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Through the Grapevine: Amber and amphora

“Super fun, food friendly and pairs well with just about anything,” is how Joe Chepolis, winemaker and co-owner/founder of Sound & Vision Wine Co. describes the wave of orange (aka amber) wine infusing a new hue into the red, white and rosé.

Sound & Vision’s 2019 Goldtone is an aromatic riesling, left on skins for 21 days. Chepolis says, “This orange wine is super cool because it messes with people’s perspectives, as many people think of riesling as a usually sweet wine.” This first vintage will pleasantly surprise with spice, spunk and a slight grip. The next one, 2020, perhaps even more surprise.

On a bright blue Sunday afternoon I met Chepolis at the winery for a barrel tasting of the upcoming Goldtone. Siphoned from a barrel at the top of a 10-foot ladder, we took the transitioning liquid outside to look at it. Still cloudy and unsettled, the color was amber, and both bouquet and first sip tasted of honeyed apricot. Second taste was same apricot, a little peachy keen, and then a snap of tropical citrus on the finish. Delicious already, with a great story behind it.

Chepolis tells that he had pinot gris from a vineyard he farms, but not enough for a full barrel. When he received vermentino grapes he’d purchased from an Applegate vineyard and was also offered the grapes from 10 vines of gewurztraminer, he took them, and tossed the “gewurz” in with the pinot gris. It still wasn’t enough, however, he hadn’t picked his riesling yet.

So when the riesling was ready, he “pulled off a couple hundred pounds and threw them in one of the stainless drums, fermented that, then added it and had a full barrel.” He considers this similar to ‘“an Alsatian field blend,” but it’s a skin fermented wine. He notes, “it’s 100% whole cluster; stomped on, put in barrel; all native yeast; three weeks on skins, 10 months in barrel, and will bottle in August.”

It seems Sound & Vision has created the Rogue field blend — gone orange. Their wines can be found at soundandvisionwine.com and their tasting room at catalystwinecollective.com.

Troon Vineyard (troonvineyard.com) also produces a distinctive orange wine. Its 2020 Amphora Amber is aged in Oregon made, handcrafted clay amphora. Andrew Beckham’s Novum Ceramics (beckhamestatevineyard.com) is the first commercial producer of terra cotta amphora for winemaking and brewing in North America — not only beautiful, but functional.

Prior to the second century CE, wine was stored in clay jars known as amphora. Hundreds of thousands of these clay vessels have been found in ancient shipwrecks and land excavations throughout Europe. Then suddenly, technology changed and the primary transport of wine for the next 2,000 years became wooden barrels. Then in the mid 20th-century glass bottles took over. But with the interest in organic, biodynamic and natural wines, the old is new again and the use of clay amphora is becoming a cultish trend.

And the trend has merit. Some say wine aged in an amphora has a distinct texture, freshness and “breathability” to it. It doesn’t necessarily make it better, but different. As any gardener will tell you, clay pots are the best because they allow the plant to breathe. Wine done well is a living, breathing, evolving, liquid plant.

But don’t take my word for it, go try it for yourself. Troon has two amphora wines, the amber and the 2020 Amphora Rolle. Both are vermentino based but the amber is in amphora, on the skins for 11 months, which offers up a unique structure of fruit layers opening with light grapefruit on the nose. The flavor was of nectar, almost candied, but not sweet. The clay adds more complexity and a little astringency on the finish.

It looks like orange is the new rosé. Cheers!

Reach Paula Bandy at pbthegrapevine@gmail.com and connect with her on Instagram at @pbthroughthegrapevine.