Note from the author: There are 1,368 varieties covered in Wine Grapes by MW Jancis Robinson, MW Julia Harding, and Dr. Jose Vouillamoz. Bet you can't try them all.
There's a group of winemakers who approach their job by asking their grapes, "What would you like to say?" The notion is that the role of a winemaker is not to force the grape into a predetermined style of wine, but rather to let the grape tell its own story, in its own accent, about "who it is" and where it's from. It's an honorable way to approach the craft—I'd imagine both empowering and filled with immense liability; much like being a parent.
Sometimes, when I have writer's block, I try to approach my piece the same way: "Dear wine, what story do you want to tell?"
And so it was that I asked my glass of 2011 Broc Valdiguié, "What story would you like to tell today?" According to Wine Grapes, Valdigiué is a "high-yielding, rather ordinary variety from south-west France." Apparently, it went by the name Napa Gamay and was widespread in California in years gone by—over 6,000 acres were planted with Valdigiué vines as of 1977—thanks to its high yields and ability to resist powdery mildew. But this grape, which the book calls a "rather ordinary variety", soon lost favor and was almost entirely ripped out. Today, with barely 300 acres in California, Valdiguié has languished into obscurity, relegated to a reputation for mediocrity. I considered all this carefully. Poor, ordinary Valdiguié. And that's when I came to the very disturbing thought.
Why do certain grapes persist in the world while others get pushed out? The answer is fairly obvious: generally speaking, grapes persist because we like the wine they make; we find it interesting and delicious. And we grow more of it—because we'd like to drink more of it. But if this is the case, then what of those grapes we don't immediately find pleasant? Is it possible that perhaps they just haven't been given a fair chance? Or that perhaps they require a different winemaking approach, or a different spot to flourish?
Gulp. What if humans were like grapes? We seek to control viticulture so that we plant and propagate only what we like, but what if someone did that with humans? Before you call me ridiculous, consider: Don't we all have inherent strengths and weaknesses, both good characteristics and bad ones? And isn't it, at least to some degree, the influence of our environment and those who bring us up that affects whether or not those good or bad characteristics are played up or toned down?
Back to the Valdiguié. Chris Brockway of Broc Cellars is a California winemaker working intently under what seems to be a "what does the wine want to say?" approach. In addition to the likes of Zinfandel and Grenache, he works with a handful of "weird" wine grapes from off-the-beaten-path vineyards.
His 2011 Broc Valdiguié from Green Valley (a half hour further inland from Napa) is radiant. It pours a self-assured, inviting, bright ruby-purple color. Each sip and sniff brings me back to happy snack time in elementary school: plump strawberry and red raspberry fruit snacks, a bouncy sweet-sour dance that makes your mouth water and makes wish you had another pack (or, in this case, another glass) before you had to get back to work. There's an immensely pleasurable juiciness, and a fresh waft of lilies, jasmine, lilacs and roses too, that adds a layer of complexity to this wine.
I have to say that in Chris's hands, the "rather ordinary" Valdiguié has grown up into something quite interesting and delicious. And if his is any indication of this grape's potential, I'd like people to grow more of it—because I'd like to drink more of it.
2011 Broc Valdiguié
The Grape: Valdiguié
The Region: Green Valley (Solano County), California
Retail Price: $22
About the Author: Stevie Stacionis is a wine writer and Certified Sommelier based in San Francisco. She's currently drinking her way through the 1,368 varieties included in Wine Grapes. Follow her on Twitter @StevieStacionis and check out her snobbery-free wine videos at A Drinks With Friends TV.