Last week, I went to visit the rocky landscape of Moab, Utah, in pursuit of the state’s oldest wineries. This is not a podcast about this experience, though the winemaker for the vintage in this episode, Evan Lewandowski, is based out of Utah, and features the state on his fantastic labels.
Ruth Lewandowski Winery, named after the Book of Ruth from the Old Testament is a natural wine label that focuses upon minimum intervention in the cellar, and Evan tends to only use sulfites at the very end of fermentation. (Coming up soon will be a whole episode where we talk Natural Wines, so stay tuned). The operating philosophy of this winery is based on a cycle of death and redemption, both in physical and spiritual realms. After all, as Evan states: “Death is, indeed, the engine of life. Nothing that is alive today could be so without something having died first. This is the nature of our universe, of our planet, of our soils, plants, and ultimately you and I.”
With this philosophy in mind, I decided to take my bottle of the 2018 Dinos to Diamonds on vacation to Maryland with me last spring. The idea was to drink this bottle with my paleontologist friend John-Paul Hodnett, hopefully, to talk about deep ideas such as extinction, ecosystem rebirth, wine and deep time, and fossilization. Instead, this wine, a blend of 60% Sangiovese and 40% Merlot, proved to be a surprisingly perfect beach wine for the Calvert Cliffs. You won’t hear much philosophy and paleontology in this podcast (if you want that instead, go check out the episode JP did in the Paleo Nerds podcast), but what you will hear is him, his wife, and me enjoying a good bottle of a vaguely Super-Tuscan wine by a beach while we are taking a break hunting for fossil9 shark teeth. Cheers!
Diamond is a grape you might know better than you think. You may not have heard of this hybrid varietal, but there is a decent chance that you might have tasted it… but not in wine. Also known as Moore’s Diamond, this hybrid cross between Concord and Iona is, along with Niagara, one of the main grapes grown by Welch’s for use as white grape juice. If you know us in this podcast though, you know full well that we are all about trying some of the odd and unique wines made from varietals not commonly found along the beaten path.
Enter Lenn Thompson of The Cork Report. Along with the stellar blog, Lenn has a fantastic wine club focusing on some of the wines from off the beaten track, and in the February shipment came this fantastic bottle, the 2018 Diamond Petillant Naturel from Fossenvue Winery in the Finger Lakes AVA of New York. Also called the Eighteen-Forty-Eight (the year in which a famous Woman’s Suffrage Camp in Lodi, NY was created), Lenn described this wine, saying, “Even if you’re not typically a fan of ‘weird’ grapes, I think you’re going to dig it.”
We here at the Make America Grape Again Podcast are fans of ‘weird grapes,’ as well as strange wines in general (just look at our back catalogue which contains such wonders as Dandelion wines, Tomato wines, and amber wines made of La Crescent from Vermont, just to name a few), so of course, I dragged my friends kicking and screaming into drinking this bottle. It started out a little weird, and a little funky, but opened up to become something amazing and fun, and we’re glad we recorded that time to share with you all. Enjoy!
For many of us city folk, our first introduction to Elderberry (and its alcoholic potential) was probably the infamous line from Monty Python and the Holy Grail: “Your mother was a hamster, and your father smelled of Elderberries.” Yet, as it turns out, berries of the Sambucus genus have been used to make wine (and other alcohols: the blooms of Elderberry are used to make St. Germain.) for hundreds of years. And so it is that we return once more to West Virginia in this episode.
James, Megan, and I have never had any wines made from Elderberry, and Uncle Jake’s Elderberry Wine, made by West Virginia Fruit and Berry Company, seemed like a good beginning. Well, there’s also the fact that it was one of the first bottles of West Virginia wine I was able to find in a liquor store in neighboring Maryland! Located in Bridgeport, West Virginia, this winery began life as a fruit company, making jams and preserves, then wines, and is now beginning to make bourbon and rye whiskey as well. The owners, Bob & Becky Titchenal, pride themselves on not using high-fructose corn syrup for their jams and preserves. They also mention that their fruit wines would be a great cocktail mixer; something I wish we had thought of while drinking this bottle.
