(Bloomberg) -- I won’t keep you in suspense. The wines and other fermented beverages that Earth-friendly clothing company Patagonia is releasing today will surprise you—and in a very good way.
They include a juicy red from the hybrid marquette grapes made at a permaculture farm in New York state, a tangy Austrian pinot blanc infused with thyme, a refreshing apple-and-quince Chilean cider, and a light-bodied red from Mt. Etna.
All are exclusive cuvées not available elsewhere and reflect Patagonia’s environmental ethos.
But first, you may be asking yourself, as I did, why a successful company with a cult following for fleece jackets and fishing gear would get into the wine business. Turns out the company has been evolving ever since legendary outdoor adventurer Yvon Chouinard, now 82, founded it in 1973. “You never know where I’m going to go,” he says over Zoom. “I’m kind of a wild card.”
Wine was actually a logical—and long planned—extension of Patagonia Provisions, the food division that debuted in 2012 after Chouinard recognized the critical role food plays in finding solutions to the environmental crisis. Food and agriculture, he’s often said, are a matter of human survival, not just another business venture.
Clad in a blue plaid shirt, he speaks from his home in Southern California about his long love affair with wine, which, he jokes, began at age 16 getting drunk with gallon jugs. Later, he passed Gallo red to buddies at Malibu surf breaks. But it was a bottle of Ridge Montebello cabernet sauvignon that opened his eyes to wine’s dimensions, beyond inebriation.
Today, his favorite red is Chateau Musar, an organic family winery in Lebanon that has survived civil wars and whose grapes are hand-harvested by local Bedouins. Like so many of us, for whites he drinks sauvignon blancs from the Marlborough region of New Zealand.
“I’m interested in regenerative organic agriculture,” Chouinard said, “and the correlation between taste and nutrition.” He sees wine as a way into those discussions. A passionate environmental activist, he has co-founded such nonprofits as One Percent for the Planet.
Discussions about adding wine to Provisions’ offerings began in earnest in 2018. What pushed the project forward was an Instagram connection between Chouinard’s daughter-in-law Lizzy, a former chef, and master sommelier Brian McClintic, who runs Viticole.com, an online wine subscription focused on organically farmed wines from around the world.
Soon, McClintic enlisted Quebec importer Vanya Filipovic to help seek producers to collaborate on a diverse range of boundary-pushing fermented beverages such asva four-fruit wine from New Zealand. (See below.)
All fit firmly into the natural wine-style category, which means using low intervention winemaking techniques with little or no sulfur and embracing farming practices that rebuild damaged soils and restore biodiversity. A couple of the vintners are tiny, part of Chouinard’s aim to support small farmers. Covid-19 didn’t make doing all this easy.
But Birgit Cameron, head of Patagonia Provisions, is optimistic about the timing. “Now is a great moment for curiosity,” she says, pointing to health-conscious younger drinkers and groups of eco-conscious consumers.
Today’s rollout includes eight wines; an additional two will follow late in November. They’re available only in the U.S. at the Patagonia Provisions site. I rated them on points, with 10 highest.
2020 Alex Craighead Kindeli Sparkling multifruit wine ($19) Cloudy like natural cider, this lush, refreshing drink from New Zealand tastes and smells more of pears than of apples. The multifruit blend includes plums and grapes, which give it complexity. 7/10
2021 Alex Craighead Kindeli Piquette (4 cans, $28)Unpretentious, slightly fizzy, and low in alcohol, piquette is made from fermenting pomace (the grape skins, seeds, pulp, and stems left after pressing) with water. This New Zealand example in a can includes apples and a fruit called fejoa. With its sharp notes of tropical fruit, it’s the only item in the collection that didn’t appeal. 5/10
2020 Meinklang Rosé ($25)Darkish pink, with spicy strawberry-floral aromas and flavors, this food-friendly Austrian rosé is made from red zweigelt grapes. It’s made at an Austrian biodynamic farm that, at 3,000 hectares, boasts more than 300 species of plants, trees, and herbs. Interplanted among the vines are wild herbs and such flowers as red clover. 7/10
2020 Meinklang Thyme Blanc ($25) I didn’t expect to like a cloudy pinot blanc infused with organic thyme, but I found it refreshing, zingy, and herbal, like a light-style sauvignon blanc. 8/10
Terada Honke Gonin Musume Junmai sake ($39)This centuries-old sake brewery was the first to make natural and organic sake in the modern era. Serve this earthy, complex example cold, and enjoy its floral, miso soup-like aromas and savory, mushroom-y flavors. It will even please wine lovers who aren’t sake fans. (Available in late November.) 8/10
2019-2020 Wild Arc Farm Marquette ($30) Lip-smacking and light-bodied, this no-sulfur red is made from hybrid grape marquette in New York’s Hudson Valley. Exotic dark-berry fruit flavors, soft texture, and a zip of acidity make this blend of two vintages a natural with food. 8.5/10
NV Alai Sidra Sparkling Fruit Wine ($18) A French Basque-born enologist is behind this apple and quince pet nat made in the foothills of the Andes in Chile. Its crisp green apple flavors, tiny bubbles, and fresh, energetic character would be a fine, off-beat accompaniment to Thanksgiving dinners. (Available in late November.) 8/10
2018 Château de Béru Chablis “Green Label” ($48)This 400-year-old family estate was a pioneer in biodynamic farming in chilly Chablis. The chardonnay cuvée, made in a 13th century cellar, is aged longer than the château’s regular Terroirs de Béru bottling. Think bright, apple fruitiness and ripe, round texture with a salty finish. 7.5/10
2020 Frank Cornelissen Pistemutta rosato ($39) Noted natural winemaker Cornelissen farms certified organic vineyards high on Mt. Etna’s dramatic terroir. This orangey-pink, floral-scented rosé made from nerello mascalese grapes has a distinct mineral aftertaste. 8.5/10
2020 Frank Cornelissen Pistemutta rosso ($39)Made from nerello mascalese grapes, this crunchy Mt. Etna red with a screwcap has distinct earth and herb notes and is juicier than Cornelisson’s usual reds. The term “pistemutta” references the old-school winemaking of local farmers, in which grapes are pressed quickly to make light-bodied, drink-me-now wines. 9/10
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