The Mystery and Magnificance of Hiyu Wine
Nate Ready of Hiyu Wine Farm is a singular winemaker that is often lumped in with the burgeoning natural wine crowd. And while the farming philosophy at Hiyu is as natural as it gets, Nate’s wines have very little in common with the glou-glou wine making that cares little about bacterial infection or complexity of flavor as long as it adheres to the wine-making-elimination-diet of the day. These are wines of mind-bending textures and complexity, and while many of the flavors might come as unexpected within the context of young American wines, when one understands Nate’s background, it all begins to make a little more sense.
Nate began his journey in the wine world as a Sommelier, working for most of his service career under the tutelage of Bobby Stucky MS (Master Sommelier), famous Colorado restaurateur and the country’s most important advocate for the cuisine and wines of Friuli. Sometime after earning his own MS in the early 2000s, Nate went to travel and work harvest in eastern Friuli, visiting and working with the now famous luddites Jasko Gravner and Stanko Radikon.
Friuli is an incredibly important region in Italy, and not only for wine. It serves as the major land-bridge between western and eastern Mediterranean Europe, connecting Italy and everything else south of the Alps with Slavic culture. To the west, you had a wine world becoming industrialized and homogenized, with stainless steel tanks, french oak, and french grapes quickly coming to dominate everything. To the east, however, you had a wine world that was changing in a dramatically different way, rediscovering lost techniques and traditions that had been held in amber by the now dissolved Soviet Union.
It was through Friuli that these ideas and techniques: amphora aging, long skin contact on white wines, and a polycultural vineyard were introduced back into Western Europe, and Nate was right in the crossroads during the apex of this intellectual exchange.
Now, one might accuse me here of going back on my original word that Nate shouldn’t be considered a “natural” winemaker, when Jasko Gravner and Stanko Radikon are often considered two of the most important figures in the birth of the movement. But this would be a bit like asking someone who toured with The Beatles if they know any One Direction covers. Brit Pop has come to mean something very different over the years. In other words, Nate had a direct line to the source of these ideas, without them being filtered (sorry, un-filtered) through a river of hipsterdom.
This is my long way of saying that to understand the wines and flavors of Hiyu, one should really look east (no, further than Brooklyn), to northern Italy. Nate’s wines make all the sense in the world when considered in the context of Gravner, or Paolo Bea, or Conterno: long gentle extractions and an embrace of oxygen during the winemaking process to create flavors that emphasize herbal and mineral nuance rather than grape or wood. Indeed, this makes even more sense when you consider where Nate decided to start his project, in the Columbia Gorge of Oregon, arguably the most Alpine-like winemaking region in the country.
Sadly, for the time being, Hiyu elected to cease their distribution in NYC. The below wines are the result of my fighting tooth and nail to receive a portion of his final shipment into the city. Hopefully when times become a bit more normal, and the restaurant scene in NYC returns to its vibrant bustle, we’ll see a return of these wines to the city. But for now, this is it. Grab them while you can!
Solais Columbia Gorge 2019- $48.99, 12 bottles available
This is a really exciting new planting, done on a sandy/basalt plateau east of the home vineyard, with all of the grapes allowed in Chateauneuf du Pape. The twist is that the vineyard has a much higher ratio of white grapes than is typical in CDP, to help compensate for the slightly cooler climate of The Gorge. The result is a much more ethereal and delicate expression of the same sorts of flavors one gets in CDP. A fantastically complex and joyful wine that is perfect for summer drinking.
Aos Si Columbia Valley 2018- $79.99, 12 bottles available
The Aos Si is another wine coming from a spot further east in The Gorge, planted on almost pure Basalt. The planting here is a blend of central Italian grape varieties, much like what Nate imagines a vineyard in Tuscany might have looked like in the late Roman period. It includes multiple clones each of Sangiovese, Sagrantino, Montepulciano, Cilliegiolo, Aleatico, Trebbiano, Cannaiolo Nero and others. This wine is another iteration of Nate experimenting with grapes that have evolved in a Medeteranian climate and pushing them to the limits of their mineral expression in a cooler climate (much like Chardonnay in Chablis), and it is a fantastic success, emphasizing the floral and herbal components of these grapes that one rarely sees except in the most unusual high elevation vineyards in Italy. Think cherry, rose petals, and pine forest!
Atavus IVth Columbia Gorge NV- $79.99, 12 bottles available
This wine is born from a high elevation Gewurztraminer and Pinot Noir vineyard that is planted on its own rootstock. After a few years of farming the plot, Nate started to notice that the Gewurztraminer had started to express as Savignin, the grape native to the Jura that is genetically identical to Gewurztraminer (reports of these types of phenotypic mutations are not uncommon in producers making drastic changes to the farming of vineyards, although no one really knows why). Inspired by this shift, Nate wanted to make a wine that referenced the oxidative style of winemaking that is traditional in the Jura, and decided to make a Solera blend from the plot.
The Savignin and Pinot Noir are picked, fermented and aged together for a year, and then blended with previous vintages before bottling a portion of this blended juice before each release. The wine is one that is hard to characterize, somewhere between a top White Burgundy and a great Spanish Clarete. Either way it is the type of wine which one can sip and think about for hours, contemplating the nature of deliciousness and the universe and all that jazz, certainly a welcome distraction in these times!