquifolium and the other species long in use in domestic practice throughout the West, were brought into general notice a few years since by Parke, Davis & Co., of Detroit, who gave the remedy great conspicuity. Dr. Bundy, of Colusa, Cal., wrote many papers on its therapy; these were published in their journal, “New Preparations.” From an examination of the drug, as thrown upon the market, we find the species are confounded, several of them being generally sold as B. aquifolium. The B. nervosa is more commonly met within these sophistications, but we have likewise noticed B. repens in considerable amount. The confusion is, perhaps, unimportant from a therapeutical point, as all the Mahonias are bitter, and seem to contain berberine in nearly the same proportion (see Related Species).

Description.—The root of Berberis aquifolium is from 1/2 to 1 inch in diameter, often increasing to 2 and 3 inches at the base of the stem. It is woody, yellow throughout, very hard. The bark is deep-yellow beneath and brown upon the surface. It is without odor and very bitter. The roots of the other species of Mahonia are smaller; the B. pinnata more nearly approaching the B. aquifolium in size; the B. repens is the smallest of any of the known species.

Chemical Composition.Berberis aquifolium contains berberine, a yellow alkaloid (see Hydrastis), berbamine, and oxyacanthine, both white alkaloids, and phytosterin, gum, and sugar. The flowers contain, in addition to the above alkaloids, volatile oil, and the berries contain malic acid.

The presence of berberine renders both root and bark bitter. The white alkaloid, oxyacanthine (C19H21NO3, Rüdel), which forms soluble salts with most acids, is itself practically insoluble in water, soluble in hot alcohol and hot ether, and slightly so in cold alcohol and cold ether. It dissolves freely in fats and volatile oils, and in chloroform and benzol. It is alkaline, bitter, and in the presence of sunlight changes color, becoming yellowish. Iodic acid is reduced by it with the liberation of free iodine. With nitric acid a yellow color is produced, which, when heated, changes to purple. Cold sulphuric acid turns it brownish-red; on heating it changes to a vivid red, and finally a brown, color. With ferric chloride, in dilute solution of potassium ferricyanide, a blue color is produced with salts of oxyacanthine. Other names have been given this alkaloid to avoid confounding it with products of a species of thorn-apple, the Crataegus Oxyacantha. Thus vinetine was applied to it by Wacker, while Berzelius christened it berbine. Berbamine (C18H19NO3) is a white alkaloid the salts of which dissolve slightly in solutions of Chili saltpetre (nitrate of sodium). These salts strike a blue color with ferric chloride in a weak solution of ferricyanide of potassium. Phytosterin (C26H44O.H2O) is a neutral body (found also in Calabar bean, Physostigma venenosum, Balfour), differing from cholesterin, which it closely resembles, by its solution in chloroform not having any affect on polarized light.

Action, Medical Uses, and Dosage.—This agent has justly been extolled as an alterative and tonic, and has been recommended in syphilitic affections, salt-rheum, pityriasis, psoriasis, and other cutaneous affections, as well as in maladies supposed to be due to some mal-condition of the blood. Excretion and secretion are promoted by it; digestion and assimilation improved; the lymphatic glandular system and the ductless glands are stimulated; and the renal secretions somewhat augmented. Thus it acts as a blood-maker, and is therefore a remedy to oppose depraved conditions of the body-fluids. As a tonic, it may be employed as a synonym of hydrastis, colombo, berberis, etc., possessing in addition its own peculiar virtues, in dyspeptic conditions, chronic mucous maladies, and in certain enfeebled conditions of the system, etc. Owing to its invigorating power over the gastric functions, it is a valuable remedy for atonic dyspepsia, and more particularly if associated with hepatic torpor, for which it is also an excellent remedy. A cirrhotic liver, associated with gastro-enteritis, has been benefited by it, and for chronic constipation it is a useful agent when combined with cascara sagrada. It is said to be effectual in stomatitis.

