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When is a Wisconsin Wine from California?



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I got a press release from Chateau St. Croix last week trumpeting their rosé’s “Best of Show” win at the Indiana State Fair International Wine Competition. Throwing aside the obvious things to be snobby about—Indiana wine award?—this brings up an issue that has confused me for years. Namely, even though Chateau St. Croix is in Wisconsin, this winning wine is a California one, because they brought in grapes grown in California with which to make their wine. So while the press release wants me to herald the story: “Wisconsin Winery Wins Prize,” the real story may be: “California Wine Better Than Others In Indiana,” which is not really news at all.

I had a spirited discussion with Nan Bailly, the winemaker at Alexis Bailly vineyards once about this practice of bringing in fruit, or just unfermented juice, to make wine. Her general argument was: It’s the same as bringing in marble for a Minnesota sculptor to sculpt with. (Bailly mostly makes wine with grapes she grows.) All right, I see that. Minnesota brewers may use imported grains, Minnesota painters use imported paints and canvas; Minnesota writers type on imported keyboards; Minnesota chefs cook with imported everything. And if you make a banana bread tonight, I’ll certainly think of it as Minnesota banana bread, and not, say, a Costa Rica banana bread. And yet, something about shipping grapes thousands of miles seems different to me—and, to be perfectly truthful, sort of pointless.

Right now that reaction is mostly a gut one. I understand that lots of California vineyards have no “bricks and mortar” winery on site. They ship their grapes elsewhere for vinification—though that place is usually a quick drive, not across the country. I also know that lots of California vintners have made lots of great table wine by bringing in tankerloads of South American juice, and blending them, adding oak, putting their mark on them etc., etc. I don’t know. Even knowing all that, I don’t feel okay about a Wisconsin wine made with California grapes. Wine to me seems like it should be connected to its land. The fancy name for that is terroir, which is a shorthand for the idea that a grape expresses the sun, water, and soil it comes from. And it seems different to me than, say, banana bread: There’s only grape juice in those bottles after all. But, I’m not settled in my thinking about this. Anyone else have feelings about California grapes being made into Wisconsin wine? Do you want to drink it, or skip it?
 

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