"Have you been an un-American?…"

by Katie Pizzuto on March 16, 2010

in Wine

Wine is made in each of the 50 states in the US, and yet California manages to account for nearly 90% of American wine production. In fact, if California were a separate country (go ahead, I dare ya), it would be the world’s fourth-largest wine producer all by its little self, without the help of its 49 brothers and sisters. Around the world, the term “American wine” is nearly synonymous with “California wine” and you’d be hard pressed to find any other representation of the US on wine store shelves in other countries. Even stateside, where it is somewhat easier to find locally made wines, California holds the reigns while Oregon, Washington and New York follow in its dust. Regardless of how good Michigan’s wines may be, finding one on a store shelf in Dallas will be nearly impossible, let alone on a store shelf in London.

While the rest of the Pacific Coast is doing its best to give California a run for its money, plenty of great wine is being made in other states that don’t readily roll off the tongue when discussing American wine…like Georgia. And while distributors busy themselves, focusing on the large wineries whose product they know they can move, small boutique wineries struggle to survive despite the fact that they are producing great wine. Why? Because no one has heard of them. So I’ll readily admit that when I received sample wines from Persimmon Creek Vineyards (in Georgia) I was skeptical. After all, I had seen what some Floridian wineries were making, and I can’t exactly say I’d drink those with a meal. Nix that, I wouldn’t drink those, period. The fact that the samples came nestled in what was easily the prettiest packaging I’ve ever seen actually didn’t help any, because I figured they were making up for an inferior product. It suffices to say I got my snobby-ass preconceived notions handed to me on a silver platter.

Persimmon Creek Vineyards sits in 110 acres of Northeast Georgia’s mountains. 22 of those acres carry vines on their backs, and a herd of dairy sheep graze both the pasture and vineyard. I figured for sure Georgia was nothing but a hotbed of peach and pecan trees, but apparently its mountains make for some pretty cold-climate growing conditions. Combine that with rocky loam in the soil and you get prime conditions for some great white wine—both their riesling and their seyval blanc are crisp, well balanced and aromatic. They also happen to make an icewine I simply didn’t think was possible in this state. At a 2,100-foot elevation, the grapes can ripen into November or even December, and usually do so with partial Botrytis, imparting beautiful honeyed notes.

Their red wine grapes on the other hand (merlot and cabernet franc), grace the westward-facing slopes in order to capture the most sunlight. It’s perhaps their merlot that surprised me the most of the table wines, again because I expected baked, overripe, soft oaky flavors from a Georgian merlot. I expected flab and jam, but I got balance and grace. All of the traditional berry/smoky/earthy qualities were there, and the tannins, though soft, made their presence felt. I’m ashamed to admit I would never have picked this bottle up off a store shelf in a million years. I would’ve scoffed at “serious Georgia wine” being an oxymoron, and I would’ve been grossly wrong.

With the recession hitting American pockets as hard as it has, it is no small problem that we aren’t turning toward each other for wine. The “locavore” movement, while impressive and well intentioned, has not done enough in the wine industry. If Americans do buy US wines, they are steered toward a handful of states that have the numbers to back them, oftentimes ignorant of the fact that other options exist. Their assumption is that if Georgia, for instance, makes wine, “and it isn’t on my retailer’s shelves, then it must be plonk.” Nothing could be further from the truth. This small winery, in this unexpected state, is producing wines that rival California’s overpriced cola, and it deserves its 15 minutes if only to get consumers demanding its wines.

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

1 wineaccguy March 16, 2010

Great piece. Every state has its own unique characteristics that make them ideal for certain varietals and wines, and as long as the winemakers know what they’re doing and how to exploit those characteristics, good wine is likely to occur.

Reply

2 Don March 16, 2010

Well, Katie, I know I sound like a broken Record, but the Vintner makes all the difference. I am convinced that if you have a good one they can make wine, good wine, under just about any conditions.

But the real question is will we get a Wordless Wednesday Post? …Pleeeeeze…

Reply

3 Greg March 17, 2010

It’s kinda refreshing to read that anybody is “producing wines that rival California’s overpriced cola” let alone the good folks in the mountains of Georgia.

Wine production in the so called “New World” has been on the slide for a decade or more.

In a thinly disguised and successful attempt at market extension, wineries have been pumping up the sweetness and the alcohol. The resulting wines are grotesque characatures of the varietals they originally sought to emulate.

It’s no wonder that, in Europe at least, traditionally produced wines are starting to make a comeback and not before time.

Florida needs to give up with any notion of producing decent wine, it simply does not have the climate or terrain.

California fruit syrup producers could do with a lesson in humility. You guys are not making fine wines. It’s little more than a masquerade.

It only remains for me to wish the folks in Georgia every success with their wine making. I sincerely hope that they resist any temptation to sugar it up in order to gain traction in the market. Quality and method will reap it’s own rewards given a little time and patience.

Greg

Reply

4 Katie Pizzuto March 17, 2010

@Don…yes, WW post coming up VERY shortly!! And it’s a good one.

@Greg…I couldn’t agree more with the sad state of “new world” wine but thankfully it doesn’t speak to all winemakers, just a great many. For that reason, more than anything else, I love to shine a light on wines that are (in my opinion) doing it right and doing it well. There is no attempt at Persimmon to sell the equivalent of oenological cola. They are doing everything possible to let the land, the plants and the animals do the bulk of the work. In essence, there are no “winemakers” just “vine tenders”. I can’t imagine Mary Ann would ever give in to “sugaring it up” in order to gain traction in the market, LOL!

Reply

5 Mary Ann March 17, 2010

Katie,

Thank you for the great post on our wines and the accolades. I am Southern; gratitude never goes out of style!