The great field for berberis aquifolium is in constitutional syphilis and its manifold complications and sequelae. The disorders named above are more amenable to this drug when associated with a syphilitic taint than otherwise. If given early enough it will prevent tertiary phases, provided the patient has not been too thoroughly mercurialized. Its use must be prolonged in appreciable doses. It is especially adapted to long-standing cases of syphilis, the older the better, according to some of its advocates, and yet it is a remedy of much value all through the course of the disease. It is the remedy for that broken-down state so frequently following in the wake of that malady. The various eruptions give way to it, the gastric complications are subdued, and the mucous membranes are toned so that excessive secretions are restrained. Ɣ The bone and periosteal, as well as the muscular, pains of syphilitics, are amenable to berberis. Its action is slow but sure, as it is also in severe muscular pains, with partial paralysis, due to spinal disease. Long standing syphilitic phagadenae and herpetic and eczematous states, yield to it better than to most agents. It should not be forgotten in syphilitic anemia. Several stubborn cases of psoriasis (Ed. E. M. J., p. 148, 1896) have been cured by it, and it is a valuable drug in erysipelatous and chronic scrofulous affections. While it has failed to cure carcinoma, as its introducer, Dr. J. H. Bundy, believed it would, it has, however, shown itself of value in the dyscrasiae due to a cancerous cachexia.

Berberis aquifolium commends itself for study in certain pulmonic troubles, on account of its excellent results in controlling secretions of the mucous tract. Cases of purulent bronchorrhoea, pronounced incurable, have been cured by it, and Prof. Webster asserts that he has seen cases of phthisis recover, even where there were extensive cavities, under the use of this agent. The appetite improved, hectic subsided, expectoration became lessened, the cough milder and less frequent, and flesh and strength were augmented. The remedy should be long continued. Berberis is of some value in leucorrhoea, and particularly when a syphilitic taint exists. Owing to its remarkable power over mucous structures we would suggest its employment in gastric and intestinal catarrh. The principal uses of this drug have been developed by Dr. J. H. Bundy and Prof. Herbert T. Webster. The dose of berberis aquifolium should be relatively large. Small doses, as required of most of our important agents, do but little good.

The dose of the fluid extract is from 10 to 20 drops every 3 or 4 hours; of specific berberis aquifolium 5, 10 or 15 drops, every 3 or 4 hours.

Specific Indications and Uses.—Syphilitic dyscrasiae, constitutional syphilis, with periosteal or muscular pains; chronic skin affections, with blood dyscrasiae; profusely secreting, tumid mucous tissues; indigestion, with hepatic torpor; yellow skin, with marked weakness and emaciation.

Related Species.—”MAHONIA, the sub-genus of the genus berberis, is a fine, showy family of evergreen shrubs. The distinction between this sub-genus and the berberis proper, although very obvious, is not considered sufficient by authorities to entitle it to the rank of a distinct genus, hence the generic name is berberis, the same as the common barberry. The two species of the berberis proper, which grow in this country, are both deciduous shrubs, although there are several evergreen species found in the Old World. All the plants of the sub-genus, mahonia, are evergreen, and on this account they are often cultivated in yards and cemeteries, frequently under the improper name holly. There are four indigenous species found in the United States, all west of the Mississippi, and there are also a few other species in Mexico. Our native species are B. nervosa, B. repens, B. pinnata, and B. aquifolium. The two former are small plants, never over 2 feet high, and often only a few inches, while the other two are large shrubs from 3 to 6 feet high; hence by their height alone B. nervosa and B. repens can be distinguished from B. pinnata and B. aquifolium.

B. nervosa, Pursh, is a little erect shrub, with leaves often longer than the stem. The leaves consist of 3 to 6 pairs of leaflets and an odd one. The main leaf stalk of each leaf is very conspicuously jointed at each pair of leaflets, as remarked by Dr. Lindley, ‘like a bamboo stem.’ The leaflets are ovate, lanceolate, acute or acuminate; triple veined from the oblique base, and have teeth, not repand, but serrate. The flowers are in erect racemes, which are more slender than those of any other species. The plate of B. nervosa, tab. 5, vol. I, in Pursh’s work, is spurious. The leaves are correct, as intended, but the flowers are of the B. aquifolium. Since the plate is made up of two species, and hence liable to confuse, Lindley proposed to remedy the matter by changing the name to B. glumacea, but the change was not received with favor by botanists, and the name B. nervosa is still applied to the plant.

B. repens, Lindley.—A small shrub, procumbent, with short, erect branches. The leaves are often ternate, but generally of 5 or 7 leaflets. Leaflets are ovate, orbicular, acute, or the terminal leaflet obtuse; pinnately veined with repand teeth. Flowers in terminal fascicled racemes.

