How one winemaker turned “failure” into a successful product
Vermouth tends to be thought of as an apt blender in a martini—a second thought to making a fine cocktail. Its history as a modern beverage dates back to the 1800s and is celebrated on its own, as well, and as an integral part of a robust food and wine culture in Europe. Recently, the beverage has gained some notoriety as part of the craft spirits boom in the United States. Small-batch vermouth has cropped up across the continent with domestic examples appearing from wine regions in New York, Oregon, California and elsewhere.
In Napa, Massican Winery’s vermouth has become a beloved staple of the wine-geek community and has found its way into bars in California and New York. Massican owner and winemaker Dan Petroski brought his love for Italian culture, food and wine to making his dry, white wine-focused brand. Several years ago, however, a mishap in the cellar led to him adding dry vermouth to the portfolio.
As Petroski explains, as an aromatized wine, vermouth offers an interesting opportunity for the vintner unsure of what to do with a less desirable wine.
“The vermouth started out as a trial with Tocai,” Petroski said. “The vermouth was never meant to be. It was purely a wine trial, but in failure we saw an opportunity.”
Though the white wine variety Tocai Friulano has been legally renamed Friulano to avoid international naming confusion, it is still affectionately referred to simply as Tocai in Northeastern Italy. In Friuli, Friulano is one of the signature grapes of the region. In California, Petroski has been able to work with hundred-year-old vines of the cultivar first established by Italian immigrants farming the variety for their own use. Such fruit serves as an integral component of Massican’s flagship white blend, the Annia. It also ended up providing the base for his vermouth.
In working with Friulano for Annia, Petroski wanted to investigate different methods of clarifying the juice prior to fermentation, but the trial led to an off-wine.
“Tocai is a very reductive variety,” Petroski said. “It is important to clarify the juice prior to fermentation in order to ensure clean aromas and flavors. We wanted to test this process. After whole-cluster pressing the Tocai to tank, we mixed the tank and immediately barreled down one barrel—55 gallons—of wine. We cold settled the juice at 50° F for two days and racked off the clean wine. The remaining heavy lees and sediment… Visit Hawk Wakawaka for more wine reviews and story telling. Visit Wine Business Monthly website to continue reading the Vermouth article.
– Elaine Chukan Brown