The four bottles came in a compact cardboard box with the words: “Your Drink Now Wines Are Here.” Picking up a bottle, I noticed three things simultaneously. The playful caricature of a woman on the front; the brief manifesto “Fight Like a Sister. Enjoy Today. Adventures Well” printed on the side; and the fact that the bottles were…well, squishy.
These were the inaugural release from Nomen, a wine brand started by Angelica O’Brien and her three eldest daughters. O’Brien and her husband David are the founders of Owen Roe Wines, a wildly successful wine brand that makes wines in Oregon and Washington State.
Nomen is the first project of the Distaff Wine Company, which Brigid O’Brien says was a project that her mother initiated as a way of giving the women of the family the opportunity to shine.
“We were all sitting at dinner and my Mom said, ‘You know, I’ve been in the wine industry a long time, but your dad gets all the credit!'” she says with a laugh.
Distaff launched a way for the women of the O’Brien family to tell their stories and to shine in an industry that too often foregrounds men.
They have several wine projects in the works, but their first efforts (mid-Pandemic, no less) took aim at two issues that were important to them: women’s empowerment and sustainability.
Sourcing wine from the Owen Roe portfolio and getting assistance from their David O’Brien in the final blends, the mother-and-daughters team put together an initial set of four wines and adorned them with labels drawn by Marie-Therese O’Brien depicting various career women.
Perhaps most impressively, the team packaged these four wines in PET plastic bottles, making them lightweight, reusable, 100% recyclable, and fairly unbreakable. In other words, perfect picnic wines and a slam dunk for the environment.
Wine packaging is a double-whammy when it comes to impact on the carbon footprint of wine. The combination of the manufacturing process for glass bottles, plus the cost of transporting those bottles around the world makes up a full 68% of the total carbon footprint of the wine industry.
So the single best way to reduce emissions in the wine industry would be to package wine in a lower impact, lighter-weight material, as the ladies behind Nomen have done.
But it wasn’t easy.
“We had a hard time finding a bottle we liked, and then once we did we had plenty of people tell us that we couldn’t bottle our wines in plastic bottles,” says O’Brien. “We eventually found one guy who was willing to tweak his bottling truck equipment in order to make it work.”
The bottles themselves are, frankly, brilliant. From 10 feet away, they look like any glass screwcapped bottle. Pick them up, however, and you realize just how much lighter (and less breakable) they are than what we’re all used to.
With one of these bottles in your hand, it’s difficult to avoid asking the obvious question: why isn’t every wine under $15 packaged like this? Figuring out the positive impact this would have sounds like a McKinsey & Co interview question or the subject of a WSET diploma essay, but let’s just say “huge” as a starting point. One piece of math I was able to track down was that a 40% reduction in the weight of a wine bottle produces an overall 20% reduction in that bottle’s overall carbon footprint.
Fully 90% of all wines are consumed within 2 weeks of purchase in the United States, and if we restricted that to $15 wines sold in grocery stores, I’m willing to bet that the number would inch dangerously close to 100%.
There is no reason I can think of that every single one of those wines shouldn’t be packaged in plastic bottles. Getting the wine industry to do this, of course, would take some serious effort, and likely couldn’t be accomplished without some serious commercial leverage. Something akin to Wal Mart, Kroger, Albertsons, and Safeway all telling their wine vendors that they have to transition to such packaging within 3 years in order to continue selling them their products.
Of course, Gallo and The Wine Group could also make a pretty sizable dent through unilateral action themselves.
Until that happens, though, at least 2000 cases of a women-led wine brand will be showing the way.
Noteworthy, too, is the fact that these scions of a fantastically successful wine family have opted to focus on making a remarkably inexpensive product. Usually you’ll find the children of well-known winemakers splashing out with boutique, micro-production efforts very much in the same or even higher price points than their parents’ efforts.
As for the wines themselves, well, they’re not amazing, but they are perfectly serviceable, which, you know, is kind of what you want for $12 a bottle. They’re polished, solid examples of their varieties that aren’t going to turn heads, but will do the trick if what you really want to concentrate on is the experience of having a picnic in the park or a pool party without the threat of broken glass.
While this first set of wines was cobbled together from bits and bobs that were already in process under the O’Reilly family brands, Brigid O’Reilly says the 2020 vintage will have been made entirely by the three sisters and their mother from start to finish—farming to final bottled wine.
Having launched mid-pandemic, the brand is currently focused on direct-to-consumer sales, but O’Reilly says they haven’t ruled out distribution if they continue to grow.
And I hope they do just that, if only as an example that I hope many, many others in the wine industry will follow, both from the standpoint of sustainability and, frankly, gender.