B. repens and B. nervosa are both employed by the western miners as blood purifiers, and as an antiperiodic, the B. repens extensively. We have several letters from physicians in widely separated portions of the great West, enclosing leaves of these varieties for us to classify and examine, all saying the root is extensively used for the above purpose. It is made into infusions and decoctions. The acid berry of the Berberis repens, under the name ‘mountain grape,’ is made into confections and freely eaten. It acts as an antiscorbutic, and is of great benefit to persons long deprived of fruit.

“The following description was kindly furnished by Dr. C. L. Aylworth, of Montana State: ‘The plant I enclose for description is called the Oregon grape. The fruit is eaten. It grows in medium or rich soil, among rocks or bushes, seldom in open ground. It is more plentiful upon the foot-hills of mountains, and along the banks of mountain streams, extending far down into the valleys. It does not grow in clusters, but I have seen it nearly cover the ground. It is common about all the small streams in this section of the Yellowstone valley, and about the headwaters of the Missouri river.’

“The root of the B. repens is a small, vine-like rhizome, resembling somewhat in appearance the Menispermum C., though not so fibrous. It is yellow throughout, woody, hard, and brittle. The bark, yellow within, is brown upon the surface and easily separated. The root and bark contain a large amount of berberine, which, together with other principles, is readily extracted by alcohol. It contains a principle in combination, precipitated by alkalies from aqueous solution. This, very likely, is identical with the white alkaloid of Hydrastis canadensis, or oxyacanthine.

“The medical profession at large is not acquainted with either of these plants under their proper names, although they may be upon the market for B. aquifolium.

B. pinnata, Lagasca.—This is the only species that is liable to be confused with the medicinal species, B. aquifolium, as both are about the same size, and closely resemble each other. The leaflets are lanceolate, acuminate, and of a light-green color, glaucous on the under side. There are 2 to 6, seldom more, large teeth on each side of the leaflet, each ending in a slender spine. The specific character by which this species may always be distinguished from the B. aquifolium, is the position of the lower pair of leaflets. These leaflets are approximate to the base of the common petiole in the B. pinnata, and never at a distance from it, as they are in the aquifolium.

B. pinnata, often called Mahonia pinnata, has not been used by the medical profession unless in local practice. It has been mistaken for B. aquifolium, which it nearly resembles, and from which its root can not be easily distinguished. Its berries are eaten by western settlers, and a tea from the root is used as a medicine” (from Berberidaceae, by C. G. and J. U. Lloyd) (see also Berberisand Berberis aquifolium).



On Apr 14, 2011, Erutuon  from Minneapolis, MN wrote:

Last year I planted Oregon grape in the shady area between our house and the next. It was a single-stemmed plant when I bought it, and it grew to about 4 feet high in two growth spurts in summer.
It stayed dark green for most of the winter, but when the snow started melting, the leaves that were above the snow (about 2 feet deep) began to turn tan and fall off. The upper part of the stem is dry and somewhat shriveled. Apparently only the snow-covered part survived the winter.
Two tiny leaves below the snow line are still green. Some sprouts are emerging on the lower part of the stem. I guess this year the plant will turn into more of a bush. Hopefully there will be enough snow next winter to protect it… without snow it doesn’t seem to be really hardy. Hopefully a flowerbud will survive till spring.
Update: This past winter (2011-12) there was very little snow, but the plant survived — I think all of its stems, actually. It’s grown a lot this summer. It’s now at least four feet high. It didn’t flower yet. I hope it will sometime. But till then, it’s still very interesting with its spiny and glossy leaves, especially when they’re young and rosy yellow.
Read more:


Vignoles–Ravat 51

Looks very good.

If I have trouble importing Torrontes vines.

Widely grown NY State, Indiana, Missouri. Often termed cross between Pinot de Corton and Seibel 8665

But that may not be it. Genetic markers say nay.

parentage unknown. Previously thought to be from Ravat 51,  Seibel 8665 x Pinot de corton, but studies of genetic markers demonstrated this was inaccurate): cold hardy, moderate vigor and productivity, compact clusters, susceptible to bunch rots, makes a fruity, sweet wine.

