Season 2, Episode 12: “Tom Bombadil: Saperavi Deep Dive”

In the same early episode where I mentioned that Rkatsiteli was the viticultural equivalent of Goldberry, Co-host Gary had asked what grape would be the equivalent of Tom Bombadil. “Why, that would be Saperavi, of course,” I replied.

It’s about time we meet this grape. Like Rkatsiteli, Saperavi originates from the cradle of viticulture, the Republic of Georgia.  This is also a varietal I’ve wanted to explore on this podcast for a long time, as it is a personal favorite of mine.  Years ago, before I started this podcast, two members of the wine club at the winery I once worked for, Anita and Ken Colburn, told me they were going to visit the Finger Lakes, and asked if I wanted them to bring back anything.  I said that I had heard very good things about Saperavi from that region, and if they found one, I’d happily trade something from my cellar for a chance to taste. 

Lo and behold, they were kind enough to bring back with them the vintage which is the keystone of this podcast: the 2014 Standing Stone Vineyards Saperavi. It seems that currently, the Finger Lakes is the seat of Saperavi’s throne in the United States, though there are plantings in other parts of New York, and Kansas. I have also heard rumors that there are vineyards with this grape growing in Virginia and Maryland, but have been unable to substantiate these rumors.  

We compared the 2014 vintage from Standing Stone with the 2014 Saperavi from Merani Cellars in the Republic of Georgia sourced from Kakheti; the probable homeland of this ancient grape varietal.  Take a listen, and enjoy!

 

Saperavi
Saperavi is one of my favorite varietals, and I must admit that Standing Stone did a great job with this grape.

Season 2, Episode 11: “Rkatsiteli deep dive: Goldberry River-Daughter”

Way back at the beginning of season one, I tangentially mentioned a fascinating grape in our first episode talking about wines in Massachusetts: Rkatsiteli. This was just one of the five grapes in that particular blend, the 2014 Cinco Cães from Westport Rivers Winery. If you remember, I casually compared Rkatsiteli to Goldberry, Tom Bombadil’s wife in the Lord of the Rings books.  I decided though, at some point, it would be fun to take a look at this varietal in-depth at a later time.

  But trying to find single varietal takes on this grape here in the United States is a hard thing to do. Dr. Konstantin Frank Winery does produce a single varietal version (and an amber version I would dearly love to get my hands on), but the fact of the matter is that Dr. Konstantin Frank himself did so much for the viticultural industry on the East Coast that I wanted to do a deep dive episode on him, specifically–tackling two deep dives in one episode might make the resulting podcast too long.

But then, VeniVidiDrinki went to New Jersey and found a bottle at Tomasello Winery during the same visit she picked up the Blaufränkisch we enjoyed back in season one.  Problem solved!  I picked up a version from the Republic of Georgia at my favorite Russian import market in Phoenix, and we sat around and drank the two side by side to produce this episode. It wasn’t the best comparison, as the two wines were produced in slightly different styles, but mayhem still ensued.  Enjoy!

rkatsiteli deep dive
“O reed by the living pool! Fair river-daughter!” is a fair description of a good vintage of Rkatsiteli. Enjoy our deep dive of this fascinatingly ancient varietal!

Season 2, Episode 10: “New Jersey Wine Tasting With Friends”

Apologies for the long absence. Again, life has gotten very much in the way of things.  In this case, it was a move back to a mountaintop lair in Jerome after some rather gruesome personal trauma… and, well, the original episode I was going to share for number ten was about Tasting Room etiquette…

Which seemed uh, kinda pointless right about now in the midst of Covid-19 when we’re drinking our wines at home.  After some debate and much procrastination, I decided to switch the order of some upcoming episodes, since listening to podcasts is a great way to occupy oneself during these days.  So.. We’re starting up again. Hopefully, there will be some kind of regular schedule again… but life has a rather annoying way of ruining regular schedules. 

In this episode, I hang out with some friends, drinking the wines made by Sal Mannino (@carbonicmass on Instagram), who has been a long-time follower of mine on the ‘grams.  All of these wines were made from grapes grown in New Jersey. Furthermore, these are grapes I never expected to see growing in the verdant lands of New Jersey; all of these are varietals I am much more familiar with here in Arizona. (Well, with the exception of Pinot Noir, that is; I’ve had plenty of fun Pinot Noir vintages from Maryland on northwards to Massachusetts, but I digress… but what else is new there?)

