Nov 24 2014
In the back corner of Portland’s Enso Winery, past the warm, dark hued tasting room and into the brightly lit production space, I found Fossil and Fawn’s Jenny Mosbacher in a giant plastic square fermenter, pants-less and shoveling buckets of freshly fermented grapes, skins, and various other grape parts into a cylindrical wine press. From a distance, her head and shoulders were the only thing visible, each scoop and subsequent pouring necessitating a little extra muscle to lift her body closer to the press: scooping and pouring, scooping and pouring, gruelingly adding the precious Pinot Noir grapes into the narrow device. Her legs stained a burgundy hue, each scoop-and-pour had encouraged the gradual dissolution of her pulled-together ponytail and expertly perched glasses into a portrait of flyaways and cheek-coating juice stains under nose-sliding glasses. Every few minutes, Jenny’s partner Jim Fischer made gleeful comments like “just give me the Beyonce thigh, please”; he’d have been in the fermentor too, he joked, if he had remembered to shave his legs.
Fossil and Fawn is an urban winery currently fermenting Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir in Portland; while they’ve existed for three years, this is their first year fermenting solely at Enso. Laughingly calling themselves itinerant winemakers, Jenny and Jim represent the newest direction in American winemaking: smaller batch wineries (“homespun”, says Jim) that selectively use older techniques to push flavor boundaries, not because these techniques are cute or in vogue, but because they coax out aromas and tastes inherent to the grapes and terroir. The couple shepherds their wine from ferment to bottle, creating a comprehensively tactile experience with each bottle of Fossil & Fawn, one that encompasses the vineyard’s location, soil, and even pruning techniques, along with Jim and Jenny’s strong beliefs in taste, flavor, and aesthetics.
Even for experienced home chefs, picking up a bottle of wine can present a challenge. A simple trip to the store to grab a red to go with that lasagna baking at home is only simple in theory, often rendering the purchaser with temporary paralysis (diagnosis: wine confusion), senses regained only when she buys a bottle about which she knows little to nothing. It’s no wonder: a red is not a red is not a red, despite what your server at a wedding may suggest. As soon as you start breaking down wine choices into grape varietals, growing climates, labeling laws, and even the marketing that determines which bottles are front and center on the shelf, you find yourself with a growing list of questions about price, blends, growing practices, and aging – to say nothing of the most important consideration, taste.
Growing up, I found wine inaccessible. I babysat for families with massive wine cellars, bottle upon bottle saved for some distant future – or saved to sell when the markets dictated their best price. I drank cheap, sweet wine in college, and didn’t even know how to taste wine when I spent a week in Rome when I was 20. At one restaurant, I stared at the small amount of wine that had been poured in my glass, waiting an uncomfortably long time for the waiter to resume pouring, until I blushingly realized that he was in fact waiting on me to taste the wine. As a young adult, much of the wine I drank was produced by faceless corporations, and as such, I never thought about the winemaker or the agricultural components.
Jim and Jenny aren’t “faceless”, and usually aren’t pants-less, either. When I walked into Enso, an intoxicating grape scent enveloped me even as my ears struggled to acclimate to a loud whir-whirring noise. Jim rushed over to shake my hand, identifying the source of the loud noise as the pumping of fermented Pinot Noir juice into holding tanks designed to allow the sediment to settle. Over the next three hours and a subsequent chilly visit to Crowley Station Vineyards, Jim’s family’s vineyards in the Eola-Amity Hills AVA where Fossil and Fawn sources their grapes, I quickly realized that no question I asked would be deemed too basic. “I love questions!”, Jim said in an email. “I love being challenged!”, he reiterated as I hedged a question as to not offend. Mixed with Jim’s off the cuff, detailed opinions on all aspects of winemaking, Jenny responded to inquiries with well thought-out, engaged, educated commentary that invited me to dialogue with her instead of siting back meekly, hoping I didn’t sound stupid (clearly a buried conditioning to the mostly inaccessible interactions I’ve had with wine in the past).
These engaging, friendly, fermentation-obsessed winemakers exemplify why wine is no longer an arena best left to a sommelier at a fancy restaurant. Wine experts aren’t obsolete (a restaurant always benefits from employing an expert to guide a customer), but when you interact with Jim and Jenny, you feel inspired to become a wine explorer using your own tastes and knowledge, empowered to choose a wine not because someone else told you that it was enjoyable, but because you know it’s enjoyable – and you know why.
