Some call them garagistes, boutique producers, even rebels bucking the system. These are international winemakers crafting handmade wines on very small scale -- sometimes just hundreds of cases, to just under 4500 cases, versus the millions of cases pumped out by the big industrial wineries of the world. They're producing beautiful, lovely, interesting bottles. Most of these wines would never even make it out of the home country, let alone the local region. They're the wines you might discover on travels in Italy or France, wines the locals drink. Otherwise, you'd never know they existed.
Until now. Indie Wineries is an up an coming wine importer, bringing unique, artisanal wines to the United States market. You know how you go to a party or event and your wine loving friend pulls you aside and says, hey I've got this special bottle stashed away I want you to try? It's always fantastic and better than what everyone else is drinking. Think of Indie Wineries as that friend.
"Forget everything you know about Dolcetto," says Christian Troy, partner and California Portfolio Manager, who took me through a tasting of Indie Wineries' portfolio. "Throw out the word Dolcetto and focus on story. The story here is Barolo made with Dolcetto." He tells me about this producer who bought vineyard land in Barolo where there was Dolcetto planted -- with the full intention of ripping it out to replant Nebbiolo. A neighbor convinced winemaker Nicoletta Bocca to hold off and go through one harvest. So she did and she made the wine like a Barolo - giving the wine way more complexity and depth. Usually Dolcetto is an inexpensive and uncomplicated every day wine. This Dolcetto will knock your socks off. We should all be glad Nicolette kept those vines. The 2006 San Fereolo Dolcetto di Dogliani is very complex and extremely enjoyable with lots of fruit.
Then there's "the Vermentino guy". Vermentino is a lovely white wine, crisp with citrus and white floral aromas. In the hands of Fattoria San Lorenzo winemaker Natalino Crognaletti, it is elevated to new heights. First of all he ages his top of the line Vermentino in cement, on the the lees, for at least 10 years. The 2001 has just been released. It's a $75 Vermentino, which is crazy if you think about it. Christian says it was a tough sell at first but now people line up to buy it. Crognaletti makes only about 100 cases of it and doesn't seem too motivated to bump up production or shorten the aging process. Even his much more moderately priced Vermentino, the one I tried, is rich and complex, again, aged in concrete tanks. The 2010 Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi "le Oche" is pretty amazing, rich and luscious (and easier on the wallet at $22).
Only a wine insider might ever come across these wines; Christian's team does it for you. Indie Wineries was founded by his colleague Summer Wolff more than two years ago. While they both come from wine sales backgrounds, Summer moved to Italy and fell in love with the country and the wines and stayed. Christian says Summer had heard of this small but excellent producer "up in the hills of Monferrato in Piedmont where he's making amazing Barbera." She went to visit and check out the wines. When Summer Summer tasted Fabrizio Luli's Barabba Barbera, she loved it and wanted her friends back home to be able to taste it. Fabrizio said he did not sell to the states and it wasn't worth it to do so. Somehow Summer persuaded him to sell to her and Indie Wineries was born. Perhaps it didn't hurt that she and and Fabrizio hit it off immediately (and in fact are now engaged).
As the smaller producers in the area got to know Summer, they realized she might be able to help them get their wines into the American wine market too. "She literally carved out a couple hundred thousand dollars worth of business," says Christian. Indie wineries officially launched in January 2011 with seven producers. Now there are 45 wineries making 250 various wines from Italy, France, Austria, Australia, the US and even Slovenia.
What makes the Indie Wineries approach work? Christian says the typical importer model is "a buyer spends a week in a country or region, runs around tastes, I'll take this, this and this and then goes home." Indie Wineries has buyers living in the region. Establishing relationships with the growers and winemakers is the key to getting these hard-to-find special wines. "It's an ongoing dialogue about what they're making that we could bring in."
Being in country has other advantages. Take the time Summer went to a local wine fair to seek out a top Vermentino producer she had heard of. As she approached the winemaker's booth, turns out the proprietor was someone with whom Summer wouldn't want to do business. Before that person could recognize her she quickly turned to another winemaker and asked him to quickly pour her a glass of wine. That winemaker was Marco Cordoni, who now supplies his 2010 Monterosso Frizzante "Labaia" to Indie. It's a delicious blend of various white wines, made from wild yeasts and is grassy, herbal and has citrus fruit notes too. You might call that a fortuitous turn of events, made possible only by being there.
When Summer or Christian look for new winery partners, they seek out authenticity -- winemakers who work their vineyards, who don't compromise on quality and are even risk takers in terms of winemaking techniques. They also tend to look for characters who have interesting stories of their own behind the label that help bring the wines to life. Like Austrian winemaker Martin Arndorfer, "our California offshoot, the most chill guy on the planet, says Christian. "He just has this great California way about him, super laid back." He makes Gruner Veltliner and Riesling under his eponymous label. Or the renegades at Pacina in Chianti Classico who feel labeling their Chianti Classico by the town of Berardegna is better than having to pay a lot of money to get the Chianti Classico seal to be able to call the wine Chianti Classico. They feel it does nothing for them or for selling the wine.
Another aspect of winegrowing and winemaking that most Indie Wineries seem to share is practicing organic or biodyanmic farming in the vineyard, and using native yeasts and minimal additives in the winery. These wines reflect the land they came from, and the winemakers intend them to be a pure expression of place.
Indie Wineries is also introducing wine drinkers to unfamiliar varietals, like Refosco, or winemaking regions they haven't been exposed to, such as Slovenia, or Basilicata, in southern Italy. "When we signed Marco Cordani he also has a wine called Terzolo, made from Ortrugo grapes," says Christian. He and Summer said to each other, "we gotta have that,why would you not want to have an Ortrugo?"
How to find these wines for yourself? On the Indie Wineries website there's a list of restaurants, wine bars and retailers in New York and New Jersey, plus national distributors, but if you don't see one listed for your state, contact Summer or Christian directly and they'll do what they can to get you the wine.
With the wine portfolio from Indie Wineries, what you get is a highly curated collection that you don't have access to anywhere else. Indie is in some cases selling a winery's full inventory, or at least a significant percentage of it. If you're looking for the interesting, the off the beaten path wines, the small, homegrown producers, than this is a resource that could be just the right fit for you.