Monday, October 17, 2011

Grand Cru debate?

Grand Cru of French wine is a wonderful name and one that means plenty in terms of value to the properties allowed to use the designation.  But it can be kind of confusing for wine lovers. In Bordeaux, Premier Cru is the top designation, while in Burgundy Premier Cru means the second best vineyard sites, just below the Grand Cru designation.  The Grand Cru term can be found on many labels in Bordeaux, while in Burgundy it is only allowed on the top 30 vineyard sites. The Premier Cru term is only found on the top 20 Château in Bordeaux (15 in St-Emilion plus 5 in Medoc) not including the 12 in Sauternes.   
Confused yet?  I am and I’m writing it, and the reason I am writing this is because of two ‘newsish’ bits about the term.  First I saw a blogger ‘complaining’ about a California producer’s use of the term for his vineyard in Southern California.  The Sea Smoke Vineyard can be found in the Sta. Rita Hills AVA.  This AVA is relatively new and within the larger regions of Santa Ynez and Santa Barbara County.   The next thing was the INAO approval of a new Grand Cru vineyard in France, Quarts de Chaume will be the Loire Valleys first Grand Cru designation and along with that the surrounding area of Coteaux du Layon Premier Cru Chaume.  Please pardon my wine ignorance, but I believe, yet am not sure if that would also be a Loire first for a Premier Cru designation…I’ve never heard of another, but it is wine and I could be wrong.
So given all this confusion of the term, even by the French themselves, I am not sure how to react to the term Grand Cru being stolen and used by a Pinot Noir producer in California.  And I haven’t even gotten into the strange legal battles that Saint-Emilion has gone through with its use of Premier Cru and Grand Cru Classe since 2006!  It is an odd choice and I am not certain I’d do it, but…
By the way Sea Smoke is a great site (aka Cru) for Pinot Noir, that has been discovered by many Pinot Noir lovers, including Dick Doré and his partner(s), Bill Wathen and JennyWilliamson Doré of Foxen Vineyards which are in Santa Maria Valley... an AVA just north of Sta. Rita Hills.  Bill was hired by Sea Smoke to help with the planting of the vineyards in 1999 and because of his consulting, Foxen is still the only producer allowed to produce some Pinot Noir from this great site.  And as of yet Dick, Bill and Jenny don't put Grand Cru on the label, since that particular wine sells out immediately, I kind of doubt they will.  By the way, if you want to try Sea Smoke it can be found at some better wine stores and restaurant, but you'll have some serious difficulties finding Foxen's version.  If you can't find it, I highly recommend the Foxen Bien Nacido Block 8, which is more readily available, less expensive and from vineyards in their home appellation of Santa Maria Valley. As for finding something closer to the Sea Smoke vineyard, try the soon to be released Foxen La Encantada Vineyard Pinot Noir.

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