“Think of it like cooking a stew, where the ingredients are combined early in the process and get to meld together throughout,” Matthias Pippig, winemaker at Sanguis Wine in Santa Barbara, says of co-fermented wines. “We can establish great balance naturally, rather than through winemaker or chemical intervention.”
Pippig is one of several contemporary winemakers embracing co-fermentation, a historical technique in which multiple varietals are fermented in the same vessel. They believe co-fermentation allows for new, naturally derived flavor profiles. While it can be difficult to find different grapes that ripen at the same time, these winemakers feel that the successes stand out in comparison to varietal wines or typical blends.
The resurgence of co-fermented wines in America dovetails with modern trends toward low-intervention wines and storytelling. However, the practice of combining multiple grape varieties for fermentation is nothing new. In the Old World, inky Syrah from France’s Côte-Rôtie was historically enhanced with floral Viognier. And in California, the wine industry was more or less built on field blends of varieties planted willy-nilly prior to Prohibition.
As more consideration was put into where vines were planted, this concept of co-fermentation fell increasingly out of fashion. But today, interest is reemerging across America, and especially throughout California.
Northern California vintners Morgan-Twain Peterson, MW, of Bedrock Wine Co., Mike Officer of Carlisle Winery & Vineyards and Sean Thackrey of Thackrey & Company highlight the complexity of old-school field blends in special bottlings. Thackrey’s flagship wine, Orion, is a field blend of assorted grapes that were all harvested at once, as is Peterson’s Bedrock Heritage Sonoma Valley, which includes 27 varieties from one vineyard.
Meanwhile, in the state’s Central Coast region, some winemakers stake almost entire brands on co-fermented vino. After years of making varietal wines under the Carr Vineyards & Winery label, Ryan and Jessica Carr launched CrossHatch Winery in 2011 to explore co-fermentation. They currently produce six such wines per vintage.
“By blending the juice before fermentation, you change the chemical makeup of the must and you produce something truly unique,” says Ryan.
Sanguis Wine released five co-fermented wines in 2019, and Winemaker Pippig’s side-by-side experiments continue to yield promising results.
So can we expect to see more co-fermented wines on shelves and in restaurants?
“On a small scale, with winemakers who…make it their goal to push forward and aren’t risk-averse? Yes,” says Pippig.
Try These Five Co-Fermented Wines
Lewis Wines 2017 High Plains Rosé (Texas High Plains)
Channing Daughters 2016 Mosaico White (Long Island)
Hubba 2016 Dreamland Grenache-Cabernet Sauvignon (Paso Robles)
Lightwell Survey 2015 Los Idiots Red (Virginia)
Sanguis 2015 See Through White (Central Coast)