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  • Garrett

Discovering Our Grape Karass

If there ever was a middle-finger-of-a-grape, it's Alicante Bouschet. By all accounts, you shouldn't get near it, but we can't help ourselves. If you've read about the grape elsewhere, you'll already know a few tidbits about it, like:

  • It's a cross between Petit Bouschet and Grenache, made by Henri Bouschet in 1866.

  • It's a teinturier, which means it has red flesh and red skin, unlike most red grapes, which have green flesh.

  • It was popular during prohibition because of its thick skins, which made it easier to transport.

  • It was once quite popular, but lost almost all of its popularity—and acreage—throughout the 20th century to more "noble" varieties.

  • Contrary to trends elsewhere, the grape and its wine have become quite popular in Portugal and Spain over the past few decades.

  • It is a heavy, juicy yielder with larger berries on loose clusters and likes the heat.

While you may be intrigued, many would find too many red flags in the above list to pursue this wine. Big berries and heavy yields? A hybrid varietal? Waining popularity? Hot climate proclivity? Thick skins and lots of juice? How on earth could you expect to get fashionable wine out of such an unfashionable grape? Perhaps you can't. Perhaps people all over Portugal and Spain already are and have been for a long time.

When we first told a local winemaker we had intentions of making wine from Alicante Bouschet from Southern California, he smirked and said only, "ah, Prohibition wine." Perhaps I was being sensitive, but I read his comment as an attempt to assign the wine a lower status.

Like almost all varietals, Alicante B belongs to its own karass, a term coined by the great Kurt Vonnegut, used in Cat's Cradle to mean a group of people united through a mysterious but undeniable connection. I think all wine drinkers have their own grape karass. Some gravitate toward Trusseau Gris, Pulsard, Savaginin, Chenin Blanc, Gammay. Some seek out only Pinot Noir or Chardonnay. Still others drink exclusively varietals they can be sure you've never heard of or, on the other side, only varietals they recognize from grocery store shelves.

A grape karass is more than a preference; it's a way to signal your affiliation. It's a sense of connection to other people through an aesthetic of wine. It's not possible to not belong to a grape karass, because it's not exactly a choice—it's a confluence of influences. Who do you drink with? What wines do you have access to? What is your palate attracted to? What can you afford? What have you learned about wine and from whom did you learn it? What do people you don't like drink?

It's tempting to create a hierarchy of importance—to rank these karass. Ratings, scores, and competitions—while constructed to guide drinkers through the endless options in the wine world—often give the illusion that there is a perfect wine toward which all winemakers strive. But there are too many variables for this ever to be true. For one, fashions come and go (which is why I'm not too worried about Alicante B falling out of favor in some places). Our taste is determined by a number of shifting inputs including where we drank a particular wine, what music was playing, our moods, mythology and assumed knowledge, and on and on. Food wine. Wine in search of balance. 100-Point wine. Cult wine. Natural wine. We love to belong with others by what we drink. It is, however, easy to set ourselves up in opposition to one another, but I think we should be a little more lighthearted about all of it. This is not to say there aren't very serious topics in and around wine (labor exploitation, toxic farming practices, gatekeeping, etc.), it's just that there are too many barriers already up. Why would we construct even more and more meaningless ones?

Luckily belonging to something does not necessarily mean you're doing it in opposition to something else, so we're trying to focus on what we like and where we belong rather than falling into the all-too-enjoyable routine of distantly judging people we do not agree with.

So, that said, here are the grapes that fall into our grape karass. At least for now:

  • Alicante Bouschet

  • Cinsault

  • Fiano

  • Muscat

  • Nerello Mascalese

  • Petit Verdot

  • Sangiovese

  • Viognier

  • Zinfandel

Most of the wines we've been really excited about in the past few years have come from these grapes (with the exception of Viognier and Petit Verdot which we made for the first time this year, not because of what we've had in the past, but because the fruit appealed to us in the vineyard).

The list will grow and change, but this is where we feel right at home. What's in your karass?

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