Last week, my good friend, space-mate on www.myneworleans.com and talented colleague, Robert Peyton, provided insight into how he puts his weekly epistles, Hautes Plates, together. It was astute and a fun read. In case you missed it, you can read it here.
That moved me to thinking about my process, which is not nearly as interesting as his, and we can happily gloss over that topic as it applies to me. But what I do want to bring up here is a nagging thought: what the hell am I doing writing about wine in a town that has none of its own? We can’t grow grapes around here. We can’t stage a harvest of any note (sorry, Pontchartrain Vineyards. I know you are working hard and we admire your struggle). We can’t even look at the weather patterns for South Louisiana and note that the grapes ought to be spectacular this year.
Of all the great and wonderful agricultural products that are grown right in this area, and a list would be long and impressive, grapes are not among the vegetables or fruits in which we take so much well-earned pride.
When it comes to wine, we are lousy creators yet still some of the best consumers on the globe. But if you are focused on writing regularly about wine, New Orleans and South Louisiana are not the most ideal locations. Talking to winemakers for interviews and “inside” information requires that they fly in here, or I call them long distance. A really long distance.
If I want to know how the weather is treating the vines during growing season, or if the harvest will be early, I can’t just look out the window. I will be online checking out weather patterns in McMinnville, Ore., or Healdsburg, Calif., or Walla Walla, Wash. Some of my fellow wine writers simply roll out of bed in the morning, step onto their front porch to pick up the newspaper (and don’t get me started on that topic since we only get one three days a week), look up at the sky and say, “I’ll bet the winegrowers are happy. Looks like the rains will hold off for a bit longer.”
I could do the same but it won’t have any bearing on anything except that my neighbors in the French Quarter will think I am even battier than they are. And look at the baseline of good sense we are dealing with for some of that group.
To quickly answer that last snarky remark, let me tell you that actually there is no place on the entire planet I would rather be. Okay, so we don’t have grapes, but this beautiful, embraceable, loving, creative, delightful, fun-filled, maddening city does have something wine country does not: New Orleans itself, not able to be replicated or replaced. We all know that.
Anyway, when it comes to wine and spirits, we are, indeed, great consumers. That counts. And we surround those beverages with the grandest cuisine anywhere. Even the folks in wine country will tell you that.
Interestingly, in this age of “you can do your work anywhere,” we are seeing some other wine and spirits writers take up residence in our midst. Writers from Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast live here. New York Times lifestyle writers are here. Authors of books about rum and cocktails are here. Hell, it’s actually starting to get pretty crowded with all these talented people camping out in a city with little or no manufacturing of the products on their assigned beat.
But here is a point that has always interested me: since we are such great consumers of adult beverages, why hasn’t someone stepped up and created a grape that can be planted and would work well here? That Frankenstein approach is not far-fetched. It’s been done throughout the Midwest and the East Coast. Hybrid grapes, composed of characteristics of classic grapes coupled with traits that overcome the negatives of grape production in those places, are in great supply.
A region that has a particular difficult soil type, or too-much/too-little rain amounts, or subject to diseases or mildew, can have a hybrid grape developed that overcomes many of those negatives while delivering the positive of floral or palate-tastes of something popular.
It was done to a limited extent with the Blanc du Bois white grape in Florida. This aromatic and tasty grape was developed to overcome many of Florida’s grape-growing negatives, which are about the same as ours. Blanc du Bois is flourishing all along the Gulf Coast.
The general wine-consuming public has reacted to the Blanc du Bois with a hearty, “Meh!! So what?”
I think the point is we want to drink the classics. We want great pinot noir from Burgundy, or at the minimum Oregon or California. We like our Champagnes to be from that storied region in France. We demand that cabernet sauvignon originate in Napa, Calif., or, even better, in Bordeaux, France.
In short, we like what we like, and what we like is authenticity. That’s not to say we are not adventuresome. We’ll try anything and the bigger the holiday, the further we stretch. Sure on Mardi Gras you begin with exactly what you want. When that runs out, and it always does, you’ll go for a Big Ass Beer or a Hand Grenade. Admit it.
The point is even if we had a local hybrid grape, maybe we would not drink it. We consider ourselves and our city to be world-class. Rightly so. And we demand to drink what the world is enjoying. Just in larger quantities.
Okay, so there are no wineries of any grand note here. We are distilling some rums, vodkas, even gins, all of good quality but not a lot of them.
What we have is a lifestyle, a full appreciation of every day being in such a special place. We can and do fill in the rest with nice beverages made in other places.
First, New Orleans 4ever. After that, we’ll figure the rest out.