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Ask the Farmer - Toasting!

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                               Ask the Farmer

Today we have John Salisbury from Salisbury Vineyards who  farms wine grapes in the cool coastal region of San Luis Obispo answering a wine related question from a Winery Advisor member.

 Question: Why do "toast" when we really just want to have a sip of wine? When, why and where did all this start?

Answer: Salud (Spanish), Prost (Dutch), Sante (French), Slainte (Irish), Salute (Italian), Vashe zdorovie (Russian), Lechyd da (Welsh) are all toasts that mean the same as our “To Good Health” These are ancient toasts that seemed to have been generated by relating wine to good health. Aside from the evidence that wine is good for you, the reasons behind these toasts were derived from ulterior motives.
Ever wonder how the act of toasting got started in the first place? Well, it appears that in ancient times, poison in a glass of wine was a tidy way to clean up grudges, ascension to power, and even personal problems within the home. So the Greeks, sixth Century B.C., started pouring wine out of a common pitcher and drinking it first and toasting to their guest’s health as a sign that it was OK to drink the wine. The Romans, after following the Greek’s lead, started to salute their guests also, and the term “toast” came from their practice of putting burnt toast into the bad wine of the time, because the charcoal reduced the acidity of the rough wine. This practice is similar to the water filter you may have in your house that contains activated charcoal that absorbs toxic particles plus bad odors and taste. The Latin word “Tostus” means roasted or parched. As history marched on, toasting became a traditional art form for many occasions that we have today.
Worldwide by the 1800’s, not only was a toast the proper thing to do, it was an insult if the host didn’t think there was someone special present or a reason to make a toast. One British Duke wrote in 1803 that to not make a toast was considered to be “sottish and rude, as if no one present was worth drinking to and was a piece of direct contempt”. I don’t know if I would go that far but certainly at special gatherings (weddings, formal dinners, etc.) toasts are not only appropriate but expected (sounding like Miss Manners here). However, be careful if you tattoo a toast on your body as reported (internet) in the case of Johnny Depp whose “Wino Forever” tattoo was originally “Winona Forever”!
Toasts to individual Deities have been around since the beginning of mankind because man loved his drink so much, he naturally wanted to share it with his God. Early warrior-priest in days of Odin in Northern Europe would offer up a toast to Odin before a drinking bout. Some used the skull of a dead rival as a ceremonial cup, which became the source of the Scandinavian toast “Skoal”. In that country, wine, or other adult beverages, may not be tasted until a toast is made by the host. Then they all raise their glasses and look at each other then toast, taste, and look at everyone again.
I have been reprimanded on a couple of occasions by a local friend, German born, that I must look into the eyes of the person with whom I am clinking my glass instead of staring at the glasses. As for the practice of “clinking”, there are a couple of theories. One is that in ancient times the noise of clinking scared away the evil “spirits” that create hangovers. The other goes along with the poison ritual where the guest would actually pour some of their wine, which caused a clinking noise, into the host’s glass to make sure there was no poison in the glass before the beverage was poured in.
Wine is of course offered in the Eucharist (Lord’s Supper) as a Sacrament in Christian churches which is the offering up (toast) of bread and drink. Water is added to the wine during the ceremony, as it was in Jesus’ time, whereby the water symbolizes the humanity of Christ and the wine as his divinity which become intermingled. We took over the maintenance last year of the grape arbor at the San Luis Obispo Mission that was planted to Concord grapes in the 50’s from vines from a southern Californian Mission and made a wine for Mass. The Concord (think Welch’s grape juice) grape taste and smell was so powerful that we had to tone it down with some other varietals. It came in at over a hefty 15% alcohol reading so it is a good thing a little water will be added or Sunday is going to be a rockin’ time at the Mission.
Farming wise, with the exception of the record heat spell at the official opening
of Summer, we are cutting back on irrigation to slow down vine growth and
concentrate the nutrients and water into the grapes. Veraison, which is when the
grapes are pretty much full grown and begin to turn color from green to red or golden and the berry softens, should start around the Fourth of July. We think this will be a late year with this year’s cool growing season. Our cool-weather Syrah here in Avila is not going to be picked at least until after Veterans Day (Nov. 11) and our Cab up in Paso Robles will also be a couple of weeks late. – no rain dances until the crop is in, please!  “This wine is too good for toast-drinking, my dear. You don’t want to mix emotions with a wine like that. You lose the taste.” Ernest Hemmingway in “The Sun Also Rises” (1926).
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