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John Susi
November 4, 2014 | John Susi

So, What's In A Name?

Recently while attending a wine festival at Rippavilla Plantation, I had the opportunity to talk with a group of Tennessee's more hardy wine enthusiasts. Braving stormy sky's and strong cold winds, bundled up like Eskimo's, and holding glasses of wine from any of a dozen attending Tennessee wineries. The conversation came around to the names given to wine and grapes as well. Is it a varietal name or a fanciful name, who knew? After decades of hearing a name in use it's hard to tell. The subject of Cabernet Sauvignon came up and of course.....I had to put in my two cents worth !

I didn't feel to bad about speaking up because as it turned out someone I have known since 1990, led the team that discovered the grapes true origins in 1996 using DNA typing. Dr. Carole Meredith and the UC Davis department of Viticulture and Enology.

The DNA evidence determined that Cabernet Sauvignon was the offspring of Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc and was most likely a chance crossing that occurred in the 17th century. Prior to this discovery, this origin had been suspected from the similarity of the grapes' names and the fact that Cabernet Sauvignon shares similar aromas with both grapes. A deep currant jammy-ness with a touch of pencil shavings of the Cabernet Franc and the grassiness of the Sauvignon Blanc.

So how did this happen? We are talking old school winemaking and grape growing after all. As a winery we go to commercial vineyards and buy vines that are two year old starts, 24 - 30 inches long. Back in the day they started with wild seedlings. Countless new and unusual strains came into being from un-controlled cross pollination and mutation.

Petite Vidure was one of the names given to the vines that were to become Cab Sauv. The period when the name Cabernet Sauvignon became more prevalent over Petite Vidure is not certain, records indicate that the grape was the most popular Bordeaux plantings in the 18th century. One of the first estates known to have actively grown the variety and the likely source for Cabernet vines and the common use of the Cab Sauv name was Château Mouton.

When you get down to it we know of about 8000-10,000 varieties of grapes with 200-300 of those making the best of world class wines. With the advent of DNA typing we are finding more all the time, plus all that we intentionally create. It looks like we are going to have lots of wine to learn about for century's to come. So the next time you wonder what's in a name, be careful. You may get a history lesson!

Living life is the only way to really be alive !

John Susi


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