So before diving into the details of wine and fermentation, let’s explore the basic questions of any entry-level oenophile.
White vs Red
White wine can be created from white or red grapes. White grapes aren’t white like a piece of paper, but rather consist of a variety of hues ranging from greenish yellow to pinkish yellow. (Basically, any shade that’s not dark red or dark blue). Winemakers create most white wine, like Chardonnay and Riesling, by pressing crushed grapes into juice and then fermenting that juice, after discarding the skins. At its most basic level, red wine is created from the pulp (known as “must”) of darker grapes and skins; these skins are pivotal to the fermentation process. White wines can be made from red grapes, just as richly colored “white” grapes, like Fossil and Fawn’s Pinot Gris (a pinkish-yellow grape), can be transformed into almost red-hued wines, depending on factors like length of skin contact.
In the past, I’ve been guilty of mislabeling rancid wines or wines that haven’t aged properly as “corked”. In actuality, the term “corked” only applies to one specific taint in wine. When corks are harvested, they are cleaned with bleach to sanitize them. Occasionally (maybe 1 time out of 100, according to Jim), the chlorine interacts with the cellulose in the wood and creates a compound called trichloroanisole (TCA). This compound smells undrinkable, like a musty basement. When people say a wine is corked, they are usually referring to a whole host of smell and taste issues, not limited to TCA. You may not enjoy a musty smell with your wine, but TCA does not pose a health risk to consumers.
In my time watching Jenny and Jim move their Pinot ferment into the wine press, I overheard repeated commentary about when they added sulfur dioxide (SO2), and at what levels. Many consumers – including myself until a few weeks ago – are misinformed about sulfite additions, especially in American produced wine. SO2 is used in nearly all wines across the world, and has been for nearly as long as wine has been consumed. Winemakers add SO2 for its antimicrobial tendencies and its ability to prevent enzymatic oxidation. Most wineries use a stable, powdered form of sulfur dioxide called potassium metabisulfite.
When wine is fermenting, the environmental condition encourages the creation and development of beneficial bacteria that work in harmony. In order to knock out negative players, Fossil and Fawn adds S02 as the grapes enter the fermenter, as the wine finishes a secondary fermentation known as malolactic fermentation, and before bottling. Their goal is to use as little sulfur as possible, just enough to protect the wine from Brettanomyces bruxellensis and Dekkera bruxulensis, which can lead to aromas best described as “horse stable” or “Band-Aid”.
If you look at any bottle of wine sold in the US, you’ll see a label that says “sulfites added”; looking at a wine label of an Italian wine in Italy, you may not see the same thing. This discrepancy stems from labeling law differences between the European Union and the United States. One notable exception are organic wines: “100% Organic” products are not allowed to add sulfites in production. These claims are checked to ensure that wine contains less than 10ppm of sulfites (a percentage which is naturally occurring). In Europe, organic wines can contain a minimal amount of added sulfites.
It’s highly unlikely that you, the reader, have issues with sulfites in wine. A very small percentage of the population is sensitive to sulfites, including severe asthmatics. “Alcohol causes issues before sulfites,” Jim wryly observed, also mentioning that many other products on store shelves, from pre-sliced deli meat to frozen orange juice, have greater levels of sulfites.
Tannins, and which wines can be aged
Tannins are frequently identified as a taste in wine - and can have almost a physical sensation on the back of the tongue. Tannin refers to a polyphenolic compound that binds to protein; it comes from grape skins and stems, and even from aged barrels. It acts as a natural preservative; without it, certain wines couldn’t improve in the bottle. Red wines tend to have a higher level of tannin than nearly every white wine because they ferment with their skins.
When I asked Jenny about guidelines to aging wine, she answered that most (industrial) wines are not meant to be aged. In fact, you should consume most bottles you buy within a year – only a few should be aged past five years. (Of course, “a few” is a relative term. About 1% of all wines produced, including wines from many smaller production, artisanal winemakers, benefit from aging. This still pans out to around 35 million bottles of wine, according to Jenny’s estimation.)
99% of wine produced and purchased is closer to that industrial product end of the spectrum - designed for immediate consumption. Many smaller production, artisanal wines are designed for ageability (but not all) and will reward the consumer’s patience.
Factors involved in the age-ability of a wine include the level of tannins, knowledge of how the wine was fermented and aged, and even the weather conditions of the vineyard (as ideal weather conditions can lead to a better balance of fruits, acids, and tannins). The thickness of grape skins play a role too: Syrah and Merlot both grow in hot climates and can be “beat around” a lot. When pressed further, Jenny shared that “I think a good marker for how a wine can age is: does it taste good upon release? If the answer is no, then it might be age-able. If it tastes good then, drink it then. Cabernet Sauvignon can be aged ‘indefinitely’ due to its high tannins.”