Nick and Ed, over at New Jersey Wine Reviews also tried some of these same wines at a dinner event, as well as a few different vintages that we didn’t get to imbibe; pop on over to their blog and take a look.  Sal Mannino himself joins us just after halfway through the podcast, via phonecall; prior to this, my friends Dina Ribado, Isla Bonifield, and Tracy and Chuck Demsey drink through his wines and give our thoughts and comment on tasting notes and the techniques used to make these unique vintages.

Tracy and Chuck were kind (and awesome) enough to host at their awesome bakery and bottle shop, ODV Wines.  If you are ever in the Phoenix area and need super-cool wines or super awesome pastries, be sure to stop by their spot–tell them Cody the Wine Monk sent you.  I love their shop to pieces, and I specifically recommend her lemon bars. 

Episode 10, Season 2
The gang posing with the wines from Sal Mannino. If you like what you hear, be sure to contact him on instagram for information on how to join his wine club.

 

Season 2, Episode 8: “Everything’s gonna be Viognier.” (Viognier Deep Dive with Michelle Petree)

First of all, let me apologize for the erratic upload schedule this January. There is a lot of stuff going on in my life right now; a struggle with depression, a struggle with finances, and my mother is on her deathbed. I beg pardon for not following my every 2-week schedule as I planned. Now, onto the blog. (If you want to help, please support the Patreon for this podcast!)

One of our very first episodes of season one focused on the supposed wonder of Virginia Viognier. As you may remember, neither Gary or I were impressed with the 2016 Horton Viognier and were deeply confused as to why Viognier was supposed to be the state grape of Virginia in the first place.  I told this to my friend Michelle Petree, who asked which one I had imbibed, and she proceeded to be horrified by my selection.  “Don’t worry,” she said, probably shaking her head sadly, “I’ll fix that for you. I know the good ones. The 2017 Viognier from King Family Vineyards is especially great.”

In return, I promised her my favorite bottle of Viognier from Arizona, the 2016 Rune Viognier, made by James Callahan. (He will be a guest in later episodes in season 2, so stay tuned!)  At some point, one of us (I can’t rightly remember who, lots of alcohol was involved…) decided we should drink these two wines side by side with a vintage from Viognier’s homeland, Condrieu… and settled on the 2017 De Poncins, from Francois Villard, as a comparison. And so this podcast was born.

Viognier, if you are unaware, has made a huge comeback in the last 60 years from near-extinction (in 1965, there were only 30 acres of this grape remaining) to a worldwide sensation, being grown across the world, from Arizona to New Zealand. Most of the Viognier acreage planted in the United States can be found in California, but it is also grown in 15 other states. One of the main reasons for Viognier’s fall from grace until the 1960s is due to the fact that this varietal is very difficult to grow, being prone to Powdery Mildew, as well as suffering unpredictable yields from one vintage to the next.

However, this grape is increasing in popularity as an attractive alternative to Chardonnay, so I feel we can only expect more Viognier to appear as time goes on. Watch this space!

viognier deep dive
So much Viognier to drink, so little time…

Season 2, Episode 1: An Unexpected Birthday

Welcome to the first episode of Season 2! This was originally going to be an additional bonus episode for Season One, but harvest, crush, and a new tasting room job meant I didn’t get much time to get this ready, so we’re going to open Season 2 with this episode instead!  Future episodes will continue at roughly every 10 days, as with season one.

In this episode, Megan (alias VeniVidiDrinki), James, our friend Ruben, and I drink a Henri Marchant Cold Duck that dates back at least to the early 1970s. Why? Because it was there. More seriously, VeniVidi found this bottle at an estate sale somewhere in Illinois, and had it sitting around… and so we decided to drink it.  For myself, this is probably the second or third oldest bottle I’ve had in my life, but for the others, it was their oldest bottle; in fact, this bottle was older than every one of us excepting possibly James.  Old wine is fascinating, often lauded, but sometimes misses the mark.  But we decided to try this one anyway and record it for shiggles.

