This summer, I spent a breezy August day with pioneering natural winemaker Angiolino Maule and his family and friends, exploring the vineyards of Gambellara (nearby a more famous region, that of Soave, in the Veneto, northern Italy); learning the backstory behind his foray into natural winemaking in the early days of the movement; hearing about his natural wine association VinNatur; and talking about skin contact winemaking, a topic that fascinates me endlessly. (“Skin contact” wine is also called “orange wine,” but I prefer the term “skin contact” because it’s more accurate and also because the wine can be a dark golden hue, rather than orange.)
And if you love Italian natural wine, and happen to live in New York, consider swinging by the launch party for Terre, to be held at the fantastic wine bar Have & Meyer in Brooklyn, just before the start of RAW Wine Fair. Winemakers will be in attendance and we’ll be drinking their juice at special prices.
Terre has been printed, and is soon to be shipped out, to arrive your way shortly. (If you didn’t order a copy, see if there’s a stockist near you; I will also be selling copies at RAW in Brooklyn.) I really hope you enjoy the stories, artwork, and photography, and look forward to your feedback! I alsoREALLY look forward to taking a break in December for a few weeks, because these past five months of working on Terre while traveling have been incredibly enriching, but also exhausting.
But don’t worry: as soon as I’ve had a little vacation, I’ll get to work on Terre, Issue 2! Thanks to all of you who have supported the project; it’s still amazing to me that it went from an idea in our heads, to actual reality, something you’ll soon be holding in your hands.
Whether you prefer the “doom and gloom” approach to writing about climate change, or perhaps yearn for more of a “think critically and talk solutions” framework, there is no denying (unless you’re our sorry excuse for a fake president) that it’s happening. With regard to agriculture especially, there will be drastic and far-reaching consequences of rising temperatures, and the world is going to have to respond.
I’m a big believer in bottom-up change, and I think it’s interesting to glimpse what’s happening in the winemaking world, to see how people are anticipating the effects of global warming. That’s one of the reasons I honed in on a young woman named Krista Scruggs for my latest piece on Vice MUNCHIES. She is working with hybrid grapes in off-the-beaten-path viticultural regions like Vermont and Texas, despite having started out her career with Constellation Brands in Central California. Part of Krista’s mission, which she has adopted while apprenticing for the passionate and studious Deirdre Heekin of La Garagista, is to prove that hybrid grapes are not “second class citizens” to vitis vinifera. As we continue to observe the effects of climate change, it’s worth asking whether her quest may become more and more relevant.
But the other reason I wanted to write about Krista is that she doesn’t fit the mold of your typical winemaker. The wine industry is not only overwhelmingly male, as has often been pointed out; it’s also mainly made up of white, heteronormative people. Let’s hope that increased diversity in this industry, as more people like Krista come into the fold, will lead to deeper and more progressive conversations about issues like sustainability, climate change, and supporting innovation from the ground up (literally).
Read my feature about Krista Scruggs and her quest to prove the worth of hybrid grapes on Vice MUNCHIES, here. In ten years, we may all be drinking Ruby Cab from Texas instead of Napa Valley Cabernet–and in the best case scenario, that won’t be just because of climate change; it will be due to the delicious, exciting wines coming from young winemakers like Krista. Happy Friday!
Probably should have posted this at the beginning of the weekend, but I was, uh, busy eating brunch? Anyway, for your future brunch needs, I’m in the April issue of Wine Enthusiast magazine sharing some expert pairing tips for wines that go well with easy brunch dishes. Check it out on newsstands, or read at the link here. (p.s. I believe that I am the first person to write about pét-nat in the printed pages of this magazine!)
also, just for fun, here’s this photo I found on the Internet:
In our culture, bubbly wines are too often reserved for special occasions or celebrations. But I strongly believe that, first of all, every day should be celebrated just a little bit, and definitely with delicious wine and food–and secondly, sparkling wines can be handcrafted, terroir-expressive wines with incredible flavor and personality. Bubbly is also fun because it comes in so many different forms–pét-nat, true Champagne and methode champenoise, off-dry, etc–and it’s so light and fresh and delicious.
On March 15th, for one night only, I’m pairing up with chef Nick Korbee at Egg Shop in Nolita, for a special 5-course meal featuring exceptional sparkling wines, with dishes paired to go with them. (Yes, we chose the wines first, and then decided on the dishes!) It’s going to be a lot of fun–the perfect mid-week, and mid-March, pick-up–and I’d love to see you there. Tickets can be purchased via this EventBrite link; there are two seatings but space is very limited, so act quickly. If you’re the kind of person who likes to dine solo (like me!), you’ll enjoy the spots at the bar, and you can high five me as I run around the restaurant like a crazy person with magnums of Gamay rosé. Oh, and there will be a special welcome cocktail, too, courtesy of Boukman Rhum. See you there on the 15th!
When the wines of an exciting, new European producer hit our shores here in New York, we all tend to go a little crazy.
Bat shit crazy, you might even say.
