Thursday, April 05, 2012

Froggy Went a Courtin' and He Did Find a Cayuse

Ahh yes, the old Scottish folk song that has been sung to children by many from Elvis to Bob Dylan to even Kermit the Frog,  - - of course.  Now days, when I think of the wines of Cayuse Vineyards, I cannot help but think of that song due to the Bionic Frog Syrah label.

This holiday weekend the town of Walla Walla will be filled with wine lovers picking up their allotments of the obscure, the remote, and the revered biodynamic wines of Cayuse produced by French born vigneron, Christophe Baron.  However, when I put all of these thoughts together from the old folk song and this release weekend, I cannot help thinking back to the blogging controversy of Cayuse back in November of 2010. Was the wine of Cayuse flawed or just good ol' "French" funk that migrated to the United States along with it's French winemaker? Was it truly terroir, the results of biodynamic farming, or a misunderstanding of someone's style of European winemaking?

So no doubt a few of you are thinking, "Why are you bringing this controversy up?"  Why, because it has weighed on my mind since the day the controversy was brought up and especially when the wine is in my "backyard," so to speak.  Cayuse-Cayuse-Cayuse has been pummeled in my brain for the last two weeks by customers, press and professional retail and tourism colleagues . 

In fact, I think about that controversy every time I taste a French wine and in the last 20 months I have tasted more French wines than I have in my whole life. It seems to me that almost every French wine I have tasted lately, and if they were to be compared to the wines of Cayuse, they would be in the same camp - - supposedly "flawed" or perhaps just misunderstood. The so-called "flawed" and funky French wines I usually purchase and the mundane, clean and clinical - and very "Americanized" wines from France, I typically do not purchase. 

When it was all said and done of the Cayuse controversy, the lab concluded the sample vials of the wine had levels of volatile acidity that were "slightly" above the normal sensory threshold and the wine had a high pH level, which can make the wine more susceptible to bacteria. However, it is my understanding that the lab never said the wine was actually "flawed." That was the terminology given by the blog  in question of the wine's stability and credibility. 

While I had trusted the source of where the vials came from and I trusted that the vials had not been tampered with, the practical former legal assistant side of me (two years with the county defense attorney and 10 years with a private practice) could not get past the point of the liability of placing someone's wine into vials to prove a point ("Neener-neener-neener, I told you so"). To me the wise thing  to remove oneself of liability, would have been to have sent an unopened bottle (label removed) to the lab instead. With only a empty bottle (and without a dead body and an autopsy report) sitting in a court of law you would be hard pressed to prove that the wine you drank and the one you sent to the lab was of the same.  

So with the lab results, I guess one cannot fight with right of science - - right? However, can one fight with personal palates and - - just the romance and the personal experiences of wine? No.

The proof is that ultimately you cannot fight with personal palates no matter what a lab findings may be. For hundreds of years, and especially since Thomas Jefferson brought to America the wines from France, we have become enamoured with wines. More than likely, in the earlier wines that the wealthy Americans were coveting, the very same or similar lab conclusions as the Cayuse would have also been found. High levels of volatile acidity and high pH levels that are probably due to either yeast strains, fermentation tanks and barrels, and even extended lees contact -- or maybe even the vineyard practices of biodynamics. My bet is the majority of what we refer to as French "funk" is more than likely due to the yeast strains.

The proof is also that there are hundreds of wine lovers from all over the state and beyond who have made reservations at hotel, motel, B&B accommodations - - and even rented houses for this long Passover/Easter weekend - - known as the Cayuse Release Weekend. Reservations have been made at all of the popular restaurants. The majority of all of the other wineries in the Walla Walla Valley will benefit, as well as our grocery stores and gas stations  - - and even some of our downtown speciality shops, bakeries and bars. The bottom line of this Cayuse controversy is I compare it to cheese. Explain please?

Take two wedges of cheese, one traditional imported Roquefort and the other a domestic Wisconsin cheddar. The cheddar from Wisconsin is produced from the finest milk that the Wisconsin heifers have to offer. The cheese is firm and dry to the touch. The taste is rich, creamy and smooth to the palate. The Wisconsin Cheddar is regulated by the United States Department of Agriculture and is produced in modern, high tech efficient plants.

Now as you know, the traditional Roquefort cheese of France is moldy. The  lamb's white milk cheese is very tangy, crumbly, a little moist and it has these very distinctive veins of green mold (aka penicillium roqueforti) running through it. Good lord, this stinky cheese is being aged in old caves probably dated back to Pliny the Elder! If we didn't know any better and in comparison to the cheddar, one could think that the Roquefort cheese appears to have flaws ...

As they say, "beauty is in the eye of the beholder" or in this case, "taste is in the palate of the beholder" and it is very apparent that wine lovers of vigneron Christophe Baron and his wines  are not going to let a lab and their clinical findings or even bloggers tell them any different than what their palates already know and love.

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