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Journal

Natty Burgundy

Natty Burgundy

Natty Burgundy 

It sounds a bit like an oxymoron.

If you ask ten people what 'natural wine' means, you'll get one answer and a thousand opinions. There really isn't much of a dispute on what natural means anymore (organic farming, minimal intervention, smaller production). The drama lies in the periphery -- the false claims, one hit wonders, and (if we’re being honest) Instagram. Natty wines have a look, feel, and marketing that we're as much a part of as anyone. And it's not Burghound
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A few months back, we started talking about our love for 'Natty Burgundy' and our desire to find more. The cool stuff: negoce Grenache at Burgundy prices or Pinot Noir in qvevri. The wry term stayed with us for some reason: a wine made in a region deeply entrenched in tradition and history, and certainly not organic farming. In an old interview, Jenny Lefcourt of Jenny & Francois ruminates on these same topics, remarking, "the Loire is different from Burgundy. There are walls in Burgundy." Intended to speak to the beauty of the Loire, Jenny's comment also alludes to the natural wine movement's value of openness and inclusion. Almost five years later, we’re still wondering: Is Natty Burgundy a thing? 

We posed this question to Benjamin de Longuerue of Terrestrial Wine Co. He talked about how it's insanely expensive to make wine in Burgundy, but also very lucrative. When asked what it means to make natural wine in Burgundy, he spoke to producers looking beyond tradition, especially when it comes to winemaking decisions in the cellar. Frederic Cossard is one such producer; in his case, he's trying to move completely away from barrels for elevage to concrete and qvevri. Instead of making tightly wound, tannic, age-worthy wines, the goal is to produce wines to drink and enjoy now. Jean Luc of MC2 Imports also echoes this point, though in general is wary of the term 'Natty Burgundy.' He points to producers, like Vincent Thomas of Domaine de La Chappe, who are making sans soufre wines that are fun, accessible, and not pretentious, with labels that communicate this aim.

Nadim Audi, Partner at Selection Massale, distinguished two categories of Natty Burgundy: traditionally farmed (sustainable/organic) but recognizably Burgundy, and those carrying all the overt markers of nattyness like skin contact or carbonic maceration. What came up in both categories was the impact of cost and value. He said he is of the generation that came into wine too late to broach the greats of the region given their price points, but is now sitting through tastings with $100 Burgundies that all taste like Beaujolais (insert string of emojis here). 

Steven Graf, wine importer of Julian Altaber's wines, argues that though producers like Beru and Altaber are exploring a variety of styles of vinification (i.e., maceration and even infusions), these producer's wines and business positions are a product of the region. Though there is contention between the AOC system and producers, Graf iterates that it's important to understand that even "traditional Burgundy practices 'natural' techniques like biodynamics, minimal SO2, and the like. DRC is practicing biodynamic agriculture, for example."

Everyone spoke to the idea that it's extremely difficult to truly farm organically in a region that's so densely planted and with such tight regulations. In an interview with Bern of wineterroirsJulien Guillot says that producers like he and Altaber are always in the "crosshairs of the system because [our] wines are not square, polished and predictable." He cited the example of when five winemakers had a cuvée banned at the agreement commission: Philippe Pacalet, Dominique Derain, Laurent Tripoz (for sparklings), himself (for the Macon Cruzille Blanc Aragonite), and Philippe Valette

We asked one of our favorite UK importers and writers, The Vine Trail, for an outside perspective. Partner Jean-Remi Barris says that the term ‘natty’ never really caught on in the UK and, as a business, they steer away from the term 'natural' because it's so connected to the work in the cellar, which is only one part of the equation. But he said the conversation around natural wine in Burgundy is interesting because the success of recent years (as well as premox) has made many vignerons overcautious. Barris believes it’s time to take some risks and move forward. Many wines, especially the whites, are made with incredibly high levels of sulfur, which completely kills the wines and makes any kind of evolution nearly impossible. Those wines go from being young, as if frozen in time, to being old, he says.

Initially, this piece started as a fun exploration of a ridiculous phrase. However, the more we discussed with people, the more intrigued we became. Natty wine has always had an anti-establishment, punk rock undercurrent, with a tinge of both arrogance and irreverence. It communicates the fitting idea that winemakers are pushing back against The Man. But what happens when Burgundy becomes natural...or punk becomes mainstream? Can natty wine still be natty when it's $250/bottle?  When we first visited Ariane Lesne in the Loire, she talked about loving Burgundy. Like, of course she'd love to make wine there. But she couldn't. She's not a millionaire. So, she had to make wine influenced by a love of Burgundy elsewhere. And that freedom allowed her to master an obscure (but beautiful) grape, Pineau d'Aunis, in an overlooked part of France.

Economics, value, and price are intrinsically linked to the idea of natural wine, whether a false or now vestigial structure. What we do know is that these producers (Altaber, Chisa Bize, Valette, and so on) are more closely aligned to D.C. punks from the 1980’s than the straight-laced stereotype of a Burgundy collector. It takes guts, frustration, and a bit of money to fight the system in the place that invented it. In a region with centuries of winemaking history, it will take time and context to really see whether the natural wine movement of the 21st century impacts Burgundy. For now, we just say bring on the Salad Days. 

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Cutter Cascadia

CUTTER CASCADIA hails from the dramatic, picturesque hills of Oregon's Columbia River Gorge. Michael Garofola's wines always express place but what's most striking about them is how they also speak to the temporal, joyful role of wine (see: Strawberry Mullet Rosé). Coming out of his fourth vintage (two of which were fire vintages, as in literal fires), we asked him about the impacts of the 2020 fires and kept it lit with an MFK. 

