Feeling Creative? Cornell Wants You to Name a Wine Grape.

red wine grapeFor those of you who like coming up with names, here’s your chance to give one to a wine grape. Or two. And today, August 6, is the last day to submit your proposal.

Scientists at Cornell University have asked the public for names for two new grape varieties that will be released from their breeding program in 2013, according to an article on Cornell’s Chronicle Online. Grape breeder Bruce Reisch, who is accepting name submissions at bruce.reisch@cornell.edu, came up with the two new varieties—”a cold-hardy white wine grape and an innovative organic dark red.”

The scientists are looking for names that are unique (a potential challenge with some 7,000 other grape varieties), marketable, reasonably easy to pronounce and conjure positive connotations, said Reisch. Currently, the new varieties’ names are NY76.0844.24 and NY95.0301.01. Shouldn’t be too difficult to come up with something a bit more inspiring.

Cornell, with a host of new grape varieties in development, has been breeding grapes since 1888. It’s not a quick process, though, and can take 30 to 40 years for a new variety to be released, and several more before the grapes appear in commercially available wine.

Asking the public to participate and creating a social media campaign are Reisch’s effort to create some buzz about the new varieties, according to the Chronicle Online piece. “There are so many different flavors. Why shouldn’t people get excited about new varieties?,” said Reisch. “They keep things interesting for the consumer and are often better for growers.”

The winning names will be announced at the Viticulture 2013 conference in February in Rochester, NY.

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Some Culture–and Wine–in the Berkshires

Some places seem to lend themselves to wine. In recent years, there’s been a growing number of wine bars cropping up in New York, and there are plenty to be found in Northern California and most major U.S. cities. But it came as a surprise to me while strolling through Lenox, Massachusetts on a hunt for coffee and pastries, that wine is proliferating in this small town of 5,000, and perhaps others like it.

As I made my way past the Patisserie Lenox toward the food market, I couldn’t help but notice a window with a sign announcing art and wine. The Wit Gallery of Art and Wine features decorative and fine art in all media from over 30 artists. Opened by Lynda Strauch in the 1998, the art at the Wit covers all types of fine art, from photography and painting to sculpture and mixed media. To add to its eclectic mix of work, the gallery recently added an array of artisanal wines from small, family owned, small production vineyards.

I peeked in the window, looking past the paintings and sculptures—a common sight along Church Street with its numerous galleries–and there it was, the wine counter. Bottles of wine were strewn on top, and I thought how lovely it must be to peruse the art while sipping a glass of pinot noir. (Note to self: come back when it’s open.)

As I rounded the corner, I noticed The Bookstore, Lenox’s local bookshop located on Housatonic Street. It, too, was closed as it was Sunday, but I pressed my nose against the glass and spotted a long wooden bar along a sidewall. The Bookstore now houses the Get Lit wine bar, and I could see the bottles of red and white on the wooden bar, facing the rows and shelves stocked with books. Another great combination, I thought, and a place where I’d love to spend hours sipping and reading.

Matthew Tannenbaum has been selling books (new and used) here for the past 34 years, and decided to sell wines by the glass to add some income and a different spin on a precious, dwindling commodity–the independent bookstore. The notion, he explained to the Rural Intelligence newsletter, came after taking a trip to Europe. “I only got the idea when I went to visit an old friend in Prague. Every night, we would go to the symphony or a jazz club, and afterwards we would go to the same cafe. I loved going to this cafe, and I thought this is what I should have at home. It’s not separate from the bookstore—it’s an extension of the bookstore.”

Lenox, and many parts of the Berkshires, are devoted to sharing culture with locals and visitors alike. Art, music, theater and literature—and sometimes, a glass of wine too.

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Are You a “Chardonnay Housewife?”

In Ireland, they’re calling it the “epidemic of chardonnay housewives,” where women slip into alcohol dependence without realizing it, and without others realizing it until they’ve hit rock bottom. It’s easy to fool yourself and others by telling yourself you’re just having a glass of wine, when really it’s two, then three, then the whole bottle. Rehabs in Ireland are starting waiting lists, with affluent women making up the majority of those who seek help.

You don’t actually have to be a housewife to be a “chardonnay housewife.” (And you don’t have to live in Ireland). You just have to be a woman who uses wine to deal with stress.

The Economic Times recently reported that women in high powered positions drink twice as much as those in manual jobs, reflecting a rising “cocktail and business card culture.” So there’s drinking all around.

Typical of the women Dr. Gareth McGovern, a Dublin doctor who specializes in addiction, sees is the one who had engaged in “social, sitting at home, bottle of wine” kind of drinking, which at first seems harmless. The problem is when the ritual moves into a habit, then a full-blown craving, and finally, a need.

In the U.S., bloggers and advertisers court and cater to the chardonnay crowd, with kicky, tongue-in-cheek sites like “Moms Who Need Wine” (There’s even a t-shirt!).  The Facebook page has half a million followers. And note: It’s not “Moms Who WANT Wine,” it’s “Moms Who NEED Wine.”

There’s even a wine on the market called Mad Housewife Chardonnay. The tagline: “What’s domestic bliss without a little wine?”

The advertisers walk a fine line, though, careful to cover themselves.  While they suggest that wine is “something you can look forward to at the end of each and every day,” and that it gives you “time to enjoy a moment to yourself” (read: it’s okay to drink alone, if you can’t find a buddy), they also point out that wine should never “create a new line item in your budget.”

Just because the media has moved on from the “cocktail mom” phenomenon doesn’t mean women have stopped drinking.

I don’t mean to be a buzzkill, but given the prevalence of alcohol abuse problems and given the Russian Roulette nature of addiction (you don’t know you’re an addict until you’re hooked, and then the denial kicks in), it might be a good idea for women to learn to untangle wine from need, and make it a weekend treat instead of something to look forward to “each and every day.”