2018 Nomen Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, Washington
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black cherry, cocoa powder, and a touch of toasty oak. In the mouth, black cherry, blackberry and a touch of cedar have a light, muscular tanninc structure and decent acidity. Good length. 14.1% alcohol. Packaged in an innovative plastic bottle and closed with a screwcap. Score: between 8 and 8.5. Cost: $12.
2019 Nomen Dry Rosé, Columbia Valley, Washington
A pale baby pink in color, this wine smells of strawberries and bubble gum. In the mouth, strawberry and crabapple flavors have a sour bite to them, but not quite enough acidity to really make this wine sing. Nonetheless, it’s a pretty decent rosé. 95% Syrah, with 5% Pinot Gris added. 13% alcohol. Packaged in an innovative plastic bottle and closed with a screwcap. Score: between 8 and 8.5. Cost: $12.
2019 Nomen Sauvignon Blanc, Columbia Valley, Washington
Palest greenish gold in color, this wine smells of green apple and a touch of kiwi fruit. In the mouth, decent acidity enlivens somewhat plain flavors of green apple and gooseberry. A straightforward, pleasant rendition of Sauvignon Blanc. 13% alcohol. Packaged in an innovative plastic bottle and closed with a screwcap. Score: between 8 and 8.5. Cost: $16.
2018 Nomen Malbec, Columbia Valley, Washington
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black cherry and blackberries. In the mouth, black cherry and blackberry flavors are straightforward and pleasurable. Faint tannins, good acidity. Easy to drink. 14.1% alcohol. Packaged in an innovative plastic bottle and closed with a screwcap. Score: between 8 and 8.5. Cost: $15.
You can purchase these wines, which I received as press samples, from the Nomen web site, from where I borrowed all the images above.
If Italy’s northwestern region of Piedmont is known for one thing, it’s being known for many things.
So many wine regions overlap in Piedmont that it’s not uncommon for the skills being used to produce, say, Barolo also being employed to produce Barbera, Moscato, or – in today’s case – Roero. I recently hopped on a samples tasting with several Roero producers, organized by the Consorzio Tutela Roero, to take part in a bit of a deep dive of both Roero Arneis and the tragically less well known Roero DOCG red category (crafted from Nebbiolo).
Roero DOCG producers generally pride themselves on a completely different expression of Nebbiolo than found on the other side of the Tanaro river in Piedmont: easier to access earlier, very fresh, with its own identity (due to their unique soils), and focusing on elegance and linearity. They have some enviable history to backup their regional pride, too – Roero was the name of a noble Asti banking family from the 13th century, and the wine is mentioned as far back as 1303 (as part of payment used for rent). Soils there are sedimentary, from ancient seabeds and beaches, with differences in texture based on the depth. About 7 milleion years ago, a closed lake in the area evaporated quickly, concentrating mineral salts, followed by the seabed becoming uplifted, creating the sandy deposits on which their vines grow today, with steep slopes/cliffs (due to erosion and diversion of the Tanaro river about 250K years ago).
The pitch from these producers is straightforward: Roero as an appellation is unique enough to produce high-level white wines, as well as high-level reds. They are also, in the case of my tasting, good for some money quotes:
- “Roero is a meditation and a party wine” – Chiesa Carlo’s Davide Chiesa
- “We have four pillars: precision, planning, interpretation, and terroir” – Costa’s Alessandro Costa
- “The best feature is the massive amount of sand; [it] gives to the wine this elegant side, this sapidity, and this helps to pair it with almost every dish” – Nicolo from Filippo Gallino
- “If you could define Roero Nebbiolo in a word, I wold say it’s ‘elegance'” – Malabaila’s Lucrezia Malabaila
- “It’s something beautiful. I go around, and I’m proud to be a farmer [here]” – Giovanni Roagna of Cascina Val del Prete
They happen to produce some vino that’s well worth the money, too…
An elegant, single vineyard delight, from a spot planted in the 1960s that’s textbook Roero: both sandy and steep. “We try to make wine we want to drink. Wine for our and your party” noted Davide Chiesa. Mission accomplished. This white is textural, sporting both structure and great lift. It’s also pithy and pretty, with lemon rind, toasted citrus peel, and great salinity – both thoughtfully complex, and practically delicious.
This one punches well over its fighting weight class. Farmed organically, and priced almost in “total steal” category, this has a metric ton of peach, melon, and tropical tones. Minerality, depth, even hints of spiciness, and a long finish, all for under $20? Sign me up. Actually, sign us all up.
This overachieving number has an absolutely banging nose of white flowers and intense tropical fruits. Salinity, depth, pithiness… it’s all there. This is a wine that’s aggressive, but undeniably very, very good – so you won’t mind the forceful acidity, especially on a warmer day.