Anyway, this wine was a really fascinating experience for us, and we hope you enjoy this episode! We never did find out just who Uncle Jake was, but as long as he wasn’t like John Gault, I’m sure I would have enjoyed drinking with him. I will try to get back on my previous upload schedule in July (First and Third Mondays); I truly apologize that uploads have been so erratic. The main problem is that I haven’t been able to find the time to edit my backlog of recordings as often as I’d like, and executive function thanks to ADHD isn’t helping either…
Lately in the American wine scene, a new beverage with ancient roots has been taking the world by storm: Piquette.
Occasionally described as “White Claw for Wine Lovers,” Piquette is a low-alcohol fizzy beverage made from adding water to the grape pomace left over after grapes have been pressed for wine. This water-pomace mix is then fermented until the result reaches somewhere between 5%-9%; about the same percentage of alcohol that one normally finds in beer or hard seltzer. Incidentally, this makes Piquette the nigh-ideal beverage for day drinking in the warm summer months. The oft-made comparison to White Claw is where the title for this episode comes from, courtesy of Mitch Ermatinger of Native Species Winery in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He has made some very entertaining stickers and T-shirts with that saying that you all should check out.
However, unlike hard seltzers, Piquette has a long history. The name most commonly used to describe these beverages, Piquette, is derived from the French word for “prickle”; referring to the slight fizz present in most versions of this drink. Piquette was said to have been the preferred drink of vineyard workers at the lunch table, since the low alcohol content encouraged post-lunch productivity, rather than the alcohol-fueled stupor that could be expected from wines with a higher percentage of alcohol. In Italy, Piquette has various names including acqua pazza, acquarello and vinello. That being said, nearly all European winemaking countries have their own version of Piquette, which is usually made and consumed by field workers and their families. The fact is, Piquette was a great way to stretch what one could make from a given harvest. But, Piquette has ancient roots too. The Greeks and Romans made versions of this drink too. The Romans, calling it lora, often considered this beverage to be a meager, cheap-to-produce drink. Since it was made from what basically amounts to the leftover scraps of winemaking, it was usually given to slaves and field workers.
Times have changed, however. What was once seen purely as a drink for the poor working folk has rapidly skyrocketed into popularity in the twenty-first century. Why this is the case, I’m not sure, though I have my theories. The Marxist in me wants to complain about the gentrification of poor culture to appease the ever-thirsty desires of the rich bourgeoise for novelty, I’m not so sure that has a lot to do with it. There is the simple fact of the matter that most wineries are on the knife-edge of a budget and making Piquette increases the amount of inventory, and therefore the amount of money that flows into a winery, but I’m not so sure that’s a major cause either. Instead, I would argue that modern sanitization techniques, even in wineries focused on Natural Wine, has made it possible for winemakers to combat and prevent the bacterial infections which could easily occur otherwise, and controlling the ones that do occur… which can partially lead to the intriguing flavor profiles you get in many Piquette wines.
Basically, this means that modern Piquette tastes far better than its ancestors. Combined with a plague which often lead to day drinking in quarantine, and you have a perfect storm to increase this beverage’s popularity. But I digress. In this episode, podcast newcomer Brianna Nation of Page Springs Cellars joins all of us to drink some Piquette, and share her experiences about making it– she made the Piquette de Vidal that features as the second vintage of the recording. We also drink two Piquettes from Saeculum Cellars, another Arizona Winery, and one from Old Westminster Winery in Maryland.
Drink up folks! Remember, No regrets when drinking Piquettes! Oh, and since one of the Piquettes from Saeculum Cellars is made of Cabernet Franc, that brings our current total for this varietal to 8.
Petit Manseng is a grape that is not on the radar of average wine-drinkers. But, perhaps it should be. Coming originally from the Jurançon of France, Petit Manseng has begun to obtain a dedicated cult of followers scattered worldwide. Indeed, some writers such as Jancis Robinson suspect that this obscure little grape may be poised to become the next big white wine to break onto the sales market. No less a writer than the French poet Colette herself wrote of this varietal: “I was a girl when I met this prince; aroused, imperious, treacherous, as all great seducers are,” and with that quote in mind, it is perhaps no wonder that such wines, most of which are dessert wines, were advertised in their homeland with posters that read “Manseng means Jurançon, which means Sex.”
