Co-Ferment at Ferguson’s Downtown
A Natural Wine Fair in Vegas might seem a bit out of the norm. I was surprised when I heard about it. Although it must be said that the natural wine scene in this town is growing. My 3 favorite wine bars/shops in town, GaragisteLV, Ada’s and Khoury’s all stock natural wines. And more and more restaurants are carrying natural wines, like Momofuko and Night + Market!
Co-ferment – Natural Wine Fair was held on October 23rd at Ferguson’s Downtown and was organized by Alt. Imports and Ferguson’s “Pour in the Alley.” I attended as Industry/Media at a slightly discounted rate.
Alt. Imports is a wine import company based in Las Vegas that sources wines made by producers who are using sustainable viticultural methods and natural winemaking methods. These wines, from around the world, are artisanal, showing the nature of the place where they are grown and made. They also do some really interesting podcasts.
I was a bit concerned on the day before when the winds kicked up, and suddenly it was fall in Vegas. The winds died down somewhat, and the Fair was the perfect place to pull out that new fall sweater and head out to taste some natural wines.
As Natural wines are all about sustainability, it was unsurprising that there was a SlowFood table just inside.
SlowFood is an organization and movement that began in Italy in 1989. The jumpstart was the plans to open a McDonald’s on the Spanish Steps in Rome. Carlo Petrini, an Italian Journalist, gathered a small group of protestors, who, rather than carrying signs, carried bowls of homemade Italian food. They were opposed to homogenized eating.
Today the organization works to create a world where all people can find and eat food that is good for them and good for the planet.
I spoke with Stephanie Pocchia and Alexandra Pontillas with SlowFood Vegas. They are still small, so if you would like to jump in and help them grow you can find details here. https://sites.google.com/slowfoodvegas.org/slow-food-vegas/home
Stephanie introduced me to Kelly Ford Lau who is currently their Slow Wine Chair. Kelly has a business called KellySOMM where she brings Natural wines to the people! Her wineclub and bottle shop allow you to purchase curated cases (that she choses) or curate your own on her site and have them shipped directly to you. She currently ships to Nevada, Wyoming, Idaho, Oregon, California, Florida and D.C.
KellySOMM was pouring the 2017 Rainer Sylvaner from Franken Germany, the 2021 Las Jaras ‘Superbloom’ Rose from Madera County, CA and the 2020 Domaine Saint Cyr “Terroir de Bellevue” Beaujolais from Burgundy.
I enjoyed each of these wines but the Superbloom, well it was just so pretty on the nose. It is a pink wine that is 21% Mourvedre, 19% Marsanne, 15% Roussanne, 14% Carignan, 11% Viognier, 10% Grenache Noir, 7% Grenache Blanc and 3% Picpoul Blanc. It comes from the Love Ranch vineyard in the Sierra Foothills. The nose on this was just beautiful. I could have sat with my nose in this glass for hours.
Kelly pointed out the winemakers who were here at the festival for me. I’ll admit I was not able to speak with all of them. The event opened at 1 pm for Industry and to the general public at 2pm. It was a success and became pretty crowded, making it impossible to speak to each of the vendors. I’ll share with you those I spoke with and leave you with the list of the others.
I spoke with Maureen, the Assistant Winemaker for Swick. They are located in Newburg in the Willamette Valley, but they source Oregon and Washington from cool and warm climate sites to allow them lots of different varieties to play with. They lean toward skin contact wines, but with fires during the past few vintages, they have done some direct press wines.
They have a range of over 40 different wines. I tasted through 5 of them including their 2020 Wyd? From the Columbia Valley, which is an organic Chardonnay from the Conley Vineyard in Washington. The 2020 P-Chill which is a blend of Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir (this is definitely a chillable red). Then I tasted the 2021 Only Zuul which is 50/50 Gewurztraminer and Pinot Gris that macerates on the skins for 30 days and ages in neutral French oak for 8 months. This orange style wine give you that bit of roses and lychee on the nose from the Gewurz with something warmer and more savory from the Pinot Gris. Next was their “Chillable Red” which is not listed on their site. This wine is a blend that included Mourvedre, Verdello, Malbec, and Pinot Noir. The Malbec and Mouvedre do direct press and the Pinot has skin contact which give the wine its color.
The last wine was their 2021 Pinot Noir from the Willamette Valley. They are pulling from Yam-hill Carlton, Chehalem Mountain and Tualatin Hills. All from organic vineyards. This wine was cherries with a bit of raspberry brightness and some darker forest floor notes.
