Editor's note: This is the first of a series of wine columns by Brittney Coutts, wine expert at Viines + Forks, the Wine Barn in Winter Park.
As a very young person in the wine industry here in Orlando, I feel the demographics of most areas in Orlando follow the same trend. We have various subcultures that blend well together, but there is always the “pedestrian palate,” or so we call it on the sales side of things. People are attracted to what they know, and persuading them to venture out is not for the faint of heart. Being a twenty-five year old in this industry is difficult. I’m the youngest in every group and it’s just assumed by looking at me that I know absolutely nothing. I am well aware I am nowhere close to done with my learning, in this industry fads come and go like seasons and everyone is constantly learning, even your friendly neighborhood master sommelier and master of wine.
The pedestrian palate, or what I like to call the “Parker Palate,” is something that most people fall for. The big, juicy, over-ripe red fruit and baking spices. It’s something that’s good for someone just getting into wine because the flavor profiles are easy to decipher, and easy to talk about, which is great. We all have to start somewhere. As far as the continued support of brands such as Caymus, Prisoner, Meiomi and the list goes on, they were great at one point, before mass production and mega purple became a thing. I feel that’s the caveat not just here in Orlando but most places. We fall for a name, and I’ll be the first to admit I’ve done it too.
We care so much about the quality of food being put into our bodies, yet the same questions we ask about our food — Is it organic? Is it locally sourced? Is it pumped full of hormones? Do they use organic pesticides? — all go out the window when it comes to wine. Why aren’t we asking about production values? Why aren’t we worried about what they use as cover crops, or if the grapes are hand harvested, foot trodden, or filtered with diatomaceous earth? If we are so conscious about our health and the food we put into our bodies, why doesn’t the wine we put into our bodies count too?
I am a huge advocate for biodynamics and natural wine production, you can ask any of the sales reps that come to The Wine Barn. One of the first questions I ask any winemakers who ask me to sample their wine is “What method of farming do you use, and why?” I ask that because that is genuinely something that matters to me, I like to know the people I support are doing their part in preserving our earth, and that they are making a product that is a true reflection of the grape and the place it’s from.
I like to venture into the unknown. There are regions producing wine that is a hundred times better than current blue chip wines and costs a lot less or about the same, but the production is what is important, not the name. One of the mostly unknown regions I have fallen in love with as of late is Long Island, New York . Not many people know that Long Island produces wine let alone mostly biodynamic or at the very least sustainable. I have a couple of favorite producers from Long Island, but my favorite one to write home about is most definitely Channing Daughters.
Channing Daughters is on the South Fork in the town of Bridgehampton (yes, its close to “The Hamptons”). Christopher Tracey is the winemaker and his wines are stunning. He’s growing obscure varietals, at least to the US, such as Tocai Friulano, Teroldego, Ribolla Gialla, Dornfelder, Blaufrankisch, Refosco, and so many more. He makes vermouth, as well, the blends are so beautiful. Each Vermouth blend label is a picture of the herbs, flowers, and vegetation he puts in each one. It has vines that were planted in the eighties, so the Chardonnay he is harvesting is coming from 30-plus-year-old grapevines. He’s making orange wines, and fortified beauties, and potentially the most exciting thing yet... He makes PetNat. For those of you who have never had PetNat, it’s short for Petillant-Naturel. Basically PetNat is a natural wine that is made using “methode ancestrale.” The grapes, which are whole cluster in this case, get pressed, then Christopher uses a wild/ambient fermentation and bottles it with the sediment. He contrary to popular methods doesn’t stabilize the wine. He instead caps the bottle to trap the gases of the fermentation that’s still going on, and unlike traditional sparkling wine he doesn’t disgorge it. So if you happen to find yourself on Long Island, I urge you to visit.
So to wrap up my rambling, I urge you all to open yourself up to the options, ask the questions. Get out of your comfort zone and explore wine.
Hakuna Mataro, my friends.