- Del Meyer, MD - https://delmeyer.net -

Wine Country

Some studies have suggested that people having two drinks a day live longer than those that have none or those that have four or more. It just so happens that all the basic drinks have the same alcohol content and thus are interchangeable. Twelve ounces of 5% beer, 5 ounces of 12% wine, or one and a half ounces of 40% (80 proof) liquor all contain 6/10 ounce of alcohol.

We live in a state that produces almost as much wine as the rest of the world combined. And we live within one hour of the greatest wine producing valley in California. The Napa Valley had nearly two hundred wineries when prohibition (how could that happen?) came along. The feds only allowed five wineries to continue producing wine for liturgical and medicinal use. Two of those were in Napa Valley, Beringer and Beaulieu Vineyards. It has taken nearly 50 years since prohibition to come close to 200 producers again.

A medical politician was asked if he was against alcohol. He replied it all depends on what you mean by alcohol. If you’re talking about alcohol that causes drunkenness, debauchery, and uses up family income so that children don’t get fed and clothed; that causes loss of job and income with increased welfare and homelessness, causing divorce and breaking up of families; that causes delirium, dementia, and cirrhosis with esophageal varices resulting in a bloody projectile exsanguination in front of a hysterical spouse, I’m very much against it. However, if you’re talking about the fruit of the vine that relaxes couples before a fine dinner, improves conversation, conviviality, sharing, and relationships; the aromatic hops that improves neighborly relations in the back yard, and around the barbecue; or the aged distillate of our fine grains that provide relaxation during heated debates, after intense business negotiations, and before a political speech; that provides tax money to educate our children and build schools, I’m very much for it.

The fruit of the vine is particularly pleasing to see during and shortly after the Labor Day weekend as we recently experienced. To go vineyard touring and wine tasting with grape sampling can indeed be a pleasurable and learning experience. Grape sampling is only available as grapes are nearing press time.

An acre of vineyard has 400 vines, each vine has about 40 clusters, each cluster has about 75 grapes, and each grape weighs 2 grams which equals 2.6 tons of fruit, which makes 403 gallons of wine, which is 160 cases or 2,034 bottles per acre.

Tours are available in most vineyards on a walk in basis with a maximum wait of 30 minutes until the next tour starts. Beringer is a major exception with several tours filled in advance. The winery was founded by brothers Frederick and Jacob in 1876 and is popular because of the historic nature of the tour. A chief attraction is a visit to the tunnels which are dug deep into a mountainside where the temperature is always 58 F, perfect for aging wine in 60 gallon oak barrels. The vineyard was sold to Nestles of Switzerland when the fourth generation of Beringers couldn’t pay the inheritance tax and continue the cost of operation.

Recent tax advice coming across my desk (to the circular file) for estate planning cautions that physicians with wine cellars may want to give up to the annual maximum $10,000 tax free gift in wine to children since wine increases in value and can cause an inheritance tax bind.

Robert Mondavi Winery (Robert Mondavi is now 81 years old and has managed to keep his vineyard family owned) gives a very informative tour of modern computerized wine making. Mrs. Mondavi, an artist, has placed Beniamino Bufano sculpture around the grounds.

Touring a sparkling wine cellar and vineyard is a totally different experience. Seagrams bought out the G H Mumms champagne cellars and vineyards in Reims, France in 1952. Seagrams established their Mumms Napa Valley vineyard and cellars in 1986, building the current visitors center in 1990. Included at the winery is the Alinder Gallery dedicated to the appreciation of photography as art. Seagrams has also established a permanent Ansel Adams exhibit which contains Adams commercial photos of Napa Valley wineries.

The WSJ reports that wine production is leveling off and shipments decreased slightly in 1992. Three fourths of wine consumers are over 40 and half are over 50. The wine industry is planning a major advertising and marketing campaign that would promote wine drinking. The Wine Institute is directing its efforts to lobbying in the eight states where wine is sold only in government controlled stores and to get wine into the supermarkets nationwide.

Through the marvels of modern architecture, the tours always end up in the gift store. Lovely volumes on the colorful history of some of the vintners complement the purchase of the wines that were sampled. Yes, Labor Day in Napa Valley is a relaxing and enjoyable experience and appears to be a good time to see wineries in action.