What is Cold Duck, anyway?  Well, it so happens that Cold Duck is pretty much a uniquely American innovation in the wine world.  The wine style was invented by one Harold Borgman, the owner of Pontchartrain Wine Cellars in Detroit, Michigan in 1937. This inaugural Cold Duck vintage was made at the Ponchartrain Wine Cellars by simultaneously pouring Champagne and sparkling burgundy into a hollow stem wine glass.  However, this recipe was based on a German legend that involved Prince Clemens Wenceslaus of Saxony ordering the mixing of all the dregs of unfinished wine bottles in his cellar with Champagne. The wine produced by Borgman was at first given the name Kaltes Ende (“cold end” in German) until it was altered to the similar-sounding term Kalte Ente meaning “cold duck”.

It was this translation of the second name that took root for this particular wine style, and many other American wineries, particularly in California and New York, followed in the wake of Pontchartrain.  Today, you can still find bottles of Cold Duck in most grocery stores, as a “low-end” wine (see: Frasier, Season 4, Episode 9), but for the time it was a revolution that allowed most Americans who would never have been able to afford high-end sparkling wines from France to get their first experience with bubbly.

Of note: we dated this bottle based on a particularly awkwardly hilarious commercial we found on YouTube; the audio of which is featured in the podcast, but the video is below:

henri marchant cold duck
Cold Duck revolutionized the way Americans drank in the years just prior (and during World War 2). This bottle dates back at least to 1970, and we drank it… because it was there. Also, we drank it for your amusement.  How did it taste?  Listen, and find out.

Episode 51: Washington D.C.

We’re not quite done with season one yet! Sorry for the late post; it’s the height of crush and harvest here in Arizona, and I’ve been working myself raw. Our last non-bonus episode for the season is focused on Washington D.C.  In this episode, Michelle Petree (a friend of mine who dates all the way back to freaking Grade School) and I drink the 2017 Cuvée Noir, from District Winery; which is so far the District’s only urban winery and tasting room. This wine, a blend of Grenache and Petit Sirah, is their house take on Rhone-style blends, sourced from vineyards in California. (I affectionately referred to this wine repeatedly as a GPS, because boy howdy do I love puns.) In this episode, Michelle and I tackle some of the “darker” sides of the wine industry: wine additives and the grape trade. It turns out that we feel one of these is much darker than the other.

That being said, let me be emphatic right here: the trade of grapes and bulk wines from California is NOT necessarily a bad thing.  It’s all in what you do with what you get. I, for one, really enjoyed my experience at District Winery so much that I actually sent them my resume. They’re doing good stuff. It’s not their fault that nobody grows grapes in Washington D.C. anymore!  They are also wonderfully open both on their website and in the tasting room how things are done. And frankly, there’s no getting around the fact that sometimes, you absolutely have to source grapes from elsewhere because of market demand, a bad harvest, or because the grapes you want to work with don’t grow anywhere near where your winery is.  It is really hard, after all, to make a Barbera in, say, Maine. Also, let me be clear: the only “additive” in the wines from District is the Sulfites which are pretty much standard in everything; they’re not using Mega-Purple (which, dibs on that name for my future wine-themed metal band by the way) or anything else, but our conversation just went that way. (This reminds me: I need to do an episode about why Sulfites Are Not Evil at some point.)

Now that the disclaimers are out of the way: once upon a time, as I alluded to above, there were vineyards and wineries in Washington D.C. It is, as far as I could find out in my research, unknown what varietals were grown in the area.  Space was limited, of course, and after Prohibition hit, these vineyards were torn out, and the land where these vineyards once grew was urbanized.  Today, there simply just isn’t the space to grow vineyards in Washington D.C. itself. However, this aspect didn’t stop the founder and winemaker of District Winery, Conor McCormack, from opening the first winery in the area since Prohibition in 2018. As I alluded to above, many of the grapes being made into wine here are sourced from vineyards across California, but he is also sourcing grapes from vineyards in New York and nearby Virginia. (In fact, the amazing amber wine made of Virginia-grown Petit Manseng was the bottle that I took home for “research” and shared with some local Arizona wine folks. Frankly, it was really hard to choose just what to drink for this podcast.)

