What It Means When the Winemaker Actually Lives Among the Vines
Wine is a product of the earth, and knowing the farmer is tied to their land ought to make a difference to anyone about to take that first sip.
What does home mean? For some winemakers, it means a house surrounded by vines—a place where they raise their family and tend livestock, where growing grapes and making wine isn’t just a job but a way of life.
Being present, day and night, amidst your vines means taking some things into account that others might not—as a winemaker in Italy once said to me, “My kids play in my vines; why would I spray them with insecticides?” With this group of vintners, organic farming (or biodynamic, or regenerative—any of the constellation of approaches that run counter to conventional farming) is definitely more prevalent. Scale comes into play, too. Small doesn’t always mean better—there are any number of good wines made by large wineries—but when you farm your land yourself, a personal knowledge of each dip and furrow in the ground, of seasonal changes in the weather over the span of years, and of each vine’s individual character becomes an inevitability rather than an option.
Whether you pay attention to these wines isn’t just about how they taste. Plenty of mass-produced wines are honed to tantalize your senses in just the right way to make you want another sip, just as a fast-food hamburger is. Choosing wine that’s the product of a homestead is more about origin and approach. Wine is a product of the earth; knowing the farmer is tied to their land—and so is driven to treat the land with care and conscience—ought to make a difference to anyone about to take that first sip.
2017 Raventós I Blanc Blanc De Blancs ($22)
Pepe Raventós, who lives just above his oldest vineyards on this historic Spanish estate, can trace his family’s farming history back more than 400 years. His sparkling blanc de blancs has a compelling scent of freshly baked bread and layers of lemon and apple flavor.
2018 Navarro Vineyards Gewürztraminer Estate Bottled (Dry) ($24)
Ted Bennett and Deborah Cahn bought their land in the Anderson Valley back in 1973 and planted their first Gewürztraminer vines in 1975. Their dry version is full of classic lychee and spice notes.
2012 Murgo Etna Brut ($26)
The Scammacca del Murgo family farms grapes, olives, and fruit for preserves on the slopes of Mount Etna, and they have done so through repeated eruptions from this still-active volcano; fortitude is a given. Their signature sparkling wine is crisp and bright, with orange and floral honey notes.
2017 The Eyrie Vineyards Chardonnay ($27)
The view from Jason Lett’s back door tells you everything you need to know: rows of vines, climbing into the Willamette Valley hills. Eyrie is known for Pinots, but the Chardonnay is equally impressive, full of flavor (green apple, lemon balm) and lifted by zesty acidity.
2018 Domaine Delaporte Sancerre ($34)
The Delaporte family has farmed near Chavignol, in the heart of the Sancerre region, since the 17th century. Today, Matthieu Delaporte farms the land organically and makes wines that include this irresistibly juicy bottling, with its red grapefruit flavor and hints of freshly mown grass.
2016 Le Clos Du Caillou Vieilles Vignes Côtes Du Rhône ($28)
Le Clos du Caillou lies within the stone walls of an old hunting estate. Here, Sylvie Vacheron lives and grows the fruit for impressive wines, among them this sultry, raspberry-and-white-pepper red.
2017 Hirsch Vineyards San Andreas Fault Pinot Noir ($60)
When David Hirsch founded his vineyard in the remote reaches of Sonoma County, there were no roads, no electricity, and no vines. Today it’s arguably the most famous Pinot vineyard in California.
2017 Occidental Freestone-Occidental Pinot Noir ($65)
After leaving his namesake winery, Steve Kistler devoted himself to this project, using fruit from the far Sonoma Coast vineyard where he lives. This Pinot tastes like biting into a just-picked wild raspberry.
2015 Tenuta Di Valgiano Rosso ($110)
At this biodynamic estate above the Tuscan town of Lucca, owner Moreno Petrini lives on 40 acres of organic vineyard. His flagship wine is rich and potent, with intense dark fruit and floral notes (and his more affordable Palistorti Rosso is almost as impressive).
2017 Domaine De La Noblaie Les Chiens-Chiens Rouge ($20)
Wild cherries plus a hint of green tobacco define this exceptional Loire Cabernet Franc. So does history: The house was built sometime around the 1400s, and winemaker Jérôme Billard still uses a chalk vat from that era for some cuvées.
2016 Hendry Blocks 7 & 22 Zinfandel ($36)
Longtime Napa Valley residents—a rarity these days—the Hendry family has owned their property in the Mayacamas foothills since 1939 and still lives there. Zinfandel is their forte, and dark, peppery berry flavors are the signature of this robust red.
2012 Remelluri Rioja Reserva ($45)
Remelluri was established in the 1300s by Hieronymite monks. Today it’s farmed organically by brother and sister Telmo and Amaia Rodríguez. The dark sweet berry fruit of the property’s elegant, flagship red is bolstered by powerful tannins.
2018 Hamilton Russell Vineyard Pinot Noir ($53)
Tim Hamilton Russell settled in 1975 on what he felt might be South Africa’s perfect spot for cool-climate Pinot Noir. The years proved him right. Today, his son Anthony makes this distinctive red, all savory herb and red currant flavors.
Hiyu Wine Farm
Hiyu represents a new—or perhaps just very old—approach to winemaking. Founded in 2010 in Oregon’s Hood River Valley by Nate Ready and China Tresemer, Hiyu Wine Farm is a 30-acre polyculture farm, with gardens, pasture land, pigs, cows, chickens, and ducks—and vineyards with more than 107 different grape varieties.
“We’d made a lot of trips to Europe,” Ready recalls, “and were very interested in the kind of place where raising the animals, growing the food, and making the wine—and consuming those things—all happened in the same location.” Hiyu wines tend to represent different regions or historical ideas. The hazy-gold, peppery 2018 Hypericum Spring Ephemeral, for instance, comes from a half-acre block planted with over 15 southern Mediterranean varieties. “We were trying to understand what would happen if we planted Mediterranean varieties in a more Alpine place—which is what the climate here is like,” Ready says. The lemon-tangy, herbal 2017 Falcon Box comes from a field blend replicating what might have been found on the Corton hill in Burgundy prior to the 1870s phylloxera epidemic (Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Aligoté, Melon de Bourgogne, and a host of other interplanted varieties). Winemaking here leans natural, with little to no use of sulfur.
Because Hiyu’s wines are made in tiny amounts, the best way to experience them is to order directly from the winery. Even better, go visit. The Winefarmer’s Lunch, with dishes served family-style and substantial pours of a range of Hiyu wines, is a magical experience, and the property is only an hour drive from the Portland airport, after all. (Winefarmer’s Lunch is $85 per person, hiyuwinefarm.com)