Article for Mr Porter, The Daily Edit — US Winemakers to Watch

  • Aimee Hartley

With national wine day approaching, Ms Aimee Hartley, editor of Above Sea Level magazine and US wine expert, shines a light on some of the most exciting winemakers currently in the US.

Wine: Bam Bam Pet Nat, 2018, $45

After stints working alongside the likes of Mr Giusto Occhipinti of COS in Sicily, and Mr Chris Brockway of Broc Cellars in California, Ms Stoumen recently developed her own label and has been making waves with her esoteric wines ever since. Her approach to winemaking is gentle and intuitive, championing grape varieties that hold historical significance to California, such as carignan, zinfandel and valdiguie.
Bam Bam is a lightly sparkling red (pétillant naturel) hailing from hard-to-find valdigue vines, made with Ms Stoumen’s fellow winemaking compadres at Las Jaras, Mr Joel Burt and Mr Eric Wareheim (the latter of Master Of None fame). Bone dry, but with vibrant, juicy red fruit, this wine is full of joy and a testament to Ms Stoumen’s collaborative approach to making wine.

Wine: Rorick Heritage Vineyard, Chenin Blanc, 2016, $32

“We love the outsiders, the lost causes, the people/projects/ideas abandoned as not having a chance in the world,” says winemaker Mr Matthew Rorick, who named his winemaking endeavor, Forlorn Hope, after troops sent into dangerous battles, where the remaining survivors emerged in a blaze of glory. It is no surprise then that Mr Rorick champions lesser-known appellations and undervalued grape varieties (verdelho, trousseau and picpoul, to name a few) in both his own vineyards tucked into the Sierra Foothills, and other overlooked plots he works with in the northerly reaches of California. Mr Rorick’s wines, more than anything, are an exploration of his intense curiosity of what is possible to grow, and thrive, in unfamiliar places.
This Chenin, one of his “Rare Creatures”, is a lovely example of a Loire-inspired white – crisp, mineral and with a lick of salt from the limestone soils that the vines were grown in.

Wine: Smockshop Band Grenache, Columbia Gorge, 2017, $53

Mr Nate Ready and his partner Ms China Tresemer consider farming and winemaking to be a holistic process. Their 5.5 hectares of vines are a wonderland of biodiversity, where grapes grow wildly amid vegetable gardens, forests, plant and animal life in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge. Inspired by the teachings of Japanese agricultural philosopher, Mr Masanobu Fukuoka, and with their collective backgrounds in food, wine and art, the pair have created a little slice of utopia, and wines that are full of life and personality.

While Hiyu makes unique, single estate wines from an abundance of grape varieties under their eponymous label, its more-than-worthy side hustle, Smockshop Band, is a little softer on the wallet, with grapes hailing from nearby organic vineyards. This grenache is light and fresh, with the swagger of pinot noir, but with the spice and crunch of its namesake grape, grenache.

Wine: Union School Sauvignon Blanc, Willamette Valley, 2017, $22

A family-owned-and-run winery in Northeast Portland, Bow & Arrow is a love letter to what winemaker Mr Scott Frank calls “the working-class wines of the Loire valley”. Mr Frank and his wife Ms Dana Frank moved from New York in 2001, and with the help of a merry band of friends, family and supporters, opened the doors of Bow & Arrow in 2010. While the subterranean winery is located in Portland, Frank works with trusted farmers across the Willamette Valley to grow his fruit — a practice that many young American vigneron undertake, due to the costly pursuit of owning vineyards.

There is nothing showy or loud about Mr Frank’s wines — they are humble and fun. The Union School sauvignon blanc is an ode to the way it used to be made in the Loire: riper in style, with notes of jasmine and fresh nectarines, rounded off perfectly by the time its spent ageing in old, oak barrels.

Wine: Entre Deux Mers, Abe Shoener, 2014, Long Island, $18,90

Satiating city dwellers unable to reach the wine country, urban wineries in the US have become a “thing”. Located in an old warehouse on pier 41 in Brooklyn, Red Hook Winery set out in 2008 with an ambition to explore New York’s nascent wine country – from the salty, windswept shores of North Fork on Long Island, to the cool, flinty soils in Finger Lakes. While Mr Christopher Nicolson heads up the winemaking, consulting Californian winemakers Messrs Robert Foley and Abe Schoener (of The Scholium Project fame) add a little West Coast experience into the mix.

Mr Foley’s wines are sure to delight traditionalists, but Mr Shoener’s let their hair down a little. Entre Deux Mers is a blend of chardonnay, sémillon and sauvignon blanc – the latter two of which are left on their skins, to give the wine its golden colour. A great entry to the region.

Wine: Rosato di Refosco, 2018, New York, $22

Considering Channing Daughters has an East Hamptons zip code, winemaker Mr Christopher Tracy has a surprisingly down-to-earth approach to making wine. The Hamptons also share the same latitudinal coordinates as Southern Italy, but its oceanic location on the Atlantic means that the wines take on a much cooler character than their European contemporaries. Mr Tracy works with more than 24 varieties of grapes (Alpine varieties work well here, such as pinot grigio, ribolla gialla and blaufränkisch), all of which are harvested by hand each year, and encouraged to find their own natural expression.

Mr Tracy believes that his wines should speak honestly of the place they were made, but should fundamentally be delicious. His rosés are just that, and he makes six of them to show that this style of wine can be as diverse and interesting as red and white. The Rosato di Refosco has personality a plenty, is a little deeper in colour, and is brimming with wild strawberries and other bramble fruit. Perfectly placed for large plates of charcuterie or smoky, barbecue fare on summer days.