The theme is “translation” for this, the thirty second Monthly Wine Writing Challenge.
Luckily, my Aunt surprised me recently.
She hosts near-monthly dinners, cooks great food, and pours copious amounts of sparkling wine. I bring good bottles that survived my workweek. Well, at our last powwow she had something new from Oregon.
Now, most American wine is an act of translation. Why? Because we try to conjugate European grapes with American soil, climate, and palates. Results taste familiar but different: like speaking French with a Texan accent. But with today’s wine, America forgot the encyclopedia.
My Aunt’s wine comes from Dundee, Oregon. There, by 1975, 15 acres of red clay-loam and volcanic soil got planted with what they thought was Pinot Blanc. Erm…nope!
The mistranslation dates back to 1939, when Georges de Latour first planted a white grape at Beaulieu Vineyards (BV) in California. BV called it “Pinot Blanc”, “Melon”, and even “Chablis”. Even David Lett, founding father of Oregon’s Eyrie Vineyards, fell into the Pinot Blanc trap. It took until 1980 for French ampelographer Dr. Pierre Galet to discover that America’s “Pinot Blanc” was actually Melon de Bourgogne: a grape synonymous with Muscadet in the western Loire.
Whether marketing or mess up, we should not cast too much blame. Melon de Bourgogne, as its name implies, originated in Burgundy anyway. It even comes from a Pinot blanc and Gouais blanc crossing. Also, Melon from our warmer climates is soft, pear-like akin to Pinot blanc than its briney lemony Loire counterpart Muscadet.
By the 1980s, Ken Wright’s Panther Creek set Dundee’s vineyard straight. He made the first, aptly-labelled, “Melon de Bourgogne” from those vines. After 1999, the Baldwins bought the vineyard and founded De Ponte Cellars (named after their Portuguese matriarch). Their winemaker Isabelle Dutartre hails from Burgundy, which promises well. Oregon’s 2014 vintage provided record amounts of exceptional fruit.
So how does their Melon de Bourgogne fair?
De Ponte Cellars, D.F.B., Melon de Bourgogne, Willamette Valley, Oregon 2014 $20-$25
The APPEARANCE borders on pale straw, with glints of gold.
AROMAS waft about, easy-as-you-please, showing white pear, apple blossom, light honey, and a little pip of lemon juice softened by marzipan.
The PALATE’s acidity feels bright but tame, the body medium, round and texture mildly viscous.
Mellow FLAVORS echo aromas with ripe white pear, honeyed lemon, chamomile tea, and a pinch of salinity. Flavors carry an unobtrusive medium plus length.
De Ponte’s 2014 Melon de Bourgogne is tidy, fruity, and easy, yet dry, fresh, and linear enough to take seriously. But do not expect zippy French Muscadet. This is American Melon and it is very good (4 of 5) especially drunk now. It begs for Spring, mild seafood, oysters, salads with pear, nuts, and feta, vegetable Paella, or mild cheese like my Aunt’s Gouda.
As the wine maker turns grapes into magic, wine writing requires us to translate liquid into words. We parse a drink’s chemical signatures to tell its story: by proxy, adjective, association, and metaphor. However, neither are perfect. Pinot Blanc is not Melon de Bourgogne. Yet it seems like it. Just as my “white pear” is someone’s golden apple. Our stumbling makes the journey more interesting. In wine making, as in wine writing, it is fine if some things get lost in translation.