Today, Petit Manseng has now found homes as far afield from its homeland as Virginia, Arizona, Ohio, California, and Uruguay. As mentioned in the podcast, it is also on the shortlist of varietals to begin a wine industry in the Kingdom of Bhutan, also. The reason? The small, widely-spaced clusters make this grape more resistant to rot in humid, wet climates. Indeed, this is the same reason why Greg Gonnerman, our guest in this episode, loves this grape in his vineyard, located in the Willcox AVA. In season 2, Episode 22, Greg and I dive deep into Petit Manseng, drinking two vintages of the Greg’s from Callaghan Vineyards (made from grapes he grows), as well as a bottle from Granite Heights Winery, located in Warrenton, VA. We were tragically unable to find any French vintages to compare our stateside examples to, but since we recorded this episode near the start of Lent, that’s probably a good thing…
Someday, I will again be on top of upload schedules! It is not this day, however. But, this day I have another varietal deep dive for you! This day, we drink Montepulciano! More specifically, Elizabeth Krecker, who you may remember from several previous episodes, and I drink three bottles of this particularly fascinating grape. Two of the bottles are from local vineyards in Arizona, while the third bottle is from Abruzzo, Italy.
For those who are not familiar, Montepulciano is a red varietal from the region of Abruzzo, Italy, as well as nearby regions such as Molise, Marche, Lazio, and Puglia. It is completely different from, and should not be confused with, the very different wine from Northern Italy, called Vino Nobile di Montepulciano; that wine is made from a clone of Sangiovese. But, this association with Sangiovese is not necessarily unwarranted, as genetic evidence indicates there is a genetic relationship between the two grape varietals.
While Montepulciano is the second most planted grape in Italy after Sangiovese, here in the United States it is rather uncommon. Plantings in the US exist are focused around the American Southwest, being found in Texas, California, New Mexico, and Arizona. Indeed, a 2012 Montepulciano from Black Mesa Winery in New Mexico won the prestigious Jefferson Cup. However, I have been unable to find any information on how much acreage of Montepulciano has been planted in the United States. As for the two Arizona bottles in this episode, they come from two different AVAs in Arizona: the Sonoita AVA and the Willcox AVA. Enjoy!
I’m sorry for not uploading this sooner; time has, once again, made a mockery of me. But for this episode, we have another deep dive into another fantastic Italian varietal; Barbera. While I didn’t necessarily intend for the Nebbiolo episode to be the episode immediately prior to this one, it is nice synchronicity as both grapes originate from the same region of Italy: Piedmont. However, while wines made from Nebbiolo are generally meant to slumber both in barrel and bottle for long periods of time, wines made from Barbera tend to be imbibed much younger. It also is the third most abundantly planted grape within Italy, known for high yields and for producing a deep-colored, full-bodied red wine with high acidity and lower tannins.
This episode marks the return of ElizabethKrecker, Sommelier and now one of the owners of the newest winery that is open for tastings in the Sonoita AVA, Twisted Union Wine Company. I haven’t visted them yet, but I look forward to it immensely! In this episode, we drink a 2014 Barbera from Pahrump Valley Winery’s Nevada Ridge label alongside a 2017 Barbera D’Alba from G. D. Vajra, and the 2013 Le Cortigane Oneste from Caduceus Cellars, a 50-50 blend of Barbera and Merlot sourced from the Mimbres Valley AVA in Southern New Mexico. Along the way, we talk about how Sommeliers taste wine, and the history of Barbera. Hope you enjoy the ride!
Also, as an exciting announcement, I’m working on doing a crossover episode or two with Iso and Lindsay of the fantastic ENDLESS, NAMELESS podcast. Theirs is a fascinating podcast; a divorced couple drinks through their wine stash (largely AZ vintages) and reminisce about their shared past, both the good times and the bad ones. I hope to drink with them a bottle of wine I’ve been saving through multiple relationships, hoping to use as an engagement bottle, but that opportunity has never come to pass. Anyway, go check them out and give them some love!
