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Copyright © 2018
Forkmedia LLC


by Fred McMillin
for May 1, 2000


Your May 1st Symphony


In ancient Rome, May 1st came at a time that was sacred to Flora, the Goddess of Flowers.

...World Books

The Symphony grape has the distinctive characteristic of maintaining its floral bouquet for years.

...Author Robert Lawrence Balzer

The Rest of the Story

Baywood Tasting Room

Baywood Tasting Room

Thus, we must celebrate flowery May 1st with a grape that has a remarkable floral aroma, the Symphony. Today's bottle was crafted by Baywood Cellars' Winemaker-President John Cotta. John and the Symphony are no strangers. Our October 26, 1993 column in the San Francisco Independent stated:

    Made from the Symphony grape, John Cotta's 1990 "La Femme" won its category in our weekly tasting by a large margin. It is perhaps the best wine he has ever made.

The California State Fair judges agreed. The 1990 was the third vintage in a row that won Best of Region for John!

But what's the Symphony? It may turn out to be the best grape created in the 20th century. Let's go back to 1940. Dr. Harold Paul Olmo has tweezers and magnifying glass in hand. He is creating a cross between the ancient Muscat of Alexandria and the Rhone's Grenache Gris at Univeristy of California-Davis. Twenty years later Dr. Olmo heard one of the U.C. tasters say that the wine had things going on here, things going on there. "It's like a symphony." A name was born.

An Unexpected Result

About that floral aroma. One of Symphony's parents, the Muscat, often develops unpleasant aromas as it ages. But the Symphony didn't! Early tests showed a nice nose even after twelve years!

Another Attribute

In addition to the aroma with longevity, it turned out that the grape can produce both quality dessert and table wines. That La Femme was a dessert wine. Today's selection is an off-dry table wine.

Wine of the Day

1998 Symphony, California
Baywood Cellars
Serving—Give it an hour in the 'fridge and then serve as an aperitif with cheese sticks. Husbands might bring home some May 1st flowers for his own Goddess Flora.
Rating—Solidly RECOMMENDED
Contacts—Cannery Row Tasting Room—(831) 645-9O35, FX (831) 645-9345
Winery—(209) 334-0445, FX (209) 334-0137


The Symphony isn't the only entity with longevity in this article. The Cotta family has some longevity, too. By the time Prof. Olmo was doing his tweezer tweaking in 1940, John's grandfather, Joe Cotta Sr., had been growing grapes in the California Central Valley for 15 years. Joe Jr. expanded the operation, and his sons, James (vineyard manager) and John (winemaker) started making wine in 1986 from their 2,000 acres of vines. Since then they've added 200 acres of Monterey County vines, and changed the name from Las Vinas winery to Baywood Cellars...a label to remember.

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.


This page created May 2000