Genetic marker  tests:

We tested several accessions of Vignoles (Ravat 51), an important parent in the Cornell grape breeding program. They were found to be identical and the data were consistent with Vignoles being a parent of a particular selection (data not shown). However, this study shows neither of the reported parents of Vignoles (Seibel 6905 x Pinot de Corton, a clone of Pinot noir) could be a parent of Vignoles (Group G). To the best of our knowledge, the two parents are correctly identified; therefore, it may be possible the tested Vignoles may not be Ravat’s actual selection 51.

Conclusion: Markers exclude both Pinot noir and Seibel 6905 as parents for Vignoles, though these are the reported parents.

In any case had good characteristics. 105 days from blood to harvest. But skins are tough. Can hang until November.


Vignoles grape

Only one grower in Canada.













Fielding Estate Vignoles 2010 ($35 for 200 ml, 92 points, only 38 cases made)

fielding vignoles


Like sticking your nose in a bowl of honey and lemon chiffon. Such a defined lemon-lime nose with fresh pineapple and honey notes. It’s textured, luxurious and concentrated on the palate with sweet lime pulp, candied citrus and red apple flavours to go with nice acidic structure, honey and length through the finish. A real treat.


Natural Wine Sales surge in France

Good news, but note that even some of this “natural” wine has pesticides in it.

The share of organically produced French wines rose from 2.6 percent in 2007 to 8.2 percent by the end of 2012. Despite this progress, France is still the third-highest user of pesticides in the world after the United States and Japan, and the highest user in Europe, applying 110,000 metric tons of pesticides per year.

Organic wine producers in the Burgundy region of France are facing prosecution for refusing to use pesticides. This move is perplexing given the Ministry of Agriculture’s support for the organic wine industry and growing public alarm over pesticides in French wine.

A study in February that found pesticide residues in 90 percent of the French wines tested created an uproar. Pesticide residues were even found in organic wines, indicating contamination from neighboring vineyards or other sources. French vines are susceptible to a contagious bacterial disease, flavescence dorée, transmitted by a leafhopper. Treatment with pesticides is required by French law in several winegrowing regions, including Burgundy.

One organic producer in Burgundy has now been charged with breaking the law for refusing to use Pyrevert, a pyrethrin pesticide. He says there is no evidence that his vines are infected, and argues that Pyrevert, a neurotoxin, is nonspecific to leafhoppers and kills beneficial insects as well. He faces six months of prison time and a fine of 30,000 euros, or about $41,000. Another organic grower was fined 1 euro after he agreed to use pesticides.

France has pledged, under the 2007 Grenelle law on the environment, to reduce its pesticide consumption by 50 percent by 2018. To help meet this goal, Stéphane Le Foll, the minister of agriculture, announced on Nov. 13 a new sustainable agriculture bill that is scheduled to be submitted to the French Assembly in January for debate. Considering organic producers who refuse pre-emptive use of pesticides as criminals will not help France’s transition to sustainable agricultural practices. The law requiring such use in Burgundy is not only bad policy, it is terrible publicity for French wine. The law should be changed, and the French Assembly should pass the new bill on sustainable agriculture this month.

But Bordeaux has greatly reduces its use of pesticides.