Cruse Wine Co.
Michael Cruse makes wine for Cruse Wine Co. from California’s North Coast. He sources from Napa and Sonoma Counties as well as Mendicino. His family has been in this region for multiple generations. He focuses on Sparkling wines, but for this tasting he only brought one.
Other than the Sparkling, where they stick to the traditional Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, he says they are all over the map. They are not looking to create wines in a European style. The grapes in California are different than they would be in Europe, so they are just trying to make “California” wines.
We started with the Sparkling, the Cruse Tradition, which is 60% Chardonnay and 40% Pinot Noir. It is a 2018 base with 1 year in barrel and 3 years on lees. There is zero dosage, so this is a dry sparkling wine.
The next wine was their 2021 Rorick Chardonnay. These 50-year-old vines sit high in the Sierra Foothills.
The Heintz Syrah comes from Charlie Heintz’ vineyard in Occidental in Sonoma County.
Finally, we tasted the Monkey Jacket, a wine that is 50% Valdiguie, plus a bunch of other grapes making a delicious red field blend. Okay, I know you just said, “Valdigue, what is that?”. I said that too. This grape is from Roussillon, the southern part of France just over the border with Spain. This highly productive grape used to be widely used in the south of France and still can be found in the Vin de Pay wines. In California it is sometimes known as Napa Gamay.
All of these wines I found to be exceptional.
Subject to Change
Well here, I tasted the rainbow. Alex Pomerantz the Subject to Change Founder and Winemaker, has a wide selection of quirky wines, all with quirky and bright labels. All of their wines are single vineyard, and any of the blends are field blends.
When I say quirky, well here was the line-up
2021 Lovett Vineyard “Dreamboat” Field Blend of Picpoul, Viognier, Roussanne, Vermentino, Petite Sirah, and Mourvedre from the Lovett Vineyard in Lake County.
2019 Coastview Vineyard Bang Bang Chardonnay
2020 Upton Vineyard ‘Pet Nap’ This is a skin-fermented Sav Blanc that was meant to be a Pet Nat, but the second fermentation stalled. The wine was still delicious!
2021 Open Hand Ranch “F.K.A.” Field Blend 40% Merlot, 38% Pinotage, and 22% Chardonnay, they co-ferment the Chard and Pinotage in that reverse saignee method. It stays on skins for 9 days and then ages in neutral oak foudre. The Merlot gets destemmed and foot-trod. No cap management and then pressed to tank and spends 7 months in neutral oak. They are blended in the bottling tank.
2021 Perenti Vineyard “Wild Child” Old Vine Carignan All whole cluster, half of that foot crushed. Unfined, unfiltered, zero sulfur, 10.9% abv
2021 Rhodes Vineyard “Party Monster” Rose Merlot, Zin, Carignan, and Grenache from Redwood Valley Mendocino County with 12g residual sugar from an addition of unfermented grape must before bottling. Topped with a crown cap.
2021 “This is Wine” Sparkling Apple Cider pressed on Carignan Skins. They say “In a double exposure picture, this is basque-style dry cider overlaid with the best Cali glou!” They request that you give the cider a few hours to settle and open it very carefully over a sink at a 45-degree angle.
I think there were a few more. Alex has quite an extensive and eclectic lineup.
Champagne Lelarge Pugeot
The table was crowded but I snuck in and tasted the Gueux and the Les Charmes de Vrigny.
Champagne Lelarge-Pugeot is a Récoltant-Manipulant, the term for a Grower Champagne. They are located in Montagne de Reims, in Vrigny (a Premier Cru village), and are committed to biodynamic farming.
Their 8.7 hectares are planted to a majority of Meunier (love that) with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir also.
At the fair, Clémence Lelarge, daughter of eighth-generation owners Dominique and Dominique, was pouring.
I was able to taste their Champagne Lelarge-Pugeot Gueux Extra Brut and the Champagne Lelarge-Pugeot Les Charmes de Vrigny.
The Les Charmes, at the time I tasted it, had been on the lees for 10 years. It is 50% Pinot Meunier, 30% Pinot Noir and 20% Chardonnay. Unfined, made with indigenous yeast from 40-year-old vines. It spent 10 years on the lees and is Extra Brut. Delicious.
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Bon Vivant Importers
I spoke with Bryan Hinschberger, the Bon Vivant Imports National Sales Rep. It’s a small team. He has a great love for the small family wineries they work with in Europe. He says, “Life’s too short to work with assholes”, so they work with amazing people.
