(re)turn of the century: wine

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Connecting to the history of Gastown is what Pourhouse has been all about since its inception.  Drawing inspiration from the 100+-year-old building has proven to be almost bottomless.  To all of us involved, it has been interesting and exciting both in what we look to find, and in what’s found us.  The wine program has been no exception, it’s been a chance to find and rediscover a few things worth celebrating.  It’s also given me a closer look into how some of winemaking’s history is coming back and shaping it’s future.

There are things I keep coming back to, or that keep circling round and recurring when it comes to Pourhouse, and forgive me; I have to digress for a moment here.  Our inspiration draws from the specific location and its specific, as well as general history, and everything that spirals out from that.  1908 Gastown.  Turn-of-the-century North America. Neighborhood.  Local.  Elegance in both plain and fancy.  Honesty.  Quality.  Hands-on.  These things all seem to keep popping up and relating, no matter where I look.  It reminds me of how fractals, those beautiful mathematical designs, echo themselves as you magnify them, into infinity.

Sorry, I just had to do it.  Back to wine.

The idea of tying our wine program into the rest of the turn-of-the-century theme has grown organically, and thanks to the hard work of a few very talented friends and neighbors is resting very comfortably alongside a lineup of classic cocktails and local craft beer.  It was Neil Ingram who suggested we use our historical platform to showcase some of our favorite grapes.

At the time of the golden age of cocktails, Zinfandel was the most commonly planted grape in North America, and was amongst Petite Sirah and Riesling as the dominant grape variety. With its abundance of mouthwatering acidity, Riesling is a go-to food pairing wine for almost any dish; or it can be crafted into a more delicate expression, to be paired simply with friends and conversation.

Petite Sirah, a cross from Syrah and Peloursin, came to North America from Frances’ Rhone Valley, known for it’s meaty and robust food wine.  Mostly used for blending, Petite Sirah is quite commonly found in Zinfandel, whether labeled or not.   This tannic wine brings, spicy, plum, bacon and white pepper flavors to the table: a perfect fit for the comfort food being served up by chef Chris Irving.

And this brings me to one of my favorites: Zinfandel.  I love it for many reasons: I love how the grapes ripen and raisin unevenly on the bunch.  As a mountain-born winter lover, I’m envious of its ability to bask and soak in all that hot sun.  I love how it evokes emotion; whiffs of my granny’s jam on toast, are inside a glass of wine!  And I love how Zin can be so diverse; it runs the gamut from soft and light, through big, bold, and alcoholic, to Cab-like: oaked, tannic (where the Petite Sirah comes in), and ready for a steak!

Zinfandel is one of prohibitions’ survivors, and thanks to the Italian farmers who held on proudly to their vines, we get to enjoy some of the richest examples of Zinfandel in the world.  These truly old vines (a term used somewhat loosely) focus their sugars and yield a smaller, sweeter, more concentrated juice, translating into a much deeper, richer wine.  Thank you to the Seghesio family and others, I am truly grateful.

Seghesio3
Old Zinfandel vines at Seghesio Vineyards.  Sonoma CA

Old-fashioned viticultural methods have come back into practice as organic farming.  Crop rotation, composting, hand harvesting, green manure, and the use of insects and birds for pest control, were all rooted firmly, surviving the technological advancements in pesticides, to recover their credibility in the farms and vineyards as not only more natural, but more effective in making an exceptional wine.  Ridge Vineyards in California for example has built an above ground cellar from straw and clay that vents naturally and maintains temperatures for storing wine, a perfect example of how a natural approach has double and triple dividends.

Natural vinification techniques are becoming more and more prevalent today as well.  In an approach to be much more hands-on, some winemakers are striving to keep their hands off.  Using naturally occurring wild yeasts for fermentation, and staying away from sulfites in all but the final bottling stage, letting the dirt and the grapes speak for themselves is a nod to what’s in store up ahead.  Broc Cellars of California is the perfect example of the future these ideas are shaping, and I’m looking forward to seeing it on our list soon.  And by seeing, I mean tasting.

Another treasure we’re unearthing from this revered past is the European ideal of regional eating and drinking.  Eating local fare and sipping the local tonic was understandably common when people first settled here.  After prohibition ended, the push for industrialization led to globalization and carried us away from enjoying what came from our neighbors’ backyards.  With so many committed, talented people around us, crafting such tasty nectar, I think we have much worth celebrating.  Looking out our back door at BC’s darling Pinot Gris, and over the fence at Oregon’s Pinot Noir, returning to a regional drinking model sounds like a bottle well worth dusting off.

Just like everything else at Pourhouse, the wine list has revealed itself to be full of careful choices, tied to a central theme.  Behind every label on our list is a story worth hearing, a bottle worth celebrating.   Looking into our past as a source of inspiration for what and how we drink today has excited me for what’s to come.

BC Pinot NoirBC Pinot Noir

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