Pinot and Pirates

During our trip to Panama last January, I was fascinated by the pirate history of the isthmus dating back to 1572. Sir Francis Drake and later Henry Morgan were the most famous privateers turned pirates to leave their mark there. Last month my sister and I visited three domestic cities with colorful pirate histories of their own: Charleston, Savannah and St. Augustine. Well, who knew there is a connection between Pinot and pirates?

Perhaps the most famous and feared pirate, Blackbeard, sailed into the port of Charleston, SC with his four-ship, 400 man pirate fleet and set up a blockade of the harbor in 1718. The colorful Blackbeard, aka Edward Teach, was known to invoke fear with personal theatrics, such as slow-burning cannon fuses interwoven into his black hair to cast a smoky haze around his head. He blockaded the port for a week, seizing prizes and hostages for ransom. The South Carolina Encyclopedia reports, "This infamous feat 'struck a great Terror to the whole Province of Carolina.' Plundering eight or nine ships for supplies and specie, Blackbeard held hostages, including Samuel Wragg, a councilman. Under the threat of the hostages being murdered, a reluctant Governor Robert Johnson agreed to a ransom of a valuable chest of medicine."

In Savannah we enjoyed a hearty meal at The Pirate's House, which has a rich history near the waterfront. Their story goes, "Many tales have been shared about those who came through the doors. It is said that there were multiple tunnels below the building that led back to the Savannah River. These tunnels were allegedly used by pirates to stock their ship’s crew with unsuspecting men. The most famous legend is that of a local police officer who stopped by The Pirates’ House for a drink and awoke on a four-masted schooner sailing to China from where it took him two years to make his way back to Savannah."

St. Augustine Pirate & Treasure Museum proudly displays one of the only remaining treasure chests whose provenance involves a real pirate. The 400-year old wrought iron chest was owned by Thomas Tew, one of the richest pirates in the Golden Age of Piracy. The Museum reports that Tew carried his plunder from the Arabian Sea to Rhode Island in this very chest in 1694. Pat Croce noted in The Pirate Handbook, "The chest weighs almost two hundred pounds empty, has a hidden lockbox inside, and the lid is secured with a dozen solid steel sliding bolts to keep if from being forced open by thieving hands." 

On our pirate adventure, I learned that key members of a pirate crew include "sea artists" -specialized positions such as a cooper, boatswain, carpenter, surgeon, etc. A cooper, aka barrel maker, is essential to pillage, plunder, chaos and conquest aboard a pirate ship. On a pirate ship all food and drink (especially freshwater) was stored inside wooden casks, so these private ventures required at least a modestly capable cooper.

Norm and I named our pooch, Cooper, in honor of the importance of a cooperage (tonnellerie) in our winery. Over the past 23 years we have sourced barrels from several cooperages, including Rousseau, Damy, Cadus, Sirugue and Billon. Each cooperage has their own unique style and techniques for producing handcrafted barrels. Norm prefers French oak to maintain a high quality of Pinot Noir but we'll discuss this more in another blog. I had hoped to get an eye patch or bandana on Cooper but he could barely sit still for the photo shoot with Norm.  


Comment 1

Rita Yost on

Very cute and very interesting.

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