"It's a hard grape to grow. As you know. Right? It's, uh, it's thin-skinned, temperamental, ripens early. It's, you know, it's not a survivor like cabernet, which can just grow anywhere and thrive even when it's neglected. No, pinot needs constant care and attention. You know? And, in fact, it can only grow in these really specific, little tucked-away corners of the world. And only the most patient and nurturing of growers can do it, really. Only somebody who really takes the time to understand pinot's potential can then coax it into its fullest expression." - Miles, Sideways, 2004 I watched Sideways again the other night and Miles’ explanation to Maya does make Pinot Noir sound like something special. I have always liked the grape in its variety of forms but I wanted to do a little checking on whether or not Miles was right. Essentially the answer is yes. Pinot Noir is one of the more ancient of the modern grapes, probably only one or two generations removed from the wild vitis sylvestris, which may help to account for the challenges in cultivation and winemaking with this grape. The earliest written record we have for this grape is from the 1st century AD when Spanish-writer Columella, one of the most important and well known Roman agriculturalist and vintners, mentioned it in his De Rustica. It is unknown whether the Romans brought the grape to Burgundy or they found it there. Difficult to grow, it faltered when the Romans were driven from France and it might have faded into history until the Catholic Church took over its care and developed vineyard practices that improved quality and consistency. Pinot Noir became vital to the Church as a major sacramental wine and the Church owned most of the vineyards producing the grape in Burgundy. That continued until the French Revolution led to land re-distribution and the vineyard system of today. Universally regarded as one of the most difficult grapes to grow, Pinot Noir ripens early and as such is very susceptible to rains and frost. It is susceptible to most of the known diseases and pests that periodically ravage grapes and it is the very definition of “thin skinned,” reacting drastically to minor changes. Another famous and oft repeated quote by André Tchelistcheff, the California Post-Prohibition winemaker alludes to this with "God made Cabernet Sauvignon whereas the devil made Pinot Noir." Nonetheless Pinot Noir can also be used singly or in combination with other grapes to make some of the very best wines in the world. It is a key variety in making Champagne, and by law is the only red grape allowed to be grown on the best vineyard sites in Burgundy. It is a very changeable grape and while reactive to challenges, also picks up the best of the vintner and terroir to create unique tastes depending on the style, region, and year of production. It can range from a simple fruity quaffing wine meant to be drunk as soon as the bottle can be opened, to subtle and powerful masterpieces that with age and improve with 10 years or more and are correspondingly expensive. Oh, and I can’t help but include a scene from Sideways, this one where Miles takes Jack wine tasting into pinot and chardonnay country. Enjoy. Name: Pinot Noir Species: vitis vinifera Origin: France Color: Red wine (black grape) Other names: Pineau de Bourgoyne, Franc Pineau, Noirien, Salvagnnin, Morillon, Auvernat, Auvernaut noir, Plant Dore, Vert dore, Burgunder blauer, Blauer Spatburgunder, Clavner, Blauer-Klavner, Schwarzer Riesling, Mohrchen, Schwarzer Burgunder, Pinot nera, Blauer Nurnberger, Nagyburgundi Notable Regions: France, Germany, Austria, Italy, Australia, New Zealand, United States, Chile Photo attributions: David Jackson [CC-BY-SA-2.0-uk], via Wikimedia Commons, jamesfischer

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