Newsletter Winter 2017
The Grape Harvest: The 2017 growing season will be remembered as one of the wettest on record, but in most other respects, it was fairly typical of the terroir associated with the Shenandoah Valley. Ten inches of rain in the late spring carried the vines through the early part of the summer, but some irrigation was still needed in late July to help the vines reach harvest in good condition. The crush started on August 17th with the Sangiovese destined for the Bray Brut Sparkling Rose, which was picked a week later than the 2016 harvest. The crush finished with both the last of the Brunello clone of Sangiovese and the last of the Primitivo in the middle of October, which was also a week later than last year. Overall, the quantity was up slightly which may account for the 7-day shift in time; with more fruit, ripening took a bit longer. The quality was good, and we think you’ll be as pleased as we are with this year’s harvest. The resulting wines, when released (the whites in 2018 and most of the reds in 2019), should be superb. Enjoy!
Christmas Sales: In keeping with the holiday season, we are offering a special gift basket ladened with a bottle of our 2013 Barbera Port. Also included is a bottle of the Bray Vineyards Estate Olive Oil with attached pour spout. A great Holiday gift idea priced at $36.
Our 2014 Bray Vineyards Petite Sirah is also on sale in a 3-pack for $45 ( a $27 savings). This aged Petite Sirah is now tasting at its peak, and will pare well with any number of traditional dinner recipes such as lamb or prime rib. Don't delay, there are only 9 cases left.
Recipe: In need of a recipe for a simple healthy winter dessert, we turned to our friend Alison L. and her website at: Cookfoodmostlyplants.blogspot.com Her recommendation was a strawberry, chocolate, and port mixture that is as easy to make as it is to devour.
Ingredients (these won’t be on the email)
Fresh, fragrant strawberries, sliced crosswise into thirds or quarters
2-4 fresh mint leaves per person, chiffonade (French word for shredded)
1/2 shot Bray Port (your choice) per person
Bar of good-quality dark chocolate, for shaving
Toss the sliced strawberries with the Port and mint. Spoon into serving bowls or glasses, and shave a little dark chocolate over the top using a microplane or carrot peeler.
Will serve you, and anyone else you've decided that you really, really like that day.
Trivia: Our Winter Newsletter Trivia section will delve into the origins of a wine style which today we refer to as Port. The story of Port’s development is intrinsically linked with the English and to really appreciate the history of Port it helps to know just a little bit of English history. The end of Roman rule in the 5th Century enabled Germanic tribes to invade and settle the southern and eastern parts of the British Isle. These Anglo-Saxon settlements are regarded by many historians as the origin of England and the English people.
In 1066, William the Conqueror, Duke of Normandy and a vassal of the French King, invaded and conquered the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of England. He made himself King of England, and as was customary in that age, there was an intermingling of English and French royal families. This intermarriage process secured a kingdom spanning territory on both sides of the English Channel. William's heirs acquired numerous French estates along with their vineyards, and ruled them as Englishmen; a development that was not well received by the French Kings. One of these estates was the Duchy of Aquitaine which passed to English control when Eleanor of Aquitaine married Henry II. Aquitaine included the vineyards of Bordeaux and thus began England’s infatuation with claret. A dispute over land, the control of Flanders (northern Belgium), and the French support of the Scotts in their bid for independence led to war between England and France in 1337. Of course, it didn’t help that the English King, Edward III, claimed to be the rightful heir to the French throne. This conflict, known as the Hundred Years’ War (technically 116 years), was fundamentally all about kicking the English off the European continent.
As English naval dominance on the high seas developed, the resulting mercantile wealth led to a taste for extravagance among the gentry. However, at the end of the Hundred Years’ War, France, as we know it today, was unified and England was evicted from mainland Europe. Imports of French wines were limited for political reasons, and availability was usually a function of what level of hostilities existed at any particular time. Even during times of war, French wine was available, but only from smugglers. The expense of contraband wines limited consumption to the very well off. In 1667, Louis XIV embarked on a series of measures to restrict the import of English goods into France. This provoked Charles II of England into increasing the duty on French wines, and later forbidding their import altogether. This trade war obliged English wine merchants to seek alternative sources of supply. The Iberian Peninsula was only too happy to fill the void. The tipping point came with the signing of the Methuen Treaty in 1703, which was colloquially referred to as the "Port Wine Treaty". This part military and part commercial treaty stipulated that no tax could be charged for Portuguese wines exported to England, or English textiles exported to Portugal, regardless of the geopolitical situation of each of the two nations. This was to make sure that England would still accept Portuguese wine in periods when not at war with France.
Early commercial alliances between England and Portugal permitted the merchants of the other country to reside in its territory and trade on equal terms with its own subjects. Initially, the focal point of the burgeoning trade pact centered on the natural harbor of Viano do Castelo, located on the northern coast of Portugal. The commercial transactions involved a wide range of goods: English salt cod, wool and cotton cloth were exchanged for Portuguese grain, fruit and a wine know as “Red Portugal”. These wines, produced from grapes grown in Portugal’s cool wet coastal areas, were light, acidic, astringent, and not particularly to the liking of the English nobility.
