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.
Electric Waves of Light (AKA The Lineup)
Eléctrico Rose 2019
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.