Winemaker Ethan Joseph will celebrate his tenth year with Shelburne Vineyard in 2017 – he has been working with the winery since his days at UVM. Winemaking wasn’t specifically his passion back then, but a love of growing and fermentation led Ethan to his livelihood and continue to fuel his creativity on the vineyard and in the tank room. Ethan’s growth as a winemaker and wine lover has been mostly self-taught – reading, tasting and experimenting to perfect his craft. Lately, he’s been learning and working on making wines in a ‘natural’ style, releasing two Wild Wines to the public – Wild Louise and Untamed Marquette.
What is a ‘natural’ wine? The blanket term describes wines made with minimal intervention in both the vineyard and the tank room. The goal with a natural wine is for it to make itself so it can be the truest expression of terroir (taste of place). There is nothing new about ‘natural’ winemaking – the tradition is old, even ancient. However, this style of wine is making a comeback and you can now find entire wine lists and wine shops dedicated to the movement.
Making a spontaneous fermentation using yeast found naturally on the grapes without adding a commercial strain is a risk -- if something goes wrong, you are wasting a limited and precious resource. That’s why Ethan’s launch into the wild wines has been careful and thoughtful. To start his fermentation for the wild wines, Ethan handpicks the most perfect and ripe fruit from vineyard – free of bruises and blemishes. He gathers blossoms and even wild grapes growing in the vineyard to diversify the yeast he’s adding to the mix. “Each yeast assists the fermentation in different stages,” Ethan explained. The starter fermentations are made in small batches so he can watch them and choose his cleanest, most successful variation to start the fermentation of the larger batch of wine that is eventually bottled and released.
“There’s a big risk to making these wines, but the reward can be worth it,” Ethan explained. The reward he’s looking for is that enhanced expression of terroir. “These wines are essentially made in the field, you bring them in and let them showcase your location.” You can try these wild wines right next to the traditionally made wines of the same grapes in the tasting room at Shelburne Vineyard. Later this year, alongside the 2016 Wild Louise and Untamed Marquette we can look forward to trying a natural sparkling wine, rosè, and skin-on fermented white wine (like an orange wine).