Meet the makers of natural wine, a movement gaining momentum in Sonoma County
The Natural Wine Movement in Sonoma County is gaining momentum with an uptick in millennials producing these wines while their generation is clamoring to buy them.
Natural wine is generally understood to be made from organically grown grapes with few or no additives.
Barry Herbst, wine buyer of Bottle Barn, has watched a microcosm of the natural wine movement on the rise in his Santa Rosa store. Today, Herbst is selling roughly 30 brands of natural wines, largely crafted by millennials, compared to fewer than 10 two years ago. And if you add natural wine imports and those made throughout California to the mix, Bottle Barn is selling close to 150 brands, up from 30 two years ago.
“Millennials want to feel good about what they’re drinking and know they’re not damaging the earth with pesticides and synthetic fertilizers,” Herbst said.
Born between 1981 and 1996, millennials range in age from 27 to 42, according to the Pew Research Center.
Other industry insiders are witnessing this local groundswell of millennials crafting these low intervention wines. They include Luke Stanko, a production manager at Windsor’s Grand Cru Custom Crush; Kaz Khosrowmanesh, the beverage manager of Sonoma’s Valley Bar & Bottle; and Ryan Miller, co-owner of Sebastopol’s The Redwood, a natural wine bar. Stanko, Khosrowmanesh and Miller all say they expect the market for these wines to grow, with millennials driving the traffic.
Here’s a glimpse into this burgeoning movement from the inside by introducing you to a trio of winemakers — two millennials and a Gen Xer — who are making natural wines in Sonoma County.
Derek Trowbridge, Fulton’s Old World Winery
At 53, Trowbridge is a lanky Gen Xer who said he wants to make wine like his late grandfather, Giuseppe Martinelli, did. The Italian immigrant, who began his odyssey in Sonoma County in 1889, made wine free of pesticides and chemical additives.
“I grew up drinking my grandfather’s wine,” Trowbridge said. “We had a rich heritage here in California before Prohibition. Everything was absolutely natural.”
Founded in 1998, Old World Winery has long-term leases for about 12 acres of vineyards and Trowbridge said these vineyards are biodynamic and regenerative. The winemaker said he’s opposed to conventional farming, which allows the use of pesticides, insecticides, herbicides and synthetic fertilizers. He also objects to the use of many of the additives in conventional winemaking. While legal, he said these additives have spiraled to more than 70.
Chemical additives, Trowbridge said, began to multiply after World War II, many of which are used to process wine more quickly.
“If you have an 80,000 gallon tank and you have to turn it over, you can’t have grapes in it for more than seven days,” Trowbridge explained.
Old World Winery, in contrast, operates on a smaller scale, producing 3,500 cases a year. He makes a range of 12-plus varietals, all natural wines. He adds small amounts of sulfur to kill unwanted bacteria and yeast and to stabilize his wines, holding to his philosophy of minimum intervention.
Trowbridge said most producers of natural wine in Sonoma County don’t own their own land. Like himself, they develop relationships with their growers and monitor the land to make sure it’s chemical free, even if these growers don’t have certifications.
While some say uncertified vineyards pose a risk for consumers, Trowbridge is convinced self-regulation is sufficient.
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