“Reduce pesticide use by 50 percent.” That was the challenge thrown to Bordeaux wine producers by French president Nicolas Sarkozy in October 2007 during national consultations on environmental issues, reports French daily Le Figaro.
The producers were given 10 years to reach that objective but they have already exceeded it after just two harvests.
“We have reduced insecticide and herbicide use by 80 percent and we no longer have to treat vines against parasitic insects and mites,” announced Etienne Priou, the director of Château Beaumont, a major producer situated in Cussac-Fort-Médoc. He made his announcement during an organized visit by members of the Union of Industries for Plant Protection (UIPP) during which he also confirmed that neither the quality or quantity of the 700,000 bottles of Bordeaux which Château Beamont produces each year have suffered in any way.
Looking at Priou’s immaculate grapes makes it difficult to imagine the ravages that mildew and parasites like the fruit tree tordrix (Archips Podana) or Botrytis can cause. These three infernal imports from other parts of the world have caused much damage over the years.
Thierry Coulon, scientific director of the French Institute of vineyards and Wine (IFWW) says that “In the Bordeaux region, mildew is public enemy number one. If it attacks early, in spring, it can destroy entire harvests, as was the case in 2007.” To demonstrate his point he showed the visitors a shriveled vine stump which had fallen victim to mildew.
In order to protect his vineyards whilst at the same time reducing environmental impact to a minimum, Priou, along with a hundred other Bordeaux producers, decided to apply the principles of Integrated Farm Management which in his view represent a reasonable compromise between two extremes – all-chemical or all-bio.
The French version of the Integrated Farm Management concept was launched with the creation of a website forum dedicated to the development of agricultural practices which respect the environment and are economically viable.
Three basic principles underpin the concept: The use of biological and culture-based products in the fight against parasites, treating only if and when absolutely necessary, and accepting minor losses which do not incur significant negative economic consequences.
Priou and the other producers stepped up inspection rounds of their vineyards and, in the event that mildew was discovered in small quantities, it was treated immediately with natural products before it could spread. That tactic reduced mildew by 20 percent for mildew and even 30 percent for botrytis, which is particularly damaging to the taste of wine.
The fruit tree tordrix was tackled using pheromone traps which eliminated the need for chemical insecticides. Finally, ground fertilizer use was limited to a strict minimum due to the use of more detailed soil and leaf analyses.
There is not yet a general inclination to produce strictly bio wine in the Bordeaux region. Philip Blanc is the director of Château Beychevelle at Saint-Julien, and he has been carrying out trials of wine produced using strictly bio techniques for the last two years on a small section of his property.
He said that although last year “wasn’t too bad” this year has seen a serious outbreak of mildew which means that the bio section of his vineyards will produce 36 hectolitres per hectare. That translates into 35 pe cent less wine than the rest of the vineyards, upon which he has used an Integrated Farm Management program. The problem there is that the minimum profitable yield is 47 hectolitres per hectare.
So, although the Bordeaux region is not going to see mass-produced bio wine anytime soon, it can’t be denied that a lot of progress has been made in terms of the development of environmentally safer wine-producing techniques

Oh, and Nicolas Sarkozy? He owes the wine producers of Bordeaux a generous round of drinks for their efforts.

Now Here’s a Way to Make Wine

high trellis  ibonire via delminico


The wine grower’s Neapolitan ladder is typically only 30 cm (about 1 ft) wide, with steps spaced 40-50 cm (15-20 inches) apart in accordance with the length of the climber’s lower leg. The spacing allows him to plant his foot on one rung and wedge his knee beneath the one directly above it, thereby stabilizing his position as he picks grapes, loads them into a basket and lowers it to the ground on a rope.

And a great Scicolone review of the wines they make from the harvest at I Borboni.

Surprising White Grapes From Campania

I have always been of the opinion that the most interesting and unique white wine grapes in Southern Italy come from Campania.  Some of these grapes (Asprinio) make wines that should be drunk young, while others make wine (Fiano di Avellino) that can last for 20 years of more.

Many of these grapes originated with the Ancient Greeks who colonized Southern Italy during the period known as Magna Grecia. They referred to Southern Italy as Enotria – the land of wines.  In his book, Vino,(1980) Burton Anderson says, “What the Greeks called Entoria, at least in the beginning, was part of the Salento Peninsula where the Enotri people dwelled… the Greeks noted that their native vines fared so well in Southern Italy that they referred to their colonies collectively as Enotria.”

Grilled Baby Octopus

Grilled Baby Octopus

I was asked by Franco Bengazi of the Wine Emporium to invite a few journalists to a tasting of his wines from Campania. The tasting and lunch was held at SD26 and the menu was based on the food of Campania. The speaker was Marco Melzi, a representative of the Wine Emporium, whose passion for Italian wine is matched by his knowledge of the subject.  Here are the four white wines that were served.

Az. Agr. I Borboni Asprinio Spumante NV. 100% Asprinio d’Aversa. $20  Produced in the Aversa and Giuliano zones from sandy soil mostly of IMG_2646volcanic origin where philloxyera could not survive. The vineyards are at 80 meters. Hand harvesting takes place the first week of September and temperature controlled fermentation lasts for 15 days.  Aged in stainless steel for 4 months. The foam stability time is 60 days in an autoclave (Charmat method). It remains in the bottle for 30 days before release. This is a sparkling wine with good bubbles nice citrus aromas and flavors, a hint of lemon and a slight touch of bitter almond in the aftertaste. It was almost impossible to find Asprinio in this county 10 years ago.  Today it is not impossible just difficult but worth the effort.  It is a good food wine.  There is also a non-sparkling version of Asprinio.

