Volume 1, Issue 5: Americas, Americas
by Leslie Pariseau
This month, we dove into wines from this hemisphere, tracing a trail of fresh releases from Oregon's lush Willamette Valley on down to the volcanic slopes of the Itata Valley in Chile. Some people like to talk about wines in terms of “new world” and “old world” with North and Central America situated in the former, but that’s a rather limiting framework if you think about how long ago some of this hemisphere’s vines were planted (some over 500 years ago!) and the fact that so many of them are own-rooted in comparison to the American grafted vines of Europe. Not to mention that “new” and “old” imply a certain colonial hierarchy, which, frankly, is an outdated way of discussing something as alive and apart from human politics as nature. (More on the problematic semantics of "new" v. "old" here.)
The universe doesn’t recognize time the same way we do, so why should grapes? It’s a lovely reminder that we’re all made of stardust, so when you’re drinking wine, you’re simply universal matter communing with more delicious universal matter.
In any case, this month is about celebrating the diversity of all that comes from this crazy side of the globe. Go drink some stardust.
Field Recordings Pét Nat Rosé 2021, Paso Robles, California
Do you like rhubarb jam and strawberry pie and the aggressive bubble of Topo Chico? Put them all together and you get this year’s release of Field Recordings Pét Nat rosé, low-key enough to satisfy the brunch crowd and substantial enough to delight the wine people. As usual, this year’s vintage is all cabernet franc (a nerd-pleasing grape) from Paso Robles, and super-tuned by Andrew Jones’s specifications.
“There’s not much touchy-feely for me when it comes to pét-nat,” says Jones. “Table wine is all on taste and feel, but I treat sparkling wine like I’m a pastry chef.” This means balancing chemistry with farming practices—making sure crop load and irrigation are on point so that brix and acid in the cellar are on point. And then it’s all about harvesting at the right time and deploying the old pét-nat method (I wrote about this back for our second wine club, which you can read about here) to make a juicy, fizzy picnic wine, meant for NOLA scorchers. Add an ice cube. Who cares.
Before starting Field Recordings, Jones was a “nursery man by trade,” growing grape root stock for a family operation, which he continues to do. He ended up in viticulture by way of majoring in agricultural business at Cal-Poly in San Luis Obispo. Jones went to school for football as an offensive tackle, but broke his pelvis in a car accident halfway through. He narrowed in on viticulture because it seemed there was more opportunity than in the field of, say, dairy science or poultry. After working in Sonoma and at Bonny Doon’s Paso Robles site, he applied for the nursery gig off of the Cal-Poly job board. “I maintain it’s the only job I’ve ever had.”
We’d argue that making such delightful wines is also quite a job, from which we all happily benefit. Keep an eye out for his Skins, wildly affordable, wonderfully aromatic skin-contact, and dry-hop pét-nat, a bone-dry yet delicate sparkler good for climbing into a hammock and ignoring everyone else at the party.
Escala Humana “Livvera” Malvasia, 2020, Uco Valley, Argentina
When you think of Argentinian wines, your brain most likely goes to the fat, mouth-staining malbec bombs of the aughts, influenced by the Parkerization of California. Sadly, it’s positioned the grape as one of the most maligned in modern history. It’s a story that deflects from the quieter rumblings of Argentinian producers like Matthew Riccitelli and Escala Humana that are reworking the narrative of wine country overtaken by big American wine barons into something more interesting and entirely Argentinian.
Escala Human (“human scale”) was created by Ayelén and German Massera in the Uco Valley, southwest of Mendoza, Argentina’s main wine growing region. There, they farm mainly malvasia, bequignol (an old-school red French variety planted here centuries ago) and sangiovese. They’re working organically with old vines, the malviasia for this wine in particular planted in 1927.
With the subtle tart and bitter quality of candied orange peel, the Livvera malvasia sees 90 days of skin contact and has a funny, shapeshifting quality of mellowing out from sweet-tart chalky to aromatic and white flowery. Drink by the pool. Drink with some buttered shrimps. Drink next to a jasmine bush in its last throes of bloom phase.