Okay, I admit, this episode is sort of a cheat episode. No grape in any of the bottles we drank in this episode was grown in the United States; unfortunately, there is very little Nebbiolo to be found growing here, save for small patches in California, New Mexico, Arizona, and Washington. (Had I been thinking, I would have run down the street to Caduceus and grabbed a bottle of their Naugal del Paciencia. Whoops.)
But the fact of the matter is that Nebbiolo is a grape of legend and, really, we couldn’t go without talking about it. Nebbiolo produces wines that are often considered to be royalty: Barolo and Barbaresco. Coming from the fog-shrouded heights of the Piedmont of Italy, Nebbiolo is rightly associated with fame and glory. There is also the minor fact that at the time of recording, I had wanted to crack open one of my Apocalypse Barolo bottles for several months, as a celebration for surviving my own stupidity. What better way to drink it than in association with some of its potentially noble brethren?
In the New World, while California has produced some stars with this grape it has really been Baja California in Mexico which has stolen the show, according to most Sommeliers I’ve spoken to. L.A. Cetto is probably the most famous producer of this grape, or at least, the most accessible to find here in the United States.
Join Megan, James, and myself as we drink the 2015 Private Reserve Nebbiolo from L.A. Cetto, alongside a 2009 Barolo from Pietro Rinaldi, comparing both to Godfather, a Non-Vintage Nebbiolo made from grapes (or juice) imported from the Piedmont from Water’s Edge Winery in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Who will win? Listen and find out!
When we last visited the Cowboy State for our intrepid podcast, Gary couldn’t find a drop of wine to share and discuss, so we chose to examine some Bourbon misconceptions instead. And, while Bourbon is quite delicious, there is a major problem with it. Frankly, it’s not wine. Not even close. After all, one could argue that bourbon is just extremely purified cornbread, aged in oak. (Not me, of course, but some people do.)
But never fear. We’ve got wine for you this time. Table Mountain Vineyard, located in Huntley, Wyoming, was planted in 2001 as a result of a research thesis gone completely wild. Today, the vineyard spreads across about 10 acres and contains approximately 10,000 vines, spread across several varietals. They also make several different fruit wines and honey wines from local sources. I ordered a couple of bottles; their Frontenac Reserve and Frontenac Gris, and saved them in my stash for a while. I then was lucky enough to receive an email from Tim Michaud, who said:
“I listened to your podcast on Wyoming wine, featuring a Wyoming bourbon. Wikipedia is way off on their info. I’d love to chat with you some about our wine industry. I’m a brand-new grower. My wife and I planted 900 vines that we expect to come into production in two or three years. Some of our vines went into the ground in 2019, and the rest in 2020. Due to our research before planting, we’ve become fairly knowledgeable about the wine industry in our state.”
Needless to say, once I finally saw this email in my inbox (ah, if I was only better at remembering passwords…), Tim and I started plotting to do a podcast over Zoom. This is my first official Zoom Podcast, and there will be more to come in the future. Joining us is his wife, Alissa, and of course my drinking assistant Megan. Oh, and Pippin joined in this one too; my feathered companion. All of us had a bottle in common: the Frontenac Gris; Megan and I drank the Reserve Frontenac on our own while we also spent some time discussing that varietal. Enjoy!
In the old days of the Long Long Ago, Before Corona, people would sometimes leave home and visit wineries directly to obtain their wine. This was often done as a ritual, accompanied by wine tasting, often with friends, sometimes even creating a party-style atmosphere. Everything changed when the Fire Nation Attacked Covid came into the picture. Now, with vaccines starting to be distributed, someday we might return to the halcyon days of visiting tasting rooms directly. But this leads to a couple of questions. The first is, “How should I act in a tasting room as a visitor?”
The second? “How should I act if I’m a tasting room employee?” When I visited Nassau Valley Vineyards a few years ago, I was horrified at the way the people on the other side of the bar were treating my fellow customers, and me. The two folks (who were not the owners, nor the winemaker, I should stress) would curtly and rudely answer questions, did not know the information about their wines, acted very put-off that they were working, and generally acted snobbishly and unwarm towards us. They would also ignore us at times. It was so bad that my compatriots at the bar actually asked me afterward if this was normal for a tasting room, once they found out that I worked at one myself. You see, this was their very first time visiting any winery. They found themselves completely put off by the experience, and were close to having decided that the whole thing wasn’t worthwhile until I told them that this was not normal, or proper. As an industry person, I was absolutely horrified by their behavior.
