by Fred McMillin
for December 13, 1999


Drake and the Grape


Having heard WineDay was doing a piece on Drake and the Grape, Sir Francis dropped by the office to give us some insider insights.

WineDay: You were the first Englishman to sail around the world. When did you start?

Sir Francis Drake Sir Francis Drake: We sailed from Plymouth Sound, England, on this very date, Dec. 13, 1557. My flagship was the Pelican.

WD: Pelican? Never heard of it.

SFD: I'll explain. Traveling south we picked up a bottle floating in the ocean from my publisher saying the name Pelican was tacky, so we re-christened it The Golden Hind.

WD: OK. So you sailed south passing Bordeaux. Did you stop and have a sip of that luscious Chateau d'Yquem sauternes?

SFD: No, you dummy. They wouldn't discover how to make Botrytis-induced dessert wine for another three centuries.

WD: Well, did you EVER pick up any European wine?

SFD: Yeah. I used to live in Jerez, Spain, but was publicly humiliated. So on a later trip I sank a few Spanish ships and brought back to England the equivalent of 150,000 cases of Jerez sherry. The Spanish dubbed me The Dragon.

WD: Well, moving south, did you stop at Madeira for their famous fortified wine?

The Dragon: Before we left, I faxed Columbus, who lived there with his wife and child. He said all they had learned to make so far was an ordinary red, so we skipped it.

WD: Where did you taste your first New World wine?

SFD: Chile. We sacked Valparaiso about 20 years after the Spanish started making wine there.

WD: Later you reached the San Francisco bay area. Did you visit our renowned Napa Valley wine district?

SFD: Are you kidding? "Napa" means "plenty," and from what we could see it meant "plenty of Indians." So we passed. We drank wine we brought from Chile.

Well, since it appears that Sir Francis was the first importer to California of Chilean wine, that country provides today's wine.

'96 Chilean Chardonnay
Winery—Vina Errazuriz (ee-rah-zoo-reez)
Appellation—La Escultura Estate, Casablanca Vly.
Importer—Robert Mondavi
Rating—HIGHLY RECOMMENDED in this price range. Only $9.
Tasting Notes—More pear-vanilla than lemon, lot of dimensions for under $10.

Postscript—The Dragon's Wagon

Size isn't everything. The Golden Hind, that made the world's longest voyage up to that time (36,000 miles) was but 70 feet long, and The Dragon, its fierce skipper, was under five feet, five inches. But both were VERY sturdy.

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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