It sure seems like Kirk Sutherland has found his calling. All of us at Vanderbilt Ave were sad to see him go but happy to see him following his passion for making wine. Despite being Kirk's friend and colleague I knew he had the goods and was making some of the most exciting wines in Oregon and Washington. His level of scrutiny and worth ethic is a real asset, and his commitment to sourcing from no-till, non-irrigated vines is all coming together to make the Erde project remarkable.
The good news — and the bad news — is that now everyone else is catching on. When he released the first official vintage of Erde last year, we had quite an advantage and got a lot of the wines for our shelves. This year, Kirk has secured placements on some of the best wine lists in NYC, most notably at Four Horsemen and Wildair. With the extra demand, what we have now is all we'll have until the next vintage. If you're interested in these wines, now is the time to get some. I tasted these in the Spring when they were first bottled, and now they are really singing. I still feel lucky to have been able to watch this project grow up close, and after hearing Kirk talk more about the wines and this vintage, I am even more confident and impressed by his winemaking talents and his abitlity to stick to his guns and make the wines that he wants to make — they're certainly wines I want to drink.
Being based in Oregon and Washington allows Kirk to work with some of his favorite grapes, including Albariño, Gamay, Pinot Noir, and Grenache. His time working with Brianne Day and Division Winemaking Co. were crucial for a number of reasons. Both are exacting in their requirements for the fruit they purchased for their wines, driven to finding the regions best organic and Biodynamic farmers. What Kirk has done so successfully is to prioritize the important work of maintaining and cultivating friendships and connections with this community of winemakers and growers. As a small operation, he had a leg up on many because of the time he has spent in the region fostering relationships that put him on the short list of people to call when there was fruit to be had.
Once that fruit is in Kirk's hands, he shown a dogged determination to be as hands-off in the cellar as possible with very modest equipment. Yet he has an extremely fine-tuned palate and he is no more ruthless with his criticism than with his own wines — I've seen this first hand, believe me. This is what creates the tension in the wines that I find so compelling.
They are natural wines in every sense, but he is obsessive about the craft and science of winemaking, using the limited tools he allows himself to shape the wines into what he envisions as the most delicious wine he can make from what nature capriciously offers. He is gifted at seeing the difference between what he can control and what he can't in the winemaking process, and he doesn't shy away when it's on him to do something, no matter how labor-intensive or outside the winemaking textbook. Of course, Oregon and Washington are as susceptible to climate chaos as anywhere, and Kirk has intelligently left room in his project to adjust for the vagaries of each growing season. Mixing apples, pears, and grapes into a Pet-Nat and using the leftover skins of one grape to add texture to another are just a few of the creative moves that Kirk built into Erde from the start, and which distinguish it immediately from other projects.
I see Kirk as having not only the chops and the networking skills it requires to make great wines, but the vision and insight to take risks and ultimately make something that aligns to the scrappy punk and hardcore values he holds dear: non-conformity in the service of truth and originality. In my experience, that never makes for boring wines.