This Nebbiolo is a treat, and combines tradition with a modern sensibility. As Cascina’s Daniela Olivero explained, their vineyard was planted in 1954 by her grandfather on “very steep” slopes that need to be worked by hand. Natural fermentation is employed (“my husband decided to make this wine like my grandfather”), bringing some extra character to the texture. From its tar, violets, black cherry, black raspberry, and dried herb notes, to its fresh, exciting, structured, mouthfeel, this one is screaming – both in general, and to be paired with osso buco.
These guys can trace their history back to 1362 – almost back to when Roero got itself started- when the family arrived in the area from Asti. Apparently, the Prince of Piedmont was asking for their wines personally in the 15th Century. Three women now run the business, which is farmed organically (with truffles and hazelnuts also part of their estate offerings. Offering notes of crushed violets and dark cherries, this red is vibrant, with sapidity and transparency all the way through. It has grip, and I imagine will still be pretty a few (or even several) years from now.
This single vineyard Nebbiolo hails from the northernmost portion of Roero. As Daniele Pelassa explained, the soil’ “red sand and gravel makes our wines quite special.” In a word, this red is textural. The acidity is focused and pronounced, but has soft, rounder edges. The cherry fruit flavors have staying power, enhanced by wild raspberry and earthiness on a long finish.
Copyright © 2020. Originally at Wine In the Time of Coronavirus, Part 32: Roero Deep Dive from 1WineDude.com - for personal, non-commercial use only. Cheers!
What is the future for Burgundy wines in the U.S.? Christy Canterbury looks ahead in SevenFifty Daily. “While Burgundy remarkably held its own in terms of global exports—volumes up 0.8 percent and revenue down only 0.8 percent over 2019—the drop off in the American market reveals that the 18 months of U.S.-imposed tariffs on French wines (referred to as “la taxe Trump” in France) were more damaging to sales than the pandemic.”
Has Chianti Classico finally outgrown its French influence? James Lawrence looks at the DOCG’s evolution in Wine-Searcher. “Tuscany is full of delicious bottles which exploit the international renown of French grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon. Why, then, do we need Chianti Classicos with dollops of Merlot and Cabernet? Are they inherently better wines? Do they truly enhance the final product? I’d argue not: I’ve never tasted a blended style that was superior to a 100 percent Sangiovese hallmark.”
In the Wall Street Journal’s Opinion section, wine collector Rob Arnott wants restaurants to do away with wine corkage fees. “If wine collectors are desirable customers, because of their overall spending and because they introduce friends to the restaurant, why not have rules that welcome them, while discouraging the corkage-to-save-money crowd? Perhaps set corkage at the median price on the wine list. Perhaps set a minimum bill per person, if customers bring wines of their own.” (subscription req.)
“If there’s one stylistic trend that has marked the past seven or eight years, it’s a turn away from high-alcohol, super-ripe wines—red or white—toward lighter, more savory styles.” In Food & Wine, Ray Isle highlights elegant wines from cooler-climate regions.
San Francisco may have a wine thief, reports Esther Mobley, and they’re into fancy Italian wine bottles.
In Club Oenologique, David Kermode looks at the unstoppable rise of rosé.
In Wine Enthusiast, Amy Beth Wright does a deep dive into the Texas High Plains region.
“Wine aerators are a scourge on the face of the wine industry and a complete and utter waste of money,” says Alder Yarrow. “There is no single product (OK, maybe the Clef du Vin or the OMNE wand ) that is more useless, overpriced, and just plain irrelevant in the wine industry than any one of the hundreds of different wine aeration devices that have been “invented” to help wine lovers enjoy their wines more.”
In Club Oenologique, Adam Lechmere looks at worldwide efforts to ensure a more diverse wine industry. “These diversity scholarships are a drop in the ocean (how on earth can a couple of million quid change anything?), but they are a start… It’s going to take more than an auction or two to dismantle a system that has endured for generations. But revolutions are often started by people who see things in quite simple terms.”
In Wine Enthusiast, sommelier Terence Lane on how working a harvest gave him a new appreciation for wine and hospitality.
“Is wine really wine if it doesn’t possess the potential to alter our perspective via the alcohol…if the inherent risk in drinking wine (or any alcohol) does not exist?” Tom Wark considers non-alcoholic wine.
How good is canned wine? Ellie Douglas samples many of them for Decanter.
The Bordeaux 2020 vintage is ripe for investors, reports W. Blake Gray in Wine-Searcher.
For subscribers, Jancis Robinson offers notes on Coteaux Champenois and poses the question: Can Champagne make good still wine?