Marry, Fuck, Kill with Disco, Muscadet, Mushrooms

Marry: Muscadet, Fuck: Mushrooms, Kill: Disco

Tough call on marry/fuck. Let's face it: Muscadet is what I need but mushrooms are what I want...maybe I can assume I will have a prolonged affair with psilocybin and marry Muscadet for their dependability and grace. As far as killing disco, I'm just not that good of a dancer unless there's Muscadet and psilocybin around so it's kind of a chicken or egg thing. 
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Talk to us about the 2020 fires in connection with past years

2020 was my second fire vintage in four years. There were some major differences from my perspective in the Gorge. In 2017, the year of the Eagle Creek fire, the vineyard I source Dolcetto from (von Flowtow), was about 25 miles from the epicenter of the fire. Western Hood River was in Stage 2 evacuation orders and it hit two weeks post veraison** -- that vineyard was under smoke for about three weeks.

In contrast, the 2020 fires, which affected literally every vineyard on the West Coast it seemed, was quite different. First, with the exception of the Mosier fire that happened a few weeks earlier but was put out very quickly, there were no active fires close to either Hillside (The Dalles) or von Flowtow (Hood River) and the smoke stuck around for about 10-12 days although it affected the vineyard around the same window as the 2017 fires (i.e., post veraison). That being said, the western to central Gorge got shellacked by smoke from Hood River, Underwood, and Mosier, whereas The Dalles seems to be less affected. I'm not exactly sure as to why, but I do know there's a pretty consistent wind that comes in from the northwest at Hillside every afternoon and perhaps that kept the smoke and ash off the clusters and pushed it all out to the south. The foreman at Hillside even sent some lab samples in for guaiacol and it came back negative although maybe some stuff in the lower blocks were affected. 
In the winery, the only fruit in 2020 I had full on smoked was the Dolcetto from Hood River (like in 2017) although it was very different on a sensorial level from the very beginning. The smoke expressed itself completely differently than the 2017. The 2017 Dolcetto expressed itself more like tobacco, specifically like a black cherry pipe tobacco my old man used to smoke in his pipe when I was a kid. The 2020 (as of this moment) tastes more like bacon fat and dates (aka Devils on Horseback) and is a bit more plush from a fruit perspective, which I can't entirely be mad about.
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But the real gut punch that could be affiliated in an indirect way to the fires was bird damage. While we know fires kill and displace birds, I lost about 40ish% of the block to birds and have a feeling the massive fires pushed them away from their homes as they sought the safe havens far away from the epicenter of the fires. This is ultimately conjecture, but it makes sense to me. Granted, bird damage is a thing, especially for late ripening grapes like Dolcetto in a cool climate, but I have NEVER seen the devastation I saw this last year. We don't have netting, have never needed netting, but when I drove up the driveway on the day of the pick and noticed half the vineyard gone, it was a sinking feeling in my stomach I will never forget so we will always have netting from here out... trust. 

**Veraison is the onset of ripening on the grapes.

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Artemisia Bitters By Anisah Baylor

Artemisia Bitters By Anisah Baylor

The history of bitters goes back to ancient times. Some credit Renaissance alchemist Paraceleus as the inventor; others Dr. Johann Siegert (the Angostura Bitters founder). But they’re older than that; most of the early civilizations had some form of a fermented or infused elixir to cure illnesses. There's evidence in ancient Egypt that people were infusing botanicals into wine, while in China they did the same with fermented rice beverages. Bitters, in the basic sense of the word, are made from water or alcohol infused with spices and herbs -- typically roots, barks, dried fruits, and flowers. Bitters also express terroir. Ancient brewers would use the plant life around them to make these tinctures, much like how wine producers choose to use indigenous grapes.

One of our favorites new bitters is the Quercus by Artemisia, a rural Virginia farm and vineyard run by Kelly Allen and Andrew Napier. Quercus is everything you love about oak outside of wine. Its smells of raw earth, like the dense parts of Rock Creek Park. (It would add a nice woody flavor to meats or veggies if you can't make it to a grill.) Artemisia focuses on expressing the energy of mid-Atlantic terroir, and the first time Kelly and Andrew came to the shop for a tasting they mostly talked about their love of this region. Because their farm is still in the developing stages, there's only so much they can source from their own land at the moment. However, they work with producers who focus on “sustainable production and fair-trade wages for their farmers.” Right now, they have four different expressions: Junio, elder; Aestas, sumac; Incendia, smoked cherry; and Quercus, oak. (Have a look at their website to see their full beauty when you get a chance.)

I've found these bitters are great for altering other liquids. Try adding them to sparkling water or coffee, or use them to make a syrup (for a way to extract the flavors without alcohol). And there are two cocktail recipes that I think best capture their spirit. The first is a version of an Upside Down Manhattan: Wurmut Erborista — another product that focuses on micro-terroir — plus both the Aestas and Incendia bitters. The second is a take on a Trinidadian Sour and uses a full ounce of Quercus; it fully expresses the oak in the bitters without scaring you, and you instantly feel surrounded by fire and earth. The notes of tobacco and nutmeg linger on your palate in the most thought provoking way, while the lemon is reminiscent of the summer sun.

