It’s all Christine’s fault.
Last summer, Christine, the owner of Fresh Thymes, showed up to a meeting lugging a massive box filled with wine. The discussion of our latest dishwasher shortage fell silent as Christine plunked bottle after bottle on the table.
“Taste these,” she said with a glimmer in her eye.
Wordlessly, we packed away our computers and pulled out the stemware. We tasted our way through the afternoon, through grapes and regions we’d never heard of. We smacked our lips at the gregarious acidity of the Basque wine, Txacholina. We revelled in the deep yeasty funk of a “pétillant naturel,” a French natural sparkling. We met natural wine, and we fell in love. Hard. Our wine list could never be the same. But the world of natural wine could be murky and misleading--a lack of regulation for the use of the word “natural” resulting in plenty of fakers and duds.
If Fresh Thymes and natural wine were to develop a healthy relationship, we would need a relationship coach.
Enter Tony Zezas of the Harvest Wine Company. Tony tasted us through some of the most approachable wines in his portfolio, wines that would satisfy our wide audience and provide great value. With his guidance we swapped our bottles one by one.
We replaced an industrial Cab with our new darling, the Yard Dog Cab blend from Australia: big and bold, but with a subtle sophistication born from small batches and natural fermentation methods. We found a bright and playful French Rose and a mind-blowingly subtle and grassy New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. We fell in love with a Pinot Noir from Cooper Mountain Vineyard out in Oregon, one of the original natural wine producers in the country.
As this relationship matured, it wasn’t without a bit of scorn from the good ‘ol boys of our industry. Some haters will tell you that natural wine doesn’t taste as good as industrial wine. These are the same people who say that a fast food burger, corn-fed and injected with flavor and texture enhancers, tastes “better” than a grass-fed burger from a local ranch. We deeply disagree. We believe that it’s time to bring our palates back to the earth--to say a firm ̈NO ̈ to artificial colors and flavors and to retrain our tongues to appreciate nuance and true terroir--in food and in beverage.
We were holding firm to our new love and it was time to take our relationship from just friends to something more.
Along came the folks at Sutcliffe Vineyards in Cortez, CO. When we first tasted Sutcliffe’s Cabernet Franc, with its notes of blueberry and black pepper, we knew we needed to meet the man behind this incredible wine. After a phone call with John Sutcliffe back in January, we made plans to visit his estate and embark on an intimate relationship with his vineyard. We would be working with Sutcliffe Vineyards to make our very own Fresh Thymes wine! If Tony Zezas was our relationship coach, John Sutcliffe would be our Minister. He’d make this marriage official!
We held our wedding reception in Cortez on a bright Saturday in March. John and his farm dogs greeted us at the vineyards.
A proper Welsh gentleman, he carried our bags to our rooms and gave us a well-storied tour of the farm house and the grounds before abandoning us to the hard work of sunning ourselves on the terrace as he prepared our dinner. Before long, the house was perfumed with warm spices. The well-worn tasting table was set with glasses and pitchers of water, beakers and pipettes for blending, and bottles of unlabeled, young, unfiltered wine, just pulled from the barrel. It was time to get to work.
“I want everybody to taste each of these wines,” John started. “Can we do that, El Chap?”
El Chap was Jesus, a soft-spoken, shy-eyed vine tender and wine-maker, John’s right hand man. Jesus poured us the Merlot first, soft, big and luscious, and a good base wine according to John. We remarked that we liked the nose of the merlot, but as a fairly fiery set of women (who serve some pretty punchy food), we would definitely want something with a bit more kick. The Cab Franc was next. Funky, peppery and complex, we loved it immediately, but understood that it might be too aggressive as a base. Last was the Petit Verdot. Big, lusty and dark, it tasted to us of coffee, dried fruits and cured meat. Mysterious and rich, we were drawn to it, but not to the way its acidity threatened our enamel.
Having gotten acquainted with each of these wines on their own, it was time to try a blend. “Can we try 75 percent, 25 percent El Chap?”
John wanted us to taste a classic French blend of Merlot and Petit Verdot. The blend was rich and luscious but still too mild-mannered for the assertive nature of our management team. Christine wanted to add the Cabernet Franc. We watched the afternoon sun turn the drops of Cab Franc falling from Jesus’ pipette into rubies. John tilted his nose into the glass and spoke our thoughts aloud. “The Cab Franc has made a difference.” He grinned. “The nose has really come alive.”
We were getting closer. After another hour of deep concentration, we nailed it. We had created the wine we would want to drink all day, garnet red with bright fruits and a hint of pepper. Fresh Thymes wine! Our wine!
But we couldn’t have it, not yet. The wine would be blended according to our exact proportions, then put back in the barrel for the grapes to mingle and the flavors to meld. The wine would then be bottled and left alone for two more months before John would surrender it to us. “Wine gets what we call ‘Bottle Shock,’” John explained. “It resists being contained. It’s like boarding school.”
We were waiting until August for our wine to mature, and now we are waiting on some approvals and logistics so that we can start selling our wine, and the wait is excruciating.
We hope you’ll join us on this adventure into the world of natural wine. We can’t wait to share our wine with you! Stay tuned for an announcement that the wine is bottled and ready to sell at the Eatery.