Wine is not wholly an agricultural product, nor wholly a microbial one: it’s a marriage between the two overlapping environments, sometimes a forced, imposed one – as when the grapes are coaxed to exhibit certain characteristics from an amalgamation of commercial yeasts, with the the resulting wine plumped up with colorings and additives – and sometimes a nurtured and fostered one, like Fossil and Fawn’s. I find a wine’s taste at its most appealing when the connection between land and microbe is both understood and revered. Jim has that reverence part down: “it’s magic”, he described the winemaking process when we first met, mostly joking.
Winemaking does seem magical, actually. On a recent trip to Italy, I spent hours curving around roads surrounded by verdant grapevines, views of vineyards everywhere I looked. There are many sun-kissed movies and occasionally snarky ones dedicated to wine. And if you say you’re going on a wine vacation, that speaks to a luxurious side of your personality and bank account. Wine can speak to extravagance and unaffordability – but then again, so can a t-shirt. Yet a diversity of techniques, grapes, regions, and winemakers means there’s a wine available to all interested, for every desired taste and price point. This diversity derives from the interplay of microbes in the soil, on the grape, and in the must; in the experience and desires of the winemakers; and in the growing climates of the grapes. Over 300 Oregon wineries produce bottles of Pinot Noir, but because of the variety at all levels of the wine’s creation, there’s room for all these interpretations.
Winemaking for small scale producers like Jim and Jenny starts with an intimate connection to a vineyard; in their case, a vineyard served as their original impetus for starting Fossil and Fawn four years ago. Jim grew up on the land that’s now home to Crowley Station Vineyards. This property has a varied past, including as a plum orchard. (Plums once dominated the area to such a degree that the local high school mascot was a prune-picker.) The Fischers used the land briefly for sheep, but mostly grew straw and alfalfa on the expansive sloped property. Jim Fischer Sr., after years of being surrounded by vineyards, and having more time to cultivate the land post-retirement, converted the property into a fledgling vineyard with the help of his brother Bill Fischer in 1999-2000. That winter, when Jim was home on winter break from school, the Fischer family collected pruning wood from their neighbors. When nurtured, this pruning wood becomes fully functioning grapevines, meaning that the selection of Crowley Station’s initial grape varietals – two different clones of Pinot Noir – depended on chance and recommendation. When the Fischers planted the diminutive grapevines in the fields the following year, 90% of the initial plantings survived; over the years, Jim Sr. and Jim Jr. have replanted when necessary, interspersing some lesser-known clones among the original plantings. Today, after several dedicated years of working with wine, Jim believes that “site trumps clone”, and that wines taste more of the vineyard than the grape: in other words, an agonizing selection of a certain clone of a certain grape will never have as much influence as the light’s intensity, the slope of a hill, the soil quality, and the vineyard’s maintenance.
Jim and Jenny met when both ran tasting tables at a grocery store (“I was smitten,” recalls Jim. “I thought, who is this asshole?”, Jenny teasingly laughed). Shortly after, Jim left the world of wine distribution and began “soul searching” to find his next career incarnation while working everyday in the vineyard with his dad. Jenny, who had worked for Sokol Blosser Winery before becoming the purchasing manager for The Meadow, quickly recognized that Crowley Station Vineyards was growing “really good Pinot Noir”, but, because these grapes were destined for integration into other winemakers’ wines, the vineyard-specific flavors were lost. Seeking a more varied selection of buyers for this “beautiful fruit”, Jim and Jenny decided that they would make a wine from the Crowley Station Pinot Noir as a kind of “liquid business card”. “Let’s find someone who has space, let’s see if someone can guide us through the process,” Jenny summarized with an amused shrug, “and that’s how 2011, our first vintage, happened.”
Mid-October found the pair knee deep into their fourth season as Fossil and Fawn, still sourcing exclusively from Crowley Station. September through October are their most intense months, with the grape harvest quickly followed by fermentation and barreling, forcing the couple to prioritize and stay focused on the distant goal: a flavor the reflects the grapes, the region, and the winemakers. As excited as they are about the growing recognition Fossil and Fawn is receiving, they are even more pumped (only a slight pun intended) when people understand the real reason their wines taste the way they do: the Crowley Station vineyard. Fermenting in Portland, using grapes from a family vineyard, in the presence of a supportive friend in Enso’s Ryan Sharp, means that the resulting wine tastes of many factors – including microbes.