Topsy Turvy Rum Manhattan
1 oz Smith and Cross Jamaican Rum
2 oz Erborista Wermut
1 full dropper of Aestas bitters
1 full dropper of Incendia bitters
Instructions: Add your ingredients to a vessel, stir for about 15-20 rotations, strain into glassware (a rocks glass is best but use whatever you have), and finish with an orange twist
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Virginidadian, or Virginian Sour 
.5 oz Johnny Drum Bourbon
1 oz Quercus bitters
.75 oz fresh lemon juice
.75 oz ginger syrup
(1:1 crushed ginger in water to sugar)
Instructions: Combine your ingredients into a shaker tin, shake hard for about eight seconds, and strain (double strain for a smoother foam) into a coupe glass

 

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  • MOUSE
  • Rebekah Pineda

MOUSE

MOUSE

All Mouse, All The Time
Been thinking a lot about why so many wines taste mousy now. Decided to interview some really smart people (thanks, Pascaline, Lee, Raj, Martha, and Joey) to figure out what’s happening. Wrote a long piece about it. Keeping this short. Thx for reading.

Why does every wine taste mousy now?
by Jeff Segal

There’s something that’s been taking up space along the margins of my sanity over the past few years. It began in earnest in 2016. Every wine suddenly started tasting mousy. I’m being a bit hyperbolic, but only a little. And it’s been an unrelenting ascent since then. I taste multiple mousy wines every single day at this point. Then, a few months ago, I hit a breaking point when I opened a new vintage from one of my favorite producers in the world and it was undrinkable.

If you’re uninitiated with the wine fault that is mouse, here’s the elevator pitch. It’s a compound called tetrahydropyridine (THP for short) that makes wine taste like the inside of a mouse cage or, at best, stale cereal grain. It’s not aromatic until it comes into contact with saliva, so you can’t smell it. And somewhere between 30-50% of people can’t even taste it due to the relative pHs of our mouths. Personally, I hate it. It quickly takes over a wine; once it’s there, all I can taste is mouse cage (at least my brain’s rendering of a cage with a mouse residing inside of it).

The first time that I really remember tasting mouse in a wine was in 2007. It was an Aglianico from Cantina Giardino (a producer that I love, I’m actually drinking their Volpe Rossa while writing this). I remember turning to somebody and asking if they too thought the wine tasted like rancid Captain Crunch. They looked at me like wtf is wrong with you and finished my bottle.

I asked Lee Campbell – natty wine OG, wine consultant, sommelier – when she first recalled tasting mouse. She said, “I wish I could know the first time I tasted mouse. It's like one of those ‘tree falling in the woods’ things. Was it definitely present in some of the first natural wines I tried in the early aughts? I know there were stability issues with the wines, but when did we designate mouse as a particular characteristic? Here's what I do know...sometime in the early aughts, Alice Feiring started calling mouse, ‘puppy's breath.’”

But Lee thinks that mouse really started to become a thing a decade or so later. As she put it, by 2012, “mouse was now demanding to be taken SRSLY. We were beginning to feel encroached upon. This shit wasn't going away.”

And then, like some zombie movie where the characters start to debate whether life really is better when they eat flesh, the narrative shifted. People started to defend mouse. Like, really defend mouse. Mouse became some kind of aesthetic choice, a variant on how we expect wine to taste, an expression of umami. This is how wine used to be before our palates became commercialized. It’s real wine. It’s art. Mouse is authenticity.

Whether you’re a believer in mouse or not, it's pretty clear that mouse is just more prevalent now. Natural wine presents so many possible explanations: the zero sulfur movement, the rise of carbonic maceration, insatiable demand for glou glou, sloppy work by new winemakers looking to become friends with Action Bronson.

And then there’s a factor that has nothing to do with natural wine.

Pascaline Lepeltier – one of the figureheads of natural wine in the US and the first woman to win the Best Sommelier of France award – points to our changing climate. She says that mouse isn’t the problem, it’s “in fact a symptom that we can taste of what’s changing in the world around us. Climate change is affecting our yeast and bacteria populations.” According to Pascaline, mouse always existed but its recent uptick is primarily about the confluence of three factors: the evolution of farming, less intervention in winemaking, and the effects of warmer temperatures on wine grapes. Climate change is creating different microbiological activities while raising the pH of wine grapes worldwide (giving them less bacteria-neutralizing acids), right as winemakers are trying to be more hands off in the vines and the cellar.

One specific intervention (or lack thereof) that Pascaline points to is the use of less copper and sulfur in the vineyard and the winery. That likely has consequences on the inhibition of certain bacteria at a time when higher grape pHs also mean there isn’t a built-in environment to regulate them. When you couple that with practices like more lees involvement -- aka: integrating the dead yeast cells and other spent particles that settle after fermentation back into wine -- and other oxygenating factors (the oxidation of alcohol coming from riper grapes is an important trigger for the production of mouse), you’re talking about a perfect environment for certain yeast and bacteria at a critical time in the life of a wine, i.e. during fermentation.

Winemaker and sommelier Raj Parr says he’s made over 1,000 cases of zero zero wine and hasn’t dealt with mouse, which he attributes to keeping his cellar at 55 degrees, being very careful with oxidation, and, most importantly, harvesting grapes with low enough pHs to not require sulfur. Raj points to the same intersection of high pH bacteria and cellar practices that only worsen the problem. He specifically looks at the trend toward winemakers, “not topping up wines and making wines in warmer cellars, which affects dissolved CO2 and plays a big part in the microbial balances of the wines, especially when there are higher pHs involved.” 

Fellow California winemaker Martha Stoumen looks at a much more specific climate-related factor: higher grape pHs (again, from higher temperatures) forcing wines to go through malolactic fermentation before they’re finished with their primary fermentation. This gives them plenty of sugar with no malolactic acid left – a dream scenario for hungry bacteria. As Martha puts it, “it makes sense, the bacteria have lots of food to eat and nothing to stop them.” She’s seen this in two of her wines, her only two wines to ever be mousy, both of which she turned into brandy (“luckily it turns out that mouse doesn’t distill”).