Anyway, stay tuned for the next two bonus episodes… then a short break before Season Two begins!

2017 Cuvée Noir
Michelle and I drank the 2017 Cuvée Noir side by side with a Châteauneuf-du-Pape; the only Rhone wine she had in her cellar. Such a tragedy.

 

Episode 47: Maryland

Welcome to Episode 47, focusing on a state that I think has one of the best flags in the country: Maryland. In this episode, we will be focusing on the 2017 Vin Doux Naturel from Old Westminster Winery, located in Westminster, MD. This particular bottle was one of three chosen by the winery as part of a #Winestudio event for the month of June.  Mind you, all three of the wines involved in the series were fantastic; especially the Cabernet Franc.  I’ve also been to their tasting room before and have picked up bottles and cans from this winery specifically for this podcast… which may well still appear in future episodes, or I may just drink them on my own without sharing.

All that being said, the opportunity to review a dessert wine and talk on the podcast about the intricacies of making dessert wines along with the various styles thereof was too good a chance to resist. And so, here we have the 2017 Vin Doux Naturel, a dessert wine made of 100% estate-grown Valvin Muscat (a cross between Muscat Ottonel and the hybrid Muscat du Moulin, for the record) which was fermented with wild yeasts and fortified during fermentation using neutral grape spirits distilled from estate grapes. This particular vintage is made in a way reminiscent of wines coming from the Muscat de Beaumes de Venise AOC in France. 

Here, as with the Valvin Muscat from Old Westminster, fermentation is stopped by the slow addition of up to 10% of a 190 proof (95%) grape spirit. This additional alcohol basically slowly kills off the yeast, as most yeasts cannot stand an overly high concentration of alcohol. Port, as well as other similar fortified wines, are also made in this fashion. (Madeira is, too, but is then literally baked in hot steam rooms, or historically on the decks of ships; sweeter sherries are made this way also, but then develop a living coat of yeast known as flor while aging in barrel. I really should find American vintages made in both styles, as they are really fascinating wines to talk about and drink, but I digress.)

One can also create a sweet wine that isn’t fortified by halting the fermentation before completion through chilling the wine to the temperature where yeast goes into stasis, and then sterile filtering.  A second way of creating a sweet, desert-style wine is by adding sulfites to the wine at a high enough level where the yeast cannot survive, and then sterile filtering. Sterile filtering is important for the production of sweet wines of this sort, because, without filtering, any yeasts that survive will feed on the residual sugar.  This will either make the wine ferment to dry in the tank, or worse: if bottled, the CO2 created by the yeast as a result of fermentation can cause corks to pop or bottles to explode from the pressure.

A final way of making a sweet wine that could qualify as a dessert wine is to back-sweeten the wine after it has finished fermenting to dry with a sugar solution or honey.  The TTB classifies a dessert wine as any grape wine containing over 14% but not more than 24% alcohol by volume. Citrus, fruit, and agricultural dessert wines must be further identified as to the fruit that was used. 

I’ve rambled a lot about dessert wines here, and how to make them, so I’ll have to be brief about the history of the wine industry in Maryland here. The oldest continuously operating winery in the state is Boordy Vineyards, located in the rural region of Hydes, Maryland. This winery was bonded in the 1940’s by Philip & Jocelyn Wagner. Philip Wagner is one of the most important figures in the history of American wines that you’ve probably never heard of, as he quite literally wrote the first major book on the subject: American Wines and How to Make Them. The book was revised and republished as Grapes Into Wine, and it became the definitive book on winemaking in America for decades.

Old Westminster Winery is much newer in comparison (planted first in 2011, and is rapidly expanding with the acquisition of Burnt Hill), but is part of the rapidly expanding industry in Maryland which now contributes an estimated $50 million dollars annually to the local economy. Today, Maryland has over 40 wineries, and three AVAs thus far: the Catoctin AVA (named for an Algonquin word meaning “speckled rocks”) is located in Frederick and Washington Counties, while the Linganore AVA, part of the Piedmont Plateau, includes parts of Frederic and Carroll Counties. Lastly, the Cumberland Valley AVA we met in passing extends from Pennsylvania into Washington County in west-central Maryland.