Wine is a visceral product of a complicated microbial family, a family that you can trace via its corresponding generations (soil -> grapevat -> vintner -> barrel -> bottle). Microbial reactions in wine happen in a year or less, and each resulting wine is affected by the slightest change in soil composition, acidity, pH, and microbial makeup. “Grapes possess an ideal balance of sugars, acids, and tannins to support yeast growth”and will ferment spontaneously, without any winemaker involvement. A winemaker like Jim or Jenny guides this process to enhance and nurture flavors that present more than a single note. Other kinds of winemakers (the large, corporate types, the types that add stabilizers, emulsifiers, and targeted microbes), eliminate any chance for spontaneity, preferring to be in complete control. But Jim and Jenny thrive on that spontaneity, debating how this year’s wine will taste different from last year, and why.
This excitement and curiosity starts casually before harvest, accelerates around harvest and early fermentation, and then stays at near fever pitch anticipatory levels for months: when will the wine taste “done”? What is “done” for this vintage? How will the tweaks they’ve made play out in the wine’s texture, color, and longevity? Imagine anticipating Christmas for half the year – not a dull anticipation, but that night-before-Christmas-as-a-child feeling. That’s the feeling I absorbed from Jenny and Jim when I watched them ferment their Pinot Noir and as Jim walked me around the vineyard. They love the unexpected flavor note or reaction, but balance that excitement with a deep knowledge of microbes, growing conditions, and fermentation styles. As Jim tasted the young Pinot Gris and even younger Pinot Noir, he constantly exclaimed “I’m so excited”, “This is so exciting”, and “I love how it tastes”, practically skipping around the room. He might blame the ethanol from the fermented grapes, but I wasn’t ingesting those off-gases as I felt myself growing equally excited – and it wasn’t even my wine.
The primary microbial player in wine is also a familiar one – Saccharomyces cerevisiae, the alcohol producing yeast also prevalent in brewing and breadmaking. This yeast will tolerate an alcoholic level of 13% or higher before dying. Interestingly, when grapes are first picked, Saccharomyces cerevisiae has been found to be the least prevalent of these microbial species, with other yeasts, from Candida and Kloeckera, existing in greater numbers. As the alcohol level rises, alcohol tolerant S. cerevisiae begin to dominate, and by the end of the fermentation, they’re usually the only microbe alive
To influence their ferments and eventual wine, Jim and Jenny collect fruit from the vineyard before harvest, in order to build up a yeast culture. After extracting juice, they arrange various samples in their home kitchen, sometimes adding SO2 to the flasks and sometimes going “au natural”. After the yeasts become active, the flasks are poured into two liter bottles with crushed juice. From there, they closely monitor the alcohol levels to ensure that the yeasts are multiplying and on the rise, not peaking and dying. This approach is called pied de cuve (or more colloquially by Jim and Jenny, “survival of the fittest”), and is an interesting alternative to adding a specific, laboratory strain of yeast at the beginning of fermentation. The couple admitted that they created “an angry yeast” that wanted to go “crazy hot”. While they’re happy with the final ferment, the temperature of the fermenting grapes soared as high as 96 degrees – hot enough that the yeasts should have died.
If you’ve had the pleasure of drinking Fossil and Fawn’s Pinot Gris, you might be intrigued, like I was, by its reddish-pink hue. This hue comes from the Gris’ grape skins, which provide unique color and flavor compounds in the final wine. This year, Jim and Jenny guided some of the Pinot Gris grapes (about 6%) through a process called carbonic maceration. Carbonic maceration is essentially fermentation occurring within the grape, a technique used to make wines fruitier while degrading malic acid. During this process, the tannins and anthocyanins in the grape skins (known as polyphenols) migrate to the pulp of the grapes (which is naturally white).
Combined with this maceration, Fossil and Fawn did an entirely sulfur-less ferment this year on a small percentage of their Pinot Gris, eager to test the boundaries of fermentation. They kept the Gris “on skin for eight days and then combined that sulfur-less ferment with the 6% carbonic macerated portion”, creating 60 gallons of skin contact Pinot Gris. Jim and Jenny will ultimately combine those gallons with three other barrels of Gris that were directly pressed into barrels; the skin contact Gris will make up around 25% of the fermented and bottled Pinot Gris.
