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June 2009 Issue of Wines & Vines


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A little goes a long way

I just read your article about residual sugar in wines (Tim Patterson's Inquiring Winemaker, "How Sweet It Is," January 2009). I liked the article and don't disagree with any of the opinions, including Patterson's. My observation about wines with low level residual sugar has always been that they might seem OK on the first couple of sips, but palate fatigue sets in fast. I hope this doesn't become an overall trend in wines for that very reason.

Marty Bannister
Windsor, Calif.

Ice wine issue heats up

I enjoyed your article in the January 2009 issue: "Wines that Changed the Industry," by Jim Gordon with Linda Jones McKee and Hudson Cattell.

In 1976, Mount Pleasant Vineyards made America's first ice wine. When I applied for a certificate of label approval (COLA), it took an unusually long time to get the certificate. When I called the BATF (now TTB) to see what was causing the delay, they told me that no one had ever applied for an ice wine label before, and they needed to write some regulations.

When we finally got the certificate and labeled the wine, I sent a news release to Wines & Vines, letting them know that we had made the first such wine in the U.S. They mentioned that fact in an issue, but several issues later there was a claim by Hamilton Mowbray that he had made the first ice wine in 1974.

I sent a copy of our COLA and a bottle of the ice wine to Wines & Vines. I also stated that I would be happy to withdraw my claim if Mr. Mowbray could produce a COLA for his 1974 wine. He did not produce the COLA, which meant at best that his 100 bottles of wine were either never labeled and thus never sold, or they were labeled and sold as something other than ice wine.

Unless the wine was labeled as ice wine, which it was not, there is absolutely no way of knowing if the wine conformed to the BATF standards for ice wine or was simply a late harvest wine.

Lucian W. Dressel
Former owner and winemaker
Mount Pleasant Winery, Branson, Mo.

Wine East co-editor Hudson Cattell replies: Who did what first is often a matter of controversy, and who made the first ice wine in the United States is no exception. There is no doubt in my mind that the honor goes to Dr. G. Hamilton Mowbray at Montbray Wine Cellars in Westminster, Md., who picked the grapes at dawn on Oct. 5, 1974, when the temperature was 21ºF in his vineyard. The details and statistics are on the back label of his wine. He tried to get label approval but could not. Leon Adams in the second edition of The Wines of America (page 78) gives credit to Mowbray for making America's first ice wine, and adds that Mowbray tried to get label approval but, "The government bureau which approves wine labels could not yet decide on what such an American wine could be labeled." Mowbray got tired of waiting and used his regular Riesling label and placed directly above it a label with his own words "1974 Ice-Wine." The total production was 100 bottles and the bottles were numbered on the back label.

Incidentally, my first visit to Mowbray's winery was on Nov. 13, 1979, and at that time he only had 50 bottles left at $50 each. I interviewed Ham, as everyone called him, on that day and photographed the front label exactly as I saw it on the bottle. That label, the back label and much of my interview was published in the January 1980 issue of
The Pennsylvania Grape Letter and Wine News (a forerunner of Wine East).

The first controversy came in 1978, when
Wines & Vines ran a short piece in its July issue titled "Edmeades Vineyards of California Made 'Eiswein' in '77." Winemaker Jed Steele made 44 cases from Colombard grapes. Frank Prial picked up on this story in The New York Times, giving Edmeades Winery credit for making America's first ice wine. When Mowbray objected, it was argued that Mowbray's 100 bottles could not be considered a commercial bottling when compared with a 44-case release from Edmeades. Mowbray retorted that anytime he could sell a batch of wine for $5,000, it was commercial. The New York Times agreed, and printed a retraction.

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