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11820_catawba

From the 1830s through the late 1850s, the capital of winemaking in the United States was Ohio. Nicholas Longworth of Cincinnati successfully planted great vineyards of Catawba grapes along the Ohio River. He had moderate success making sweet white wines but his greatest success came after he accidentally produced a sweet sparkling wine which oenophiles of the day likened to French champagne. The sparkling wines of Ohio became briefly internationally famous and bon vivants of the East Coast, Victorian England, and continental Europe paid top dollar for what was regarded as a premium International luxury beverage. Odes to the grape were written by famous poets and the Ohio valley briefly resembled Ardennes.

american-champagne

Oh jeeze….

The Catawba grapes which were at the center of this Bacchic empire were a dark brownish pink/purple grape from the East Coast. They were said to be a hybrid of native American grapes and imported European vines, although where the distinctive grapes and the distinctive name actually came from is seemingly lost in history (which is to say it was probably all a marketing stunt by Longworth). The grapes themselves were sweet red grapes with a tendency to have a foxy flavor (which sounds like more marketing language for unpleasant muskiness). The vines grew vigorously but were subject to attack from powdery mildew. In the 1860s powdery mildew joined forces with economic devastation and dislocation of the American Civil War to crush the nascent Ohio wine industry to such a thorough extent that it sounds like I am writing about alternate universe history.

2560x1440-catawba-solid-color-background

The entire reason I bring up this boom and bust story is because it is memorialized in a very beautiful color, Catawba, a pretty organic shade of brownish pinkish purple. Now whenever you see the delightful color (which is used less than it should be), you can think of how Ohio might have become a land of rolling rivers, chateaus, monasteries, lavender fields, and fine living….

cham

(Call me crazy, but this kind of looks like Ohio with a beautiful medieval town in it…)

Italian plums

Italian plums

Some colors are more subtle than others.  In fact some colors are so subtle that they are wholly ancillary to others.  Fine artists are attuned to all manner of delicate films, coatings, glazes, and washes which are added to a deeper color in order to produce a sense of depth or the illusion of texture. Subtle color-words—those which describe a texture, a mood, or a translucent quality are deeply appreciated.  Today’s color describes a secondary color which was known deep into classical antiquity and earlier.  The word glaucous derives from the Latin “glaucus” which in turn derives from the Greek “glaukos” (all of which mean the same thing)–a waxy, shiny gray/green/blue neutral color such as the blush found on fresh grapes.  If you have ever eaten fresh grapes or plums you will be familiar with this color as the delicate coating on purple plums and grapes (and if you have not eaten fresh grapes and plums, who are you? Live better!).

Grapes

Grapes

Certain plants also have a glaucous coatings—such as cacti and other succulents.  Ornithologists, ever in a bind to come up with Latin and Greek words to describe the numerous species of bird have also taken to the word.  Birds which have waxy neutral gray-blue feathers often have “glaucus” in their binomial names (just as yellowish birds are often known as fulvous).  The glaucous-winged gull (Larus glaucescens) of the Pacific Northwest is a fine example.  The birds’ grey wings look as though they were glazed on by a gifted confectioner.

Glaucous Winged Gull (gull (Larus glaucescens)

Glaucous Winged Gull (gull (Larus glaucescens)

I like the word because I like plums, cacti, and birds (obviously in different ways) but I also appreciate the concept of a pale color which is always delicately brushed across something else.  With a poke of the finger or a good washing in the kitchen sink, the color glaucous would vanish.

espostoa 005 (Main)

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