Season 2, Episode 26: “A Sort-of Super-Tuscan by the Sea”

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!

Yes, of course, I had a toy dinosaur on hand for these photos, why do you ask?

Season 2, Episode 23: “No Regrets when Drinking Piquettes”

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 pazzaacquarello 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.

No Regrets when Drinking Piquettes!


Season 2, Episode 22: “Petit Manseng Deep Dive with Greg Gonnerman”

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…

Drinking some Petit Manseng in a winter storm is a nice way to dream of summertime.

Season 2, Episode 20: “The Full Monte(pulciano)”

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!

Montepulciano
Welcome to the Montepulciano Party!

Season 2, Episode 20: “Bar-Bar-Barbera”

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 Elizabeth Krecker, 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!

Season 2, Episode 16: “AZ Uncorked: The Arizona Wine Guide, with Jenelle Bonifield”

Long-time listeners may know about my connections to the Wine industry in Arizona, where I got started, and it’s high time I return to my roots, pun intended. In this episode, I sit down with Jenelle Bonifield, who just released her fantastic new book AZ Uncorked: The Arizona Wine Guide. Alongside her in this episode is her daughter Isla, who you may remember from our group podcast at ODV featuring the New Jersey wines of Sal Mannino, and of course Megan and myself. Oh, and Jason Dudley makes an appearance giving us snacks to pair with the wine we chose to drink over the course of our discussion.

I’m not kidding when I say this book is fantastic, even though I helped write an introduction to a section. The photography is absolutely stunning and vibrant, and I’d love half of them to be sitting on my walls. (I honestly spaced about asking during the recording whether prints of her work in the book could be acquired; I was told later she is considering it). As it turns out, literal blood, sweat, and tears went into the production of this book. (For that particular story, you’ll have to listen to the podcast!) If you are outside of Arizona, you can grab a copy online at https://arizonawineguide.com/order-book/

The wine we drank while recording this episode is the 2017 Gallia, from Saeculum Cellars. This wine is a sultry, supple blend of Cabernet Franc and Merlot, and is a perennial favorite of mine from winemaker Michael Pierce. The percentages change a little every year, but it’s always a great bottle to grab. The grapes are sourced from Rolling View Vineyard in the Willcox AVA; farmed by Michael Pierce’s father. Thank you once again, Michael, for letting us record our podcast in your barrel room!

Cabernet Franc Count: 6

AZ Uncorked
Jenelle Bonifield poses with her masterpiece, and the 2017 Gallia by Michael Pierce

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…

Episode 26: Texas

Howdy Partners!  Welcome to another episode of the Make America Grape Again Podcast!  This time around, we’re looking at Texas, through the lens of the 2016 Petit Sirah from Grape Creek Vineyards, located in Fredericksburg, Texas.

Texas actually holds a very special place in the history of wine not just in America, but in the world as a whole.  It was in the high plains of Northern Texas (in what is now the Texoma AVA) where horticulturist Thomas Mundson used indigenous American varietals to create hundreds of hybrid grapes, as well as finding particular root stocks that were immune to the Phylloxera epidemic of the late 1800s. This saved the French wine industry (indeed, possibly most of the Vinifera wine industry worldwide) from total ruin.  (I hope to go in depth about him in a future episode in a later season.)

The History of Texas Wine begins in a similar fashion to other landscapes in the American Southwest, with Franciscan priests and friars planting Mission vines in the deserts near El Paso for use as the Eucharist.  The industry grew, culminating in Thomas Mundson’s heroic labors to save the industry as a whole.  Yet Texas, like the rest of the United States, thanked its native son with the institution of Prohibition; one which still strongly affects the state today: a quarter of Texas’ 254 counties still have Dry Laws on the books.  (A few wineries did survive through this time, namely Val Verde winery, which made medicinal and eucharistic vintages.) The wine industry in Texas really only began to recover in the 1970’s, with the founding of Llano Estacado and Pheasant Ridge wineries in what would eventually become the Texas High Plains AVA, along with the La Buena Vida winery in Springtown, Texas.  The first AVA in Texas was the Bell Mountain AVA in 1986.

With 436 Wineries and approximately 4,500 acres of vineyards total, the state of Texas is actually the fourth largest producer of wine in the United States. The problem is that most people do not know about this because Texas wine is not widely distributed, and shipping outside of the state is notoriously difficult for local wineries.  Texas also has 8 AVAs, scattered across the state.