Asprinio is a grape whose origin in unknown but it is grown almost exclusively in the area around the town of Aversa in the province of Caserta north of Naples.  There are only 250 acres under cultivation. The name may come from the Latin asper (tart, bitter) and it can have a sharp lemon tinge to it and a slightly bitter aftertaste. The training system for the vines is know as Alberata Aversana, which may be traced back to the ancient Etruscans. In this method the vines can climb to a height of 15 to 20 feet or more attaching itself to nearby trees. One plant could produce over 200 pounds of fruit. Today only about one half of the growers use the Aberata Aversana method. There is also a non-sparkling version of Asprinio that is also very good.

Marco said that this was the original sparkler of the King of Naples, born out of a desire to be no less than their French relatives. It was the wine of choice in Naples until the 1950’s.

Burton Anderson in his book Vino says the following about Asprinio (Asprino), “The habitual wine of the city (Naples) used to be Asprino. The vines were supposedly brought from Champagne during one of the French dominations. By the 1980’s good Asprinio was difficult to find even in Naples.” He also says that Asprinio is or was then grown in Basilicata. “ … in fact all of the Asprino of Basilicata winds up in Naples.”

Linguine di Gragnano with Clans, Grape Tomatoes and Parsley

Linguine di Gragnano with Clans, Grape Tomatoes and Parsley


Az.Agr. Apicella Costa Di Amalfi Bianco 2011. $17 Made from 60% Bianca Zita and 40% Biancolella in Tramonti. The exposure of the vineyard is mostly southwest and they are at 300-400 meters. The training system for the newer vineyards is the espalier/guyot with 4,000 – 5,000 vines/hectare.  For the older vineyards it is the traditional pergola (tendone method) with 2,500 vines per/hectare.  Harvesting is by hand the second half of October with a careful selection. The must is left to settle by a static cold system and selected yeast is injected into the must. Temperature controlled fermentation takes place in stainless steel tanks for 20/30 days. The wine remains on the lees 4/5 months.  The wine had a deep yellow straw color with nice fruit, hints of honey and oil, good acidity, slightly bitter with a long after taste. This is an old style wine, which can go with seafood in a tomato sauce and works well with salami and cheeses. I really enjoyed it.  Marco said they were the first winery to bottle wine in Tramonti.

Biancolella as know as Bianca Tenera because of its thin skin.  It is best known as a grape used in wines produced on the Island of Ischia. It grows best in volcanic soil alone the maritime coast. It is grown along the coast north and south of the city of Naples. It is mostly used as a blending grape.

Marco said that Bianca Zita was a local name for Falanghina. IMG_2650

Az Agr. Orazio Rillo “Fontanavecchia” Falanghina Taburno 2011. $16  Made from 100% Falanghina in the Benevento region of Campania.  The grapes are hand picked and put into little baskets. Temperature controlled fermentation in stainless steel and the wine is aged in stainless steel.

Nichols Belfrage in his book, Brunello to Zibibbo,(1999) states “This grape (Falanghina), which some have suggested may be of Greek origin, and which some have tentatively indentified as the grape from which Roman Falernian was made, has been know as Falanghina only since the 19th century. (A falanga… is a type of wooden stake used for supporting a vine; the suffix –ina makes it a small wooden stake.) The grape Falanghina is a late-ripener which requires well exposed, sunny slopes and not-too-excessive production to shine, but when it does so it shines brightly, making a wine of good extract and flavor, with a firm acidic backbone enabling it to resist the passage of time in the bottle. It is a grape of real interest deserving wider national and international attention.”