I decided, though, that I needed to get this bottle of their 2017 House Red (a blend of 70% Merlot, 16% Cabernet Franc, and 14% Cabernet Sauvignon) simply to talk about that side of the etiquette question. As for the customer side of the equation, I was specifically asked to do this episode by Dan Pierce, of Bodega Pierce Winery; we visited one of their wines last episode. This episode was our attempt to make a Meta-Episode, where we sort of acted like problematic tasting room people to show the point, though I fear this doesn’t come through as well as I would have liked. I apologize for this necessary train wreck of an episode…
Etiquette As A Customer:
Be curious. Try new things! Break out of your box. Sure, you may like only Cabernet Sauvignon, but there’s a whole world of different full-bodied red wines out there, but you never know, you might find your new best friend.
Don’t be afraid to be honest. It’s okay if you don’t like anything, and you can be polite about your dislike. That’s perfectly fine. But don’t go out of your way to say that something is miserable.
Don’t wear heavy perfumes. These can block some of the delicate aromatics of wine from both your nose and the nose of other patrons.
Spit if you’ve visted a lot of tasting rooms. Yes, you can swallow your wine. But if you’ve been visiting more than four or so, it might be wise to spit so as to preserve your palate, at the very least. It also helps you keep your wits about you. After all, we sometimes have that experience at the end of the day where our palate is shot, we visit the last winery, buy everything because we’re drunk and we think it tastes good and we open them later to be… disappointed.
Corollary: Feel free to dump a wine if you don’t like it. That’s why the dump bucket is there.
If you are part of a bachelor or bachelorette party, make plans in advance. Tell the winery you’re coming a few days ahead of time. It can be easy to be overwhelmed in a busy day when there’s a full crowd and suddenly another 15 people walk in.
Do Buy wines, but don’t haggle. We’re happy to sell wines! That’s why we’re here! But just as you wouldn’t haggle in a supermarket over the price of a block of cheese, you shouldn’t haggle with the winery over the price of a bottle. It’s just rude.
Don’t be an insufferable know-it-all. Yes, it’s okay to flex a little bit of wine knowledge. But the person next to you who is here for the first time may not know anything (more on that in a moment), and might feel super intimidated. There’s also a huge difference between being a wine geek and enjoying the sharing of information, and being the asshole who is trying to impress everyone for no reason (or to impress their date). Sometimes the tasting room staff don’t know as much as you might, either. And that’s okay…
If you don’t know anything about wine, that’s okay! A good tasting room staff person should know, at least, just enough to make you comfortable with wine. One of the great things winery staff can do is teach the basics about wine to make you more comfortable. And remember, it’s wine. It’s not nuclear physics, it’s alcohol. There’s nothing that will explode in your face here if you DO get something wrong.
Don’t be super loud. Don’t scream. Don’t yell. Some people want to contemplate the mysteries of glass. It’s okay to talk to others in a tasting room; indeed, encouraged, but be mindful of other people and their experiences. But your fellow patrons (and the person behind the bar pouring your wines) do NOT really need to know AT ALL about why your lover’s penis is better than your husband’s. (Yes. This happened to me. No amount of brain bleach has removed this memory. I’ve tried.). Save that talk for the ride home with the girls.
Don’t Pressure/flirt with your wine pourer. We’re here to teach you about wine, and introduce you to new worlds within a glass. We’re not here to be flirted with. It makes us very uncomfortable. If you’re a dude pressuring a woman who’s pouring your wine, that’s not nice, but it has happened with women pressuring me as well, and I’m a dude. Neither side is okay.
Tip, unless explicitly told not to. At least, I would say this is the rule for America. Many of us are barely making enough to scrape by, and that tip money will come in handy for rent, or helping pay off a student loan. You can tip based on tasting price OR total tab, but it doesn’t matter as long as you tip.
Have Fun. Really, that’s what you’re hoping to do, right?
As for the rules if you’re working in the tasting room? Well, you’ll just have to listen to the episode. I’m sadly running out of space as to how much text will show up on the show notes…