The Methuen Treaty was a game changer, and England experienced an explosion of imported wine. However, as demand outgrew supply, the English started a search for additional sources. They found what they were looking for approximately 50 miles east of the city of Porto in northwest Portugal. This area along the upper reaches of the Douro River is a unique vinicultural landscape of steep, schistous hillsides that have produced wine since the 2nd Century B.C. Building on this Roman foundation, by the 17th Century, the Portuguese vintners along the Douro had developed a strong tradition of exceptional wines far superior to those being produced along the coast. The entire Douro Valley has a unique microclimate perfect for cultivation of grapes. The valley is shielded from the rain-laden winds blowing off the Atlantic by the Marão Mountains, and has hot dry summers and severe winters. The flaky, arid soil presents unique challenges for winemakers and most of the finest vineyards are planted on the steep hillsides bordering the Douro River and its tributaries. About two thirds of the vineyard area is planted on slopes with a gradient of over 30% and the Douro Valley is the only significant wine producing area in the world to practice hot climate hillside viticulture.
The Portuguese wine trade exploded with transportation being the only real drawback. The wild, mountainous terrain meant that the Douro Valley wines could only be conveyed by boat down the river to the city of Oporto near the coast. From Oporto, ships would then carry the wine to England, sailing out into the Atlantic over the treacherous mouth of the Douro River. The English quickly shifted their center of commerce from the north, and by 1710, Oporto was the hub of the English wine trade. Although they came from the mountainous hinterland of the Douro Valley some 50 miles from the coast, the wines took the name of the city from which they were shipped, becoming known in Portuguese as Vinho do Porto, meaning ‘Oporto wine’, and in England as ‘Port’. The earliest recorded shipment of wine under this name took place in 1678. The actual aging and blending of most of the world's supply of Port wine takes place in the bustling suburb of Vila Nova de Gaia which lies opposite Oporto on the steep south bank of the river. The true home of Port has over fifty wine companies based in its narrow, twisting streets.
The port of this era was not the same beverage we know today. There are several folklore legends concerning the development of fortification, but the reality was more likely the confluence of three factors. The first was initially a technical measure to enable the wine to survive the long journey from the Douro Valley to wine cellars of England. To protect the wine during the long sea voyage it was sometimes ‘fortified’ prior to shipment with the addition of a small amount of grape spirit, or brandy, which increased its strength and prevented it from spoiling. This initial fortification was on the order of only about 3% and it was not universally practiced. Most Port wine was not fortified at all.
The second factor concerned the development of the wine bottle. Prior to the 18th century wine was shipped and stored in hogsheads of anywhere between 60 and 140 English gallons. Early 18th century bottles were bulbous, broad bottomed and short necked. They could stand upright but could not be laid on their sides. Their main purpose was to carry wine from the tavern owner’s hogshead to the table and, once empty, they would be sent back for re-filling. A bottle often bore the initials or crest of its owner. The system was inefficient and the wines susceptible to spoilage due to oxygen exposure in half full barrels. Over the decades, as production techniques evolved, bottles became progressively slimmer and more elongated, with longer less tapered necks. By the 1770s, bottles had become sufficiently cylindrical to be stored on their sides. The prosperity of the Industrial Revolution during last years of the 18th century released the capital necessary for the wealthy to accumulate stocks of wine, and mature them for longer timeframes. The superior ageing potential of Port wines that had been fortified became readily apparent, and the practice of fortification increased.
No one knows exactly when Port, as we know it, appeared, but sometime during the early 1700s someone came up with the idea of stopping the fermentation with brandy while the wine was still sweet, fruity, and strong. As the century progressed, the practice became more common. The resulting wines were sweeter, stronger, more aromatic, and had a greater appeal for the English consumer. However, not all merchants encouraged the practice. Nevertheless, while gradually gaining acceptance, the turning point may have been the exceptional harvest of 1820 which produced Ports so magnificent that subsequent vintages could not approach their richness and power unless they were fortified.
Not everyone thought fortification was a good idea. One of the fiercest opponents of fortification was the famous Baron Forrester, a legendary figure in the history of Port wine. He believed the quality of Douro wines could stand on their own and he campaigned vigorously against fortification. In 1862, the Baron was lunching up river with Dona Antónia Ferreira, founder of the Ferreira Port house, and Baroness Fladgate, wife of John Fladgate, Baron of Roêda. After lunch, as they traveled down through the infamous rapids of the Valeira gorge their boat hit a rock and capsized, throwing passengers and crew into the fast running water of the rapids. The ladies survived, their air filled crinolines buoying them to safety, but Forrester, possibly weighed down by the gold sovereigns in his money belt, was never found. Forrester was a man of great determination and, had he survived to convince his colleagues of the error of their ways, the practice of fortification may have been modified. In any event, by the latter half of the 19th Century the practice was nearly universal, and Port had become the iconic fortified wine that we know today.
