It was love at first sight. Vin Yoles was a dabbler in the agricultural scene during the Great Dust Bowl of the 1930s and like most everybody during that particular time period, derived great enjoyment from escaping the problems outside by diving into a bottle and what was inside. You can imagine what it was like for Vin when he heard from a neighbor that he could actually make the stuff for himself in his basement. Love may not be a bold enough expression. You see, the greatest wine boom ever experienced on American soil occurred during the most unexpected time: during the “Noble Experiment”, temperance, that silly amendment that worked in the opposite way of a miracle- turning wine into nothing.
Call it what you want, it was an awful idea that made commercial production of wine, beer, and spirits illegal; but, a fortuitous loophole allowed the head of each household to make up to 200 gallons of wine for “personal” use. Not beer, not spirits or shine, just wine. It isn’t difficult to imagine the outcome of such a provision: thousands of overnight do-it-yourself Mondavis and Gallos popped up in every nook across the dry country.
Mr. Yoles was no exception. Channeling his inner Nicolas Joly and utilizing his family’s chateaux (the hill behind his house), he started digging holes. Which grapes would he choose? Well, he preferred a sweet white wine and immediately thought of late-on-the-vine Riesling in the fashion of his German cousins. Unfortunately for Vin, these didn’t grow in backwoods Missouri and his shoestring income from selling chicken eggs didn’t allow for such a high-end varietal. Granted, these were cage and antibiotic-free farm fresh eggs; not because he was the original hipster, but because he couldn’t afford cages and antibiotics.
Instead, he did what any noble grape farmer during those times would do- laced up his bootstraps and snuck into a fully legal vineyard purposed for making wine for medicinal purposes and stole some cuttings. Stealing can be such a nasty word though; ol’ Vin reassured himself he was doing his neighborly duty and helping them get a jump on the year’s pruning. Stealing? This was more like charity. That was Vin, always looking out for others.
Unbeknownst to him, he was running back to his little hillside with two arms full of Ravat 51: a white grape varietal with small berries and thick skins that produced semi-sweet to sweet wine full of acidity and fruit flavors. To Vin, it meant much more than fancy descriptions though, it meant planting some sticks in the ground and within two to three years drinking for free. Always a visionary that Vin. It should also be noted that the phrase “Catch-51” came from his valiant efforts. When you offer someone a valuable service without them knowing, use the opportunity for your own gain, and then rename it after yourself, it is a Catch-51.
A few years later, and with the country still besieged by ridiculous liquor laws, Vin was producing gallons and gallons of refreshingly crisp Ravat 51 for personal use. He may have also personally let his neighbors and friends use some for a negligible amount of cash (but that’s beside the matter). Vin was a regular Depression-era Kendall-Jackson without the nasty divorce. His love was wine and there was no separating him from his vines. They were precious to him. So, he decided to name the varietal in his own namesake because his pride was overflowing; and of course, of out his sheer generosity, didn’t want his neighbors to feel bad about all the “help” he gave them in secret a few years back. It had to be fancy though, and for wine, fancy means European. He jazzed up his name with a fancy French sounding twist: Vignoles.
Talk about a regular Catch-51.
*As a reminder, entries in the “fiction” series are short stories conjured up using a mix of facts and imagination with the hope that they might help readers develop a better appreciation and understanding for the lessor known varietals grown around the Midwest. Going to a local winery and citing these entries as facts could garner some confused looks and is not recommended. Instead, take a stroll through the whimsical world of wine that grows and ferments in my head with an open mind and pair the reading with the varietal that is the focal point of the story. If nothing else, you may rekindle the joy that comes from reading fiction: something we all need more of in this hectic modern world!