Midwest: The Midwest Regionals will be in Indianapolis. We covered the state of Indiana yesterday. Let me just add this…how many wine sponsors do you notice at the Indy 500?
Louisville vs. Oregon. Although known for bourbon, Kentucky is the sight of the first commercial winery in the United States. The Marquis de Lafayette’s winemaker, Jean Jacques Dufour, looked for land to grow grapes, and settled near Lexington, the “Athens of the West”. Dufour, with the help of backing from a group that included Henry Clay, made his first wines by 1803 at what he called “The First Vineyard”. At one time, Kentucky produced over half the grapes and wine in the United States, and by the late 1800s, was still ranked third in the country. Then with Prohibition approaching, many turned to tobacco. Today, there are over sixty wineries, and since the 1980s, many tobacco farms have switched to grape production…”Cigs to Swigs” is not the motto however.
A slogan of the Oregon wine producers association is “all wine comes from some place, but the best wines come from somewhere extraordinary”. Very simply, Oregon is producing wines that receive international attention and acclaim. Kentucky cant say that. Over 300 wineries and 700 vineyards, wine was first produced here in the 1840s, but as an industry, didn’t really take form until the 1960s. Just as the Judgement of Paris put California wines on the map in 1978, it was an Oregon pinot noir that scored highly at an international competition in 1979, showing that not only could pinot grow in Oregon, but it could make world class wines. In fact, the state of Oregon developed a strong relationship with Burgundy, where some respectable pinot noir is also produced. Wine Edge: I could go on about all the wonderful juice being produced in Oregon, but let’s just say they have an edge over Louisville (and the state of Kentucky) here, without even delving too deeply into it. Of course, purely in basketball terms, Louisville has yet to break a sweat in the tournament, but this isn’t purely about basketball now, is it? In wine, Oregon wins in a blow-out.
Michigan St. vs. Duke. Refer back to yesterday’s analysis to see my commentary of the state of Michigan’s wine. As for Michigan State, at least the wine industry in Michigan is supported by an agricultural research program at Michigan State University, which began experimental vineyards around the state in 1970 and established a winery on campus in 1972, unlike those wine posers in Ann Arbor.
North Carolina has over 100 wineries, and although it ranks tenth in production, it ranks fifth in wine tourism. There is even a native grape, scuppernong, cultivated since shortly after the arrival of Sir Walter Raleigh, that still produces wine today. In fact, it was the first native grape cultivated for wine making, and there is a 400 year old vine in the state still producing grapes…that isn’t to say its great wine however. The Biltmore Estate and Winery in Asheville is the most visited winery in the country. Duke, for its part, has offered classes and presented research on the wine industry. Many Duke grads probably have impressive wine collections however. Wine Edge: Toss-up. But of course, most everyone, outside of Duke and Michigan grads, wants Duke to lose.
West: The West Regionals are in Los Angeles this week. Although you wouldn’t think so, the first commercial winery in California is still inside the city limits. The San Antonio Winery, although its changed names and hands since 1833, has survived Prohibition (it made sacramental wine during that time), earthquakes, smog, and perhaps even Lindsey Lohan.
Wichita State vs. LaSalle. If you read yesterday’s part 1, you know that although the state of Kansas has some winery development, it was also the state where Carrie Nation and the temperance movement started…that’s like losing 4 points off the point spread for not having home court advantage. Wichita State’s nickname is The Shockers, because early on in the school’s history, students would shock, or harvest wheat locally to earn money. I suppose if it had been a wine region, they’d be known as The Pickers today.
LaSalle’s nickname is the Explorers, erroneously given by a writer because he thought the school was named after the explorer, not the saint and priest. But St. Jean-Baptiste de La Salle is the patron saint of teachers and was from Reims, the heart of Champagne. La Salle, the school, is in Philadelphia, and Pennsylvania now has over 120 wineries, is fourth largest grape producer and seventh largest wine producer. The first grapevine nursery in the United States was also in Pennsylvania, but it goes back further to when Queen Christina of Sweden instructed explorers to see if “New Sweden” was suitable for grape growing. William Penn and Benjamin Franklin both advocated strongly for the production of wine. And, wine makers have overcome the lack of real support by the state that has done much to try to block the growth of the industry. Wine Edge: I am giving it to LaSalle despite the archaic state alcohol sales system because I have had some very wines from Pennsylvania and I am grateful they beat Mississippi because I don’t know if Id have enough material to write about wine in that state.
Arizona vs. Ohio State. Wine was first made in what is now Arizona in the 16th century by Spanish Jesuit missionaries. Today, there are almost fifty wineries, but the most famous of all is owned by Tool lead singer Maynard James Keenan, who has successfully made wine in the desert near his home, despite the challenged (outlined in a documentary, “Blood Into Wine”). His winery is Caduceus Cellars (caduceus being the name for Hermes’ staff and an ancient symbol of commerce) and his vineyard is Merkin Vineyards (a merkin being a pubic wig, so Im not exactly sure why he chose the name). Keenan schedules all recording and touring around harvest and winemaking now. Coincidentally, he is originally from the state of Ohio, but he hasn’t tried to make wine there evidently, which leads us to, Ohio State.
Ohio was at one time the largest producer of wine in the United States and Cincinnati was the center of the wine trade for the country (probably before the ascent of P&G). The early success was based on the Catawba grape, but the Civil War, disease and Prohibition basically wiped out the industry (although it flourished for a time on the Lake Erie islands after the southern Ohio boom years along the Ohio River). Today there are over 100 wineries and Ohio is a top ten wine producer, yet the official drink of the state is tomato juice. I also could find no signs of buckeye (horse chestnut) wine being made, but rest assured, if it was made, Ohio State fans would drink it like Kool-Aid, or tomato juice I suppose. Wine Edge: Despite Ohio’s historical significance, I am giving it to Arizona. Besides, I believe some Arizona winemakers want me to come visit…and Zona has to give the edge to ‘Zona.
Of course, the reality is that wine favorites most likely will not be the betting favorites, but whoever you are rooting for, enjoy the games and whatever wine you are enjoying along with it.