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MARCH 2024/ ABSINTHE v. WINE/ WINE v. ABSINTHE

INTRO

It is a fact that the aphid known as Phylloxera Vastarix was brought unintentionally from North America to Europe sometime in the mid 19th century. It was first discovered in 1866 in France and, by boring into the root systems, went on to destroy the majority of the vineyards in Europe. This destroyed the economic vitality of the European wine market, as well as people's livelihood all within a decade.
During this same time, consumption of Absinthe was on the rise. Typical production of this herb macerated spirit involved the use of a distilled wine base. As wine production began to fail, Absinthe distilleries turned towards a new base spirit that came either from grains or beets. This greatly decreased the price of Absinthe and increased its accessibility.
Once grape growers discovered how to treat the aphid and grow and maintain healthy vines, they needed to reconnect with their consumers. The new popularity of the now affordable Absinthe made this difficult for wine, so French grape growers partnered with the Temperance Movement and created a smear campaign against Absinthe. They were quite successful and it resulted in Absinthe being banned in several countries around the world for about 100 years. Not only that, but the misinformation used as a part of the smear campaign has lasted until today, creating much confusion about what Absinthe actually is and what could happen to one who consumes it.
In this month's Club Caravan we present you with a slice of an imagined legal encounter between the two parties: Wine & Absinthe. Through this courtroom drama, we hope to show the less romantic side of the alcohol industry that gets involved with politics/ economics and the historical impact of these maneuvers.  The wines selected are here to represent significant locations in France related to the downfall of wine and the rise of Absinthe.  As you sip and flip, let the book help you swap perspectives and be your own judge.  Is it a dog eat dog world?  Or can the hair of the dog be the cure?  
 
 

IF WINE SPOKE

OPENING STATEMENT

Can we all agree, from this very start, to put our trust in science? If we can do that, then we can all go home that much sooner. Absinthe is a deadly toxic substance that will cause lunacy and murder, homelessness, physical abuse, and aids in destroying civilized society. No matter how they try to spin it, too many people were drinking Absinthe and lives were being lost because of it. End of story. Now, my client will tell you the truth, and it is a sad one. Wine was already down, destroyed by an act of god worse than anything out of the bible. And, while they are down and using all their efforts to survive and feed their families, they were moved to support the cause of teaching a better understanding of the dangers of drinking the poisonous substance called Absinthe. The science was there. The proof was there. People were lying in the streets. Kids were in bars. Families were being torn apart. How noble for wine to not judge, but to educate. To not condemn, but to communicate. To not turn away, but to lend a hand. Wine saved lives.
 

TESTIMONY

Phylloxera took everybody by surprise. We definitely did not expect it. And we didn't even understand it for years. It was a genocide. Our grapes, across the European continent, were wiped out. Dead! In a couple years we had lost everything and had no understanding of what was happening, nor how to stop it.
What were we supposed to do!? It's about survival and along with our grapes, we are now dying. Our livelihood is just withering away before us. There is no nice way to respond to this. A bunch of people left, packed up shop, moved across the pond and started over in both the south and the north. But some of us didn't have that option so we had to do whatever it takes. And we did.
Before we get to what everyone thinks is so nasty, let me tell you the botanical truth: Phylloxera is an aphid that lives on root systems of grapevines. On the vines of North America, it lives in harmony. However, on European root stock, which is a different species of the vine, Phylloxera destroys it. 
In the hustle and bustle of the Atlantic Sea Trading in the 1800s, some vines were brought from North America over the ocean to Europe. And, unbeknownst to the travelers, Phylloxera came along for the ride and, once landed, just hopped onto our grapevines and burrowed right in. It was a full seven years from the discovery of Phylloxera and its official pronouncement as the cause of the withering & dying grapevines. Hundreds of thousands of acres had been destroyed.
And so, without grapes to make wine, our consumers turned to other things. Primarily spirits. And this is where it starts to hurt. We had been hosting the party of life for generations, and now the party was moving on without us! And what for? A bunch of cheap Absinthe? Embarrassing. The whole Absinthe scene was just a bunch of loud, happy nonsense. Empty fun that really needed to be stopped.
Most importantly, it really was too dangerous. I mean look, as winemakers we make alcohol as well and we just thought it was our responsibility to look out for the safety of others...out of respect for the profession. So, yeah, we started a campaign to educate the public on the scientifically proven dangers of Absinthe.
I won't keep on talking here. But it really is ultimately up to the people as to what they want to drink. And it's up to us to share our knowledge about the harmful effects of Absinthe consumption. You wanna die? Fine. But don't say we didn't warn you.