My visit to Enso coincided with Jim and Jenny pumping the Pinot Noir juice into giant plastic barrels, one final resting area before transferring the young wine into oak barrels for aging. They fermented one large Pinot Noir batch with a makeup of 66% whole cluster and 33% destemmed grapes. The couple, along with friends, stomped down the clusters of grapes, breaking up some of the berries and releasing juice, but leaving many berries intact as well. When grapes are fermented in their entirety, they release sugar slowly, moving fermentation along at a steady speed while producing glycerol that aids in a wine’s texture.
Fermenting whole cluster grapes creates conditions that stimulate carbonic maceration, especially if those whole clusters are at the bottom of the fermentation tank, devoid of access to oxygen. The berries that do rupture, either from destemming or from stomping, give up their juice immediately, kickstarting fermentation, as hungry yeasts perk up. As the yeasts eat the sugar, there is less sugar available for consumption but plenty of carbon dioxide, another byproduct from fermentation. The carbon dioxide forces the yeast through the grape skins of the individual berries, fermenting the grape from the inside out, imbuing the skin’s pigment onto the fruit. Besides stimulating carbonic maceration, whole cluster fermentation influences an entire spectrum of flavors that range from peppery, to savory, to floral.
After barreling, the Fossil and Fawn couple guide each wine through a secondary fermentation called malolactic fermentation. (Malic acid is the tart acid found in a Granny Smith apple.) Malolactic fermentation lowers tartness by turning the malic acids in the liquid into lactic acids, which ultimately increase the softer, buttery flavors in wine. These bacteria are, in a word, finicky. They dislike high alcohol, high sulfur dioxide, low temperature, and low pH. Wines that have been carbonically macerated have a higher pH when barreled that can encourage malolactic fermentation to start “more easily” after alcoholic fermentation finishes.
The current culture of the American wine industry allows Fossil and Fawn to enter the wine market unburdened by the need to create a specific number of bottles, grow a certain kind of grape, or produce a formally-dictated style of wine. American wine is still a young venture, taking hold during the Gold Rush and then rapidly decreasing during Prohibition, only to build up again when Prohibition was repealed. The native grape to America, vitis labrusca, produces less than desirable wine (best for table grapes), so Americans grow wine on the same vines used all over the world, the species vitis vinifera. American wineries cultivate grapes like Nebbiolo, Chardonnay, and Cabernet Sauvignon, freed from the restrictions that guide so much of wine production in Europe.
In France and Italy, there are regions with designation AOC and DOC (respectively) that enforce specific taste, production, and growing expectations. For example, the Nebbiolo grape is grown throughout Northern Italy, but a small percentage of the Nebbiolo grown in the tiny villages of Barbaresco and Barolo are labeled by their location instead of the grape. If a vineyard isn’t located in those villages, they can’t make wine labeled Barolo and Barbaresco, and have to find other wines to distinguish their Nebbiolo creations.
While in Italy, I visited La Stoppa Winery, a winery run by Elena Pantaleoni. For much of her winemaking history, she made Gutturnio (a blend of Barbera and Croatina grapes) under the DOC regulations. She recently withdrew from the DOC format, believing that the label did little to represent the true nature of the wine and desiring a chance to experiment and create a unique product. While La Stoppa still sells wine with a similar mix of Barbera and Croatina grapes, they are no longer bottled and sold as “Gutturnio”, instead adopting their own name of “Trebbiolo”. La Stoppa also grows French grapes, but only makes that wine for themselves, because it’s illegal to market and sell an unapproved wine.
These aren’t restrictions that Jim and Jenny face. Instead of a DOC label that might make it easier to find buyers, but could limit their own creativity, Jim and Jenny have the decidedly American task of finding their own way and creating a unique product.
Though Jim and Jenny choose to mix old world and new world techniques, they do so without the misinformed nostalgia that sometimes floats around these kind of movements. They understand the balance between romantic and modern, and try to showcase those flavors in their wines. Any food with a long tradition - cheese, beer, bread – comes with its own idealized romantic history, one painted with words like rustic, pastoral, and bucolic. “You envision the caves of France and they’re all moldy, dark, dank, and icky,” Jenny elaborated when asked about navigating romanticism with American palates. “It’s weird that now we want to be very careful to clean everything. We [Americans] want wine to taste a certain way and not be weird.” But the more mechanized, industrial nature of so much of wine production today does provide several notable positives. In the past, “there was a lot of stuff that would not be kosher at all,” Jenny commented. “Just top it up with whatever so it can make the ocean journey, things like ox blood to make up the volume”. As Jim interjected: “Nobody wants blood wine.”
