Wine Report from the Fort
A wine from Plato's lost continent of Atlantis
By Fred McMillin
In this island of Atlantis here was a great and wonderful empire … But afterwards, there occurred violent earthquakes and floods … and the island of Atlantis … disappeared into the depths of the sea.” (Plato, Timaeus, c. 380 B.C.)
“It is probable that Plato used the real events [of the Santorini eruption] as the nucleus of his myth of Atlantis.” (Christos Doumas, Santorini: A Guide to the Island and Its Archaeological Treasures, 1985)
What did this incredible explosion do to the earth’s atmosphere? We have a witness in China, where the royal scribe wrote, in about 1600 B.C., “At the time of King Chieh the sun was dimmed … winter and summer came irregularly. Frosts in the sixth month. Ice formed in the morning.” Confirming the magnitude of the cloud, Santorini ash has been found in Iceland at a depth dating the explosion to 1623 B.C. Tightly packed tree rings in California about this time indicate that even North America was affected.
Effects on Santorini viticulture
Before the explosion, life on the island was good: the ladies wore eye makeup, there was indoor plumbing, and the olive trees and grape vines thrived.
Some four centuries after the eruption, settlers cautiously returned to the crescent-shaped shred of the volcanic island that we now call Santorini (named after St. Irene). It no longer was agriculturally friendly, probably little different from this modern description by Filipos Katsipis in Santorini (1971): “Barren, waterless and windswept is the earth of Santorini. Because of that, its agricultural production [per acre] is small. However, because of the volcanic nature of its earth and the fact that they are dry-farmed, all of its products without exception are remarkable and famous. First and best is its wine.”
Santorini at the Fort
My class was impressed! They voted this wine best white of the last two classes:
• Domaine Sigalas Santorini Aegean Islands Greece 2007, $16 (available at BevMo!)
Santorini is about 100 miles south of Athens, Greece. Why did Plato name it the lost continent of Atlantis? He believed it was located west of the Mediterranean Sea out in the Atlantic Ocean.
Credits: Miles Lambert-Gocs, The Wines of Greece (1990)
Equines and vines?
Northside San Francisco reader Dr. John Amos likes both horses and wine. In fact, I happen to know that he has ridden in many parades, including Portland’s Rose Parade, Stanford’s Tally Ho Celebration, Pasadena’s Tournament of Roses, and more. His current horse is named Rocky. Dr. Amos asks if horses played a part in California wine history.
Answer: Roy Andries De Groot tells us in The Wines of California, the Pacific Northwest and New York (1982):
“It can be argued that the beginning of serious winemaking in North America was the summer day in 1769 when Franciscan friar, Padre Junipero Serra, rode on his white horse from the border of the Mexican district of Baja California into the Spanish province of Alta California. That night, the padre stayed at the newly dedicated Mission San Diego, and in the morning he planted in the gardens the root cuttings of the Mission grapes that he had brought with him, in his saddlebag.”
Today, wineries making wine from the Mission grape are Malvadino, Story and Shenandoah.
Whence the name Sonoma?
“Sono” was an American Indian word for nose and applied to
the chief of the tribe Sonoma. Thus, it meant the tribe of Chief Nose, according to Gudde’s California Place Names.
Save gas, take a class
Instead of using gas to drive to the wine country, go to Fort Mason and take a class.
Saturdays, 1 p.m., 20 wines:
• Feb. 7: Basics for Beginners – Learn the five basic types of wines and how they are made.
• Feb. 28: Taste the Terms – Taste wines that illustrate the 100-plus terms used to describe wine.
• March 14: Napa vs. Sonoma, Part 1 – Taste and compare Chardonnay, Syrah and Petite Sirah.
• March 28: Napa vs. Sonoma, Part 2 – Taste and compare Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Zinfandel.
Many people take Taste the Terms over again because the wines and terms are different each time. To enroll or wait-list, phone San Francisco City College at 415-561-1840, or visit www.ccsf.edu/Services/Continuing Education.
A final wine smile
Some years ago I worked for Dr. Bob Kozlowski, winemaker for Kenwood. One day he came in with a huge smile on his face. I asked the reason. His answer? The White House had ordered several cases of his pioneering Dry Chenin Blanc.
Credits: Edgar Vogt (tastings); Ophelia Mercado (statistics)
Fred McMillin was voted one of the best wine writers in the United States by the Academy of Wine Communications. Phone him with questions at 415-563-5712 or fax him at 415-567-4468.