This Saturday we are excited to host the incomparable Deirdre Heenkin, the woman behind La Garagista, a winery in Vermont that is changing how people think about farming, terroir, and wine in general. She attended Brumaire in March after receiving a travel scholarship from Ordinaire. In exchange, she wrote a short vignette answering the question “Why do you make Natural Wine?” Below you will find her answer.
On Saturday we will taste:
Ci Confondre Pétillant Blanc
Ci Confondre Pétillant Rosé
La Crescent, Vinu Jancu
Frontenac Noir, Loups-Garroux
All the wines are $39 retail. The tasting costs $10. Deirdre will also be signing her new book, An Unlikely Vineyard: The Education of a Farmer and Her Quest for Terroir. Come early. The wines are as unique as they are rare.
Why do I make natural wine?
Standing here in our homefarm vineyard pruning on an elemental March day, I feel the warm sun on my back. It’s supposed to still be winter here, but instead it’s a strangely mild day on our alpine hill. The air is slightly damp, and I can smell the woodsmoke of vine prunings burning. I think of roast sausages and onions over the fire. Suddenly the slow accumulation of these sensory experiences transports me to a sunny spring day in the gray stone clad hills above the ancient temples of Paestum in southern Italy. Something about the opaque spring sun is familiar.
My husband Caleb and I drive on a rutted Roman road with our good friend Bruno. Bruno is a winegrower in the south of Italy, the garden of Italy, in the region of the Valle di Diano, a fertile countryside, a meeting of mountain and sea. We drive up a steep incline into a small parcel of vines tucked on the backside of a hill. In my memory it faces south-east, turned slightly away from the Mediterranean lapping at the shores, somewhere below.
Bruno’s car is low slung and as the vehicle grinds to an abrupt stop, he curses elegantly into the still morning air. Very quickly the situation becomes clear that the car is stuck in the track below the vines, a couple of grooves in white, friable soil that is damp and dark , wet even underneath, grooves made by a tractor, or another car, or a chariot from another time. We leave it for later, putting off pushing the car out of its trap, or calling for help. Instead, we grasp at more immediate pleasures, and we walk up into this young vineyard, neatly pruned and planted with oats grown to mid-thigh. Bruno says it’s time to cut. Instinctively all three of us brush the furry fruits at the top of the oat stems with our fingers as we swish through the growth.
Bruno tells us these burgeoning vines are all native Falanghina, their little leaves of green unfurling from tight buds, moving slowly toward the sunlight. The air smells of heat, wet clay, wet stones, and an indefinable green perfume that comes from the chartreuse leaves pushing out everywhere, on all the trees and new plants and flowers from the hedgerow. We speak of farming. Cover crops. Plant teas. Copper. Sulphur. Compost. Moon cycles. We speak of family farms, the beauty and difficulties, the differences and the solidarities. We speak of his brother-in-law, whom he says has a perfectly attuned palate for these vineyards that the family farms together, especially and in a particular for one of their vineyards planted to the noble Aglianico. Bruno tells of how his brother-in-law walks the rows of ripening, dark fruit close to harvest, tasting berries here and there, gauging, sensing, listening. When the flavors coalesce in a way that calls to his intuition, he calls the pick and the crew rallies and the black ruby fruit comes in.
In Bruno’s telling, I am mesmerized by this story, by the notion that someone might know a vineyard so well that he or she can intuit that singular moment in which the minor tragedies and glories of a season unfold in layers of flavor, texture, acidity, tension in a way that foretells the future of the fermention and the fruit into the wine. At that moment, this little diamond -like revelation is so shiny that the magpie in me becomes enchanted and wants to understand this kind of magic. I want to be able to do this too.
By then I knew I wanted to be a good farmer, this was why we had come to Bruno to learn, but this was really before I was aware of the fluid notion of natural wine, of what it meant to be a vigneronne, a winegrower, a person who acted as an intuitive guide and a companion to her vines as well as the wine. This was before I knew about the limestone and various clays in the valley soils of Vermont, or the volcanic shists, quartz, amphibolites, slates, and garnets of our homefarm and mountain vineyard. It was before I knew how to identify horsetail and stinging nettle, wild white yarrow in our hedgerows. This was before we had planted more than a hundred vines on our land that had long ago been home to herds of sheep stolen from Spanish nobility. This was before we would meet a man at a dinner party who knew a man with a local vineyard who might be willing to sell me some fruit. This was before Bruno sat at our own dining table in a farmhouse in snow-clad Vermont mountains and tasted wines that I had made in buckets in our claw-footed bathtub from grapes without provenance bought at market in Boston and that had traveled from California. This was before Bruno would give me a knickname, that of Capotosta, or hardheaded. This was before Bruno would give me my first task when we learned from the man at the dinner party who knew a man with a local vineyard that we could come pick fruit.
Taste the fruit. See the fruit. Pick the fruit by hand, he said to me. Choose your clusters. Destem by hand. Sort the berries. Crush by your feet. Press in a simple ratchet press. Ferment in glass jars. Do it the way the old farmers did it. Become a peasant.
This was the moment in which desire and hope entwined and while I didn’t understand what it meant, I knew what I felt and what I wanted to do, had to do. As I looked out over the intimate little vineyard embraced by the shifting and swaying oats and mixed flowers and we followed Bruno around the perimeter and he showed us how to identify and pick wild asparagus beneath the trees, I became electric. This was the first piece in a large and ever-evolving puzzle in which I would take the first steps down this thorny but beautifully scented path, this was when I knew I wanted to be a winegrower, someone like Bruno who was passionate and thoughtful and learned in the ways of the vineyard, and someone like his brother-in-law who could see the story of a place and a vintage in the world of a single ripe grape. This was the moment when I knew I wanted to grow wine that could be luminous with history, nostalgia, love, spirit, purity, and honesty. This was the moment when, for the third time in my life, I stood poised on an edge. And jumped.