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Marechal Foch: the wine

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Who knows why we get a bug in our bonnet? I did with Maréchal Foch, and specifically that growing in an unusual place.

How do wine writers pick their subjects? Usually their editors make that choice for them. “We think coverage of Ruby Cabernet would be great: it’s going to be the next Malbec” or “I need you to cover Bubby’s wine events”. Isn’t that the company your daughter works for, sir? “Yep”.

Well, here at Examiner, we can choose for ourselves.

I met Maréchal Foch first in France. I was in Burgundy working the 1971 harvest and a kid I picked grapes with gave me a taste of his father’s homemade wine, made from Maréchal Foch. It was dark, rustic but very good, reminding me of a cross between Burgundy and Rhône. I didn’t taste another until I came back to the states and looked around the area for some.

A little bit about the grape. It is an interspecific hybrid, a cross of a grape of one species with that of another. Such hybridization became commonplace after phylloxera (a vine disease) struck Europe and later became a useful tool to create grape types that could survive edgy climates (like cold climate Minnesota, for instance).

Foch has a lot of color. For this reason, it is sometimes blended into a less intensely colored grape’s wine (for Oregon, that might mean Pinot noir). It is not foxy, the term used to describe the smell and taste of many native American grapes like Concord. It lacks the strong aroma of, say Pinot noir; sometimes, however, it can take on a leafy-vegetal tone (however, I am told that there’s a way around that if you’re a savvy winemaker). It does not lack tannin but displays none of the aggressive kind that grapes like Cabernet or Syrah do.

A French hybridizer named Eugene Kuhlmann created it and christened it Kuhlmann 188-2. In 1921 it was put on the market. at which time it was re-named in honor of France’s famed WWI general, Ferdinand Foch.

While there is a little left of it in France (and a dab in Switzerland), most of the 1,300 or so acres now is planted on this side of the pond in North America. About half of that is in Canada and the rest is in the US. As it is a grape that does well in cooler climates, it’s not surprising to find it in states like New York, Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota and Iowa where the winters can be fierce.

What IS surprising is that it has become a minor cult grape in the relatively mild climate of Oregon, especially in the Willamette Valley where the great majority of the state’s 60 acres or so are grown.

If you would like a list of the Oregon producers of Maréchal Foch wine, just leave your e-mail address in the comment area.

If you don’t live in Oregon or can’t get there easily and would like to know who else produces it, here’s some recommendations from local experts.

Mike White, Viticultural Field Specialist for Iowa State University, mentioned the following: the Finger Lakes Foch from Swedish Hill Winery (http://swedishhill.com), the “JackSon Red” from Tabor Home Winery in Iowa (http://www.taborhomewinery.com) and the Foch from Summerset Winery in Iowa (http://www.summersetwine.com).

Bradley Beam, enologist for the Illinois Grape Growers and Vintners Association, recommended the Illinois Fochs from Galena Cellars (http://shop.galenacellars.com) and from Willow Ridge Winery, the latter a semi-sweet version (http://www.willowridgewinery.com)

From my own experience, Wollersheim’s “Domaine Reserve” from Wisconsin has long been a fave. http://www.wollersheim.com. All of these wines are in the $12 to $25 range.

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