I asked Martha specifically about California and why there seems to be less mouse there. More sulfur used to be the obvious answer, but there are plenty of zero zero producers out West now. She points to relatively low pHs, especially in coastal areas, and the presence of tannins. Indeed, in my own experience, tannin may be mouse’s magic bullet. I’ve tasted very few wines with both grippy tannins and mouse. But Martha says that California’s move toward increased carbonic maceration might threaten its relative paucity of mouse. Carbonic leads to an environment that really favors active bacteria: less malic acid, plenty of sugar, and yeast slowed down by colder fermentations. It’s taken off because of natural wine’s love of, as Martha puts it, the “aroma-driven, featherweight style,” which now has even classic winemakers suppressing the things that help regulate active bacteria in wine, like acid and tannin. 

I wanted to talk to a brewer, as they understand bacteria and high pH environments better than anyone, so I reached out to Joey Pepper, the head brewer at Folksbier, because a) Folksbier Glow Ups are straight manna for Domestique, and b) he’s also really into natural wine. Joey said that in beer it’s all about controlling THP, either by producing beer where it’s kept below threshold through multiple fermentations, or by allowing for enough time before release for it to clear up. As for wine, Joey thinks that, “wines simply aren't given enough time to correct themselves or even put in the position to do so.”

Whenever we get a mousy wine at Domestique, we put it away in the cellar and revisit every few months. What you find is that the bottles taste different each time – the mouse is in constant evolution, waxing and waning along with the other elements of the wine. Raj says that’s really how we should view it. Not “is the mouse there or not there?” But, rather, “is it getting better or worse over time?” And Pascaline noted that the science backs up that outlook. One of mouse's molecules "metabolizes over time into a form which is considered to be 100 times harder to detect" (and thereby imperceptible to pretty much everyone). Simply keeping the wines for longer, especially in bottle, might do the trick.

But here’s the thing. All mouse, all the time isn’t our predetermined destiny. As Lee puts it, “many of the OG vignerons who once produced mousy cuvées here and there have better learned their craft and mastered their terroir, and no longer make wines with mouse.” 

I think that “mastered their terroir part” is really important. Climate change isn’t going anywhere; higher grape pHs are going to be the norm. Yet really talented winemakers are learning how to combat mouse while still making natural wine. Sure, it might mean a bit of sulfur. But it also means things like picking earlier, fermenting hotter, topping up, colder cellars, longer elevage, releasing later, and keeping a closer eye on pretty much everything.

Every wine doesn’t have to taste mousy. But this thing that’s been bothering me isn’t likely to go away on its own. The world is warmer, grapes are reacting, yeast and bacteria are reacting, and wine is going to be fundamentally different. Mouse isn’t likely to be the last symptom of this that we see (e.g., the severe frost that looks to have hit many major wine regions in France last night and could wipe out entire vintages).

I’ve been pushing myself to make my own view of it more dynamic. More holistic. Sometimes in a world that’s hot as shit, great winemakers are going to make mousy wines. The evolution of those wines is more interesting and more vital than simply identifying them at this point. Mouse is a messy reminder that nothing we inhabit is static. And, honestly, while I hate mousy wine, that’s a beautiful thing.

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Introducing La Montañuela

Introducing La Montañuela

Camila Carrillo is a winegrower in one of the most exciting new regions for wine in the U.S. (or arguably anywhere) right now: Vermont. Camila's first introduction to wine was working in a tasting room outside of the state's tiny capital, Montpelier, right after high school, during a time when conventional wine was ubiquitous there. A few life-changing weeks at an agriturismo in Italy opened her eyes to the possibility of an interconnected ecosystem that values agriculture beyond a singular product. She later spent almost three years working harvests with top producers in both hemispheres (in Australia's Adelaide Hills with Gentle Folk and Italy's Emilia-Romagna with La Stoppa).

Camila was hesitant to move back to her hometown and planned to put down roots out West, but changed her mind after meeting Deirdre and Caleb of La Garagista. When we spoke recently, she highlighted the importance of La Garagista's mentorship and support in both her personal story and ultimate trajectory. There are many challenges facing an upstart wine producer lacking the infrastructure and resources required to enter the gilded gates of winemaking. Camila labels under La Garagista, which allows her to focus on the farming and winemaking side of the business (a fantastic model in our opinion). 

Her first vintage in 2018 was three cuvees, all made with negoce fruit. In 2019, she purchased fruit again but also established a relationship with the owner of a local abandoned vineyard. She began growing grapes in addition to winemaking, moving production into her own hands from start to finish. This year, she purchased her own small plot. In part, she's following in the footsteps of her grandfather, who ran a farm in Venezuela and serves as the inspiration and namesake for La Montañuela.

Camila and I talked about many things, from nerding out on hybrids to discussing what we're reading. As two young BIPOC women in wine — and still outliers in the community — we know the power of a story within the natural wine world. Between social media, the allure of scarcity, and the draw of originality, Camila has a lot to decide when telling and sharing her story. We're both quiet listeners and doers; when I asked her how she wanted her story to be told, she didn't tell me a long saga or a play-by-play of every challenge she encountered (of which there were many). She just said she wants to be "a winegrower."

