Every week, Simon selects an orange wine (a white wine made with extended skin contact) that grabbed his attention. View the whole series here.
We’re a funny lot, us humans. A never-ending quest for perfection, for bigger, better, louder, smoother, longer, finer occupies an industry of technologists and scientists on a fulltime basis. Fashion-shoots can be airbrushed to high-gloss that will never exist, films are bionically enhanced with CGI, haute cuisine utilises phials of dry ice to transform raw ingredients into unrecognisable filigree, musicians and singers are autotuned for otherworldly pitch accuracy.
Yet simultaneously we crave experiences that are more raw or visceral, without the photoshopping or the frippery. We love the gritty veritas of movies made with handheld cameras. We talk about musicians going back to their roots, being “unplugged”, or so good they don’t need studio trickery. Airbrushing in fashion photography isn’t just divisive, it’s becoming a political act. Now we want “authentic” street-food, “dirty” eats rather than tweezered flower petals or multi-coloured splots in a half-moon. Michelin is old-fashioned (except it’s not – even they’re giving out stars to the street-food joints now).
Theo Cole makes wine that could be described as unplugged, raw, natural or naked. “These are basically pre-technology wines” is how he sums it up. Theo hails from New Zealand, but the inspiration for his personal winemaking project came from further afield. The Hermit Ram is a gnarly etching that showed up while he was travelling in Italy. Framed in his living room back in Canterbury NZ, it glowered down at all and sundry for years. Then in 2012 Theo discovered a beautiful Pinot Noir vineyard in the Waipara Gorge. A vintage was made with the vineyard’s owner Gareth Renowden, and Hermit Ram was born as a label.
And what a handsome beast of a label it is. But Theo has moved on from just making a thousand bottles of Pinot Noir. He’s a lover of skin fermentation for white wines (that makes two of us then), and now makes a sensational pair of defiantly not-white wines from small plots of Sauvignon Blanc and Müller-Thurgau. Who knew that New Zealand was once swimming in Müller-Thurgau? It’s mostly unloved and blended away, but Theo decided to put it centre stage – a nervy, wild animal with acidity that would terrify most Californians.
That Müller-Thurgau is a fun one, although as Theo says it’s a “crack and smash” affair. Don’t leave it out overnight, it might turn into a gremlin and scare your kids. My favourite is the equally naked, but rather more refined skin fermented Sauvignon Blanc 2017. This is alchemy. No autotune, no amuse bouche, but it most certainly will amuse your bouche. It’s every bit a Kiwi Sauvignon at first – ripe limey aromas, candied peel. But then it opens up into pillows of hay, carried by lithe citrussy sparks. And at 11.5% this wine has no right to pack as much flavour or concentration as it does. In short, magic. But magic achieved only with amazing grapes, a mix of barrels and cement tanks and a tiny pinch of sulphites.
This is winemaking without a make-up artist or an offline editor. It’s offroading in the rugged Waipara gorge in a truck with dodgy suspension, smelling the ozone breeze in the air. It’s being alive, and knowing that no scientist is ever going to find a way to capture this in a test tube or quantify it in a textbook.
My favorite post in awhile. Raw as the subject and it speaks to me.
Started a series of interview posts where it is requiring more discipline as there is nothing written about the people so feel somewhat compelled to gather facts rather than just fall in love with the words. A good challenge but a different type of writing for me.
BTW–with skin contact is there a limit of duration before which you don’t really consider it within your category? Running into quite a few folks making whites that keep it on the skins with stems till fermentation starts then press it off. The Pearl Thief from Frenchtown Farms is the most recent one and a really exceptional bottle.
Testing your Disqus replacement here obviously.
Thanks Arnold! You never know, if I stick at this writing malarky I might nail it one of these years . . . 😉
I’ve found I’m continually shifting the parameters in terms of what defines an “orange wine” or an “amber wine” or whatever one wants to call it. My current definition is really just that fermentation takes place with the skins. In general I’d say you don’t get the character associated with skin ferments or orange wines unless contact with the skins is at least a week – but there are plenty of exceptions to that, such as pretty much everything produced by the Mlecniks (3-4 days skin contact) or an extraordinary wine I had from a sardinian producer last week (Sa Defenza) – only 24 hours on the skins (first day of fermentation) but it was unquestionably an orange wine style – structured, concentrated, aromatic.
Now that I’m talking live to a lot of natural producers again, to them skin maceration is not a style but a tool. No matter how you call it, it’s impact on structure, aromatics and color just work.
I agree with you. But to me “orange wine” can be a style too… at least if one thinks of the Gravner/Radikon/Princic access.
Perhaps we have to talk about “Collio style” or “Slovenian style” or “Georgian style” orange wines.
Yes!–i like this idea of styles a great deal.
Have decided btw to post on the winemaker from Utah as more and more it is interesting to see how we each walk through the same door into different rooms. Go finish your book my friend!
And btw–comment system is not notifying me via email that you have responded. That–btw is the feature that Disqus put in that got their original funding from Fred Wilson that kicked of the company.
Have you subscribed to the thread Arnold? I can set it up so that you are automatically subscribed to any comment thread that you participate in, but I didn’t do that as I thought it might be annoying.
probably my mistake as usual. just subscribed. icon is a bit unintuitive. though so far except for the need to put in a code each time pretty damn good.
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