Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Why Do We Toast?

When someone gets a new job, we clink glasses. When we get a raise, we raise a glass, and toast. For New Year’s Eve, we raise several glasses and “ring” in the New Year.

We assign an important status to toasting, be it humorous words or thoughtful messages, just ask any best man who’s had to give the official wedding toast, or the office mate, put on the spot for a toast at the retirement party.

Toasting is a custom that is centuries old. A ritual where we generally express goodwill and best wishes for positive things to happen to the guest of honor, or to celebrate special events and holidays. Toasts can be somber, romantic, affectionate, funny, bawdy, even rude.

Drinking to “one’s health” began in ancient Greece as a way to make sure you were not being poisoned. Simply slipping a bit of poison into a drink was an easy way to be rid of an enemy, with no one the wiser.

With this in mind, it soon became expected for the host to pour the wine into a decanter and take the first drink. If he survived, you could drink “to your health.”

But what if the poison was in your cup? Soon revelers were spilling wine into each other’s cups as a way to make sure everyone was imbibing with the same wine. This evolved into the clinking of glasses when a toast is made; a symbolic sharing of the wine and good wishes – to every one’s health.

Another idea is that we began clinking glasses as a way of scaring off evil spirits, possibly those same demons that caused drunkenness…

There is also a theory that we clink glasses as a way of fulfilling the fifth sense – hearing – since seeing, smelling, touching, and tasting are already covered in the wine drinking experience.

Yet another premise is that after the communal cup had gone by the wayside, we touched glasses to express that we were still connected and sharing this experience together.

The Romans put a twist on the practice by adding a piece of spiced bread (toast) to the wine cup as a means of soaking up unwanted flavors and smells while adding a spicy flavor.

In 16th Century England, drinking a “toast” meant you were drinking to good health with a wine that literally had spiced toast in it.  This tradition continued through the 17th and 18th centuries when it became chic to drink a toast to someone’s health, wealth, or beauty.

Even today, there are rules regarding toasting.

Toasting Etiquette:

• The person giving the toast should be standing

• Everyone should have a glass as the toast is given

• Holding your glass but not drinking at least a sip from it is ill mannered

• To refuse a glass or put your glass down before the toast is finished is considered to be rude

• Inverting your glass is very discourteous to the guest of honor

• Tapping a glass with silverware to get attention is considered uncouth

And there are rules for the guest of honor such as never drink after being toasted. Instead he or she should stand, nod to the group, and offer their thanks.

But remember to clink your glass with someone else’s after a toast. Not only does it produce a pleasing sound, it creates a physical connection between members of the group, and their shared good wishes. If you are in too large of a group to touch glasses with everyone, simply make eye contact and you have created that connection.

Most Famous Toasts

There are so many well-known toasts, but most everyday toasts are spur of the moment well wishes to commemorate a special moment. Just remember to keep them simple, sincere, and succinct.

If you find yourself in need of a few words – Here are some suggestions:

A Toast to Friendship:

 "May friendships, like wine, improve, as time advances.
And may we always have old wine, old friends, and young cares.”

A Toast to Happiness:

"May neighbors respect you,
Trouble neglect you,
The angels protect you,
And heaven accept you."

A Toast to Health:

"May you live as long as you like,
And have all you like as long as you live."

An Irish Blessing
May the road rise to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face.
And rains fall soft upon your fields.
And may ye be in heaven a half-hour
Afore the devil knows ye're dead!

“Life, alas, is very fine,
So up with your glass, 
Down with the wine.”

~ Joy

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Going to the Dogs – Winery Adventures on Four Feet

It’s that time of year,  heading out on a summer weekend for a wine tasting excursion when those sad brown eyes make you pause. If only you could take your dog... Well, go ahead and grab that lease because there are hundreds of wineries throughout the U.S. where you and Rover can sit, sip, and stay together.

The normal requirements when traveling to a winery with your four-legged friend are usually the same; keep it on a leash, keep it under control, and clean up after it. (If only we could have these rules for some children…) You’ll find that many wineries will also offer fresh water and treats for furry visitors.

But before you head out with your furry friend, call the wineries you expect to visit and inquire if dogs are allowed in the tasting room. Also, check the winery web site for a pet info section that can give you more information on bringing your pet for a visit.

Or visit a new website called Fido Factor This is like Trip Advisor or Yelp for pets. Simply enter the location where you’ll be going and up pops pet-friendly businesses along with pertinent information to make your visit more comfortable. Fido Factors include crowd size, noise level, permitted dog size, and areas where dogs are allowed. You can even leave a review and rate your experience with dog biscuits; 1 biscuit is disappointing – 5 outstanding. Plus, the site offers nearby locations that are also pet-friendly.

'Angel' Casper
And many wineries and wine trails are getting involved by offering dog-centric events including annual open houses, dog costume contests, vineyard strolls, Yappy Hours, and annual benefits to assist and raise awareness for local rescue and adoption societies.

In fact, some winery owners have gone to the dogs and named the wineries dog-centric names. Here are just a few: 

Sami & Blue
Spoiled Dog Winery in Whidbey Island, Washington is named for the owner’s Australian Shepard’s, Blue and Sami. Of course, these aren’t the only spoiled dogs around so each September the winery holds its annual Spoiled Dog Contest.

Punk Dog Wines is located in Napa, California and named for Sophie – a strong-willed, in your face dog who has taught the winery owners there’s only two things that matter - “to make great wine and have fun doing it.”

Spotted Dog Winery in Saline, Michigan is named for the family’s two Dalmatians, Holmes and Watson. The wine line offers such pooch appealing names as Good Dog, Bad Dog, Rollover, and Speak.