As mentioned above, this wine was provided by Old Westminster Winery for the #Winestudio event. As far as I’m aware, this wine is not available to be purchased by the general public yet, but I plan on acquiring another bottle when it does become available.

Old Westminster Winery Vin Doux Naturel
In this episode, we talk a bit about dessert wines with the 2017 Vin Doux Naturel; a 100% Valvin Muscat from Old Westminster Winery in Maryland.

Episode 41: Ohio

Welcome to episode 41 of the Make America Grape Again podcast, featuring the Buckeye State, Ohio.  Featuring one of the more unique flags of a US State, Ohio has a long and lauded history with the American Wine industry. It is fitting, therefore, that the bottle we have chosen for our first Ohio episode: the En Plein Aire pét-nat from Vermilion Valley Vineyards, is somewhat of an homage to that storied history.  This sparkling wine, made as a méthode ancestrale, is a field blend of roughly 75% Pinot Noir, and 25% Muscat Ottonel, with minuscule percentages of Lemberger and Müller-Thurgau, sourced from their vineyards in the Lake Erie AVA. For those who are new to the natural wine game, this method, known also as pétillant-naturel, allows the initial fermentation to finish inside the bottle without any additives, imparting a gentle carbonation by trapping carbon dioxide; there is no addition of new yeast for a secondary fermentation, nor disgorgement (unlike with Champagne and other sparkling wines of that ilk).

So, why a Sparkling wine to start Ohio off? To answer this question, we must go to the Ohio River Valley around 1825, and visit one Nicholas Longworth.  He planted, in the end, over 2,000 acres of Catawba grapes, and ended up producing sparkling wine that won not only national acclaim, but actually beat out titans from Champagne in at least one competition in Europe!  The resulting victory lead to a famous poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, entitled “Ode to Catawba Wine.” (I’m thinking this poem may be the subject of a dramatic reading in Season 2.) However, by the late 1850’s, black rot and powdery mildew had destroyed much of these vineyards, and the viticultural center of Ohio had moved to the region surrounding Lake Erie, where at the time, 33,000 acres of grapes and 161 wineries flourished.  Alas, like in other states, the grim specter of Prohibition ended this idyll, and to survive, most vineyards were converted to the growing of Concord for juice production–some vineyards dating to this period, such as Meier’s Wine Cellars survive today in this mode. By 1963, only 27 wineries survived, with only half making wine from Ohio-grown grapes.  The state was ripe for a renaissance.

Oddly, compared to other states we’ve explored in the course of our podcast, Ohio never needed farm winery legislation to aid that renaissance.  Instead, two major organizations devoted to viticulture jump-started this transition.  The first was the Ohio Wine Producers Organization; the second was the Ohio Grape Industries Program.  Both of these groups have catapulted Ohio wine to the impending super-stardom where the industry lurks at this time. Today, the state of Ohio has over 290 wineries, located within Five distinct American Viticultural Areas: the Lake Erie AVA, the Isle St. George AVA, the Ohio River Valley AVA, the Grand River Valley AVA, and lastly the Loramie Creek AVA.  Producing over 3,582,902 gallons, Ohio is (as of 2016) actually ranked 6th in the US in terms of wine production, and 8th in terms of total acreage under vine. Wine Enthusiast actually recently wrote an article about why Ohio wine is something to look out for, as well, so winemakers in the state are making some noise.

This bottle was kindly provided to the Make America Grape Again Podcast by the winemaker himself, Joe Juniper. I reached out to him after a kind couple in the tasting room I work for in Arizona mentioned that Vermilion Valley Vineyards was their favorite winery in the state. Thank you again, kind sir for your contribution, and for joining in on our podcast!

A sparkling wine in the oldest tradition, the En Plein Air from Vermilion Valley Vineyards starts our journey into Ohio Wine.

Episode 36: Pennsylvania

Welcome to episode 36 of the Make America Grape Again podcast, where we focus on the Keystone state: Pennsylvania. Our wine du jour this time around is the NV Oaked Vidal from Spyglass Ridge Vineyard, which is located in Sunbury, Pennsylvania. This episode is our first real introduction into the major workhorse grape of the cooler regions of the United States and Canada: Vidal Blanc. Indeed, this grape is among the most cold-hardy varietals known, and it is used to make late harvest and icewines across most cooler climates throughout the Northern Hemisphere.  (We will meet a Vidal Icewine in season two of the podcast.)  Vidal Blanc is a white hybrid grape variety produced from the Vitis vinifera varietal Ugni blanc and another hybrid varietal, Rayon d’Or.

