Monday, September 17, 2018

Total Wine - The glamour of the agricultural estate

Total Wine and More

Total Wine and More--or "Total Wine Superstore" as it shows on its store banner--is a chain of 130 stores nationwide. They specialize in wine, as well as all other types of alcoholic beverages and accessories. The owners are David and Robert Trone, who started the company as one small store in Delaware in 1991. I found the store to be very interesting just to walk through. It was large, spacious, and decorative to start with. Perhaps 60% of the store was wine-oriented; usually separated by country or region. There's a wide range of pricing, and I can say that the prices are comparatively good. When they first opened here, I thought that I would like it despite an over-saturation of the market locally.

Of course, there are many wines from nearby Napa and Sonoma counties; but the store features all other chief wine-producing regions, with an emphasis on France.. as well as Piedment. There's a large beer section, as well as all types of alcohol and accessories. There is also a temperature-controlled cigar room... adding a further touch of class... or at least perceived class. There is also a temperature-controlled fine wine section, a very nice large wine tasting room, and an education room where one can sign up for classes. Beverages and More is more beer oriented, with many non-alcoholic beverages. I know of a few particularly interesting and top notch liquor stores with a large selection, as well as small stores with a separate wine room it the back. In this market, personally, I don't think that I prefer either larger chains like Total Wine, or top notch smaller businesses.

Each store currently offers a free 230 page complimentary 'Guide to Wine'. The guide is filled with photos, the history of wine making, including separate histories such as in America, and all aspects of wine past and present. There's an interesting map of the chief wine-producing regions of the world. The tropics are not at all known for wine production. It's only in certain northern climates, many with hot summers and cold winters. South and central Europe, California and up through central Washington, most of New England, the northern part of the cone of South America, the Maghrib coast of northwest Africa, west and southeast Australia, northern New Zealand, and in a small area of southwest Australia, a part of the Chinese coast near North Korea, small pockets of central Japan, and a part of southwest South Africa.

Our own Cisalpine people were major pioneers, going back a long time, of the wine production in northern California, the cone of South America, and South Africa. As it is stated next to the map: Just over 19 million acres of the world's surface is planted with grape vines. Total Wine has a lot of business with French vintners from the famous wine-producing regions there; and the guide shows a lot of these chateaus. The guide states: Historians believe Italian wine has been produced for some 4,000 years. Italian wines are also featured to a large extend in the guide. The vast majority of Spain is of prime climate and soil for wine production; more per capita than any other country in the world it appears. Then it goes onto Portugal, Germany, Austria, and of course California.

Another wine producing region that has grown a lot in recent years is the state of Washington. I've been seeing a lot more Washington wines on the market lately. It then featured a few pages each on Oregon, New York and Virginia, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Greece, and Israel; then it went into sparkling wine and dessert wine. There are a very large number of photographs within the guide. One thing that struck me is the many photos of the Trone family visiting with the families of these various vintners. I don't know if glamour is really the word, as it's something more than glamour, more than prestige; but there is a certain warmth surrounding the wine industry in general... much more so than any air of snobbishness. Vintners are essentially farmers living on farm estates. I suppose it could be said that wealthy vintners could represent the rural high socio-economic class... the old concept of a country gentleman.

I remember one time I was traveling with a couple of friends through Lake County, California--a growing wine area--during the the twilight hour. We stopped at Ployez Winery and discovered that it was closed. However, the owner Gerard invited us in anyway and we visited. He was originally from France; drawn to Lake County for it wine producing potential. There's still a particular good nature surrounding the industry. The Nichelini family winery near St. Helena--a winery with deep roots in the area--is another good example of this gracious spirit.

The old Cisalpine family wineries of northern California

There was a certain glory, at least in my perception, to the history of the Cisalpine vintners in northern California... largely of Ligurian or Tuscan descent. Even back to the 19th century, our pioneer ancestors were--by opportunity, will, and hard work--able to form, or help form, new communities in rural areas. That's just about the polar opposite of the modern urban sea of strangers. Most often, these clans did all of the work themselves, and enjoyed the benefits of their toil. They lived on beautiful estates, could propagate themselves and their own culture, and had the freedom to control their own destiny. They were their own boss. Of course, this would also pertain to all areas of farming as well.

Agriculture and the Sicilian immigrants in Louisiana

I recall one time listening to a man, from one of the Italian-American associations in Louisiana, speaking on the distinct history of Sicilian immigrants who settled in Louisiana and took over the agricultural work from the slaves who had done with work before the Civil War. Some of these Sicilians soon became small farmers themselves, and made do in difficult to farm wetlands. He was describing how the French/Catholic or European/Latin culture of New Orleans and south Louisiana was largely the same as from what they remembered, and how it was easy for them to adapt. Basically what he was saying is that there was a certain glory (he didn't actually use that word) to this time period... from that perspective. We have to remember today that this was a totally different time. It could be harsh, so family and community were important.

German farming communities in the Midwest

During roughly the 20 years following the Civil War, about 6 million German immigrants (Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Prussia) emigrated to the United States... largely to the Midwest. They formed farming communities in what was then a large frontier region. Of course, these communities reflected German language and culture. There certainly was a particular glory to this time period, and for a long time after that, from a their perspective. Unlike today, these family clans also did all of the work themselves. According to Thomas Sowell, the more research he did, the more he realized just how much German immigrants detested the institution of slavery. These farmers lived by a certain code of honor surrounding their business and work, and slavery was against everything they believed in.

My favorite white wine: Beringer White Zinfandel

White Zinfandel is a great option for someone who doesn't really like wine. It is sweet and light, and leaves none of the sour or bitterness that some wines create. Beringer does a great job of delivering a quality product for an awesome price.