Season 2, Episode 5: The Traditional Method (RJR Brut Cuvée, Westport Rivers, MA)

We’ve had a couple of sparkling wines in this program before, but we’ve never really had a traditional method sparkling wine on the show before.  Let’s change that, with a look at the 2007 RJR Brut Cuvée, from Westport Rivers Winery, in Massachusetts.

In case you were not aware, “traditional method” is code for the same method which is used to make Champagne in France; it’s just that nobody outside of Champagne can use this word to describe a wine method, due to very strict provisions laid down by the EU and France. You will occasionally see wines made in this method labeled as ‘Classic Method,’ also.  What these words mean is that the sparkling wine in question was bottle-fermented; that secondary fermentation which produced the bubbles occurred in the bottle in which the wine was sold.  This can be a time-consuming process if done by hand, but other places (such as Gruet in New Mexico, as an example) have figured out how to do mass-production of such bottles.

As you may have guessed from the implication above, sparkling wines made in the traditional method undergo two separate fermentations.  The first, which is usually carried out in tanks, creates what is known as the base wine, which is still–no bubbles. If the wine in question is a non-vintage blend, the base still wines will be blended according to whatever style and quality requirements exist for the given produced to produce a unified flavor for the brand; or still wines from a given year will be blended together (which is likely what happened with this wine in question).  This process, known as assemblage, ends with the blended wine put into bottles, along with a mixture of yeast and sugar to kick off a secondary fermentation.  The bottles are then closed with the same sort of cap you see on a beer bottle. (In case you wanted to expand your French wine terms, this mix is known as the liqueur de tirage).

Next up, the bottles are then placed on their sides in cellar environments, while that secondary fermentation begins.  It is this secondary fermentation that creates the CO2 which gets trapped to become bubbles. After the second fermentation is complete the wines are left ‘sur lie‘ (resting on its lees – wine terminology for the dead yeast cells in each bottle) for any period of time the winemaker wishes. This could range from a mere 6 months to upwards of several years, like in the case of this vintage. The longer the wine rests on these lees, the more amino acids and other compounds that are in the dead yeast cells will break down and be released into the wine.  Known as autolysis, this process is what adds toast, bread, and the yeasty character and aromas that are often associated with higher-end vintages made in this style.

The final steps of this process are known as remuage and disgorgement, where the lees are removed from the bottle.  The bottles are carefully rotated and shaken and slowly moved upside down so that the sediment in the bottle is slowly moved towards the neck of the bottle. This process is known as riddling–it can either be done by hand, or by automatic machinery.  After the sediment has been gathered to this part of the bottle, the material must be disgorged–something done by freezing the neck of the bottle in a freezing brine bath. After being frozen, the cap is removed, and the bottle of frozen lees sediment will shoot out.  The final step of this disgorging process is quickly topping off the bottle with a mixture known either as the dosage or ‘liqueur d’expédition. This is a mixture of wine and sugar, the amount of which is determined based on the eventual style of the wine.  As an example, the dosage for the  RJR Brut Cuvée probably contained somewhere between 6g and 15g/l of sugar; pretty standard for wines labeled as ‘Brut’.

After this, the bottle is closed with the traditional Champagne-style cork, with the wire cage (known as a muselet) and foil. The wine can now wait and age as long as the winemaker demands before being released to the adoring public. These styles of wine can age very well; as evidenced by our reaction to this bottle in the podcast.

RJR Cuvee Westport Rivers Winery
The 2007 RJR Brut Cuvée is our tasty introduction to the world of the Traditional Method sparkling wine – the same method used to make classics such as Champagne, Cava, Franciacorta, and others the world over.

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 23: Rhode Island

The smallest state in the US, as it turns out, has a wine industry that rivals some of the biggest states.  Rhode Island is about the same size as the Greater Phoenix metropolitan area but has almost three times as many wineries as the capital of Arizona!  With 13 licensed and bonded wineries, the state (okay, technically Commonwealth) of Rhode Island has one of the most vibrant winery scenes in New England.

The history of wine in Rhode Island begins in 1663 when KingCharles II of England specifically included wine production among the land uses approved in the royal charter which established Rhode Island as a British colony.  As in so many other parts of the United States, the nascent wine industry in the region was wiped out by Prohibition in the early 20th century.  The industry picked up again in 1975 with the opening of Carolyn’s Sakonnet Vineyard, located near Little Compton.  Half of Rhode Island lies within the Southeastern New England AVA, and most of the wineries found in the state are found in this region, with few exceptions. (Key among these exceptions is Verde Vineyards, which we will hopefully meet in a later episode in season 2 of this podcast.)

The wine we’ve chosen to look at for our first look at Rhode Island viticulture is the NV Gemini Red from Newport Vineyards, which is a blend of 50% Merlot, with varying percentages of Landot Noir (a French-American Hybrid), Pinot Noir, and Cabernet Franc.  This bottle was acquired by yours truly on the same trip I acquired the 2014 Cinco Cães for our Massachusetts episode. That episode also happened to be our introduction to the Southeastern New England AVA–in this episode, however, Gary and I focus a bit more on the nature and purpose of wine blends.

Cabernet Franc Count: 5

rhode island
The Gemini Red from Newport Vineyards is our introduction to Rhode Island wines.

Episode Seven: New Mexico

In Episode Seven, we focus on New Mexico, Arizona’s Neighbor to the East. The wine in question is the 2015 Barrel Select Pinot Noir, from Gruet. Gruet Winery is one of the oldest wineries in New Mexico, specializing mostly in sparkling wines, but they have some still wines available also.

I will admit right off the bat that this wine blew me (and Gary) away, and neither of us are huge fans of Pinot Noir from the USA, as heretical as that might sound.  Take a listen, and learn about the oldest wine producing area in the continental United States–no, seriously, it’s older than California.

This wine was provided by Gary Kurtz, who acquired it from the Gruet tasting room in Albuquerque, New Mexico for this podcast.

2015 Barrel Select Pinot Noir
The 2015 Barrel Select Pinot Noir from Gruet is tasty, and beautiful.

Episode Five: Oregon

In episode five of the Make America Grape Again Podcast, we move to the Pacific Northwest and meet one of the most infamous grapes of all: Pinot Noir. (At least, it was after the release of the film ‘Sideways,’ which jumped Pinot sales by a tremendous margin.)

The Willamette Valley AVA of Oregon is world-renowned for producing some of the best Pinot Noir to be found in the New World… but is it, really? This avowed non-fan of New World Pinot Noir puts the region to the test. This episode also provides an introduction to the idea of rosé: how it’s made, why it’s made, and just why is it so damn delicious? The fact of the matter is that in this day and age, rosé is finally cool to drink again. (Thank God! Real Men can drink Rosé now!)

The wine used in this episode of the Make America Grape Again Podcast is the Elk Cove Vineyards 2016 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir Rosé, acquired by yours truly at AZ Wine Company in Scottsdale, AZ.

In other exciting news, I have successfully passed the CSW exam! This means I am now officially certified for drinking and knowing things.

Episode 5
The 2016 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir Rosé from Elk Cove Vineyards provides our introduction to Oregon.