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October wine dinner


Pint of History

By Dan McCaffrey

When we think of wine and spirits, it conjures images of great times and fond memories. When I started in Food & Beverage back in the late '80s, I was already hungry for history and literature. I would never have thought that pursuing a career as a Sommelier that I would be astounded by how much world policy revolves around the beverages that we love. I'm fascinated with the stories behind my favorite labels. When I host guests, I try to show the fun of wine and the tales that frame their fame. Wine geeks, professional and otherwise, can suck the air out of the room when they try too hard and forget the humans behind the scenes. At the end of the day, wine is just fermented grapes and should be enjoyed by all with zero judgment! So when I talk wine and spirits, I want to bring you on a journey where you can see how far in the past the journey goes.

We celebrate every Columbus Day here in the U.S., but remember the Viking Lief Erikson? Many don't know that he discovered North America 500 years before Columbus. In the Sagas of Icelanders, also known das Family Sagas, the Vikings tell the story of their journeys and exploits. When making landfall in North America, Lief noticed all the grape vines that were naturally growing. He named the land Vinland. Perhaps we would have had an easier time selling our wine to the world if our country was called Vinland? Loosely translated, Vinland means land of grapes or vines, or land of wide open spaces. When our ancestors arrived in America, they immediately tried to cultivate grape into wines. Some of the first vineyards were thought to have been planted in 1568 on the Island of Santa Elena (Parris Island, South Carolina). There are more native grapes that grow in North America than anywhere else in the world. Unfortunately, they do not make wine that we typically enjoy. All 50 states make wine in America to varying degrees of success. For the most part we enjoy European varietals (Vitis Vinifera) as opposed to the North American varietals (Vitis Labrusca).

The English have a sordid history with beverages and their colonies. One way the English exerted control was to control what everyone was drinking and what they had to pay for it. Everyone knows how the tea tax helped spark the American Revolution. That was not the first time the English used the passion of beverages against its charges.

In Scotland in 1725, the English raised the duty (tax) on malt as a way to control the Scottish people. The Scottish people went to the streets and riots broke out in Edinburgh and Glasgow resulting in 11 demonstrators losing their lives. In 1781, the English outlawed all home whiskey distilling for the first time in Scotland. The Scottish people had been making their single malts recipes for generations; they were a point of pride among the different clans. Banning single malts help to divide and conquer and control the clans.

In the penal colony of Australia, they had their own revolt. In 1808 there was the Rum Rebellion, the only armed takeover of the Australian government. Governor William Bligh (same Bligh from the Mutiny on the Bounty) tried to restore order after massive floods. Much of the trade at the time was via spirits, namely rum. Rum was used to acquire grain, labor, and food. This was possible by the wealthy land owners and the New South Wales Corps. Governor Bligh made all bartering using rum illegal and decreed that payment only be of sterling currency. On January 26, 1808, four hundred New Wales Corps, led by Major George Johnston, arrested Governor Bligh. For the coup, Major Johnston was court martialed and the New South Wales Corps were disbanded.

These are some sobering thoughts for the next time you order rum and coke, Scotch neat, or a bottle of wine. There are stories to be found and each one makes the libations all the more special. Bottle of beer or bottle of wine, they all have a rich and complex living history ready for thirsty minds. The next time you order your favorite, stop for a moment, raise your glass and toast to those who helped pave the way into your celebration. Drink deeply of our rich history and cheers to you and yours!

Dan McCaffrey is the Restaurant/Lounge Manager, and Sommelier at The Marc and The Vineyard Lounge at the Marcus Whitman Hotel & Conference Center in Walla Walla. The restaurant and lounge preserve food and beverage traditions by working with local farmers, ranchers, and growers to deliver intense flavor for seasonal menus, both food and cocktail. Dan has worked in the industry since he was 14, and has worked around the country, including the Westin Alyeska in Alaska, Diamond Steak House in Denver, Durango Mountain Resort in Durango, and The Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs.

March 2018

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