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by Fred McMillin
for November 10, 1997

Poo Poo Pee Doo for Mirassou

Prologue:

  • 1854—Mirassou co-founder Pierre Pellier introduces the Pinot Noir to Santa Clara County.

    ..."Wine Regions of America," Baxevanis

  • 1925—During Prohibition California is shipping east a half million tons a year of grapes for home winemaking. But a sound bunch of Pinot Noir would be thin-skinned and fragile. Consequently, Pinot and other fine varieties were torn up and replaced by thick-skinned, tough, common varieties like Alicante Bouchet. [In 1940 the author would write] "the common vines are still there."

    ..."American Wines" by Schoonmaker

  • 1965—Total Pinot Noir acreage in California is still less than 1,500. A Mirassou neighbor, the legendary Martin Ray, gave the reason: Pinot Noir was a finicky, shy yielder, too costly and too risky to try. What grower used to five tons per acre would shift to a grape that would yield two or three tons, if lucky?

    ..."Vineyard in the Sky, The Life of Martin Ray," E. Ray

The Rest of the Story: So, it's pretty clear why America's oldest winemaking family, the Mirassous, did not rush back into Pinot production. But, the grape is now back with a bang. Two years ago their Harvest Reserve Pinot was one of just twelve selected to represent California in a large International Pinot Noir Celebration...and my eleven tasters just found out why. They tried the '94...loaded with black cherry flavors against a spicy oak background. They gave it a resounding Highly Recommended. I believe you will, too.

The Wine:
1994 Harvest Reserve Pinot Noir, Monterey County
Mirassou Vineyards, San Jose, CA
Food Affinity—All that friendly fruit makes this suitable for well-seasoned fowl and veal as well as lamb, pork and pasta dishes.
Phone—(408) 274-4000
$16

Postscript: Were it not for the potato, Pierre Pellier would have lost those first Pinot Noir cuttings. Sailing from France, the ship first ran out of wind, and then water for his vines. Disaster!...until he found there was a shipment of potatoes aboard...which he bought, slit, inserted a vine in each, and lived happily ever after.

Note: For more about Mirassou, see the April 11, 1997 WineDay.


About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. He currently teaches wine courses at San Francisco State and San Francisco City College and is Northern California Editor for American Wine on the Web. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers.


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