Until relatively recently, the Port wine trade was reliant on the river to bring the wines down from the vineyards to the ‘lodges’ of the Port shippers at Oporto near the coast. The Douro flows in a typical pool and drop manner similar to the Colorado River. Calmer sections alternated with treacherous shoals and turbulent rapids, often grouped in series with some gushing through narrow, sheer-sided gorges. These rapids constituted a formidable sequence of obstacles, and required great skill to negotiate successfully. Throughout most of the Douro’s history, the vessel which carried out this work was the Barcos Rabelos, a boat with a flat-bottomed hull and a long steering oar, operated from the top of a raised platform. This arrangement allowed the crew to carry out the very precise maneuvers necessary to traverse the rapids. The boats were also fitted with a broad sail to assist it in making the journey back upstream. In the faster running reaches, they would be hauled against the current by teams of oxen straining on a towpath. The highly skilled and courageous crews constituted closely knit communities with their own distinctive traditions and customs. As trade increased the number and size of the Rabelos increased with some of the larger vessels carrying up to 100 casks. However, these larger craft were difficult to maneuver and prone to serious mishaps. Legislation in 1779 restricted the size to 70 casks but Rabelos of 50 casks were the most common. In 1887, completion of the railway along the Douro provided an alternative means of transportation but the Rabelo remained the method of choice for decades with 300 vessels still registered in 1930. As access to the Douro Valley improved, road transport began to take over and the last commercial journey of a Rabelo took place in 1964.
In Portugal, over 100 varieties of grapes are officially sanctioned for Port production, but only five are widely cultivated and used: Tinta Barroca, Tinta Cão, Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo), Touriga Francesa and Touriga Nacional (the most celebrated Port grape). In the United States, there are no such restrictions, and the choice of what grape varietals to use is left to the discretion of the winemaker. The use of the word “Port” on the label is a different matter altogether. In 2005, after 20 years of negotiations, the European Union and the United States reached a bilateral accord concerning the use of 17 different “names of origin” on wine labels. These names are considered geographic locations on Europe labels, but were merely semi-generic descriptions in the US. Subsequently, American wine makers could no longer use wine labels that described their wines as Champagne, Chianti, Port, etc., but would be grandfathered if the wine was produced prior to 2006, which is the case with the Bray Vineyards Ports.
There are a number of different designations describing Ports that may sound confusing, but in practice are really rather simple. Most Ports are blends of several different harvests unless designated as vintage with a year posted on the label. Ruby Ports are aged for 2-3 years before bottling, and have a deep red color, and taste young and fruity. Tawny Ports typically spend anywhere from 4 to 7 years in a barrel and pick up a light brown color from both the oak and oxidation while aging. They have flavors of wood, nuts, and dried fruit. Bray’s Ports are Ruby Ports and are ready for consumption when purchased.
A final tidbit about the Bishop of Norwich and the Hoggit: at the end of formal 19th Century dinner parties, Port decanters were sometimes passed around the table with each guest expected to charge his own glass and pass it on. If a guest failed to pass the decanter on to his or her neighbor, the toasting would come to a standstill. This usually happened because either a guest did not notice that the decanter was in front of them, or they did not realize that they should pass it along. More rarely, it was because they hoped that no one would notice and they could secure a second glass. Guests waiting further down the table for the decanter to arrive would become impatient, but it was considered bad form to demand that the decanter be passed on. Instead, the person who is preventing the decanter from continuing its journey round the table is asked politely ‘Do you know the Bishop of Norwich?’ This is a gentle reminder to get the decanter moving again.
The origin of ‘Do you know the Bishop of Norwich?’ is attributed to Henry Bathurst who was Bishop of Norwich from 1805 to 1837. Bishop Bathurst lived to the age of 93 by which time his eyesight was deteriorating and he had developed a tendency to fall asleep at the table towards the end of the meal. As a result, he often failed to pass on the Port decanters, several of which would accumulate by his right elbow to the consternation of those seated further up the table. A bon vivant said to possess a prodigious capacity for wine consumption, he was sometimes suspected of using these frailties to his advantage.
The Hoggit was a simple expedient used to prevent anyone from having to invoke the Bishop of Norwich. It was a round-bottomed decanter which can only stand up when resting on a wooden support placed on the table to the right of the host or hostess. As it cannot be put down, it is passed directly from one guest to another. This ensures that it travels around the table in one continuous movement without stopping, until it returns to its base at the head of the table.
Remember, if you have a question that is looking for an answer, e-mail it to email@example.com
Website: Brayvineyards.com is the place to go for additional information on the winery, upcoming events, and past issues of this newsletter. It is also the online store for our current inventory of direct shipment wines, the available library wines, Bray logo clothing, and other winery paraphernalia. If you can’t visit us in beautiful Amador County, then perusing the website is the next best thing.
Tasting Room: Our tasting room is open on weekdays (except Tuesday) from 11 to 4 and from 10 to 5 on weekends. In December, the tasting room will be pouring: the ’16 Brayzin Hussy Blonde, the ’16 Barbera Rosato, ’14 Brayzin Hussy red, the ’14 Alicante Bouschet, the ’12 Petite Sirah, and the ’13 Barbera Port. We also have a red table wine available in a refillable one-liter bottle emblazoned with Bray’s tractor logo.