Settling into the American Wine Society (AWS) meeting turned out to be more difficult than Nick expected.
First, there were the inside jokes to endure, as there usually are with groups that have a long history. If it weren’t for his gregariousness, he would have been bored as surely as the look on Theresa’s face told how bored she was.
Second, there was the fellow responsible for many of the aperitif wines.
The focus of AWS wasn’t just toward home winemakers but it certainly was skewed that way. Still, one of the functions of membership was access to the AWS training to become a wine judge. Those who successfully completed the training were allowed to judge home winemaker as well as commercial winemaker competitions that were held at the AWS annual meeting.
A few of the local Finger Lakes chapter members were trained judges; one of them, Sal, was responsible in part for operation of the commercial wine competition. Sal was also what Theresa liked to refer to as “a wine bore,” someone who drones on about his cellar, his trips, his stellar palate, and his absolute intellect.
Nick did not like this man from the moment they shook hands; it had something to do with the way Sal introduced himself.
“High, I’m Sal. I hear you are starting a winery. I hope you produce better wine than some of the local stuff I’ve had.”
It wasn’t only a nasty thing to say about the local wine industry, it was presumptuous for Sal to assume that Nick knew or agreed with the man’s opinion.
The next thing that Sal said solidified Nick’s disdain.
“Come and taste some of the left over wines.”
Nick asked, “Left over from what?”
“From the commercial competition. I figure since the competition’s over and we didn’t use every one of the three bottles the winery’s send us, it’s fair game for me to take them for our meetings—for education purposes (wink).”
Soon the host for the evening called out for everyone to take a seat at the table for the Cayuga White blind tasting. Nick made sure not to be seated near Sal and his quiet, subservient-looking wife. For the rest of the evening he tried to avoid conversation with Sal, but he was also grateful to have met the man, as he learned something about a process that he was sure to address later on in his career.
The host gave each taster this note to read:
The Cayuga White grape was developed at Cornell University’s Geneva New York Experiment Station in the 1940s. Its direct parents are the French hybrid Seyval and the experiment station hybrid Schuyler. Seyval is a cross of the Old World Vitis vinifera species and some American species. Schuyler is a cross of Zinfandel (true vinifera) and Ontario (a hybrid of American species grapes). The first Cayuga experimental wine was released in 1955.
The result of all that hybridizing was an extremely fruity and acidic grape that gives the winemaker a fruity, crisp wine that reminds of grapefruit. Most Cayuga White wines are produced with a noticeable volume of residual sugar to offset the high acidity.
In fact, the wines at the blind tasting fit the above description except one, the one that Nick brought.
Oddly, the winemaker who once told Nick that sugar is the opiate of the masses, produced a Cayuga with so little residual sugar that it not only stood out at the tasting, it stood out badly. It was all acid and it was all rather horrible. Since this was a blind tasting, and since Nick had no idea what John’s Cayuga would taste like, as he had never tasted it before, he wound up making truly harsh remarks about the wine that he brought to his first AWS meeting, which in the end endeared him to the group for his indoctrination into bad local wine.
Sal was particularly pleased at the spectacle; he expressed to Nick his hatred for the grape and for hybrids in general. Nick uncommonly did not respond.
Nick found the other Cayuga wines pleasant to sip, but they weren’t much else. These were not complex or depth-charged wines. They were fine quaffers, and if that’s what the Geneva Experiment Station intended, then they had done a good job of it.
The food came out soon after the blind tasting ended. Some truly odd concoctions were placed on the table, and the oddest of all was a block of Philadelphia Brand cream cheese topped with a deep red cocktail sauce of some kind. It scared Nick.
The table included a number of different crackers swiped with spreads of varying colors from pink to green, shrimp drowned in cocktail sauce, fried chicken wings in mustard, knock-off European style cheeses from Wisconsin, and deviled eggs, a food that Nick spent years avoiding at gatherings; he could not imagine why anyone would make an egg into something so hard and tasteless. He ate the shrimp, but only after scraping off all the sickly, sweet cocktail sauce. He was pleased to learn that Cayuga happens to be a fine match for shrimp.
On the way home, Nick mentioned to Theresa that considering AWS people are wine people, one would think the food at a meeting would be if not stellar at the very least edible. She knew that he was already planning the food for the meeting that they would host in the future.
Aside from his horror at the food and his distaste for Sal, Nick got what he wanted that evening: he saw first hand how consumers react to many wines. He also saw a way that he could meet a demand for easy to drink, fruity wines with a touch of sweetness that could be produced at a reasonable enough price to perhaps produce that cherished thing every business needs: cash flow. If he could find a supplier of the grape, he was prepared to add Cayuga White to his product mix.
If you are reading this entry anywhere other than on the vinofictions blog, be aware that it has been lifted without my permission (and without recompense), and that’s a copyright infringement, no matter that the copyright information appears with it.
Copyright Thomas Pellechia
June 2010. All rights reserved.