They were pouring:
Stekar Sivi Pinot from Slovenia. Jure Stekar took over from his father. This is Pinot Grigio that does 30 days skin contact in Stainless Steel then ages in large format French Oak for 11 months. No sulfites or filtration, but it is exceptionally clean on the nose and the palate. This is great introductory orange wine for those who don’t think they like them.
Puiggros “Impressionant” from the Odena region of Catalunya, Spain. This family has been producing wines from their vines since 1843, but just began selling them at marking in 2008. The wine is a skin-fermented Garnatxa Blanca from a vineyard 500 meters above sea level. The grapes spend 5 ½ months on their skins in large clay amphorae before a light pressing. This is a Zero Zero wine (no sulfites). You get floral notes, orange zest and white stone fruit.
Vel’uveyra from Ronsel do Sil in Ribeira Sacra Spain
From steep vineyards in Northwest Spain. Bryan tells me winemaker Maria Jose Yravedre is like a mountain goat climbing these 50 degree vineyards. Ronsel in Spanish means “wake” like the wake of a boat. This ties into the fact that they are near the Sil river, but also is about the ‘wake’ that we leave with our lives.
This wine is based on Mencia and is her homage to the region.
Uva de Vida is a biodynamic label with another female winemaker (Bryan tells me probably 50% of their portfolio at Bon Vivant is female winemakers). Maria Carmen Lopez Delgado was fighting serious illness when she returned to working with the soils of the earth. Gardening took her to vineyards and winemaking and her health improved dramatically.
This winery near Toledo, Spain, not far from Madrid is where she makes this Biografico which is 80% Graciano and 20% Tempranillo.
From France we tasted “Rouge” from Chateau Terre Forte in the Southern Rhône, near Chateauneuf-de-Pape and Gigondas. This is a GSM blend with great depth. The soils here are rich with galets, the large pudding stones that the region is known for. While Grenache drives this blend, it does a co-ferment with the Syrah and Mourvèdre in Stainless Steel. This wine has delicious brambles and rich dark fruit and beautiful acidity.
The last thing I tasted was not wine, but Sidre. (you can read more about Spanish Sidre here). Bryan even ventured a mostly successful high pour for me.
Oiharte Hard Cider.
The Eguren family makes this Sidre from heritage apples in the Basque Region of Spain, including errezila, urtebi txikia, txalaka, moko and gezamina. This sidre is delicious and has lots of earthy notes.
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More to taste with Ada’s and Khoury’s
I also swung back around to taste with Ada’s where Kat and Lezlee were pouring a light delicious and zippy rose called Fria Frio, A Chris Christensen ‘Where’s Linus” Savignon Blanc (read more about that wine here), and a Beaujolais. They were also doing a special with the Fria Frio, if you order it in October they will make a donation to Safe Nest!
And Koury’s where Tara was pouring: Old Westminster Blinded by the Light, Col de Luna Flora, Gaspard Cabernet Franc (read more about that wine here), and Quinta DO Montalto Malhada.
Others booths at the Fair included:
& Night + Market
I did have a sip of a wine that I believe was called Mousseux Mousseux that paired beautifully with their crispy rice salad.
The coffin and the hearse out front – Wine Hearse
So I met Lauren when we were in the same class for taking our WSET3. She is starting her own company, building on a theatrical career and a love of wine. It is called Wine Hearse and digs into the darker side of wine, in a fun way. She will provide Natural wines for events out of the back of her custom-fitted Hearse. Watch this space https://www.winehearse.com/ for more!
Here’s hoping this becomes an annual event! In the meantime, get out there and ask for these wines!
Robin Renken is a wine writer and Certified Specialist of Wine and WSET 3 Certified. She and her husband Michael travel to wine regions interviewing vineyard owners and winemakers and learning the stories behind the glass.
When not traveling they indulge in cooking and pairing wines with food at home in Las Vegas.
What a fantastic fair and time you had! There are so many natural style producers out there and bringing so many together is my idea of a good time. Several producers noted based on your post ;-D
Lynn, it was so exciting to have natural wines, not just from the US but from around the world. Bon Vivant Imports has a large portion of its portfolio in Spain as the owners lived there for 10 years, but they have expanded beyond to other corners of Europe also. I wish it had not become so crowded (although a crowded fair is good!). I wanted to have a chance to speak with more importers and producers. There is more amazing wine out there to explore, and I hope you can find some of these European producers!