Nouveau-style production is in the midst of a monumental comeback. These are wines that are vinified quickly and released soon after bottling, inspired by France’s Beaujolais Nouveau.
Now, a handful of West Coast producers have begun to utilize a part of the nouveau technique called carbonic maceration to produce light, easy-drinking reds for immediate consumption and maximum enjoyment. Carbonic maceration is when producers begin the fermenting process inside whole grapes by sealing the full bunches in a carbon dioxide-rich environment. Some even release nouveau wines around the third Thursday of November, the traditional release date of Beaujolais Nouveau.
For a few producers, the creation of a nouveau-style wine wasn’t necessarily the plan. In Santa Barbara, California, Pete Stolpman, of Stolpman Vineyards, says that the challenges of producing a lighter Sangiovese led him to create Love You Bunches.
“Namely, the grape is naturally very tannic and high acid, a combination that demands time in barrel for the trademark ‘rustic’ finish to integrate into the body of the wine,” he says.
“We wanted to make a fresh, delicious wine that didn’t have to age for three years before release,” says Stolpman. Experiments began in 2009 with the elimination of grape crushing to avoid skin tannin, before moving to carbonic maceration in 2013.
“Because we don’t have to wait for the tannins to integrate, we can bottle young and fresh,” he says. “We also don’t need to preserve the wine with sulfur, since we aren’t leaving it in barrel for longer than a couple months.”
Elsewhere in California, Tracey Brandt of Donkey & Goat found inspiration at an Oakland-based Beaujolais Nouveau party. Unlike other nouveau-style wines, Brandt uses different varieties each year. Her most recent 2018 Nouveau Glou bottling was created from Clairette and Merlot.
“Each vintage we decide based on what tastes great and is stable enough to be bottled in November,” she says. These considerations require that grapes are picked in early September. Typically, Donkey & Goat’s nouveau is a blend of red and white fruit with a production of around 120 cases.
In Oregon, much of the state’s Pinot Noir is vinified into serious, ageworthy wines. Brianne Day of Day Wines seeks the contrary. Her nouveau-style wine, Vin de Days, is a tongue-in-cheek play on the French Vin de Pays designation and an homage to the crunchy Pinot-based wines of the Upper Loire Valley. Each vintage, Day alters the blend for the release, though Pinot is always used as the base.
In 2018, Day employed a co-fermented blend of 74% Pinot Noir, 24% Pinot Meunier, and 2% Pinot Gris. She leaned upon Pinot Noir for its juiciness, added Pinot Meunier for its minerality and used a touch of Pinot Gris for what she calls its “high red tones and floral notes.” After positive feedback from consumers, she plans to increase production this year.
Holden Wine Company’s Sterling Whitted cites Portland’s annual ‘Nouveau Party’ as an inspiration. “Because most of the wines we make won’t be released for so long, it feels good to be able to offer a new wine quickly,” says Whitted. He uses Dolcetto, though he says he won’t limit himself to one variety going forward.
Division Winemaking Company founders Kate Norris and Thomas Monroe took cues from the Fête de Nouveau in Beaujolais and released its first Gamay-based nouveau wine in 2012. Gamay was a no-brainer for Norris and Monroe, thanks to their strong connection with Beaujolais, where they learn how to make wine. However, they feel that nouveau is more about the concept than variety. “It really doesn’t matter what grape you use,” says Monroe. “It’s about cause and celebration with your peers and community.”
Norris and Monroe also founded Portland’s Southeast Wine Collective, an urban winemaking space with an onsite wine bar, called Oui! Wine Bar + Restaurant. Last year, the bar served nouveau wines throughout the fall and winter. They sold out quickly. “Customers enjoyed trying them, and we definitely got lots of requests for more of our nouveau wine beyond what we made,” says Monroe.
Jim Knight, co-owner of The Wine House in Los Angeles, says that domestic nouveau-style wines, often with attractive prices, sell very well in his store. Knight stocks nouveau bottlings from Stolpman Vineyards, Whitcraft Winery, Arnot-Roberts and other California producers.
“We really haven’t had any backlash, but we do let [customers] know what they are buying,” he says. “We know if someone is specifically asking for a big, lush, concentrated, steak-pairing red wine, we don’t sell them. But, if the client is looking for [an] easy-going red wine for sipping by the pool, then we turn them onto [nouveau]. We have seen our sclients like these wines and come back for more.”