What I love about wine that often isn’t mentioned is the farming aspect of it. Wine is truly made in the vineyard: the French get this notion very well having the word “vigneron” which means wine grower. There is no word in French meaning “wine maker.” The focus is the place, terre, the vine–not rock star winemaker. (Well, it used to be!)

Within the vineyard itself, each vine needs individual attention. Truly, viticulture, the cultivation of vitis vinifera for wine, is topiary.

We are just finishing up our winter pruning–a true art itself that will determine how much air and light will permeate to these grapes. Wine is, as Galileo said, liquid sunshine!

We are Luddites when it comes to growing and vinifying our wines. I am a big believer in polyculture as well as some aspects of Steiner’s biodynamic farming (hence our ever growing population of East Friesian sheep–we are at 35 now).

What I am very excited about is our 2009 Seyval Blanc which was barrel fermented with its natural yeast (neutral oak, mind you). We did this as an experiment to see what would happen–and the results are lovely.

The lieu-dit of our land and vines comes through more clearly and purely in the natural fermentation than the commercially acquired yeast. When we get it into the bottle, I’ll send you a sample!

We also have some 2009 that was fermented with commercially acquired yeast —you will see the contrast. Actually, you can smell and taste the contrast!

The bottom line here at Persimmon Creek Vineyards in Clayton, Georgia at 2200 feet elevation (please note: no Spanish moss grows on our trees here!): we are farmers, cultivators of the earth, vine, terre just as our predecessors were—dating back from the Neolithc cultivation of vitis vinifera sylvestris, the wild European grape vine.

We want our vines to speak.

I would also like to add: so many times people are amazed at the serious viticulture here in of ALLL places, in Georgia– the Blue Ridge Mountains of Appalachia. I think it is important to remember that vitis vinifera isn’t native to California, Washington, or Oregon. It actually did not come from France or Italy….the wine grape has Transcaucasian roots—the area of Georgia (as in RUSSIA), Irag, and Turkey are more home to the vine.

Yet how often do we see wines from Turkey, Russia, or Egypt on our wine shop shelves or on wine lists? The Fertile Crescent gave us civilization–including wine!

As Gomer Pyle said, “Surprise, Surprise, Surprise!” Thank you, Katie, for being pleasantly surprised and writing about it!

Merci beaucoup…with a Southern accent.

Reply

6 Stuart George March 17, 2010

Who would ever have thought that decent wine could be made in Georgia… Well done Mary Ann.

Reply

7 Robin March 24, 2010

I’m from NJ, but I’ve had the pleasure of spending time at Persimmon Creek Vineyards. The Seyval Blanc is one of my favorite wines.

Here in NJ, there is a growing appreciation from the locavore movement for our own state’s wines. Especially in South Jersey, independent restaurants that support local agriculture are beginning to carry some of the state’s better wines, too. It’s happening slowly, but it’s happening.

Reply

8 Katie Pizzuto March 24, 2010

Couldn’t agree more, Robin, and while I have a tendency to be hard on many of Jersey’s wineries, those in Cape May are particularly doing some great stuff…especially Hawk Haven.

Reply

9 Robin March 24, 2010

Katie,

I followed the link to this blog from Persimmon Creek’s facebook page. This is my first visit here. I just clicked over to your twitter and realized you’re from NJ. I didn’t know that when I made the previous comment.

I’ve got a blog that focuses on South Jersey’s local foods, including wines from all over the state.

http://www.southjerseylocavore.com/

Two wines from NJ that I particularly like are Auburn Road’s Classico and Unionville Vineyards Single Vineyard Chardonay.

Reply

10 Katie Pizzuto March 24, 2010

Haven’t tried Auburn Road…will give it a go! And glad you found me, however you found me. I’ll definitely check out the blog, though unfortunately, I don’t get to South Jersey much, LOL!

Reply

11 Coupe 60 March 25, 2010

@katie, first off great article…I may actually go try and find some persimmon creek especially when I am down in Atlanta

@Greg, @Katie I will say thought that I think the broad bashing of the New world wines is a little over the top…yeah their are some people that make wine to please parker and Miller over at WA, but here are also some people that make well balanced wines that reflect the way the varietal grows in their terroir… I happen to like well made wines in this style particularly for sipping without food. Doesn’t make me any righter or wronger than those that like dirt and poop and have to strain their necks to detect any fruit in their wine…and it doesn’t mean that your palate will evolve to appreciate these finer subtle nuances of a wine

Reply

12 Katie Pizzuto March 25, 2010

Definitely hunt some down…esp. the seyval blanc. Great stuff, Lou. As for your comments about “new world” wine, there’s no question that there are people in the new world making wine that is well balanced, but given the amount of wine I taste, I can honestly say that they are the exception, not the rule. There aren’t “some people” making wines that are overripe and high alcohol…most are. Though I’d never say that most do it to please Parker & Gang. I think most do it because that’s what the American consumer wants…fruitbombs for lack of a better word. I can’t get most of my non-wino friends to go near a funky, earthy Burgundy….they think it smells like shit! But, that being said, to your point, people shouldn’t strain their necks to detect fruit either….again, in the end, everything is about balance. As much as I love earthiness, I don’t want something where I can detect no fruit.

Like you said, there are definitely people making wines that reflect the way the varietal grows, in fact, Substance Wines, which I wrote about recently, is one of them. Persimmon Creek is another. I try to find gems and point a huge finger their way, because I know they are out there, but my jaded perspective is that they are in the minority. On a happy note, though, I do think the pendulum is swinging, and more people are coming out with things like unoaked chards that don’t taste like a buttered 2×4 🙂

Reply

13 Coupe 60 March 25, 2010

man Katie …our palates are 180 degrees apart…While some people are making over ripe and high alcohol wine, when made well, I happen to love that style…and to be honest that funky burgundy does smell like shit…

Reply

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: