by Fred McMillin
for September 6, 1999


Labor Day



What state started the observance of the first Monday of September as a legal holiday called Labor Day? Answer: Oregon, in 1887.

The Rest of the Story

So our Labor Day wine must be from Oregon, and have required an unusual amount of labor to produce. The wine is an Oregon Pinot Gris. The extra LABOR was due to the decision to raise quality by thinning the Gris (gree) vineyards as many as four times. That is, the less promising bunches of grapes were cut from the vines by hand, REQUIRING MUCH LABOR.

King Estate, Eugene, Oregon

Where today's wine was made.

The Principle—The first prestigious Western vintner was St. Martin of Tours on the Loire. Author Desmond Seward tells us "legend credits his donkey with the invention of pruning in Europe. Left tethered in a vineyard, the brute ate everything in reach, leaving only grapes which grew below the level of its knees. Much to their astonishment, its master's despairing monks then made the best wine of their lives!" Lower yields had produced higher quality.

Today, the concept is even incorporated in French and Italian wine laws, which limit grape yields for certain catagories of wines. For example, in 1984 the limit on Chianti vineyards was lowered from about 5 tons per acre to 3. How did the principle do in Oregon?

Today's Wine

In the past five years, only twice has a Pinot Gris won Best White of the tasting. The first was on Dec. 28, 1996 and the second was in our last session. In both cases the winner was produced by the King Estate of Oregon!
1997 Reserve Pinot Gris, Oregon
King Estate, Eugene, Oregon
Tasting Notes—A white with substance, subdued oak, and more pronounced fruit than many Chardonnays.
Winery—Phone (541) 942-9874, FAX (541) 942-9867


Although St. Martin didn't know it, centuries before his time the Romans had learned that generally lower yields of grapes meant higher quality of wine. That is, they found the low- yield hillside vineyards tended to make better wine than more fertile valley floor soils.

About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. He currently teaches wine courses at San Francisco State and San Francisco City College. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers.


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