At Domestique, we constantly discuss the power of story, and sometimes the dangers of there being a single story (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie). There are many things that make Camila's wines so exciting (besides tasting great). Her story is one of an up-and-coming region, hybrid grape varieties, cold winters, and the quiet story of a grower. She acknowledges that she's still trying to figure out who she is in this industry, which in itself shows wisdom. In a world where the bold, definitive, and opinionated typically win out, it’s heartening to be able to round out the oftentimes singular depiction of a winemaker with stories like Camila’s.

We're thankful for José Pastor Selections, who's willing to invest in a broader depiction of what American wine looks and tastes like, and we're incredibly honored that Camila entrusted us to introduce her wines, and her story, to the world.


-Rebekah

Electric Waves of Light (AKA The Lineup)

Eléctrico Rose 2019  
Variety: Sabrevois 
Vineyard: Walpole Mountain View Winery, Walpole, New Hampshire 
Camila's notes: Electric and thirst quenching! A bright and lively little stunner that pairs well with salty cured meats and smoked fish. 

Lucho Red 2019 
Variety: St. Croix — whole cluster fermentation for 9 days
Vineyard: Ellison Estate Vineyard, Grand Isle, Vermont 
Camila's notes:  A lush, elegant, deep red wine with a playful fruitiness and bright acidity. Pairs well with a candle-lit dinner and old records of Boleros. 

'Los Enamorados' Pet Nat 2019
Variety: 26 varieties of wild apples from central Vermont and Champlain Valley + La Crescent and Frontenac gris grape skins. The cider was bottled at 2 brix on 5/18/20 for pet nat. No disgorgement. 
Camila's notes: “The Lovers” tells a story of a marriage between apples and grapes. This sparkling cider has a refreshing acidity and floral and gingery notes, and finishes off with beautiful texture.  

'Onda de Luz' Pet Nat 2020 
Variety: La Crescent 
Vineyard: Ellison Estate Vineyard, Grand Isle, Vermont. 
Camila's notes: Waves of light. Bursting with kumquats, blood orange, and a salty minerality. Pairs well with sunshine and raw oysters by the beach. 

(All were made with with no added sulfur & organic fruit.)

La Crescent & The University of Minnesota 
Hybrid grape varieties are oft misunderstood, connected to the idea of modernization and mad scientists. In reality, they date all the way back to the 1800's. Not to be confused with a cross (i.e. Cabernet Sauvignon), hybrids are a crossing of two different species. For example, hybrids can be a cross between the vines you know (Vitis vinifera) and those crazy tree climbers potentially in your backyard (another vitis like Vitis riparia). They're often created (as opposed to naturally occurring) to address issues like downy mildew, frost, or the original scourge, phylloxera. The University of Minnesota and Cornell have the two leading programs for developing, researching, and creating hybrid fruits of all kinds, from grapes to the more well-known plumcot. The difficulty of marketing, unknown names, and a staunch belief in "tradition" have given grape hybrids a difficult time taking root in European wine growing regions like France. Only recently, varieties like Regent are slowly becoming accepted in places like Germany.

In a short email exchange with Matthew Clark, Assistant Professor of Grape Breeding and Enology at the University of Minnesota, he told us that the program emerged over 100 years ago with the goal of growing grapes in the Midwest — still the focus of the program today. Questions abound as we explore this new world of hybrids. Namely, how do they connect to the values of natural wine? And what does the future look like? Clark said that the University does not work with native yeast when researching, and that vine age is not a priority when looking at a successful hybrid. It was an interesting exchange that spoke to the continued outlier status of both natural wine and small producers like La Montañuela within the world of wine, and especially in the U.S. where winemaking is often more conventional.

Every wine Camila works with is produced from hybrid grapes. And an ever increasing chorus of American winemakers, from Virginia to Vermont, argue that these disease-resistant varieties are the future. A glance at nursery websites provides a very simple way to observe that these varieties are not some strange mutant, but a way of addressing climate change and an expansion beyond 'traditional' wine-growing regions. Hybrids provide a unique lens through which to understand the challenges facing East Coast (and other marginal climate) growers. A great example is the hybrid La Crescent, which Camila uses. It was finally named in 2002 after fifteen(!) years of research by the University of Minnesota, and is a brilliant (and delicious) argument that the future of East Coast wine may indeed be connected to hybrids.

 

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Photos and Memory

Photos and Memory

Q & A with San Francisco based photographer Lauren Segal
She took the very first photos of Domestique when the shelves were half empty and everything smelled of wood. 
What have you been drinking during the pandemic? 
Up until recently, ranch waters and dirty gin martinis. But I'm on the low ABV train these days, and have been really into the NON bottles, and have also been making fun little fake cocktails with Seedlip. Some fresh squeezed citrus, a little soda water, some bitters and a splash of the Garden one and I'm happy.

How did you find your way to photography?
I was always the friend with the camera at parties- before most social media so it was more rare. It just kind of came naturally. I was really drawn to photojournalism early on, and that's what got me hooked but what I do now is the total opposite. 
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Wine has this ability to be both a fleeting and lasting memory with taste. What do you think about the memory as it relates to photography?
It really does change over time. You end up idealizing the best moments, maybe worshiping them a bit but that's ok! I've always felt like photography is like showing off little lies. No one knows what's going on right outside the frame, what you chose to omit, and often times there are all these people who are instrumental in creating something, but they are behind the scenes.
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What is the last great thing you read (online / book)? 
This piece in the NYT Magazine about the last couple of Northern White Rhinos that exist. It was really beautiful and it MESSED ME UP.
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Great taste...a thing or not? 
Absolutely a thing.
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Photo description (top photo): Shot this portrait real quick while I was shooting a musician (her name is Satya and she's wonderful, look her up). Anyway this is her sister Chloe, who helped me lug a bunch of C-stands and equipment around that afternoon. One of those people behind the scenes." 

