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The essence of fruit ... eau de vie.

Western fruit combines with European methods

POUR A GLASS OF eau de vie and savor its taste and aroma--an ineffable mix of one part pure ripe fruit and one part pure late summer in the countryside. "It's almost Proustian," says Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon Vineyard. "Eau de vie is the essence of a fruit, and it triggers a lot of sensory memories that affect people strongly."

Graham of course is biased: he's one of the new crop of California and Oregon winemakers coupling traditional European eau de vie production methods with high-quality Washington pears, Oregon cherries, California apricots, and other fruit.

Traditionally served either at room temperature (the European preference) or chilled (the American), a glass of a good eau de vie can make a fine finish to a special meal. The name means, simply, water of life.


Though made from fruit--pears, berries, and cherries are among the most common sources--eaux de vie bear little resemblance to sweet fruit wines or cordials. They're colorless, not at all sweet, and potent: alcohol content is about 40 percent (similar to bourbon or brandy).

Basically they are fruit brandies, and they're distilled like brandies in alembic pot stills. But unlike brandies, eaux de vie aren't aged. Rather, they're bottled directly to preserve the fresh fruit flavor. (To some palates, lack of aging imparts an unpleasantly raw quality.)

Understandably, American eau de vie makers see themselves somewhat as voices in a wilderness. When German-born Jorg Rupf first began making Pear William in his Alameda, California, distillery, "People didn't know what an eau de vie was. I'd tell them about it and just get blank looks."

Randall Grahm began experimenting with eaux de vie because he originally wanted to make marc, a French brandy produced from grape promace (seeds, stems) in a fashion similar to eau de vie. Trendy Italian grappa, too, is produced much the same way: most eau de vie makers produce a grappa or marc along with their eaux de vie.

Below is a listing of Western eau de vie makers. All will welcome you for a visit. (California liquor laws prevent sampling, though you may be allowed an informal tour of the premises; Oregon does allow tasting.) If you can't make the trip, look for eaux de vie in well-stocked liquor stores, or call the distillery to find a source.

Oregon. Clear Creek Distillery, 1430 N.W. 23rd Ave., Portland 97210; (503) 248-9470. Pear, framboise, apple brandy, grappa.

Eve Atkins Distillery, 4420 Summit Dr., Hood River 97031; 354-2550. Apple brandy, marionberry, pear.

California. Bonny Doon Vineyard, 10 Pine Flat Rd., Santa Cruz 95060; (408) 425-3625. Prunus (plum, cherry, apricot), pear (available only on-site), cherry.

Creekside Vineyards, 5055 Gordon Walk Rd., Suisun 94585; (707) 427-3840. Apple brandy, grappa.

St. George Spirits, 2900 Main St., Alameda 94501; (510) 769-1601. Pear, framboise, kirsch, quince, grappa, and marc.
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Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:California fruit wines; includes directory of vineyards
Author:Fish, Peter
Date:Apr 1, 1992
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