Season 2, Episode 4: The Forgotten Pinot (Oregon vs. Germany)

Everyone knows Pinot Noir. Most folks know Pinot Gris, aka Grigio. Pinot Blanc has a few die-hard fans even among the general public. But Pinot Meunier seems to remain the province of wine geeks alone. In this episode, the gang tackles the challenge, when we compare the 2017 Pinot Meunier from Teutonic Wine Company (sourced from Borgo Pass Vineyard in the Willamette Valley AVA of Oregon), with the 2015 Darting Pinot Meunier from Pfalz, Germany. In this episode, we also talk about wine-making techniques and compare the Old-World style of Winemaking, to the New World style, and touch again upon the subject of Natural Wine. I REALLY need to do an episode just focusing on Natural Wine at some point. This also reminds me, I need to reach out to the folks at the fine Natural Disasters for a collaboration on the subject… I digress.

A word about tonight’s (today’s?) grape of the episode: Pinot Meunier.  Also known variously as Meunier, Schwarzriesling, Müllerrebe, and Miller’s Burgundy, this grape gets its name (and most of its synonyms) from the flour-like dusty white down which is found on the underside of the leaves; like the result of grinding wheat.  First mentioned by name in the 16th century, Pinot Meunier is what is known in the plant world as a Chimeric Mutation, where different plant genes are expressed in different places.  In the case of this varietal, the inner cell layers are composed of a Pinot genotype which is close to (if not identical to) Pinot noir, but the outer, epidermal, layer is a mutant, distinctive, genotype. I have no idea how this happens, but it is my understanding that the genetics of most Pinot varietals are about as stable as my average mood, and therefore the plant can mutate simply if you look at it in a funny way.

Of note: Pinot Meunier is apparently almost one-third of all the grapes planted in Champagne, but the French don’t like to talk about this fact and prefer to emphasize the use of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay… though I will say the best Champagne I’ve ever had was a Grower’s Champagne (the Vallée de la Marne Rive Gauche Extra Brut from Bereche & Fils) made of 100% Pinot Meunier, so, uh, take that, popular kids!  Or something?

I acquired this bottle of the 2o17 Teutonic Pinot Meunier directly from their tasting room in Portland, Oregon, while visiting there last September; the German example was acquired from Lloyd’s Liquors, in Prescott, AZ.

Pinot Meunier
The 2017 Pinot Meunier from Teutonic Wine Company is the centerpiece of our third episode of Season 2.

Season 2, Episode 2: “WTF are tasting notes, anyway?”

I get asked somewhat often, “What are tasting notes, really?” Or rather, to be honest, I get asked: “What am I supposed to be tasting, anyway?”

Well, when you get down to it, you taste what you taste.  Sure, I can help, but really, wine is such a subjective thing that I generally hate to push what I think I’m tasting or smelling onto the drinker I’m with.  This can also make tasting notes (and notes on the aromatic profiles of wine) seem somewhat arbitrary to the beginner.  And that’s okay!

Basically, tasting notes refer to a wine taster’s (or, in some cases, a coffee taster’s!) testimony about the aroma, taste identification, acidity, structure, texture, and the balance of a wine, designed to allow the reader to get an idea of what the experience of imbibing that particular vintage is like. They can get as creative as you like, or as simple as you like.  Often-times, such notes may seem like gibberish, but this Sommelier-speak has a code that isn’t as difficult to translate as beginners think.  In short, what you taste, is what you taste.

These notes are NOT related to what is in the wine or how it was made, usually; these flavors are not added.  The winemakers for this wine didn’t pour in pickle juice during fermentation, for example.  In many cases, they aren’t even the same molecule, but they hit the receptors in the olfactory lobes of the brain in the same way as those flavors in food, drink, or spices do.  Wine Folly has a great article on how to approach writing your own tasting notes which can be found here.

For this podcast discussing Tasting notes, Elizabeth Krecker and I decided to drink the 2014 Sémillon from Dirty and Rowdy Family Winery, based out of Napa Valley, though they source grapes from multiple vineyards across the state of California. This wine is a complex blend of two different styles of fermentation; one on the skins (a.k.a., Amber Wine) and another aged in concrete. Elizabeth and I loved the tasting notes that they used to describe their wines and thought it would be fun to explore what we tasted in this wine versus what the winemakers tasted.  They’ve got a lot of fun wines, and I highly recommend them.

Dirty and Rowdy 2014 Sémillon
The 2014 Sémillon from Dirty and Rowdy Family Wines is not only our stepping stone into a discussion of what tasting notes are but also our first revisit of the California wine industry.

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 27: Delaware

Delaware is an often overlooked state in the US, but like all states, does have a winemaking tradition.  Today’s wine focus is the 2017 Delaware, from Pizzadili Vineyard, located in the town of Felton. This slightly sweet skin-contact white wine is made from 100% Delaware, a grape which is ironically not named after the state at all. (It actually gets its name from a place in Ohio, but you’ll hear about that in the podcast itself.)  Delaware is a cultivar derived from Vitis labrusca, in case you were wondering; it is also a grape with a long history in the United States and was historically for making some of America’s first sparkling wines… which is why this is a grape varietal we will meet again on a later episode, mark my words.  This is our second “amber” wine of the podcast, as this wine saw extensive skin contact before fermentation began, according to the folks I met in the tasting room.