Falanghina today is very popular in Rome and more and more good examples are coming into this country. IMG_2648

Cantina Dei Monaci Fiano Di Avellino 2011 100% Fiano di Avellino. $18 Fermentation and aging is in stainless steel. Fiano has small thick-skinned berries. This is a complex wine with overtones of honey and hazelnut and floral hints. I quote again from Belfrage, “Fiano is either a native grape of Campania or a member of a family of grapes called Apianes brought to southern Italy from the Peloponesse, once called Apia. … it is mentioned specifically by Pliny in his Naturalis Historia… the bees give Fiano its name, because of their desire (for it). Pliny’s etymology has since been challenged…that it is not bees (apes), but wasps that are attracted to the sweet grapes, and it is claimed that the name really derives from appiano, a type of apple, or Apia, once a place name in the province of Avelliano now called Lapia.”


Checking grapes and trees. 2. Trebbiano Spoletino

Ah, ha.

Here is a new example. This is not from that special region of Italy where tree=trellised grapes have their own appellation, but it does illustrate how wide spread this practice was until the advent of industrial farming. A ploughman could obviously get under this type of tree trellis. More on Bea:

2008 Arboreus – Grapes DO Grow on Trees

Working in Maspeth, Queens may not be as glamorous as commuting to Midtown, Manhattan but it does have one major perk: my daily walk through the RWM warehouse. Housing thousands of bottles of wine, some decades old, every row of boxes holds something to discover. I like to poke around, turning up treasures like old Hubert Lignier Clos de la Roche or Puffeney Vin Jaune to add to my wish list.

After work on Friday I happened to pass an open case of 2008 Paolo Bea Arboreus”, and curiosity won me over as I picked up a bottle to see clouds of fine sediment swirling around through the greenish glass.

Drinking the Arboreus was delightful (I’ll get to that later), but only gave me a narrow understanding  something alof this remarkable wine.  Once I learned more about what went into the bottle, it became much more enjoyable.

My conclusion is that Giampiero Bea’s wines deserve a mention in the list of great Umbrian exports, in the company of Perugina chocolates, black truffles, and Franciscan monks. Bea wines are singular, and while Umbrian reds generally carry more prestige than the whites, the Arboreus deserves special attention.

Tree-trained Trebbiano Spoletino


Arboreus is made from the Trebbiano Spoletino grape, a mutation of the more familiar Trebbiano.  Trebbiano Spoletino differentiated itself over hundreds of years, growing in the plains around the Umbrian town of Spoleto. Common Trebbiano (also known as Ugni Blanc) is widely planted throughout Italy and France, and usually makes bland table wine.  In contrast, Trebbiano Spoletino is rare even in Umbria and is capable of producing wines of balance, elegance, and longevity—a rarity for Italian whites.

If Trebbiano Spoletino vines are rare, the grapes that go into Arboreus are really exceptional.  In the early 2000s Giampiero Bea started working with a plot of 80-100 year old own-rooted vines trained to grow up around trees, hence the name “Arboreus” meaning “tree-like”.  Formerly, this was the prevalent style of viticulture in the area—efficient because it allowed room for other crops to grow under the vines.  These days tree-trained vines are rare because they are inefficient: tractors have a hard time navigating around them, and yields per acre are extremely low because the trees (and hence the vines) must be spaced relatively far apart. Thus, Bea’s Arboreus offers us a glimpse into a disappearing Umbrian terroir.

In my first draft of this article I described Arboreus as an “orange” wine, a term indicating extended skin contact during vinification. While this is technically correct (the Arboreus undergoes up to three weeks of skin contact), Neal sent me some notes thoughtfully explaining his view on using the term “orange wine”:

Most wines made “orange” are created out of desperation because, if vinified in the classic, modern fashion, these wines would have little to nothing to say.  The exceptional accomplishment of the two Bea wines, Arboreus and Santa Chiara, is that they both clearly capture and express their respective terroirs.  Sadly, with the rare exception, other wines placed in this false category of wine are curiosities, sometimes tasty ones, the charm of which, if any, relies totally on the vinification and elevage rather than the terroir.  Since we (RWM) are obsessed with terroir and require our wines to properly express their origins, we have to make certain that our wines are treated separate and apart from the majority of wines that are appreciated because of how they are marketed rather than what they say in the glass.