The House of Mutt-Lynch Winery is located in Healdsburg, California. Patch, the resident Greyhound, is a rescue dog and a portion of the proceeds of every bottle goes to support local animal rescue groups. Mutt-Lynch’s motto is: Apply Dog Logic to Life: Eat Well, Be Loved, Get Petted, Sleep A lot, Dream of a Leash-Free World.  – Sark

Whistling Dog Cellars is located in Salem, Oregon where they grow and craft small batches of Pinot Noir wines with amazing results. And, yes, there really was a whistling dog, named Fleck. It seems that when he became excited, he whistled. (Yes, Bogie & Bacall came to mind...)

Tail Wagger Red
Sleeping Dog Wines is located in Benton City, Washington. Named for Aurora, their “sleeping dog”, the winery offers several wines including a Tail Wagger Red. Aurora is kept company by Bella and Syrah, the winery cats.

Big Dog Vineyard in Milpitas, California is named for the owners’ big dog, Cab who has a Cabernet named after him – or vise-versa… In fact, Cabs are a specialty here with 7 on the wine list, including a Cabernet Dessert Wine.

Besides wineries, many restaurants and bars are also becoming dog friendly. While U.S. health regulations do not allow animals inside a business where food is prepared, many restaurants with outdoor accommodations can offer pet lovers patio or deck seating and allow their four-legged friends to dine there also.

Riley Red
If your K-9 kid is a bit too rambunctious, not socially adapted, or simply just shy, you might want to consider ordering in a bottle in. There’s the Dog Lover’s Wine Club, offering a variety of wines crafted from Pinot Noir and small amounts of other California grapes. The organization also supports animal shelters and rescue groups around the country.

Another wine club for dog lovers is Cru Vin Dogs. This wine group combines wine, dogs, fine art and worthy causes “into a wine brand with a purpose. Wine that gives back. Wine that makes a difference.” A portion of the proceeds of your purchase goes to canine service organizations, animal shelters and dog rescue groups.

Murrow's Ready To Go!
So grab your four-legged friend, unleash your oenophile, and head out on an open road wine adventure this weekend! (The 'paws' will refresh you both!)

~ Joy

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Those First Attempts to Produce (Real) Wine in the New World

Europe has been involved in the wine industry for hundreds of year.  But did you know that the U.S. could have also been an active player 400 years ago, if not for colonists other interest?

It all began on July 16, 1619 when the King of England, and a Virginia colonist by the name of George Yeardley, decided to start a vineyard of French grapes in the New World.

Ten years before, in 1609, Sir George had set sail for Jamestown as a captain in charge of soldiers but was shipwrecked in Bermuda. Passengers from the doomed ship worked together and built two more ships from supplies on the island. They arrived safely in Jamestown 10 months later.

The Starving Time
But Jamestown was in a desperate state, with most of the settlers dead from sickness, starvation, or Indian attacks. Captain Yeardley and his men were ordered to protect the town until help arrived. Once it had, Yeardley led 150 men into the mountains to search for gold and silver that could be mined.

Chickahominy Indian Agreement
Just four years later, in 1616, Yeardley was appointed Deputy-Governor of Virginia. Understanding what the colony needed to survive and thrive, he promptly reached an agreement with the Chickahominy Indian that secured peace and food for the settlers for two years.  He was appointed to the post again in 1625.

House of Burgesess
Yeardley was well respected in the community. He presided over the initial session of Virginia’s first representative legislative body, known then as the House of Burgesess, (Virginia General Assembly) on July 30, 1619.  In November 1619, Yeardley was appointed to serve as governor of Virginia until 1622.

King James I
King James I was against colonists growing tobacco. He touted Virginia as a fruitful land and saw an opportunity for wine to become a major export product to England. Under the king’s orders, Yeardley took French grapevines back to Jamestown to be cultivated by vignerons (winemakers) who knew how to tend the vines correctly and could produce a drinkable wine.

Although there were abundant wild grapes in the New World, the “wine” produced from them was acidic and sour. Colonists had no patience with winemaking and let the wine “age” 5 or 6 days before drinking it. The French grapes flourished but the winemaker died.

How to Make Wine
By 1620, more winemakers and over 10,000 vines had arrived in the New World. King James I commanded that every householder in the colony be given a booklet written by John Bonoeil with the "instructions how to plant and dress vines, and to make wine." These booklets were the first written instructions given to American winemakers.
According to Bonoeil’s instructions, “if the grapes be too hard, they may boil them with some water; . . . and then let them work thus together five or six days . . . After that, you may draw it, and barrel it, as we have said, and use it when you need. I have oftentimes seen such wine made reasonable good for the household. And by this means every man may presently have wine in Virginia to drink.”

Jamestown in 1620
But the colonists had little time or patience to plant and tend wine grapes; there was far too much money to be made with tobacco. What wine that did get sent back to Britain was said to have spoiled during the long voyage and was considered to be “rather of scandal than credit to us."

By 1625, the king had commanded that vineyards be planted by all land owners – “Wherefore now we have taken an order that every plantation . . . shall impale [fence] two acres of ground, and employ the sole labor of 2 men in that business [planting grape vines] for the term of 7 years, enlarging the same two acres more, with a like increase of labor . . . By this means I hope this work will go really forward, and the better if good store of Spanish or French vines may be sent us.”

The Virginia General Assembly also passed a law that required every male over the age of 20 to plant 20 grape vines. 

But in the end, colonists refused to give up the economical advantages of growing tobacco, and the vineyards and winemaking fell to the wayside. By the mid-1650’s it was apparent, Virginia was not going to become the land of wine and vines. Tobacco was king and would reign for another 300 years.

~ Joy