Yosemite Valley, Mirror Lake, Pullman Car, bakery card from the Around the World Series (D92), issued by White Star Bakery early 20th century Issued by White Star Bakery
Choo-Choo!!! The train's a comin'!
There's no doubt that the invention of the train really changed the whole world. But, because this is not a book and just a little tasting guide, we are going to focus on how trains impacted the world of wine and wine transportation. We'll see through these three wines that as train routes developed, certain wine growing regions of the world were now able to get their product to markets that were previously too great of a distance.
Train travel changed the lives of people and products that were aboard them. They changed our sense of time and space. What was once terrain too difficult to navigate, we could now coast over on steel wheels. Bringing markets and cultures together was not always welcome. In Italy, we'll see that after unification many people left the country. The necessity of trade and transport is debatable, with some people believing we need to operate within our means as a society, and that means keeping it hyper-local. However, to be able to have access to products/knowledge/experience of other regions means we can learn and develop as a community.
Train travel does seem quite luxurious. And, to those passengers traveling in the early Pullman dining cars, they certainly paid a pretty penny for it. But when you are going from here to there, it feels important to have the right food and drink. Right?
THE PULLMAN DINING CAR
Pullman Car Menu, 1888
Aigner, Krems Gruner Veltliner Sandrgrube 2020
This is Austria's most widely planted grape variety, occupying almost one-third of the total vineyard area (approx. 43,000 acres). The wines made in the Kremstal region benefit from proximity to the Danube River. Here, there is warm air being brought from the Pannonian Plain to the east and the vines and their fruit lap it up. Then the evening brings a significant drop in temperature, allowing grape ripening to slow down, extending the overall growing season into November. This extended ripening time leads to Gruner Veltliner wines that are rich with acidity and creamy texture, yet still fresh, fragrant and lively.
The Aigner Winery is in its 9th generation of being run by the Aigner family. There has always been an emphasis on quality over trends. When other wineries in the regions decided to plant popular varieties like Chardonnay, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, the Aigner family rejected that and stuck with what they knew worked in their soil: Riesling and Gruner Veltliner. The Sandgrube wines come from sandy soils mixed with fine dust derived from calcareous rocks, dolomite, feldspar, quartz, mica and clay minerals. During the last Ice Age, the wind carried and deposited these materials at the foothills of the Alps when there was little in the way of vegetation cover.
While we would hope to have more than one glass with our meal in the Pullman Dining Car, with the menu provided it seems clear that a Gruner Veltliner such as this could satisfy every bite of the meal on offer. Versatile and fresh, this wine will not feel heavy as you roll through the countryside. It’s vibrant acidity will keep your eyelids open to take in the view. The slightly creamy texture and strong back bone will match the chicken giblets or the array of potatoes (in cream, boiled, or mashed!). Gruner Veltliner can have a slight herbaceous or peppery note that can clear your palate (whether you liked the last course or not) and make room for something new and exciting.
David Alfaro Siqueiros, Two women in profile standing by train tracks, from the folio '13 Grabados', 1930
ITALY UNIFIED AND CONNECTED
Once the Roman Empire finally collapsed in 476 CE, Italy became a cluster of small states. Like a bunch of grapes on the vine, the Italian peninsula remained this way until the middle of the 19th century when a social and political movement called Risorgimento or “resurgence” consolidated the states into the Kingdom of Italy. The unification process lasted from 1848- 1871 when Rome was captured and designated the capital of Italy. Some historians even consider the unification to have lasted until 1918 to include states that were gained from defeating the Austro- Hungarian Empire during the first World War.
While joining together the many states in this ancient territory was complicated and messy, one of the benefits came in the form of the railroad industry which had been going bankrupt at the time. Expanding the current train lines connected Tuscany (and Chianti) to the capital Rome. This not only made it easier for new Italian citizens to travel to areas that had previously been a different state, but it also now provided access to products being made in areas that were inaccessible. Now Baron Bettino Ricasoli’s recipe for Chianti (70% Sangiovese/ 15% Canaiolo/ 15% Malvasia bianca) could be tasted throughout the land.
Bibbiano, Chianti Classico 2019
Quite possibly Italy's most famous wine, and one of the most recognized wine regions in the entire world, Chianti can be anywhere from excellent to forgettable. Based on the grape Sangiovese, Chianti has seen tremendous popularity, to such a degree that the region expanded its own boundaries so that it could produce more wine and still call it Chianti. After doing this and seeing a major decline in quality, it designated its old original area as Chianti Classico. There have been several additional sub-classifications in an attempt to improve overall quality.
The Bibbiano Chianti Classico is from the heart of the region in Tuscany. It's made with 100% Sangiovese and aged for 12 months in cement vats. Sangiovese is a very sensitive variety that, depending on where it's grown, can offer a range of flavors. With a warm climate and clay/marl/sandstone soils, the boldest Chinatis are produced in the Classico Region. Also, due to its high level of acidity, Sangiovese is one of the few wines that can pair well with tomato sauce.
Sara Starekow, Outgoing Freight, 1935–43
THE NEW SILK ROAD
In the second century BCE, the Silk Road emerged as a series of land and sea trade routes stretching from East and Southeast Asia, winding through the Middle East, North Africa, and over to the westernmost parts of Southern Europe. The east sent primarily silks, but also perfumes, ceramics, tea, and dyes while the west returned with horses, honey, gold, and wine. Along with goods, Christianity, Buddhism, and destruction in the forms of the bubonic plague and Black Death also traveled these routes. For 1500 years, these two continents fed, clothed, killed, and taught each other until the rise of the Ottoman Empire in 1453 which immediately severed ties between the east and west, and therefore led to the rise of the “Age of Discovery” or expansive sea travel and European colonialism, and globalization.
Now after 500 plus years of dynasties, monarchies, emperors, and democracies, we see the footpaths of the Silk Road being turned into train tracks as China once again reestablishes this historic trade route as the New Silk road. The Yixin’Ou Train is a 24 day trip between Madrid, Spain and Yiwu in Zhejiang Province in eastern China and chugs its way through Kazakhstan, Russia, Belarus, Poland, Germany and France. Today Europe receives from the east: industrial and 3D printers, assembly arms, cooling fans, and other tech equipment. And China receives from the west: car parts, chocolate, flowers, wine, cheese, and olives.
The Silk Road was once an artery of commerce and culture that helped connect people to places they may never go, learn from people they will never meet, and therefore experience more of the world. The New Silk Road is a product of this idea born over 2000 years ago, but is being built at a time when transportation of all kinds is much faster and information is instant. Will it be as revolutionary as its predecessor?
Bernabeleva, Camino de Navaherreros 2020
For our last wine, we travel to Spain, the region of Madrid specifically. We’re at a giant train station and large containers are being moved onto train cars. We don’t get to see exactly what’s in the containers, but we do know there’s wine in there. Surrounding the train station, outside of town, out in the countryside we can see the Sierra de Gredos Mountains. In the foothills are many grapevines and people harvesting those grapes in order to press them into wine in order to get it into town, on this train, and off to other parts of the world.
This is Grenache from those mountainous foothills, from producer Bernabeleva. Having been in the family since the early 1930s, the vines are 80+ years old and offer concentrated fruits of depth and freshness. The wines are produced using organic and biodynamic farming. Due to the high altitude of the region, large diurnal temperature shift, and minerally granite and schist based soils, their Garnacha leans more towards the fresh and perfumed style that can sometimes resemble Pinot Noir in its elegance.
Robert Frank, Man Resting Aboard the Congressional Limited, 1955
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