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A Writer Who Loves Wine Takes the Challenge: A Year Off Drinking

By Susan Rosson Spain

First, let me say this: I love wine. I really, really love it—how it sparkles in the glass, its velvety feel on my tongue, the delicious tickle it creates in my brain. I love looking forward to “Wine-o’Clock,” which for my husband, who works out of the house, comes as soon as his agenda for the day clears, and for me, whenever that happens for him. Because who can write when your partner has raised the party flag?

My husband is a dedicated oenophile. We have two wine refrigerators where he stores the bottles he collects, plus a wine rack for our more pedestrian bottles. I think it holds twenty or so. On our first formal date, we split a bottle of Opus One. He has trained me not only to love wine, but to love good wine.

And now I’m taking a year off from this lovely pleasure—all of 2012. Why? Well, for several (what I consider to be) very good reasons.

The first and probably most important of these reasons is productivity. I am a writer, and even though I am brilliant after a glass or two of pinot noir (just ask any of my writer-friends who’ve retreated with me, and they’ll tell you this is so true), I do not actually write when this brilliance shows up. I talk a good game, offer insights into their work, delve deeply into topics like using setting as character, unreliable narrators, and the magic of well-written dialogue. But I do not write.

Secondly, writers need also to be voracious readers. I love nothing better than to sit down in a comfy chair with a glass of wine and a good book. But once glasses two and three come on the scene, whatever I have read goes to some nether region of my brain, never to be heard from again. I open the book to my bookmark the next day… and flip back a page… and another page… and think to myself, what the heck is going on? I don’t remember any of this!

The third problem (notice how I have to get to number three before I call them problems?) is that my mother became an alcoholic in her forties, and I have some very bad memories of what that was like. Though she was what they call a “functional alcoholic” who showed up for work every morning without fail (she was a highly regarded executive secretary), and wore a very responsible public face, she missed out on so much with regard to relationships and personal growth. By this phase in her life, she wasn’t interested in anyone or anything but getting through the day, doing what was expected of her, and going home to that first Manhattan of the evening, or Whiskey Sour, or later on, beer. All of her creativity—and she had been so very creative—vanished, buried under layer upon layer of numbness.

I don’t want to be her.

This is the second time in my adult life I’ve “taken a year off.” In 2003, I needed to prove to myself that I could do without my wine. (Not to mention that my liver needed a break.) That year, I finished and revised my first novel. I was able to concentrate on research, plot layering, and getting everything woven together perfectly in my head and on the page. And yes, I attribute that mostly to the fact that I wasn’t drinking.

This year will be tough at times, I know. Particularly hard will be the trip my husband and I are planning to wine country. But there are other things I look forward to when we visit wineries: the calming scenery, the wonderful little trays of crackers with fig jam and goat cheese and artisan bread, the conversation that never seems to happen at home with the television on. I’ll be the designated driver, of course, a proposition of which I’m not especially fond; but I’m on board anyway, because there’s an upside: we’ll be safe.

Now. Just so you’ll know that I don’t love everything about my year of abstinence, I’ve found a disturbing downside. I used to wake up in the wee hours and stare at the ceiling. But during that wakefulness, many times a perfect phrase or idea for my book would pop into my head and I’d scribble it on the pad I keep on the nightstand for use the next day. Some of my best ideas happened that way. But now I’m sleeping through the night. Ah, well.

Today, it’s been 32 days. I’m one-twelfth of the way to my goal. By December 31st, I will have another finished novel under my belt, another thirty-plus books crossed off my to-read list, and will have chosen the perfect bottle of petit verdot with which to ring in 2013.


Susan Rosson Spain is the author of a young adult novel, The Deep Cut, as well as a picture book, The Twelve Days of Christmas in Georgia.   The mother of four grown daughters and ‘Nana’ to seven-and-a-half grandchildren (eighth due this month!), Susan lives in Conyers, Georgia with her husband Dave and two very rambunctious shelties.    She is currently at work on her next novel, a young adult dystopian tale.


The Friendly Skies—With Wine

airline tray with wineI love to travel. I’m the person that gets a pit of excitement in my stomach, knowing I’m hours away from getting on an airplane. Once in the air, I’m happy to pass the hours, reading, watching a movie, or just looking at the clouds below.

While I’ve never associated the two, I also love wine, but understand that the wine served tens of thousands of feet above the ground–in coach class, that is–in those mini twist-off bottles is simply drinkable, at best, and nothing more. I’ll rarely spring the 5 bucks for a mediocre, miniature bottle of wine.

Part of the investment for first and business-class passengers must be the wine, because they are drinking a whole different calibre of beverage (full disclosure: I’ve been one of those passengers on two occasions. It’s really nice up there.) Chosen from a selection of several reds and whites, business class wine is poured from a traditional 750 ml bottle. No twist offs for those folks.

As a matter of fact, the wine chosen for business class passengers has become such big business that there are awards for the category–the Wines on the Wing Airline Wine Competition. According to Global Traveler, a magazine for business and luxury travelers, in the most recent competition, 26 airlines submitted 46 white wines, 49 red wines, and 23 champagne or sparkling wines currently on their international Business Class and North American premium class wine lists for a blind taste test. Global Traveler is the only U.S.-based publication to conduct such a survey in the United States (see 2011 competition results here).

But things are looking up for domestic-flying wine drinkers in economy class. Airlines have recently begun offering more interesting selections, as listed on the Bottlenotes blog. And if you’re really particular about your vineyard and vintage, bring your own on board. You’ll cruise right through security with your own 50 ml (1.7 oz) bottles from the TastingRoom’s wine samplers.

Cheers. And safe travels.

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