We’ve worked with an Amity Vineyards Pinot Noir in the past, but some of it is worth repeating here since we haven’t shipped one of these in our Explorations Wine Club as of yet.
Amity has been around for quite a while in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, having been one of the first wineries in all of Oregon completely focused on quality.
That’s interesting right now, because the winery was recently acquired by a box wine maker, a sign of the times no doubt, but there’s some confusion from folks in the industry about the future of both the fine wine program, as well as the estate vineyard itself.
This wine was made 3 years before the change, so quality isn’t at issue.
Gewurztraminer is an interesting and finicky grape and I think perhaps more interesting to talk about in this space than is the story behind Amity, especially given that it’s changing so rapidly.
Gewurztraminer also boasts a pretty complex history. UC Davis, as I know I’ve mentioned before in these wine club newsletters, has done an incredible job at sequencing wine grape genomes over the past two decades. They’ve said publicly that the family of Traminer grapes have the most unstable genome around-which winemakers consider both good and bad. The bad part is that every vintage is going to offer something a little different in terms of fermentation, even when you’re being consistent with your winemaking process and the type of yeast that you’re using. The good part though is that after a decade or two in a vineyard, the vines and genetics have likely become fairly unique. That uniqueness is something that can bring people back consistently to the same winery, no two established Gewurztraminer vineyards are likely to be genetically exact matches after only a few years of growing.
So here’s the real problem and why you don’t see more Gewurztraminer across wine regions. First, the buds incredibly early. Pinot Noir is known as a more delicate and difficult grape, but in California’s Anderson Valley, Gewurztraminer buds at least a month earlier. Budding early is completely fine and perhaps preferable if you’re in warm climates, but Gewurztraminer thrives in colder climates, so frost is a very real concern after bud break. Once you survive the early spring, things don’t get much better though. So if the weather is warm, then the vines literally are untenable. If you’ve ever grown pumpkins in your yard you have some idea of what I’m talking about here, vines can be untenable if they’re growing well. In wine grapes, that also leads to a tremendous amount of sugar. More sugar leads to higher alcohol content. For Gewurztraminer that can be especially bad because it causes the grape to lose its distinctive floral bouquet, which is why I enjoy the wine and why so many others do as well.
I should take a moment to mention that this is a dry version of the grape. Often times vintners get tired of attempting to remove all the residual sugar and go for a slightly sweet version of Gewurztraminer. We also see some vintners that want the grape to be a stand in, first wine consumed of sorts for people who are accustomed to soda or other sweeter beverages.
To me, if we were talking about say, White Zinfandel or something that is admittedly, not a serious wine grape for people that want to actually you know, drink wine….sure that’s a really great thought. Wine is fighting the craft beer movement after all for relevance among millennials (I don’t view it like that, after all, plenty of time to drink both, all of my friends, some of which count as millennials and others simply are a few years older as well will drink some of both already).
So what’s the future look like for Gewurztraminer in America? You’re going to continue seeing plantings of it in colder regions. Sales will continue to increase. Some of the big brands are going to make bad versions of it and sell a ton of those bad versions. Small producers will rule in a way that isn’t possible with easier grapes, there’s a very real advantage with Gewurztraminer when you grow it and can pick a portion of the vineyard every day. Plus, the big boys are finding cool climate vineyards now, but having them plant and manage truly cold vineyards is asking a bit much!