Well said.

justified paragraph. followed by image ref

 end of image ref

On to the tasting…back home, after half an hour of furious chopping, our ceviche (tilapia, bell peppers, red onion, avocado, jalapeño, mango, cilantro, cumin, olive oil, and lime juice) was ready. Normally a light fish like tilapia calls for a lighter, acidic, mineral-driven white, but I wanted something more substantial to offset (not emphasize) the acidity of the lime juice. BEA-Arboreus-post-082613-224x300The Arboreus fit the bill perfectly. It was balanced, rich, very mineral, a little funky, and showed just a hint of nuttiness. Apple cider notes overwhelmed the nose, but in a good way—my boyfriend compared it to a Saison we tasted in Brussels a few months back. Spice, orange blossom, and apricot rounded out the wine’s bouquet.

All in all, it was a successful, if unusual, pairing.  Best of all, it gave me a chance to write about one of Italy’s most important winemakers, and opened a conversation about the nuances of terroir-centric winemaking.

Checking grapes and trees. 1.

Both Bing and Google are useless. Their logic is kindergarten primativo.

useful “”””



Here’s a Fake tree structure.

South Island. New Zealand.

overhead-grape-vine-trellising_9131_600x450=new zealand

Malbec Mania

Sagittarius--15th century-astrology

As Sagittarius arrived, we went to Argentina in the south.

After a few pleasant days in Buenos Aries, we took a plane to Mendoza, the mecca of Malbec. And were totally, if pleasantly, confused.

What an unusual looking place in terms of wineries. Huge vineyards. Multinationals everywhere. Lots of Italians who spoke Spanish. Lots of art and food. Warm, hot and dry.

How to choose what to visit?

Look like worth visiting just for the art.

Finca La Anita

This takes you to the opening (other url’s are hidden). Click on gallery to see the art objects.

Familia Zucarria

A very large operation.

From 1890. From Piedmont. What more could one want in a heritage.


Site (terroir):

toso sparkling

Bodegas Pascual Toso has in its plant of San Jose, the traditional factory of sparkling wines by both the traditional Champenoise method and the modern Charmat method. “San Jose Winery” is located at 5 minutes from Mendoza Downtown. The original winery has been completely transformed and now, sparkling wine is produced, stored and bottled at San José. 60.000 bottles of Champenoise method sparkling wine is produced in one year, and 9.000.000 bottles are produced by the Charmat method.

eleven LLLL’s

there are a lot of wineries: the alphabetical list for L is at:

felix lavaque


Ruta 40 Kilometro 4340 –  Cafayate , Salta , 4427 , Argentina Teléfono: 54-9261-6087886!/photo.php?fbid=464896540215805&set=a.191856864186442.38443.117021665003296&type=1&theater

Natalies List: Did Not transfer well.

         La Posta Angel Paulucci Vineyard Malbec 2010Mendoza, ArgentinaReviewed: November 10, 2012 $15.95
         Luigi Bosca Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2009Maipu, Mendoza, ArgentinaReviewed: November 10, 2012 $17.95
         Bodegas Lavaque Winery Conquista Malbec 2010ArgentinaReviewed: October 31, 2012 $11.95
         Bodega Amalaya Torrontes Riesling 2011Calchaquí Valley, ArgentinaReviewed: October 31, 2012 $10.95
         Telteca Winery Uma Coleccion Torrontes 2011ArgentinaReviewed: October 31, 2012 $9.80
         Trapiche Fincas Las Palmas Malbec 2007Uco Valley, Mendoza, ArgentinaReviewed: October 27, 2012 $17.95
         Zuccardi Q Malbec 2010Mendoza, ArgentinaReviewed: October 27, 2012 $19.95
         Viña Alicia Paso De Piedra Cabernet Sauvignon 2008Luján De Cuyo, Mendoza,     ArgentinaReviewed: October 27, 2012 $19.95
Finca El Origen Chardonnay 2010Uco Valley, Mendoza, ArgentinaReviewed: October 27, 2012 $10.95
         Benmarco Dominio Del Plata Malbec 2010Mendoza, ArgentinaReviewed: October 13, 2012 $17.95
         Luigi Bosca Syrah 2009Maipú, Mendoza, ArgentinaReviewed: October 13, 2012 $17.95
         Alamos The Wines Of Catena Torrontés 2011Salta, ArgentinaReviewed: September 29, 2012 $13.95
         Catena Zapata Cabernet Sauvignon 2010High Mountain Vines, Mendoza,     ArgentinaReviewed: September 29, 2012 $19.95