It’s time again for my annual March Madness Sweet 16 analysis, based almost purely on wine. Before you laugh, look at all those X’s littering your bracket sheet already. Maybe this method is akin to picking horses by the colors of the jockeys’ silks, but at least this year, “expert breakdowns” that you combed through a week ago have busted most of your brackets out there. A few notes first…some notable wine producing states are not represented in the Sweet 16 this year…Washington, New York, New Jersey, New Mexico to name a few off the top of my head. The state of California is represented a few times, and while it would be easy to use that state in general (if it was an independent country, it would rank fourth globally in wine production), I will use region specific commentary for those schools. Finally, I was pulling for Wichita State, but its not so bad that they lost, along with Kansas and K State. I cant abide by a state where many are still staunchly proud of their Carry Nation and Temperance Movement history.
Today, I will focus on the Thursday games…the South and West Regionals.
South Regional: Memphis, TN
Dayton vs. Stanford. Dayton is home to some of the Willamette Valley’s top wineries. Wait that’s Dayton, OR, not OH. 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 (long before soap operas). Nicholas Longworth was known as “the father of American winemaking” when he established a commercial wine industry in 1803, the year Ohio gained statehood. 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. Dayton is along the Ohio River Wine Trail, formerly named the Nicholas Longworth Wine Trail. But the official drink of the state is tomato juice and Longworth was originally from New Jersey.
Stanford is in Palo Alto, a hotbed of technology and definitely high end wine sales and undoubtedly winery ownership. Silicon Valley, or Santa Clara Valley, is a designated AVA with 25 wineries. Native Americans called it the Valley of the Heart’s Delight and it is an historic region that in the 1850s, was the leading producer of wine in CA. It is also the home to Ridge’s Monte Bello Vineyard, one of the top wines at the Judgement of Paris. Advantage: Stanford
Florida vs. UCLA. Wine was first made in Florida by Spanish missionaries in the 1500s for sacramental purposes. Because of tropical weather and grapevine diseases, so although grapes are grown, much of the wine made in Florida today is based on other fruit. Key lime, mango and strawberry wine! Reminds me of my high school days. Grapes are grown, and there are commercially produced grape wines, but its tough…tougher than Florida’s frontline. All that said, I think Billy Donovan is a great coach, and he has ditched the 1980s Gordon Gekko look fortunately. He is a Long Island native, and there is some really good wine being made there.
Although you wouldn’t think so, the first commercial winery in California is still inside the city limits of Los Angeles. The San Antonio Winery, although it has changed names and hands since 1833, has survived Prohibition (it made sacramental wine during that time), earthquakes, smog, and the Kardashians. It is as legendary as UCLA basketball. There are two other wineries within 15 miles of downtown LA and six distinct wine producing regions inside a 50 mile radius. And last time I was in LA, it took me an hour and a half to be in the thick of the Santa Barbara wine scene. Im not sure what I will find 90 minutes from Gainesville, but from a wine perspective, it won’t be as appealing. Advantage: UCLA
West Regional: Anaheim, CA
Arizona vs San Diego State. Wine was first made in what is now Arizona and New Mexico in the 16th century by Spanish Jesuit missionaries. Today, there are almost fifty wineries in AZ, 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 challenges (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.
Wine production in the San Diego area is said to have begun around 1781 with California’s first mission, Mission San Diego de Alcalá. Production continued there using the California Mission grape (the primary grape used at a number of missions in what is now Southern California) with varied success until about 1835 and then not at all by the 1850’s. After that, the San Diego area saw wine production start and fall and then largely disappear with Prohibition and World War 2. The wine industry started to take off a bit again in Temecula, in the greater San Diego area. One of the leading producers is Calloway, from the golf equipment family. Unfortunately though, this is about basketball. Of course, I also had to find a way to give the nod to a team that uses my last name as its moniker on occasion. Advantage: ‘Zona.
Baylor vs. Wisconsin. When I think of Wisconsin, I think of beer and cheese, but despite not having the most hospitable climate for grape growing, the state does have great significance in…California’s wine industry. Agoston Haraszthy immigrated from Hungary in the 1840s and settled in Wisconsin where he planted grapes and made wine, despite the challenges. An incredible personality and entrepreneur, he is known as “The Father of Modern California Winemaking”, eventually going to California where he first planted grapes near San Diego (where he was sheriff) and then into Sonoma. He founded Buena Vista Winery but more importantly, is credited with having over 300 varieties of grapes shipped from Europe and other parts of the United States and planted in California. I’ll give Wisconsin some credit for all of this since he did try to give it a go there.
Baylor is in Waco, known for cults, not cult wines. There are more than 200 wineries in Texas, a state also rich in wine history, but also with a wine industry that was decimated by Prohibition (a quarter of its 254 counties are still dry) and is only coming back somewhat in the past couple of decades. Because of the climate, harvest takes place usually in late July, but high quality wines are being made, just not in any abundance around Waco, but to the north, west and south. Perhaps the greatest contribution to the wine industry was the work of horticulturist Thomas Munson. Munson is responsible for conducting the research in finding root stock immune to the Phylloxera epidemic, which saved the French wine industry. The French-Texan connection continues to this day. The University of Texas is the largest vineyard owner in the state with over 1000 acres of vines. It was originally an agricultural experiment, but today is leased to a group of Bordeaux wine producers who make wine under two labels there. Sante, y’all! Advantage: Baylor
Tomorrow, I will Parkerize the Friday games.