IF ABSINTHE SPOKE

OPENING STATEMENT

Allow us to just take the temperature down a bit and just say it's too easy to jump on the bandwagon and kick someone when they're down. Sadly, we might even say it's human nature. However, as human beings, we have that unique capability to rise above the cowardice of mob-mentality and discern the truth from fictionalized terror. To put it simply, my client has had their character and reputation tarnished by an unfounded smear campaign, driven by ignorance, fear and lousy science (if you can even call it that). Let's look at the gem under a nice bright light and see what is really there: Absinthe is a hand crafted thing of beauty, concocted through a studied and creative relationship between nature and distiller. Absinthe is the essence of plants, grown lovingly and with incredible respect for their unique botanical attributes. Absinthe respects all forms of alcohol, no matter their base spirit, whether it comes from fruit or grain. Absinthe is well aware of the power that alcohol holds, to bring people together for a unique shared experience. It is from this love and respect that Absinthe is an individual in the world, that is not concerned with the smallness of gossip and slander. Absinthe is true. Absinthe is nature. When we trust nature, we cannot go astray.
 

TESTIMONY

We like to party. We like life. We like watching the sun rise. The warmth of nature reminds us of our own vitality. This is who we are! Look, the base spirit is important. And yes, for many years, we used a grape based spirit as the foundation upon which Absinthe was built. But, let me just say this: if the ground beneath your feet begins to give way, you gonna keep standing there? No! You gotta move! You gotta dance! Our nature is to be free and be ourselves, and that means we change and grow and develop in response to our environment. A base spirit made from beets works just as well, and it was cheaper, giving more people the chance to hang with us. What's the crime here?
We're not blaming anyone, except wine. They painted us to be death itself. Hey Wine, you worked with us for all these years and now you turn on us? You're the cowards. You're the insecure, the selfish, the greedy. It's your efforts that fueled the abuse and misunderstanding of alcohol as a whole. If anything, you've hurt yourself! What happened to a respect for nature? A respect for craftsmanship? To say we're not angry would be a lie. We are angry! But we're not gonna go hurt anybody because of it. Why didn't you just leave us alone?
You want to talk about science?  Let’s talk about wormwood.  This infamous ingredient in Absinthe has a long history as a medical miracle cure- all herb since the Shang Dynasty of 1600…B.C.!  Even in ancient Rome, the emperor was presented with wormwood at festivals as a symbol of wishing him good health.  It is known for treating a myriad of ailments like indigestion, acts as an antifungal, an insecticide, and even has been known as an antidepressant.  It has been used on farms to repel lice, mites, and fleas.  However it is the chemical thujone found in wormwood that gets all the attention.  While it does affect the central nervous system, and can cause convulsions, seizures, and even death, this morose result only occurs after a large intake, much larger than any amount of wormwood that can be found in Absinthe.  The only known case of a person dying of an overdose comes from a man who drank 10mL of distilled oil of wormwood wrongly identifying it as Absinthe.  It is this extreme consequence that was used to destroy all the good that is done not only by Absinthe but also wormwood, which no one has a problem drinking when it is in vermouth.
You know what, I'll give you one thing, Wine. There are some producers of Absinthe out there who are cutting corners, making inferior products, and doing a disservice to the integrity of our craft. But guess what: this happens everywhere in all trades and professions. That's why there are standard bearers. 
You, Wine, and your temperance friends, have had us blacklisted around the world for 100 years. One hundred years! Cui bono? 
(taken over by sobs, Absinthe is unable to continue)
LAWYER: Your honor, the damage done to my client goes deep. Deeper than any vine louse could imagine boring into. This will take generations to undo. I'd like to request a 20 minute recess. 