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Dadaism and Surrealism

Q & A with owner Jeff Segal about art, wine, and retail
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Art seems to have been part of your life / a value of yours for a longtime. Could you briefly touch on its role in opening Domestique, if any? 
I've been "into" art and "into" wine (at least, they've always taken up space along the sidelines of my existence). But I don't think that I actually thought of them together (specifically, that art started to frame wine for me) until I became obsessed with natural wine. The expression and abstraction in natural wine made me consider wine in a more aesthetic light than I ever had before. And since then, I can't think of wine outside of art. I couldn't have opened Domestique without considering art as part of the process, because wine and art now live together in the same part of my brain.
In the art world, there are waves of 'taste' or movements in aesthetics... do you think the same could be said for wine? Where are we now?
The wine world definitely goes through waves of taste, just like the art world. I'd say right now we're somewhere in between Dadaism and Surrealism. I'm hoping we can speed up this part a bit and just arrive at Pop Art already.
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The last landscape you saw that amazed you? 
I'm pretty easy to please when it comes to landscapes. I think the world is full of shockingly beautiful places. I've been thinking about the mountains a lot recently. Colorado in the spring is fucking magical. But I often just find myself amazed looking out of my third-story bedroom window at Washington DC and all of its trees and beautiful row homes. 
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Is a winemaker an artist, artisan, or maker....does it even matter? 
Good winemakers are many things: farmers, tractor mechanics, janitors, and, yes, artists. 
photo by: Naoko Wowsugi 
drawing by: Nat Segal

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Publishing and the Wine World

Q & A with Maya Battle of Random House Publishing
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Can you tell us a little bit about your role at Random House?
My role spans a few disciplines under the marketing umbrella and is a great combination of all my previous roles in 13 years at Penguin Random House—advertising, content development, and promotional strategy. I specialize in using our consumer insights and an analysis of our most successful campaigns to scale up our efforts in support of upcoming titles and longtail promotions. The book publishing industry is changing constantly, but our love for storytelling doesn’t! There’s a book for everyone whether they think of themselves as readers or not, so it’s really all about matching the right stories with the right people in the spaces they are (online, right now, but back in person soon, we hope!). The fun part about that is finding the unique connections—like, what kinds of wine go well with the food mentioned in a novel about an Italian romance—that build communities and start conversations.
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What is one of your favorite sections in Black Futures (mine is Color(ed) Theory)?
 I love “Now More Than Ever” by Morgan Parker. It’s the lamest phrase to talk about serious issues that seemingly just became more relevant/a nameless “everyone” just started paying attention. I’m happy to see Parker point this out because it’s such a mainstream news cliché that often becomes the default indicator that marginalized stories have to be told now to make folks feel better about a collective pivot to taking inclusion more seriously. We been here! My now is always ever…wait, does that make sense??
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What  do you like to drink while reading / editing? 
Hooo, boy. I have to say that my favorite kind of readin’ wine is a nice Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. Something nice to sip, but not too funky (so as not to distract from the readin’!) and mid-priced so I don’t feel too bad about being out half a bottle 50 pages later.
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A couple weeks ago we talked a little bit about similarities in the wine and publishing world. Could you talk a little bit about how you see and address gatekeeping in publishing. 
That was a great conversation—so much is similar! Books and wine can really take you to a place. You don’t have to know much about books or wine to enjoy a great one—it’s all about finding the best quality, for the best price, for YOU. I think both industries have this aura of being highfalutin; there’s such a mystery in how subjective products are made and distributed, but a good gatekeeper curates a selection of products that demonstrates variety and a consistent quality. It also facilitates an experience vs. telling people what they should like or making them feel bad about something that supposedly everyone likes (it’s really never the case…maybe Popeye’s chicken sandwiches?). I like a $5 paperback thriller and an $8 Lambrusco and that’s just as okay as enjoying a $35 Nobel Prize-winner’s book with a $50 prosecco. A good gatekeeper ensures that both of these customers are getting a satisfying experience that’s authentic to your shared values. We’re doing the work of trying thousands of things to pick what we hope is truly special; shoppers have so many choices so we hope that curation makes it a little easier to have a high-quality experience without having to do as much work!
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Last thing you saw that brought you joy? 
I love this question. I’m a huge WWE fan and one of my favorite superstars is Bianca Belair. She’s incredibly talented in a million ways, but my favorite part about her is how hard she works and how much her success is genuinely a source of joy for her. It makes me so happy to see that black girl magic in professional wrestling! There was a short documentary about her that aired before a recent WWE pay-per-view and I legit sobbed through the whole thing, she bursts with so much life. Not embarrassed at all. And I think I was drinking a sauvignon blanc—that’s my go-to for weeping, haha.

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Do you drink at openings?