As a note: Texas Wine Geek has a great explanation of what For Sale in Texas Only actually means.  In short, while confusing as all hell from a consumer standpoint, it is crystal clear from the standpoint of federal legislation–something which arguably matters as much, if not more, from a wine sales standpoint.  After all, you need your federal approval if you’re going to sell wine at all, to begin with.  In short, when you see that label, know that it is a wine that is made in Texas, probably from mostly Texas grapes, probably scattered from among multiple AVAs.

In this episode, we talk a little about what “For Sale In Texas Only” means, and a bit about the concept of terroir, as we drink this side by side with an Arizona Petit Sirah from D.A. Ranch.  My friend Megan Looser (who is also a CSW) brought this bottle while on a recent trip to see her favorite band in concert.

episode 26
American wine shines big and bright, deep in the heart of Texas. *clap* *clap* *clap*

Episode 24: Utah

Mysterious, ancient, and full of both Uranium and Mormons, you would expect the Utah landscape to be hostile to winemaking, and among the last places one would imagine wine to be made in the United States.   And… in some ways, you are absolutely correct.  Utah is indeed somewhat hostile to winemaking these days, both climatically and politically. Perhaps that is why the wine in this particular episode was vinified in Colorado at Sutcliffe Vineyards (the same vineyard who produced the Cabernet Franc in our Colorado Episode) from Grapes grown in Montezuma Canyon, near the Four Corners area. This white blend is made of Chenin Blanc, Viognier, Riesling, and Chardonnay; percentages of each grape within this vintage were not available.

The Mormons weren’t always hostile to the grapevine, though; the earliest wine grapes here were planted in the 1860s, right after Mormon settlers colonized the area.  However, the Mormons enthusiastically embraced Prohibition, and it was not until 1989 that hope was rekindled.  The winery which opened that year, Castle Creek Winery, produced 1,500 gallons of quality wine off the bat. Today, there are several small estate wineries producing both vinifera and French-American hybrids, as mentioned in this episode. Vineyards in Utah tend to be located in mountain valleys, with elevations up to 6,000 feet, which create a unique set of circumstances and challenges for growers and winemakers. Winters here are cold, so winter kill and frost damage are real risks; therefore protecting vines in the winter and keeping a watchful eye towards the sky are essential for success.

Currently, Utah has six wineries–somehow making Utah now less of a Prohibition state in terms of viticulture than Nevada. (Go figure!) That being said, the local liquor board does have its own stranglehold on the industry, as it is state-controlled, and does not allow much exporting of finished products outside the state.  This will mean I will have to make a visit to Utah myself… soon.

This bottle was purchased by yours truly at Vino Loco, a wine shop located in downtown Flagstaff, Arizona.

utah
The 2014 White Blend from Sutcliffe Vineyards, sourced from Montezuma Canyon, is our First Utah vintage.

Episode 19: Arizona

Arizona, as you might have guessed, is the state I call home. It is the state I focus on with my other wine blog and podcast, The Arizona Wine Monk.  With two registered AVAs, a third on the way, and an additional fourth region of growers, Arizona is making some noise in the Arizona wine scene.  In an article by Vogue Magazine (yes, THAT Vogue), the Verde Valley of Arizona was listed as an up-and-coming wine region to visit… even if the two varietals they listed in that article, Zinfandel and Cabernet Franc, aren’t the grapes that Arizona is going to be known for in the long run, let alone in the Verde Valley.

Still, the point is Arizona is getting a lot of press right now. Right now there are about 1,000 acres under vine in Arizona, and as of the last time I checked, about 104 licensed and bonded wineries in the state; this number is increasing steadily. The two AVAs in Arizona currently are the Sonoita AVA, which was Arizona’s first, and the Willcox AVA, which is where the wine in question we will be exploring today is from. (The application for the Verde Valley AVA has been perfected, but has yet to be posted for public comments, or approved by the TTB.)

Say hello to the 2014 Malvasia Bianca from Sand-Reckoner.  Malvasia Bianca, in the opinion of many Arizona winemakers, is our best white grape in terms of reflecting local terroir; it is one of my favorite grape varietals, period.  This grape here in Arizona is known for its intense, aromatic character, which is why I sit with my friend Tiffany Poth (a.k.a. @wine_hippie on Instagram) with a Le Nez du Vin kit and talk about what we mean by wine aromatics and aromas.  We also talk a little bit about lees aging and what that means in wine.  Enjoy!

This bottle was acquired by yours truly from the winemaker himself at the Willcox Wine Country Festival, before the Sand-Reckoner tasting room in Tuscon opened to the public.

Arizona
The intense aromatic character of this 2014 Malvasia Bianca make it a fantastic wine to explore what we mean by wine aromas.