Did you know that you can make white wine out of red grapes? I had no idea until the other day. I was at the farmers' market in Falmouth, talking with Will Becker of Westport Rivers Winery. Thanks to the new rule change, Massachusetts vineyards can now sell their wines at farmers markets, and Becker was on the green at Peg Noonan Park all afternoon, doing tastings. I listened in for a while, and I learned a lot.
(Photo courtesy Falmouth Farmers' Market)
For instance, did you know that Westport—and actually the whole area from roughly Newport, Rhode Island to New Bedford, Massachusetts—has a micro-climate ideal for growing French varietals traditional to the French regions of Champagne and Alsace? Both regions are ideal for grapes like Pinot noir, Pinot blanc, Pinot gris, Pinot meunier, Chardonnay, and Reisling—grapes that like a cool climate, dry, sunny days, and a relatively short growing season. The cooler climate tends to make them more acidic here than when they're grown elsewhere, and wine lovers appreciate this for the crisp, dry, fruity flavor it gives whites and sparkling wines and rosés.
I wanted to find out more, so when I got home, I started researching the grapes. Here's a list of some of the grapes grown by local vineyards—there are seven within the 30 miles from Newport to New Bedford, not to mention one in Truro and one in northeastern Connecticut!—and a little bit about where they come from:
1. Pinot noir: Pinot noir is a black wine grape (hence the name). It's grown all over the world, but most people associate it with the Burgundy region of France, which is where it comes from originally. The grape clusters are small and sensitive to frost and wind, and also picky about soil types, and for all of these reasons, the fruit is considered relatively hard to grow. But it's also very sensitive to terroir, meaning it tastes really different depending on where it's grown, and apparently, when it's grown in southeastern Massachusetts, it tastes pretty good. It can be used to make white wine by pressing the juice with minimal contact with the skins, which is the process I was talking about up above.
2. Pinot blanc: This one's crazy. Apparently, it's a genetic mutation of Pinot noir. In plain English, that means that sometimes Pinot noir vines mutate and produce white fruit. I had a hard time finding specifics, but it is my understanding that these vines can then be cloned and reproduced. The same goes for Pinot gris and Pinot meunier. These three varietals are considered the three most "successful" mutations of Pinot noir. Who knew!
3. Chardonnay: This varietal also comes from Burgundy. These days, people grow it everywhere. Some wine makers age its juice in oak barrels, some don't, but the grape itself is relatively neutral tasting. It also varies considerably by region. Scientists today believe it's a cross between Pinot blanc and Gouais blanc, although originally it was thought to be another mutant of Pinot noir. Wine makers say it's easy to grow, and it adapts to all sorts of different climates relatively easily.
4. Reisling: Reisling is a white grape variety from the Rhine region of Germany. It's generally used to produce dry, semi-sweet, and sweet sparkling wines. Like Pinot noir, it's said to be very sensitive to terroir, and the taste of wines made with this grape varies widely depending on where it's grown. It's generally grown in colder regions, including the Alsace region of France. Interestingly, this region was alternately under French and German rule for about 75 years in the 18 and 19 hundreds, which explains why it's a German grape in French territory.
Interesting stuff, huh? From these grapes, Westport Rivers makes all sorts of different wines. Their flagship is a Brut Cuvee (made from Pinot noir, chardonnay, and Pinot meunier), but they also make a chardonnay, a Pinot gris, a blanc de noir (white wine made with black Pinot noir grapes), a blanc de blancs (chardonnay), a rosé from Pinot noir, a reisling, and a Pineau de Pinot, which is a sweet dessert wine made from Pinot noir grapes. As you can see, with even just a few grape varieties, there are all sorts of possibilities.
Westport Rivers wine is available at all sorts of places locally. They sell at the farmers' markets in Falmouth and Provincetown, and they're on the wine list at Blackfish, where I work, in Truro. Ten Tables in Provincetown also pours their chardonnay. The vineyard owner, Bill Russell, sent me a full list of liquor stores and restaurants where you can find their wine, so if you're looking for it, don't be afraid to ask.
And in the meantime, keep your eye out for other local vineyards at farmers' markets. Apparently, they rotate, so that shoppers don't get the same vineyard every week. This means that before the markets close, you could get in a lot of local tasting.