Rogue Vine “Jamón Jamón” 2021, Itata Valley, Chile
If you were at the pop-up last year, you were probably offered a glass of this insanely popular skin contact at some point. And if you weren’t, well, you are now. 100% moscatel from the Itata Valley in Chile, this stuff is grown on entirely granitic, volcanic soil, which gives it a strength and length not unlike the aura of an elegant lady dressed in her Sunday clothes whose perfume lingers and beguiles long after she's left the room. Its super aromatic quality (that’s classic moscatel) is balanced with fuzzy apricot jam vibes and a pleasant mouth-puckering tannin.
A collaborative label from Leo Erazo (of A Los Viñateros Bravos) and American ex-pat Justin Decker, Rogue Vine is concentrated on making dry-farmed wines from vines in the Itata Valley, some of which are over 100 years old. Once a center of winemaking in Chile, the Itata Valley was mothballed in the 19th century for more accessible regions, but has become one of the places to watch with makers like Rogue Vine reviving abandoned and forgotten vineyards. Of course, their methods align with everything we seek in a producer: they are true vignerons doing the majority of the work on the land and letting the grapes speak for themselves when they land in the cellar. Seek out their Pipeño Tinto (fresh, vibrant summer red) and Pipeño Blanco (idiosyncratically smoky, yet crisp) if you see them around town.
Division-Villages “Méthode Carbonique” 2021, Willamette Valley, OregonFor better or worse, New Orleans is a word of mouth town. Here, the grapevine thrives. Which, in the case of Portland, Oregon-based Division Winemaking Co., is a great thing. Chances are if you’re a discerning wine buyer, you’ve come across Division already, which has a lot to do with the fact that winemaker Thomas Monroe loves this city—and the city loves Division's wine. When he and his winemaking partner Kate Norris began producing in 2010, he came down for jazz fest and brought a backpack of bottles, which clearly went over well; they’re everywhere now with a range of releases for all seasons—a lithe gamay noir “Lutte,” “Les Petits Fers” a zippy, carbonic gamay, and a taut, strawberry fields rosé among others.
The reason this wine club pick-up is so late in the month is because we’ve been waiting for the latest vintage of Division’s Méthode Carbonique to arrive. Better late than never. The name refers to the method by which it’s made—carbonic maceration—which produces crushable, low-tannin, summer-perfect reds. It’s a process most associated with Beaujolais where Kate and Tom studied and came away with “a masters in carbonic maceration.” First things first: What is carbonic maceration? Generally, it means that whole clusters of grapes get tossed into steel fermentation tanks filled with carbon dioxide. When the tanks are sealed up, anaerobic respiration takes place, producing fermentation inside individual grapes, which all end up collapsing under the juicy weight of alcohol production. In the case of Division’s Carbonique, a native yeast is introduced after a few days and the ferment keeps going for 20 to 25 days. The wines are aged in a combo of concrete and used barrel. Tom and Katie started making the style 12 years ago before it was hip in the U.S., and that they did it with pinot noir was a total anomaly. (Generally, it’s a gamay kind of thing.) “People thought we were disgracing pinot noir,” says Tom. “But now you can get carbonic Burgundy for $500 a bottle.” The result of their efforts is a vibrant and nervy cranberry-red wine that does a nice thing with barbecue or a roasted veggie galette.
“The big agricultural story of last year was the heat dome,” explains Tom. In late June, the Willamette experienced temperatures of 115 to 124 degrees that settled over the Valley, singeing crops and drying up water reserves. Luckily, the vines’ leaf canopies hadn’t yet been pruned, saving the baby grapes from scorching, but requiring spot irrigation for the rest of the summer—something that Division wouldn’t employ in a normal year. “The climate continues to amaze me in scary ways,” says Tom. Despite the dome, this year’s Division releases are still very much on point.
This concludes the fifth edition of the Patron Saint wine club. Thanks for being along for this weird ride. If you feel compelled, post about it on the socials. We’re @patronsaintwine on IG. Starting next week, we're taking a break to go bring some more stardust into the world—in the format of a kid and a wine shop. In the meantime, stay cool, NOLA.