A short interview with Naoko Wowsugi about wine and a zine. 
Do you drink at openings?
Why not? I go to openings sometimes. When I go, I drink wine or bubbly water. Some drinks like PBR make my joints hurt. Do you know why?
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You recently have been trying to learn more about wine. How is that going?
I enjoy tasting wine. I am training my tongue to get the subtle differences of white wines. To be honest, my tongue is wasting all good wine since I have not cultivated my senses. I text Mr. Baguette to ask for good wine suggestions... I should have a natural wine mentor who knows biodynamic, as well. I am interested in learning about biodynamic farming. I have volunteered at an organic farm for [D.C. nonprofit] Bread for the City for a while. They have used a biodynamic method there. It was very interesting coz they believe if you talk to strawberries, they get sweeter. I would talk to wine to make it tastier. Could Domestique help me to find my natural wine mentor for me? Tell them I am vaccinated.
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One thing you are reading right now?
I am reading a Japanese book "Saibai Shokubutsu To Nōkō No Kigen (The Origin of Botany and Horticulture)" by Sasuke Nakao, Japanese botanist. This book talks about how horticulture is the root of all creative culture. This book is as inspirational as "The One-Straw Revolution" by Masanobu Fukuoka.
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What was the inspiration for your zine?
"Empathy Zone" was originally planned to have on-site group exhibitions in both Beijing and D.C. in 2020. Once COVID-19 entered our realities, we had to shift the project into a virtual format. We held virtual space for ongoing, in-depth conversations among four artists from Beijing: Li Linlin, Duan Shaofeng, Ye Su, and Yin Yadi as well as four artists from D.C.: Sobia Ahmad, Antonio McAfee, Joseph Orzal, and myself. Despite the travel ban, twelve-hour time difference, and language barriers, this project facilitated the artists making genuine connections on a human level and creatively collaborating to represent the globe as a large “Empathy Zone." This bilingual zine brought our online experience and exchange into a physical publication. The project was produced by majority Asians; this past week has been difficult for many AAPI peoples, as well as the rest of America so we hope this zine will foster the spirit of solidarity and harmony amongst all races and cultures.
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Spring Cleaning & Poison Ivy

Spring Cleaning & Poison Ivy

Conversations About Pruning for a Novice. 

Jessica Miller, Oregon vineyard manager & winemaker: Explaining The 
Basics:
One of the simplest and earliest descriptions of pruning still holds true for me today when explaining its importance, but also its simplicity: the story of the donkey that was let loose in the field. The donkey ravaged the vines, but the winegrower discovered their yields were doubled and stronger afterwards: the birth of pruning.

Easy Analogy:
I like to think of pruning as flower arranging. You are really trying to figure out canopy coverage and how to adjust for sun exposure based on previous vintages. Especially with climate change, a lot of pruning is based on protecting against sunburn.

Context:
Pruning is more than aesthetics and beliefs. It requires infrastructure, which can cost a lot of money. Some head-trained vines are really the result of cost-saving methods (a smart choice now for the West Coast). Though it's easy to look at the history of pruning and vine growth in the view of big Napa vs. small growers, it's actually a discussion that goes way back to regions like Burgundy and Sancerre and always has been debated. When I prune, I am always looking way beyond fifteen years; I want the vines I work to last beyond my lifetime, and that means thinking about sap flow carefully when pruning. But I am not the norm.

Choices: Once you decide on a method, it's almost impossible to change. Picking the wrong placement of a vineyard and pruning method can really make it impossible to grow grapes, especially with climate change (aka all this sun). 

Craig Haarmeyer, Haarmeyer Cellars: Context for Pruning as it Relates to Sourced Fruit 

Who helps you with the pruning? First off, since we seek out uncommon grape varieties in small quantities (relatively speaking), the farmers we approach are usually already fairly responsible in their practices. So when we find things we would like to adjust it's usually pretty easy. Pruning is normally performed by skilled labor hired by the vineyard owner and carried out per our agreed-upon specifications.

What does pruning mean for someone who purchases fruit vs. someone who owns a vineyard? If one sources, they will do something like what I mentioned above: Influence and direct farming as much as needed or is possible. It also means that sometimes we perform some of the work ourselves. In our smaller sites, my son and I will knock down weeds, prune, shoot position, sucker, and harvest. But that's the exception for us. We get our hands dirty but most labor is hired. If you own a vineyard, you usually either hire outside labor, or if you're big enough, you have your own full-time staff of vineyard folks. Smaller producers who own vineyards still usually rely on hired labor through a local vineyard management company. Very few tiny producers like us who own vineyards do all of the work themselves. It happens. Many of my friends in the biz do all or most of the work themselves. And, actually most of those folks don't own the land but lease the vineyards.

For the Wirz vineyard, do you know why the Riesling was head-trained? I can't say exactly why, but back in the day, they were still own-rooting, using furrow irrigation, and head training. Usually pretty wide spacing, too. Head training is just an old tradition in CA that has its origins in cost-saving and practicality. It's much cheaper to pound in a wooden stake, stick a plant at the base and be done with it. Trellising was too expensive for many.

James Jelks, Florez Wines: Pruning Isn't Too Tricky 

Who helps you with pruning? I typically prune alone and with the occasional friends helping out. That being said I have hired teams to help me finish if I run out of time against Spring. As I continue to take on vineyards I will probably have to work with hired teams more often, fortunately I have a good relationship with a couple of growers and can work closely with them to do a good job.

What is your approach? Think about sap flow, minimize pruning wounds, and forward thinking. It takes a second to wrap your head around grape vine anatomy and growth (it isn't too tricky, just takes a little learning) but one of the keys is thinking about how the pruning decisions this year will affect the next, and if you are remedying or trying to make a change it may be a multiple year process that you have to project in your mind.

What have you learned? I've learned a lot about disease and vine maladies. The vineyards I work with are leased and often you inherit years of different approaches. This year I have learned that pierce's disease has more of a presence than I once thought. Which is a bummer because it is aggressive and can kill a vine in 1-3 years. That isn't exactly pruning related, but you see it when you are pruning and touching every vine. It's a pleasure to work on a healthy vine and continue to send it in a good direction, and a bit of a bummer to work on a vine that may be salvageable or may be on its way out.

