Creating Wine Naturally
Story by Karen Fredrickson
Photo courtesy of Stoutridge Vineyards
Stoutridge Vineyard is almost hidden, located close to the main road in Marlboro, New York, a short drive up a hill and then a left turn that takes you down the driveway and into the beautiful winery. The driveway descends, taking you past a pond and winding up to the main building, built into a hillside. From the sidewalk, visitors can enjoy a view of the entire winery built by Steve Osborn and his wife, Kim Wagner, about a decade ago as part of their journey toward creating wine using natural chemistry, with nothing added or removed.
Creating wine naturally presents a few challenges, a major one being the use of sulfites. This bleaches the flavor of wine according to Osborn, a trained biochemist. “Why would you use something that’s destroying flavor as a preservative in wine?” Osborn questioned. “I’m trying to avoid loss of natural flavor, by any means.” He cites filtration, sulfites, pumps, barrels made to impart wood flavor, sugar additions and acidity adjustments as just some of the ways processed wine alters the flavor that is otherwise naturally found in the wine. Stoutridge Vineyard aims to create wine that reflects the terroir, or flavor of the earth, of the area where the wine is grown.
Osborn has a lot of enthusiasm for the practice of winemaking, equaled only by his enthusiasm for explaining the chemical process of winemaking and how Stoutridge makes it as naturally and unprocessed as possible.
Osborn and Wagner conduct all of the tastings personally. Oenophiles interested in the details should definitely visit Stoutridge Vineyard to experience a wine tasting with Osborn, who will explain each bottle and the differences between Stoutridge wine and wine you would drink anywhere else. A particular difference is in the white wines, which lack the sweetness one would expect from a white wine bought in the store. Theirs contain more flavor, and Osborn will explain the differences his practices have on his wine that lead to that different and delicious flavor. The red wine is distinct from wine bought in the store as well, demonstrated with a well-known variety such as Merlot, which doesn’t taste like any Merlot the average wine drinker may be used to. The reason for this is the loss of fermented flavors in processed wines, which leads to them having a fruity or oaky taste.
Osborn explained the role of oxidation in the process of going from grape to wine, where the wine gets exposed to oxygen through the walls of the barrel. “You can get this other flavor complexity by letting the air slowly get at it, and then you put it in a bottle, put the cork in, and you have a reductive [oxygen-free] environment and you can get reductive complexities,” he said. “In wine, there’s four places flavor can come from: vineyard, fermentation, oxidative complexity…and reductive by putting it in an oxygen-free environment for a long two or three years. That’s all time, that’s all little bits of flavor.” Wines made this way take quite of bit of aging in the bottle as well. As a result, the wines made at Stoutridge are aged for a minimum of four to five years before they are sold.
Stoutridge is a gravity winery, which is exactly what it sounds like. Gravity is used to move and carry the wine. “No processing means no chemical processing in wine,” Osborn explained. “No stabilizing for temperature, no doing processing to speed the winemaking up. I rarely release wines before four years old. Four years for wine you can’t ship, and the winemaker does everything.”
That’s right, wine that you can’t ship. “[At] this winery, we can’t ship the wine; the wine’s only for sale here,” Osborn said. By only selling at the winery, Osborn can maintain control over the environment the wine is in, thereby allowing him to make the wine in as naturally a manner as possible.
As Osborn explains the process, it’s understandable why there are not more vineyards that use his methods. “We’re the only winery in the United States that uses no chemical processes in wine,” Osborn said. Rather than replace missing natural ingredients as other vineyards do, Stoutridge leaves the wine as it is, creating an authentic taste for the drinker to enjoy. “If the point of wine is to taste like a place and you’re bragging about how the soil is coming through the wine, don’t use anything that destroys flavor when you’re making the wine.”
This can be difficult to fathom, and Osborn is aware of that. To simplify the science, he describes it this way: “The complex, elegant and stable chemistry of natural wines appeals over the less-complex and less-stable chemistry of processed wine. This leads to very tasty wines with extended shelf life, which, over their long lives, leads to further complexities from extended aging. To produce such wine is the goal of Stoutridge Vineyard.”
By doing all the tastings himself, Osborn is able to imbue a very personal touch on his wine and with his customers. He seems amazed at how well the stars aligned for him and his wife in starting Stoutridge Winery and how many things had to come together for it to happen. Stop in and visit and try some unprocessed wine!
Stoutridge Vineyard is open Friday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. all year. The winery is located at
10 Ann Kaley Lane in Marlboro, New York. For more information, visit www.stoutridge.com.