Christopher Tracy is not a man who does things by halves. Inspired by Gravner, Radikon and Movia, he decided that skin maceration could work as a technique at Channing Daughters winery in Long Island. But he doesn’t just tinker with one experimental wine in this style – there are no less than eight!
Long Island has risen to prominence as a good place to make Bordeaux blends – the conventional wisdom goes that with its cool climate and marine influence, it must surely be similar to the hallowed swamps of the Medoc and St. Emilion. Tracy has little interest in that comparison, taking his inspiration instead from Northern Italy – so Channing Daughter’s vineyards are now full of Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, Friulano and, wait for it, Ribolla Gialla.
Tracy’s orange wine adventure began in 2004, with the first vinification of “Meditazione”, a Friuli-inspired blend with a few weeks of maceration. A few years later, he’d added a Ramato (skin fermented Pinot Grigio) and then a 100% Ribolla Gialla made with a decidedly Oslavian accent. It’s not the only such wine made in the US, but close to it (Ryan and Megan Glaab at Ryme cellars in California produce a yet more extreme reading).
Ribolla 2015 is my current favourite vintage – wild fermented in open top plastic tubs for 15 days, before ageing in oak. It’s absolutely recognisable to lovers of the Collio’s vini bianci macerati, with plenty of grip, and the typical twiggy, dried herb and honey elements that I love so much in mature vintages from Gravner, La Castellada or Radikon. There’s a levity about this wine too, and with 12% alcohol there is nothing overbearing. The colour is a deep enough amber to stand comparison with a Long Island Iced Tea (Sorry, I had to bring that in somewhere).
For some reason the Ribolla 2016 blends in a little Muscat Ottonel and Pinot Grigio – and is nothing like as successful for my money. 2013 seems like it is best drunk up – the bottle I tried hadn’t aged as majestically as I would have expected (It seems Elaine Chukan Brown made similar assumptions when she tasted this a few years back)
Other skin fermented highlights from Channing Daughters: The Meditazione wines are excellent, rich and complex. If you can find the 2008 or the 2013 they’re drinking really well. 2014 is also great. Also recommended are the Ramato 2014, Research Bianco 2015 and Mosaico 2014. Perhaps inevitably for such a huge range (there are something like 26 different wines made in total), there are misses as well as hits. Envelope and the Cuvée Tropical didn’t press my buttons at all.
Still, there is a certain happy symmetry that a skin macerated Ribolla Gialla is now produced so close to New York City – one of the first places outside Friuli to properly get its head around orange wines.
This wine doesn’t appear to be available outside the US at the time of writing – but check Wine-searcher for your options.