Introducing the Alt-Wines
A typical day on the bottling line involves early mornings fuelled by hot coffee, a quick takeout lunch eaten in whatever clean corner of the winery you can find, and the type of no holds barred straight-talk that comes about from monotonous labour in a small space with a tight group of people. These days are usually set to nostalgic soundtracks of old school Hip-Hop or 90’s Alt-Rock, an inevitability when the majority of staff were born in the 80’s. It was on one of these days, bottling piquette, that we christened our more weird and wonderful wines “Alt”.
Our classic wines are typically made from the grape varieties that we grow on our estate. We’ve chosen to plant and make wine from them because we believe they perform well in our corner of the world and can consistently produce great wine. We make these wines using conventional winemaking methods, aiming to show varietal typicity and stylistic consistency vintage to vintage.
Our alt-wines are varied in style. Some are polished and premium, others more fun and frivolous. They might be low intervention, sustainably farmed, or produced in small batches. Most of them are experimental in style. We have fun with these wines, in the cellar and in their design. What they have in common is that they’re the alternatives to the classics.
Are the alt-wines natural? That’s a tricky question. The definition of “natural wine” has shifted and grown over the years. France, Italy, and Spain follow self-regulated charters of quality that are stricter than the official organic and biodynamic regulations. They start with certified organic fruit, and only allow coarse filtration and minimal sulfur additions in the cellar. But organic farming is difficult -- some would say impossible -- in Prince Edward County, and most local winemakers have adopted the natural label to mean “as few interventions as possible”.
Consumers have come to expect a wine labelled “natural” to taste a little bit raw, kind of funky, and sometimes unexpected. In that sense, many of our alt-wines fall into the natural-style category. But winemaker Lee Baker hesitates to call them natural.
“The word ‘natural’ carries a lot of weight. It implies something that just happens, without the manipulation of mankind. So what is ‘natural’ wine, then? A well-respected winemaker once posed the same question about the term ‘non-intervention’. He pointed out that as soon as the winemaker picks the grapes off the vine, he’s made an intervention. I think we should look even further back in the life of our wine when it comes to the term ‘natural’. How is something a natural product when it’s farmed in the way that we do?
Grapes, generally speaking, are grown in an environment created by mankind. Much of the world’s wine grapes are grown on continents where the species wouldn't naturally exist if not for human intervention. Vineyards are beautiful places filled with natural things, but is commercial cultivation a natural environment? If we are using a farmed product as the main ingredient, can it be called natural? If we’re going to label a wine with such a powerful term should we not define what it means?
I know generally what the natural wine category is. It’s something I push myself towards as much as I can. It’s something I debate continuously with my peers. And it’s wine I enjoy drinking and find the most rewarding to make. Will I ever feel comfortable calling a wine I made natural? I don’t know.”
It was with this reluctance to broadly paint our low intervention wines as natural that we stumbled onto the term alternative. Lee has always made comparisons between winemaking and music. People don’t only listen to one type of music, so why should he only make one type of wine? If Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are the tried-and-true classics in his repertoire, alt-wines are the subversive stuff. They’re not for everyone. But they're an opportunity to play different genres, fuse them together, or even come up with one of his own.
We’ve embraced Alt-Wines as a permanent part of our wine portfolio. Some will be there year after year, evolving over time like Jack White or Dave Grohl. Others might only be one-hit wonders -- here and then gone forever. Our Secret Pinot was a one-off wine made from a vineyard site that we likely won’t get access to in the future. We unexpectedly sold out in a day, and were left wishing we held onto more. Our just released Good One Chardonnay is another wine that came into being when the perfect combination of vineyard, vintage, and vinification made magic in the cellar. Grab a magnum here, before Batch 01 is gone.