The history of Pennsylvania wine prior to the onset of Prohibition is nebulous and mysterious, though urban legend and the factsheet from Pennslyvania Wines tell us that the first vineyard in the state was planted by in 1863 by William Penn himself, in what is now Fairmount Park in Philadelphia. Post-prohibition, the industry restarted in the 1970’s, with Presque Isle Wine Cellars and Penn-Shore Vineyards receiving their licenses on the same day in 1970. Today, Pennsylvania is the eighth-largest wine producing state in the country, with roughly 119 wineries and 5 AVAs: Central Delaware Valley AVA, Cumberland Valley AVA, Lake Erie AVA, Lancaster Valley AVA, and the Lehigh Valley AVA. The sale of Pennsylvania wines has historically been crippled by the state’s notoriously byzantine State Liquor Board, with made it difficult for those outside the state (and even in some cases, inside the state) to acquire local wines. This situation seems to be improving of late, however.

This bottle was acquired by my mother specifically for this podcast, from the vineyard tasting room in Sunbury while she was visiting members of my extended family.  Hi Mom!  We also have a new podcast guest member in this episode: Kim Musket, who is a cellar hand and winemaker at Arizona Stronghold Vineyards; though she got her first-hand education in Missouri.

spyglass ridge vineyard
The Oaked Vidal from Spyglass Ridge Winery is our introduction not only to the surprisingly vibrant wine scene in Pennsylvania, but to Vidal Blanc as a varietal.

 

Episode 33: West Virginia

Welcome to episode 33 of the Make America Grape Again podcast, where we focus upon the state of West Virginia! The wine for our first WV episode is the Sweet Mountain Spiced Wine, from West-Whitehill Winery, located in South Moorefield.  This is our introduction also to one of the oldest styles of wine in the world: spiced wine. While a popular winter drink today, this is a style that also dates back to the Ancient Greeks and Romans, who would also add spices to their wine, both during and after fermentation.  This makes a unique and timeless vintage, perfect for heating up on bitter winter nights (like the night of our recording), or even served at cellar temperature.

I was not able to find any viticultural history for West Virginia wines pre-Prohibition, but the post-prohibition history of wine in this state is a bit of a doozy. The first vineyard in the state was planted by Stephen West in 1973, but it wasn’t until 1981 that a farm winery bill was finally passed for the state of West Virginia, after having been vetoed three times previously by the governor at the time, John D. Rockefeller IV. This was because he believed it would be “an abuse of public office to foster the public consumption of alcohol.” Indeed, this bill only passed the fourth time after the state legislature actually overrode his latest veto of the bill!  While Stephen West planted his vineyard first, West-Whitehill Winery was actually the state’s second licensed winery.

Today, the state of West Virginia features in parts of three AVAs: the Shenandoah Valley AVA extends from Virginia into the panhandle, while the Kanawha River Valley AVA is located in the watershed of the Kanawha River in West Virginia, between the city of Charleston and the Ohio border. This AVA includes 64,000 acres (25,900 ha) in portions of Cabell, Jackson, Kanawha, Mason, and Putnam counties.  The Kanawha Valley AVA is a subset of the larger Ohio River Valley AVA.  Currently, there are 11 wineries in the state of West Virginia.

I acquired this bottle while visiting Maryland from Old Line Bistro, which I highly recommend if you’re in the area. We weren’t able to figure out what grape this wine was made from, but are guessing that it was largely a base of Chambourcin, as that seems to be the grape they are planting most at that vineyard site.

A random list of things deleted from this episode to make it fit the time allotted: a brief discussion of the biology of Arrakis, a random Frasier Theme Song karaoke interlude, comments upon the dietary habits of seals, and really bad jokes.

west virginia
The Sweet Mountain Spiced Wine from West-Whitehill Winery is great as an early morning warm drink, too.