The state of Delaware lags behind other parts of the Mid-Atlantic states in terms of wineries and vineyards; I was able to visit three out of the state’s five vineyards when I was in the area in November of 2018.  The history of viticulture here begins with Swedish colonists in the area who planted grapes and made wine in Delaware as early as 1638. (Yes, at one point Sweden was a colonial empire with American interests!) When the Dutch took over the area in the mid 17th century, they similarly promoted viticulture in the area but found the area more suitable for apple orchards and cider instead.  It wasn’t until 1991 when the Raley family sponsored and wrote farm winery legislation (which passed in a near-record two months) that the situation changed. This change in winery legislation allowed for the founding of Nassau Valley Vineyards, which opened in October of 1993. Pizzadili Winery is the state of Delaware’s second oldest winery, opening in 2007. At this time, the state of Delaware has no AVAs.

I acquired this bottle directly from the tasting room for this podcast in November of 2018. Megan joins us again for this episode.  Interestingly; she didn’t like this wine while I found it completely fascinating… but you’ll hear more about that.

Delaware Wine
The 2017 Delaware from Pizzadili Winery is our introduction to the state of Delaware wine. This wine underwent extensive skin maceration prior to fermentation… so I’m calling it a skin-contact white wine.

Episode 16: Vermont

Vermont is the focus of our 16th episode here at the Make America Grape Again podcast.  Barely more than a stub of a Wikipedia page, Vermont so far has only seven wineries, and a very recent beginning, with the first commercial vineyard there being only since 1997.  But boy howdy, have they been running to catch up with the rest; the wine we selected for the first episode examining the viticultural industry in this state has absolutely blown me away.  It is not every day that I meet a wine that can single-handedly make me doubt my commitment to Arizona viticulture, but the 2016 Tectonic from Iapetus Wine (a label from Shelburne Vineyard) has done just that.

The 2016 Tectonic is our vintage introduction to a number of new wine concepts, as well as a continuation of some themes we explored in our last episode about Wisconsin wine. This vintage is an all-natural, skin-contact wine made from a grape called La Crescent.  We touched upon natural wines a little bit in our first California episode; to explore the idea further, these wines can be roughly defined (since there is no official legal definition as of yet) as wines that are farmed as organically as possible, and are made/transformed without adding or removing anything while in the cellar.  The idea is that these wines are fermented using the natural yeast growing on the grape, without any additives or processing aids, and that intervention in the fermentation is kept to a minimum. These wines are not fined, nor filtered, and it can be argued that the result is a wine that is “alive”–still full of naturally occurring microbiology and the truest expression of the terroir of a region possible.

Like the Seyval Blanc we examined in our last episode, La Crescent is a complex American hybrid varietal, and one which is very recent; only developed by the University of Minnesota and released in 2002.  The genetics for this grape look like something out of a Habsburg family tree: with ancestry including Vitis viniferaripariarupestrislabrusca and aestivalis. Saint-Pepin, and a Muscat of Hamburg crossing feature among this grape’s progenitors. (I really wish I still had the genetics diagram I referenced when recording this wine–I lost it somewhere. Alas.)  Also like Seyval Blanc, this grape is a white wine varietal; to make a Skin-contact wine such as the 2017 Tectonic (also known as Amber wines or Orange wines),  the grape skins are not removed from the must, (unlike in as in typical white wine production) and instead remain in contact with the juice for days or even months. As in red wines, these skins provide pigments and tannins to the resulting vintage. This is actually a very ancient style of wine, dating back at an absolute minimum of about 6,000 years in the Caucasus Mountains.

That, in my mind, is one of the coolest things about the 2016 Iapetus: it is made from an ancient style of production for one of the newest-developed grape varietals out there.  I look forward to hopefully trying more wines from this label: Ethan Joseph is doing some pretty cool stuff up there in Vermont.

While I first encountered this wine via a #winestudio event on Twitter, this bottle was provided to me through the kindness of Elizabeth Krecker who purchased this wine for me directly from the vineyard when she visited New England earlier this year.

Vermont episode 1
The 2016 Tectonic from Iapetus wine is, without a doubt, my favorite wine of this podcast so far. There, I said it.

Episode 12: California

Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is probably the grape (and region) that is most associated with California wines to the average consumer and wine drinker. However, there is a LOT more to California wines than Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnays which have been buried in oak so much that they may as well be coffins. There are a lot of cool things going on in California Wine that aren’t really talked about, which is why the focus of this episode is the 2016 Pretty Young Thing Cabernet Pfeffer, from Winc. (They usually have some fun and interesting goodies available, so use that link if you want to join in the fun… it gets me some more wine, and gets you some too.  For the record, they are not a sponsor.)

I chose the 2016 Pretty Young Thing Cab-Pfef for a couple of reasons.  For one, it is a wine that can easily induce conversation on several topics, such as the winemaking technique of Carbonic Maceration, and the increasing popularity of “natural wines,” especially in vintages from California. (Just what counts as a “natural wine,” anyway? Which reminds me, I want to give a shout-out to my other new favorite wine podcast: Natural Disasters. I only found out these guys about after recording this episode. They’re hilarious folks, go and listen.)  Gary and I also dabble with the great mystery surrounding Cabernet Pfeffer–namely, just what the hell IS Cabernet Pfeffer?

Also, this bottle was kind of a “Screw You” to the people who are demanding I review a California Cabernet for this podcast.  Here you go.  This is your California Cabernet.  (You didn’t specify WHICH Cabernet, bitches.)

I acquired this bottle with my own cash from Winc.com, and while this bottle is long gone, there is another Cabernet Pfeffer there right now.

2016 PYT Cab-Pfef
The 2016 Pretty Young Thing Cabernet Pfeffer is a lovely introduction in this podcast to the Natural Wine phenomenon… and it’s freaking delicious.