Do you dread or look forward to it? - I look forward to it, until buds start getting swollen and it's a mad dash to finish.

How do you prune your vines and what led you to that decision? The vineyards I work with are cane pruned, although they have been converted from cordon/spur pruning in years past. TBH it's a bit what I've inherited. If I were to establish my own vineyard I would opt for cane pruned, or head trained.

Are you finished? Just finished! Buds are swelling, and there is some bud break beginning!

Andrew Scott, Eminence Road Winery: Small Vineyards and Upstate Pruning- via email

Disclaimer: I am not the best person to answer these questions as I only have a small vineyard of about half an acre. The growers we work with in the Finger Lakes, who have many, many acres to get through, prune with the help of professional crews. Scott-Henry is probably the most common pruning style for vinifera in the FLX.

Talk a little about your approach. I prune the tiny vineyard myself. My approach is to try and find balance, be aware of sap flow and to not ask too much from the vine. I am still pretty bad at pruning but I am learning how to choose the best canes and to prune for the coming season as well as the next one. I'm growing self-rooted, French-American hybrid vines which are pruned either mid-wire cordon or top-wire cordon depending on the variety and what the nursery and vine breeders advise.

Do you dread or look forward to it? I look forward to pruning. I don't wear ear-buds or anything like that and just get lost in my thoughts and the spring birdsongs. One odd thing is that after a day of pruning, when you shut your eyes, all you see are a wild tangle of vines.

Are you finished? I have just started pruning this week as up until last week there was still about a foot and a half of snow on the ground. In a more normal year I would probably be done by now.
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Bryn Molloy & Jeffrey Sherwood, Ellsworth Wines: Upstarts and Old Vines

Talk a little bit about your approach: We are always looking to cut away old diseased wood and fruit off of 1 year old canes. In some cases there are not sufficient options for this conversion and we have to wait for the new shoots to come and selectively keep/remove the ones in a great position allowing us to convert the vine

Managing Vineyards: Basically every vineyard we farmed was pruned/trained incorrectly and we spend a lot of time retraining them so the future years are easier and more respectful to the health.

Guidebook: We were really inspired by Jess Miller's translation. Its become what we look to for advice and reaffirms our belief in the idea that investing in vineyards is worth it. Even if the majority of the industry does not know these things (or care), we want to continue to work with these vines and make even better wine we have to respect the sap flow and techniques that assist in avoiding vine disease.
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Ben Jordan, Midland: Budbreak and Virginia Pruning
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Context: Pruning is such a rabbit hole, even for those who do it every year. Mostly because there are so many approaches, none of them fully right or wrong, so it's really hard to talk about in a concise way. Tangents abound. 
We are small enough that we have more flexibility than most and we can change things up easier, so we don't have to streamline/commit to a certain approach as much as bigger operations.
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What is your approach: We are caned pruned, and as mentioned, the approach is always evolving. Like many folks, we are playing around with ideas of pruning for sap flow and vine longevity. We like to keep tabs on current approaches, but we also want to think for ourselves and avoid getting caught up in what's in fashion, because our vineyard in the Shenandoah Valley is not the same as vineyards in California or Europe. That said, pruning with the whole vine/whole life in mind, instead of just the one or two year old wood (where you have the most effect on yield) makes a lot of sense! We also try to prune as late as possible to delay budbreak in an effort to combat damage from late spring frosts. That ends up making our starting point later than the average European vineyard, but also later than larger vineyards in Virginia that have more acreage to get through.

What have you learned over the years that works in VA? I'd say we're conscious of the fact that we are a young producer in a young region, so we have learned that open minds and a progress oriented approach pay off. For instance, what works for vinifera may not be the right choice for multi-vitis varieties. Also what everyone who farms learns: plans are good, but you will be frustrated if you hope and wish that everything will fall into place every year. It's good to be prepared, but be prepared to adjust your plan, and enjoy the fact that you've got something different every year.

Do you dread or look forward to it? I wish I could do more of it! We dread Spring frosts, but the pruning work is actually quite nice, unless it is really cold. It can be meditative, and generally you are not as rushed to keep up with the plants as you are in the growing season. Plus, it's easier to be more social with people in the vineyard than later in the season when canopy growth restricts vision and blocks sound.

How do you prune your vines and what led you to that decision? We planted the vineyard so that we could cane prune, with the idea that tighter spacing would make for some competition and that we could carry lower yields per vine without making yields/acre so low as to be uneconomical. As Lucie Morton says, this approach is useful as the vineyard matures, the vines are less vigorous, and you aren't straining the plants to fill the canopy and carry too much fruit. The sap flow/vine longevity approach is something we adopted recently because it makes sense, and we want our vines to love long lives
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Are you finished? Just getting started!
Alexandre Giquel, Winemaker: Loire Valley and Wise Mothers

Who helps you with pruning: I prune alone but this year my mother helped me, she was cutting cane before me. It's was a great help to prune faster

What is your approach? My approach is by "taille douce" so I prune with respect for sap path and not to have big grappe's volumes but to preserve my old vines.

Do you dread or look forward to it? Yes I'm looking forward, I love that, we are always reflecting on how to improve or correct vines and its the best time of year to watch each vine branch and see what happens.

How do you prune your vines and what led you to that decision? With my old vines my main goal is to bring down woods so I share my spurs between recreate wood structure and have grapes for harvest.
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Are you finished?! Not yet, I still have my Gamay to prune, the plot is frost so I prune late, at the beginning of April.

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