When Michael Völker and Melanie Drese moved to Franconia, Germany, where Michael grew up, to try their hand at making completely natural wine, they heard stories that bat guano had once been a very popular fertilizer. Bat shit, apparently, is in fact very high in nitrogen—about 10 percent. Of course, today most growers tend to use chemical fertilizer, having accepted modern ideas about farming.
But Michael and Melanie were determined to make wine with nothing added, and nothing taken away—starting with the vineyards.
It takes courage to give up a nice, stable salaried job in a fantastic city like London, and move back to the fairly unknown (as in, not famous like Burgundy) wine region you hail from. The family winery that Michael grew up around was almost entirely conventional with respect to agriculture and vinification. His father had converted a vineyard just over 2ha in size to organic, but the effort wasn’t ongoing.
But Michael and Melanie had fallen in love with natural wine, starting in 2012, when their local London retailed turned them onto sulfur-free, organic juice. So, when they decided to leave their publishing jobs in London and return to Franconia, a region in the southern state of Bavaria where Sylvaner and Muller-Thurgau grow predominantly, they were determined to attempt pure, non-interventionist winemaking. This wasn’t really so easy— the area didn’t have a large support base for natural wine as some regions do (with the exception of Stefan Vetter), so there were no mentors to show Michael and Melanie the way.
“How to fix a problem without sulfur or chemicals, nobody can teach you,” said Michael as he poured the 2NaturKinder (Zwei NaturKinder) wines for me at La Dive Bouteille a few weeks back. The winemaker employed by Michael’s father could sometimes lend a hand with certain things—like plowing the vineyards with a tractor, which he does—but in terms of natural winemaking, Michael and Melanie are self-taught. They were lucky—their first vintage, in 2013 turned out fairly well, and their wines are now served at international hotspots like Noma, Septime, and Breda.(And they are set to arrive in the U.S. soon.)
In 2015, Michael and Melanie launched another line, Vather & Sohn, which in part pays homage to the clientele that already existed for the winery—meaning, people who prefer sulfited, more stable, unfunky wines—but is also a really smart business strategy. These wines, essentially, have small amounts of sulfite additions, and Natural wine enthusiasts will be most excited about the 2NaturKinder wines, but the Vater & Son line helps Michael and Melanie run their business, and provides them with the freedom to do what they want with 2NaturKinder.
As to the aforementioned bats: Michael has been using nitrogen-rich bat guano as fertilizer, and he installed bird boxes in his vineyards to encourage their presence. “Bats need orientation points to find their way around, like houses, walls,” he explained to me—which means that in large, monoculture vineyards, they are rarely seen. One of Michael’s vineyards is basically in the middle of town, so bats can navigate quite well there. A small percentage of revenue from this vineyard’s wine (a wine called “Fledermaus”—see here for details) goes toward an organization focused on supporting the rare (and quite adorable) gray big-eared bat species.
The 2NaturKinder wines receive zero sulfite additions, and they are all very dry—those are the two constants, but everything else is variable per each wine. The most well-known here in New York is the “Bat-Nat” pét-nat, made from Schwarzriesling (aka Meunier) grapes grown in the guano-fertilized vineyard. It’s a light red color, fresh with medium acidity and a satisfying red grapefruit note.
Michael and Melanie make two other pét-nats; there’s one they made for the first time in 2016 from the grape Bacchus, a cross between Sylvaner and Riesling. The wine is fruit and fizzy, full of white peaches. I would call it a guzzler, meant for enjoying on a warm afternoon or with snacks as aperitif.
Then there’s a Sylvaner pét-nat that sees 24 hours of skin contact; it’s full of mouth-watering acidity, and very fresh and drinkable.
The 2NaturKinder pét-nats are not disgorged; this is partly to keep the winemaking simple—but it also allows Michael and Melanie to avoid Germany’s sparkling wine tax. They are all completely dry, as well.
Michael and Melanie make a lot of wine and each one is very particular; I’ll direct you to their very useful website for further details. Of the still wines, I found the “Heimat” Sylvaner, which had about two weeks on the skins, to be really interesting—it was salty, citric, with rich mouthfeel. The 2NaturKinder wines (including the Vater & Sohn line, which is worth checking out) are imported into the U.S. via Jenny & Francois, with whom I had the pleasure of galavanting around the Loire during all these natural wine fairs. I found the Bat-Nat at Natural Wine Co in Williamsburg. Go get some!
Oh, and the above professional photos (not my little pic of the Bat-Nat) were taken by the talented Holger Riegel. Check out his website and follow him on IG. Thanks, Holger!
We are all going to need a lot of wine this holiday season, yes? It’s time for some really good bubbly. Try one of the bottles I’ve recommended for Vogue.com, and make sure to pop that cork nice and loud to give a big F-YOU to a terrible, emotional year; here’s hoping for a better one. Read my recommendations for holiday sparklers on Vogue.com, here.
Happy holidays, and THANK YOU to all of you who actually take the time to read (or help with) my work, who send feedback, who have said clinked glasses with me at events or perhaps even poured me a glass. Really, truly, thank you.