In most wine regions across the world, there’s a plethora of rules that winemakers and vineyard owners must obey. This ranges from which grapes can be grown where, when a grower can start harvest, what methods have to be used in the winery and even the type of corks that can be used.
But in the States, that’s not the case. For the most part, winemakers can grow what they want and make what they want the way they want to. And so, in the spirit of freedom and the Fourth of July, check out these six wines from fiercely independent winemakers in the U.S. who are changing the conversation and doing it their own way.
During the day, Jack and Johanna Roberts have jobs working for other people’s wineries (he’s an assistant winemaker for Matthiasson in California’s Napa Valley). But for the past five years, they’ve been moonlighting as winemakers for their own teensy project called Keep Wines. The two own a small and very difficult-to-farm syrah vineyard in a cool high-altitude part of Napa. But for the rest of their wines, they buy fruit from the Sacramento delta region of Clarksburg. There, in the Lost Slough vineyards, they’re able to source a bizarre assortment of white grape varieties including Italian ones like Cortese and falanghina and Portuguese loureiro, all of which go into their peak-of-summer blend ($22) that’s remarkably dry but with lively ripe pear and peach juiciness.
2. 2015 La Marea Kristy Vineyard Albariño
California’s Central Coast has been overshadowed by Sonoma and Napa to the north and Santa Barbara to the south for the past 40 years, but there are some tremendous old vineyard sites throughout the region surrounding Monterey. Enter intrepid winemaker Ian Brand, who’s putting the area’s diversity to fantastic use by sussing out sites that are too much work for most anyone else at La Marea. This single-vineyard wine ($24) is everything you want in an albariño: lemony, super crisp and a little bit salty.
Oregon’s Willamette Valley has largely become synonymous with pinot noir. And while Drew Harper makes some fantastic single-bottle ones at Harper Voit, he’s also making an exceptional pinot blanc ($20) that’s deserving of equal attention. The wine is made in barrel and left on its lees (spent yeast) for a number of months, giving the wine a noticeable richness (imagine the best ripe pear you’ve ever had) and savoriness alongside an unwavering acidity. It’s a wine that’s as refreshing as can be in the summer but also something to cozy up to in the winter.
While everyone else was trying to figure out how to get Bordeaux grape varieties, like cabernet and merlot, to ripen in the persnickety climate of Long Island’s North Fork, Channing Daughters winery was tinkering with different grapes, especially cooler-climate Italian varieties, to see if there might be more viable alternatives. Winemaker Chris Tracy found that even if the red grapes can’t get ripe enough to make red wines, they can make exceptional rosé so nice he makes six different ones every vintage. Here, he’s using northern Italy’s red refosco grape to produce this juicy, jolly, berried dry rosé ($20).
We’ve become so accustomed to seeing single-grape variety names on wines from California–pinot noir, chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon—but with his Soif bottling ($29), Pax Mahle uses half a dozen different types at Wind Gap. He sources old-vine fruit from a slew of vineyards, choosing some fairly obscure varieties, at least by California standards, like valdiguié, carignan, negroamaro, dolcetto and mourvèdre. The wine is fermented in big cement tanks, resulting in this impressively exuberant, fresh red wine that’s best served with a little chill.
Sam Bilbro is a second-generation winemaker. His father, Chris, produces bold red wines in Sonoma, using Italian varieties, but when Sam set out to open his own winery, Idlewild, he went north to Mendocino. There he’s using similar grapes but from a very different, cooler climate and organic vineyards and made in a totally different way. For this wine ($24), he’s using whole clusters of dolcetto, nebbiolo and barbera grapes, rather than crushing the grapes before fermentation, resulting in this earthy and herb-scented, dark-berried wine that has great structure but remains nicely light on its feet.