WINE 1

Nostre Pais Rouge 2019
Domaine Gassier
France, Rhone Valley, Costièrs de Nîmes Protégée
Grapes: Grenache, Mourvèdre, Syrah, Carignan
It was in the Rhone valley that Phylloxera was first discovered in 1866. Here we will start with a classic red blend of traditional Rhone varieties. Domaine Gassier is working biodynamically and organically, which is also much more in line with how grapes were being grown in the mid-19th century before the allure of industrial chemical farming took over so many crops.
Domaine Gassier employs several methods of growing that harken back to an earlier time. In order to enhance the longevity of their vineyards, they practice Massale Selection. This involves planting new vineyards with cuttings from older vines that have withstood the hardships of life in any vineyard: weather, pests, disease.
Also, all of their grapes are hand-harvested from bush-trained vines. While this is a more time-consuming practice, it ensures that only the perfectly ripe grapes are selected. And, with bush-training, vines are naturally protected by an encircled vine to create a stand alone vine that provides the perfect balance of aeration and shade for optimal yield and ripeness.
In the production process, the blend goes through a long and slow maceration in order to produce a depth of flavor, color and aromatics. Next, the wine rests in a mix of used oak barrels and concrete tanks. The finished wine is bottled without fining or filtration (so you might see some sediment) and a touch of sulfur is added.
Pair this wine with red sauces, white beans, mushrooms, lamb, duck, fresh herbs.

WINE 2

Chardonnay 2021
Famille Laudet Laballe
France, South West, Côtes De Gascogne
Grape: Chardonnay
In the deep south-western part of France comes this mineral driven Chardonnay. Just a few miles north of San Sebastian in Spain, the soils here are what is called 'Sables Fauves', an ochre colored sandy soil. This area was where much of the original wine came from that was produced for Absinthe distilleries in the 19th century. In fact, because of this soil, some parts of the South-West remained Phylloxera free, and you are still able to see the original vines that survived and are now well over 200 years old.
The majority of the wines produced in the Cotes De Gascogne are white. They tend to be bright, lively, almost a little salty at times with a good mineral backbone. This selection from Famille Laudet Laballe is 100% Chardonnay and stands as one of the light & fresh expressions of this misunderstood grape varietal.
The Laudet vineyards are now in their 8th generation of family ownership, operation and production. Current winemaker Cyril Laudet is passionate about bringing the greatness back to this historic area, while making lively and accessible expressions from the vineyards. 

OUTRO

Must someone's suffering only be remedied by the suffering of another? The Absinthe industry was destroyed by the intentional misinformation and slander from the French Wine Industry along with the Temperance Movement. The wine industry was able to recover when it was discovered that by grafting European vines to American rootstock the negative impacts of Phylloxera could be avoided. This practice continues today.
Absinthe took much longer to come back to a position of acceptance. In parts of Europe it became legal to distill and sell Absinthe in the late 1980's. But it wasn't until 2007 that production was allowed here in the U.S.  Even today, while Absinthe is legal, there is still the image of green fairies and psychedelia plaguing a much more complex, beautiful, and delicate beverage.  The image that has been created is not only wrong, but it severely limits the occasions to choose Absinthe.  This once was the after work drink of the blue collar folks, able to be found even out of the cities at roadside inns. To help untwist fact from fiction, we’ve included an invitation to enjoy a couple pours of Absinthe in our lounge here at Caravan. Join us in developing a new relationship to this much maligned and misunderstood garden spirit. Take the time to taste Absinthe. 

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Our aim is to give a glimpse into the many roles wine has played throughout history.  All subjects mentioned deserve more attention and research and we encourage you to keep exploring.  We are only here to pop the cork.

Many Thanks, Caravan Wine Shop

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