Wine Ink: The magic of maps
There is a phrase in baseball: “You can’t tell the players without a scorecard.” Well in wine, the parallel for a scorecard may well be the map.
Of all of the “ologies” and “ographies” that make up the world of wine, geography is perhaps the most important. Wine is of a place and to know a place, one needs a map. A scorecard, if you will.
In writing this column, not a week goes by where I am not examining some form of cartography. In a recent story about a wine from the Happy Canyon appellation of Santa Barbara, a key component concerned the unique geographical quirk that allows the Santa Barbara wine regions to be influenced by the cooling of the Pacific. It is a direct result of the valleys on that patch of land running from west to east, rather than north to south. It is a defining characteristic that is most easily understood by a simple glance at a map of the region.
If you have done any wine touring you know the value of having a good map. A look at a Napa Valley winery map will show you that the Silverado Trail runs up the east side of the valley and Highway 29 up the west, and that between Yountville and Calistoga there are a half-dozen crossroads that can get you from one side to the other. Prestigious names of wineries — either on the valley floor or perched on the hillsides — dot the map and show the way. There you have it. A quick overview of the entire 30-mile by 5-mile Napa Valley at a glance. Knowledge is power.
I can remember talking to Master Sommelier Jay Fletcher about how he became an expert in the wines of Bordeaux despite having had never set feet in France. “I studied maps like you can’t believe,” he told me. “I could tell you where each chatêau was and which way the rivers ran. I knew it better than I knew Aspen.”
My go-to for wine maps is the excellent “The World Atlas of Wine” by Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson. I have the sixth edition published in 2007, and I treasure it. The most recent edition, the eighth, is to be released this week by publisher Mitchell Beazley and contains 416 pages and 22 new maps.
While the descriptions by Johnson and Robinson are incredibly informative, it is the regional wine maps that are indispensible. If there is a need to know about the “terra rossa” of Coonawarra, for example, I can simply flip to page 350 (that would be in my sixth edition) and see that it runs for about 9 miles in a line of earth that is perfect for growing cabernet. Need to know where the Horse Heaven Hills are? Well, that’s on page 315, of course.
Now, the times are a-changin’ and anything worth doing is worth doing digitally. A website called Everyvine.com has changed the way that vintners, grape growers, grape buyers and ultimately consumers can interact with vineyards. On the site currently you can see maps and visuals of over 1,000 vineyards and wine tasting rooms, and according to Everyvine, over 240,000 acres have joined the site.
Click on a winery, say Penner-Ash in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, and a Google map satellite image of the winery and the surrounding vineyards will appear in a box. Make the map larger and click on one of the surrounding vineyards, and it will be highlighted with a box that gives information like the Block Name (in Penner-Ash’s case, Pommard Upper), its size (2.58 acres) along with details like its region, its wine’s ratings, its elevation, surface profile, soil profile (Fine-silty, mixed, mesic Ultic Haploxeralfs), whether it is has a sustainable certification, etc, etc. etc. Amazing.
Just last week came news that the historic Haynes Vineyard in the Coombsville appellation of Napa Valley had sold to Gaylon Lawrence Jr., the owner of Heitz Cellar. As the cooler-climate Coombsville is one of my favorite appellations in the valley, I took a quick look at Haynes on Everyvine.com. There I got a visual overview of the eight blocks of pinot and chardonnay that are planted on the property (along with a small block of syrah) and had a better understanding of why this 33-acre vineyard may be worth the estimated $12.5 million Lawrence paid for it.
For consumers, imagine drinking a particular wine, say the Flowers Camp Meeting Ridge Chardonnay. You love the wine and you may know it is impacted by the coastal influence of the vineyard. You log on, find the vineyard. A visual map takes you high above the vines and shows you how the vines drop off either side of the ridge on the Sonoma Coast. You widen the view and you can see just how close the ocean is to the vineyard. You take another sip.
Maps and wine. Together they can take you on a journey.
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