There's a wonderful scene in the movie "French Kiss." As Kate (Meg Ryan) ventures to France to win back her fiancé, she becomes involved with a ne'er-do-well Frenchman, Luc (Kevin Kline), trying to regain his winery. Through a series of misadventures, they travel to his village where he has her sample a glass of wine and asks her what it tastes like.
"It's a nice red wine," she replies.
He then has her smell dried plants and herbs he assembled in an aroma box when he was a boy. The box has odors of currant, cassis, mint, lavender, mushroom and rosemary.
"They're all in the ground here," he explains as he asks her to close her eyes and taste the wine again.
"Incredible!" she exclaims.
He tells her "wines are like people. The vine takes all the influences in life all around it. It absorbs them and it gets its personality."
Indeed it does. Wine is very much chameleon like. Flavors will reflect the conditions of where and how the grapes are grown. Although the vines above ground are cut back each year when dormant, the roots of a grapevine will continue to grow deeper and deeper, and absorb flavors from the soil around them. The topsoil layer is important, too. Soil composition, water and nutrient supply, erosion, weather conditions, leaf canopy, and a zillion other growing conditions all affect the vines, and ultimately, the flavors of the grapes.
There are some things growers and winemakers can control, some things they can't control and some things they can partially control. Ground cover affords growers a measure of pesticide-free control within a vineyard.
What grows in the ground with the vines is important to winemakers. Soil maintenance is paramount to sustainable farming and is essential for insuring longevity to a vineyard.
In addition to controlling erosion and suppressing weeds, ground cover plants help with disease control, soil aeration, fruit quality, pest control, and many other important soil aspects. Rye and other grasses, mustard, barley, clover, thyme, oats and many other plants are used as ground cover depending upon the needs of the grower. These plants can help to establish an "organic infrastructure," conducive to favorable vineyard maintenance and the growing of good, quality grapes.
Jim and Marie Oskins live on Lake Wylie in Fort Mill. If you have questions about wine or wine and food pairings, e-mail them at email@example.com.
Grilled Pork Tortas
This recipe is courtesy of our friends at Handley Cellars in Mendocino, Calif.
3/4 lb. pork tenderloin
1 Tbs. olive oil
1/2 red onion
2 pickled jalapenos
6 cloves garlic, peeled
1 Tbs. butter
1/4 cup mayonnaise
Salt & pepper
1 tsp. chipotle en adobe, pureed
4 soft onion rolls or buns
1 cup shredded lettuce
In a small sauté pan heat the whole garlic cloves over medium low heat with the oil until soft and slightly brown. Remove from heat and let cool. Cut the skin from the pork tenderloin. Cut slits in the tenderloin and insert the garlic cloves. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Grill for about 15 minutes until medium-rare, turning as needed. Remove and let the pork sit for at least 5 minutes. Slice thin.
Butter the rolls and grill until lightly toasted. Mix the mayonnaise and chipotle puree in a small bowl and spread on the buns. Place the pork on the buns, top with sliced onions, pickled jalapenos, and shredded lettuce. Serves 4.
Zinfandel is one of our favorite wines. It, more than many grapes, will reflect the conditions under which it's grown. It can vary from very full bodied to medium or even light bodied in style. It's very food friendly and fits in perfectly with outdoor grilling.
Highly recommended: Klinker Brick 2006, Old Vines Zinfandel, Lodi, Calif., about $19. The grapes for this wine come from several vineyards within the Lodi Appellation all of which are more than 50 years old. Vines this old yield fewer grapes, but the flavors are more concentrated. This very bold wine is well layered with pronounced flavors of raspberry and dark cherry. Lodi is well known for producing outstanding Zins and this is a good example.
Recommended: Renwood 2006, Sierra Foothills, Zinfandel, Sierra Foothills, Calif., about $12. This is a good example of a lighter style Zinfandel with flavors of plum, bright red cherry, nutmeg and spice. A well crafted wine aged for 10 months in a combination of French and American oak barrels.