Eleventh (11th) Edition Wine Club
Welcome to Wine Club: 'Hybrid' Edition. I'm particularly excited about this one because I think a conversation about grapes is way overdue. The first thing to understand is this: wine as we know it is made from Vitis Vinifera (aka wine grapes). Vinifera has been bred for centuries for various properties related to making wine better. We love that; we're thankful of that. BUT all that genetic selection has made the plant inbred, and weak to maladies. One of said weaknesses was to a bug called Phylloxera. In the late 19th century, most European grape vines were wiped out due to this sap-sucking bug. It was discovered that American grapes weren't susceptible to the devastation cause by the bug, so Europe was replanted with American table grape rootstocks for the bases of the plant. The rootstocks were then grafted with Vinifera in order to continue growing wine grapes instead of table grapes. (If you ever see "own rooted" on a wine, it means that it isn't grafted, it's grown using its own roots). In a sense, we've already all been drinking hybrids.
The hybrids we're talking about though, are crossings between grape species -- ie vinifera (wine grape) and labrusca (fox grape) or riparia (riverbank grape). The once heavily susceptible wine grape then becomes more resistent to drought, mildew, or certain species of pest. It will then require less watering in drought prone areas (ahem, California, Southern France etc.), or fewer pesticides and fungicides. Sometimes, hybrids happen naturally in nature, and others they are developed in labs and universities.
If we're talking about natural wine in terms of the environmental and sustainability, not just the "health" benefits, I think having a conversation about hybrid grapes is a necessity. Looking forward to our warming planet, something most farmers are already reconning with in their vineyards, we will need to find ways to combat both the effects on the grapes and our contributions to climate change. Hybrids look outside of tradition -- something most European winemakers are mired in -- and begin taking a new approach in the vines and in the cellar.
"Former IT specialist Lilian Bauchet’s career as a vigneron divides into two eras. From 2007-2014, he and his family were based in Fleurie at the 7ha Château des Bachelards, where he produced Fleurie and Moulin-à-Vent. In 2014, seeking to farm a smaller surface, Bauchet sold that estate, moving across the Saône river and acquiring parcels in the Beaujolais-Villages village of Lancié. Yet the second half of Bauchet’s adventure truly began two years later, in 2016, when he converted a disused tennis court at his new home in Flurieux to an experimental vineyard devoted to hybrid grape varieties. (“No one in the family played tennis,” he shrugs, when asked why on earth he did that.)
Today, hybrid grape varieties - and the ecological and cultural implications of their cultivation - have become Bauchet’s passion. He has planted dozens in the low-lying, loamy sands of Lancié, near the border with Fleurie. Most successful, so far, is his cuvée “Plan B,” a direct-press of souvignier gris and muscaris. Ample yet incisive, leesy yet luminous, saline and pear-fruited, the wine towers above its two, rather unassuming categories: that of hybrid whites, and that of Beaujolais white wine." - Not Drinking Poison (a blog I highly recommend subscribing to if you want to get geeky)
"Soto Vino is a small, family-run wine company in Texas that specializes in natural wine. Brothers Christian and Dominic Soto grew up on a ranch in Castroville Texas, and have always been passionate about wine and the winemaking process. They learned the craft from working with wineries in the Texas Hill Country, Sonoma California and parts of Mexico and have spent their careers perfecting the art of winemaking.
At Soto Vino, the brothers strive to produce wines that are as natural and pure as possible. They source sustainable grapes and employ traditional winemaking techniques to create unique and delicious wines that showcase the terroir of Texas." - the winemakers
'22 Sauvage' is a wine made primarily from the hybrid grape "Lenoir", also known as "Black Spanish". It is an American table grape crossed with an unknown varietal of vitis vinifera (wine grape). Notes of cranberry, cherry, tarragon, and jammy baked plum.
"Loosely inspired by the Roman plebeian community who worshipped the gods of agriculture, fertility, and viticulture we too seek to represent cultivators past and present who brought grapes to glass – farmers, harvesters, winemakers.
Chris grew up in the Central Valley of California and was never really exposed to wine or farming until he was in college at Sonoma State University. While at Sonoma State, he began working for wineries in the area and took a special interest in the growing aspect. In 2011, Chris left California to work and study more diverse farms and vineyards from Utah and Washington, to Italy and Spain. He met his wife, Kelsey, on one of these farms and she convinced him to explore the mountains of her home state in North Carolina. They moved to Boone, North Carolina in 2014 where Chris started working for a local winery and started managing several vineyards in the area. The excitement for Western North Carolina’s grape growing future was something that led Chris and Kelsey to buy land in Madison County and move forward with establishing plēb urban winery with partner Lauren Turpin. The rest is a mystery." - the winemaker
Chris is the most experienced farmer with hybrid grapes that I've ever interacted with. The majority of his career has been working with them in various states and it shows in his understanding of how these grapes function when being made into wine. He makes elegant and fun iterations ranging from porch-pounder oranges to elegant whites and reds.
"Established in 1991 on the 19th century Can Genís estate, the winery has always practiced certified organic farming techniques, creating a well-balanced ecosystem that respects the native flora and fauna.
A family that has always been dedicated to viticulture. Josep Maria and Cristina have spent their whole lives sharing the wine and cava culture. Their daughters Mireia and Georgina grew up surrounded by vineyards, grapes, harvests and bottles. It’s in their DNA. Knowledge, passion, perseverance and dedicated to transparency. A lifestyle.
It’s a way of understanding wine and cava responsibly by making it entertaining, innovative while also adopting a real taste for new trends. They are committed to nature, so they offer an avant-garde product. Their respect for the land becomes the celebration of a new experience." - Translated from their website
VRIAACC stands for: Resistant and Autochthonous Varieties Adapted to Climate Change (translated from Spanish). This means that we are crossing the most representative varieties of Catalan viticulture (Xarel·lo, Macabeo, Parellada, Tempranillo and Grenache) with other already resistant varieties
This wine felt important because it does not read as anything but a traditional and fresh sparkling wine. It is clear that it's possible to produce 'vinifera-style' wines while utilizing hybrid grapes. These grapes are coming from the VRIAACC pProject, which states the following:
"With resistant varieties we not only reduce the number of treatments in the vineyard, but also considerably reduce CO2 emissions, tractor use and soil compaction.
The reduction of copper and sulphur treatments in the vineyard by more than 90% allows us to produce wines that are cleaner and healthier for the environment and for people. It is also an important change for the grower who avoids exposure to treatments.
Resistant varieties offer us a new universe of flavours and aromas with high quality wines that have put the focus on people and the environment. Wines that are the heirs of our native varieties but that look to the future."