Last week, my team at Wine Enthusiast published my article about Vivianne Kennedy (she/they), owner and winemaker of RAM Cellars and the only openly Transgender winemaker in the US. Every once in awhile I conduct an interview and I find a real connection. Not just a topic or source—I mean a real person-to-person connection. Viv is one of those people for me. We immediately hit it off. Not only is their personal journey amazing and inspirational but her professional journey is as well. I always appreciate it when folks get down in the nitty-gritty details of the viticulture and winemaking process—and Viv is a true wine-nerd at heart.
Following both of our conversations in preparation for this article, I found myself thirsty—thirsty to experience all the hard work and sacrifices she made; thirsty to taste the amazing, innovative wines they were describing to me. I do not join wine clubs easily. I am (now) a member of exactly three and I choose them very carefully: small, boutique businesses with a real story and a winemaker with whom I have a connection. I joined RAM Cellars Cellar Club and today I want to share with you my tasting notes and some of the story behind each of the wines.
Instead of throwing in a few tech sheets or winemaking notes, Viv wrote me a three-page love letter dictating not just where the grapes were sourced and how the wines were made, but how each wine exemplifies a portion of her journey in becoming themself, learning to love herself, and truly embracing themself for who she is. Yes, all the geeky wine-nerd stuff was in there too, but so was her person. That is why I join the wine clubs I do. Personal touches like that.
So, below, I have not just my tasting notes, but exerts about Viv’s story that come from that love letter. Read on, learn more and if you feel so moved, travel on over and buy yourself a bottle. Support Queer-owned businesses like Viv’s. A purchase from her Viv label provides $5 from the sale of every bottle to the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund and Portland’s Q Center.
I find Santa Barbara wine country so interesting. As a kid, Santa Barbara always meant vacation—hot days, sandy toes, beach water I could actually swim in. (If you grew up along the San Francisco shoreline, you know what I mean when I say Pacific Beach is never that welcoming). So, it’s interesting that a placed perceived as a summertime getaway where board shorts and flip flops are basically the dress code, could produce wines with any kind of delicacy. Let alone the cool-climate grapes for which it’s gained a reputation, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
But as all you fellow wine nerds know, the cool thing (pun not intended, but not deleted either) is that because of tectonic plate-shifting, Santa Barbara’s Transverse Ranges are exactly that—transverse. Whereas most of California’s coastal ranges run from north to south, limiting some inland locations from cool ocean breezes and fog patterns, in Santa Barbara the ranges go from east to west, thereby funneling in that cool ocean air.
The two major AVAs are Santa Maria and Santa Ynez, the latter of which contains four sub-AVAs: Santa Rita Hills, Ballard Canyon, Los Olivos, and Happy Canyon.
But at the end of 2020, Santa Barbara County finalized the approval process for its seventh appellation—Alisos Canyon AVA
If there’s anything we know about Chardonnay, it’s that it is highly adaptable to its environment. Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Chile, Oregon—heck even Canada—all have areas that produce premium Chardonnays. Yet all are so distinctly different, all so uniquely dependent on both environmental (soil, climate, altitude and latitude) and human factors (grape grower, winemaker).
In California, Chardonnay is our most-planted white wine grape variety. It’s produced all over the state and, given the size of the state and the amount of wine producers, it can be expressed in a number of different styles. Today I’m zeroing in on three specific AVAs: Russian River Valley, Alexander Valley, and Dry Creek Valley—all part of the Northern Sonoma AVA in Sonoma County, Calif.
Recently, I had the opportunity to learn and taste through the wines of Roero, located on the western side of the Langhe region, just below Asti on the map. The tasting and master class was provided by the The Consorzio di Tutela Roero. Founded in 2013, the Consorzio di Tutela Roero aims to protect and promote Roero Docg Bianco and Rosso through the synergy between vine growers and winemakers in the area. According to the Consorzio, the Roero appellation, a DOCG since 2004, covers a total surface of 1,158 hectares of vineyard, of which 889 are planted with Arneis vines and 269 with Nebbiolo vines. Out of an annual production of about 7 million bottles, just over 60% is exported.
And so was our focus of the tasting—the Arneis and Nebbiolo grapes, which can produce a variety of wine styles dependent on specific terroir.
Puglia is hot Mediterranean with moderating sea breezes, low rainfall, fertile soils, and permitted irrigation—most suitable for high volume production
INTERESTING FACTOID: “Its name derives from the Roman a-pluvia or ‘lack of rain.'” ——Oxford Companion to Wine (Fourth Edition). Pretty much confirms the above description. —me (First Edition)
Puglia key grapes:
Primitivo (Primitivo di Manduira DOC; Gioia del Colle DOC) INTERESTING ANECDOTE: Gioia translates to “joy” in Italian; Colle translates to “glue” in French. Interestingly, Gioia del Colle DOC, despite its reputation for the higher quality grapes grown at elevation, is the one that requires the least amount of Primitivo, allowing blending of other grapes such as Montepulciano, Sangiovese, Negroamara, and even the white wine grape, Malvasia (as well as other local and international varieties)—or “gluing” together to create the “joy” that is the region’s red wines. However, the region was so-named before some monk guy brought over the primitivo grape, which he named prima-tivo because of its early-ripening-ness (prima meaning first or early). —me and my remedial Italian and French (First Edition)
Negroamaro“Makes sweet-tasting, early-drinking reds and some good rosés on the heel of Italy.” “Wine Grapes” (Robinson, Harding, Vouilamoz) (Salice Salentino Rosso/Riserva DOC)
Nero di Troia/Uva di Troia“High-quality, flavorful, firm northern Puglian that has declined considerably in the last 40 years.” “Wine Grapes” (Robinson, Harding, Vouilamoz) (Castel del Monte/Riserva DOC/G)
While the WSET has us focusing on Puglian red wine production, I was provided the opportunity to taste through some rosés of the region as well as participate in a master class educating us on these wines and Puglia as a wine producing region in general. I wanted to share with you some of my tasting notes, as well as some of the things I learned from the Italian industry pros.
A note about the wines: According to the winemakers present, all wines are created in a style intended for immediate consumption—light, easy, fruitful. They’re looking to appeal to a broad range of consumers, but are also very keen on introducing non, new, or infrequent wine drinkers into the wine-drinking culture. Unfortunately, none of these wines are available in the US at the moment. All are within a 2 to 5 Euro price point.