Jenny and Jim talk about wine like poets, with evocative, graspable descriptions floating off their tongues every time they tasted wine or described a flavor compound to me (“rat feces” probably stood out the most in my memory – a flavor I never want to taste or smell when pouring a glass of wine!). In my time with the couple, they tasted constantly, comparing the direct press, barrel fermented Gris to the skin contact Gris, before sampling the in-process Pinot Noir, always tasting, examining, and discussing. And at Crowley Station, Jim was just as attuned to his senses, touching the vines, inspecting weeds, eating secondary crop grapes.
As I write this, all of Fossil and Fawn’s Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris sit in barrels at Enso, perhaps going through malolactic fermentation, perhaps gearing up for it. Each of the barrels holds around 60 gallons of wine. When they bottle next spring and summer (earlier for the Gris than the Noir), they estimate they’ll have enough for 125 cases of Pinot Noir and 100 of Pinot Gris, which is a fairly large jump from the 30 cases of Pinot Noir they made in 2012.
Vines have an incredible longevity: if properly cared for, they’re the ultimate perennial crop, producing grapes for up to 100 years. Crowley Station’s vines are between 10 and 14 years old, meaning that Jenny and Jim could potentially create unique, yearly-specific vintages for as long they wish. Jenny mentioned that she’d love to eventually make a Chardonnay, and in fact, they experimented with a few ferments in their home, ultimately turning them into sparkling Chardonnay.
But wine’s history, however long or romanticized, almost came to a bitter end. In the late 1800s, a grape louse called phylloxera, a nasty parasite that lives on and eats the roots of grapes, threatened to destroy the entirety of Europe’s wine industry. Phylloxera was accidentally transported to Europe on America’s native grape, vitis labrusca, spreading quickly and devastatingly. Ironically, it was only by grafting the common wine grape, vitis vinifera, onto this North American native grape (the harbinger of the disease in the first place) that the wine industry was saved. Today, most European vines are grafted, and free from this louse.
In contrast to these grafted vines, Fossil and Fawn’s vines (and many American vines) are “own rooted”, grown on the vitis vinifera rootstock. While Jim admits that they didn’t consider grafting because of the upfront expense, and is well aware that phylloxera is a real concern (and has already affected California’s wine industry: in the 1980s, California vineyards had to replant a huge number of vines), he’s hopeful about his vine’s own roots. “I want to tell myself that there’s something more natural about a plant using its own roots and circulatory system to interact with its main source of nutrients and water,” he says. “There’s something I hope is good about that. Whether or not that’s something you taste in the bottle, I don’t know. I feel from an emotional point of the view that it’s the right thing to do.”
Though I’m sure my palate isn’t developed enough to taste the difference between own rooted and grafted grapes, and research and history does indicate that vines are more resilient against phylloxera when grafted, own-rooted vines do present distinct advantages when it comes to resilience in cold weather, as well as a perhaps unquantifiable microbial and emotional interplay within the grapes and wine.
American winemakers (and all non-European winemakers) are labeled “New” world versus “Old” world for their geographies, but I prefer to think of them as parents and children. New world winemakers are akin to precocious teenagers who need the structure that their parents can provide, but desire the freedom to make choices that resonate with them, not mimicking the beliefs of their parents. Because winemaking is a practice that dates back to the Roman Empire, “there’s nothing new anymore,” Jenny remarked to me. But even if specific techniques – from fermentation, to pruning, to grape selection – aren’t brand new, the combination of these techniques can be deeply personal, and the resulting wine unique in its ability to express the choices of the winemakers.
A wine’s “blend” colloquially refers to its specific combination of grapes, but the blend of any wine incorporates many more factors than mere grape selection. For Fossil and Fawn, it’s the blend of these other factors that is most intriguing, mixing modern and centuries’ old techniques to create a product that showcases a single vineyard’s (and single varietal’s) personality. Jim and Jenny monitor the fermentation of their grapes in the same way they navigate being young urban winemakers in a centuries’ old practice: with personality, intuition, and a fearlessness to push boundaries. Jenny’s observation that there’s “nothing new” may apply to any single factor in winemaking, but each time a bottle of Fossil and Fawn is opened, it is something new - a unique combination of land and microbes, of vintner personality and drinker’s mood, of time and environment. A blend of everything but grapes, rooted in the moment.