Talking the Talk

Summer is rapidly approaching and we find ourselves drawn to the outdoors more often.   (Though one must be careful of those unexpected afternoon storms.) Many of the local humans seem to share this urge, and often, especially in the evenings, this includes a glass of wine in one hand. While we generally prefer not to be surrounded by large numbers of humans, we have learned how to tolerate these invasions.

The roof of the garden shed is often quite handy for quick escapes, and the overhanging branches provide an excellent blind from which to watch the humans while they congregate together. It was during one of these observation periods that we overheard a discussion of coulore.

We were able to piece together that coulure refers to a low production of grapes (a true tragedy). Essentially, a large proportion of the still-forming berries fall off, usually due to a sudden bit of cold weather that occurs after the first bloom of flowers on the vine.

It’s no surprise that there would be a word to describe this particular phenomenon, given how long humans have been making wine, but it did get us wondering what other wine-related terms existed? It was time for a little research into the argot of wine-making.

It turns out there are quite a few resources for those interested in the topic of wine. We poured over the options and decided on Jancis Robinson’s Guide to Wine Grapes. It’s a perfect size, easily carried on any adventure or tucked among the bottles in the rack,  yet it covers over 800 varieties of grape. It offers detailed information about each grape, including where the grape is typically grown, the type of wine it produces, and an explanation of what to expect as far as flavor and the all-important aroma.

More importantly, for our purposes, it also includes a short glossary of wine terms, both common and rare. Among our favorite terms:

  • Ampelography – the science of identifying grape varietals by detailed description, especially the leaves
  • Baume – the Australian measurement of grape ripeness
  • Brix – the American measurement of grape ripeness (also a delicious chocolate for sipping with wine)
  • chaptalization – adding sugar to the fermentation process to make a stronger rather than sweeter wine
  • foxy – the distinctive taste of certain American grapes and their wine

And of course, there’s the dreaded phylloxera, the bane of every vineyard. Phylloxera is a  very long word for a very small creature, a member of the louse family to be exact. It’s native to North America and loves nothing more than munching on the roots of grape vines. North American grape vines had developed resistance to this little bug, but not so the European varietals, which had never had to face such a terror. Cuttings from American varietals that were brought back to Europe were infected with phylloxera and quickly spread, first among the defenseless vineyards of the Rhone and then into the rest of France. There is only one thing that phylloxera doesn’t like – sandy soil.

Grafting European varietals onto North American roots saved the vineyards of France and Europe, though it cost a great deal of money, time and effort. Meanwhile, the little louse can still strike fear. Many wine-makers in Australia and Chile, which have never been infected by phylloxera, have elected to plant cuttings with American roots, just in case. Other locations, like Oregon and New Zealand, have opted for the hope for the best solution. Both of these areas have had phylloxera infestations, but without the decimation seen in Europe.

Of course, if we wine-loving five were to ever encounter any phylloxera, we would be sure to demonstrate our own fierce natures, letting those little bugs know that killing grape vines was unacceptable behavior. But first, anyone up for a glass of prosecco – just as a way to savor a beautiful almost-summer day?

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