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.
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…
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!
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!
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.
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!
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:
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!