Nightshade, Thomas Monroe's Piedmont-Inspired Side Project
Nebbiolo from the Co-owner & Winemaker of Portland's Division Winemaking Company
Thomas Monroe founded Division Winemaking Company with Kate Norris in 2010, producing some of the best wines coming out of the Pacific Northwest. Recently, Tom started a side project focused on his favorite grape, Nebbiolo, to delicious results.
Thomas Monroe and I have shared plenty of bottles of Nebbiolo over the years. We are both big fans of the grape, and that fanfare was one of the things that cemented our friendship and lead to me working harvest with him and the Division Winemaking team in Portland for last 6 years. A few years ago, Tom got the change to buy some Nebbiolo from an amazing vineyard in the Red Mountain AVA of Southeastern Washington and launched his side project, Nightshade, to try his hand at making wine from Italian grapes varieties, to delicious results. VWM was lucky enough to get our hands on a little bit of the super small production 2019 bottling, and we're stoked to share it you all today.
I had a chat with Tom about how Nightshade came about and where he sees the project going:
KS: Hi Tom, thanks for taking the time to discuss this awesome new project with me! When did you launch Nightshade, and what inspired you to work with Nebbiolo?
TM: Over the course of my career in wine, I've turned into an absolute freak for Nebbiolo. I just kept coming back to it for everything from epic old Barolo bottles to everyday Nebbioli d'Alba/Langhe wines. However, it was the Alto Piemonte (notably Ghemme and Gattinara) and Lombardian (Valtellina) wines that really intrigued me to consider making Nebbiolo in the Pacific NW. Some friends in wine importing and distribution shared wines from these areas that I was less familiar with a decade ago and I totally fell for the nervy, ethereal and more elegant feel of them. As this is the type of wines we shoot for with Division, I thought making a Nebbiolo in that approach would be more reflective of my feel for winemaking than a more heavy bodied Barolo style wine. I launched Nightshade with the 2017 vintage, which I think was a great first effort and encouraged me to keep at it.
KS: Can you walk us through how you make this wine, and where you learned the techniques behind the process?
TM: Making Nebbiolo is considerably different than Pinot Noir or really any "Burgundian winemaking" style, which is the most common approach in most modern wineries. Nebbiolo is naturally very tannic, but it also has fairly light skins (almost translucent) and as such, difficult to extract color and phenolic character without either extracting too much tannic or using chemical or enzymatic extractants. Careful attention and patience are definitely needed to make a fine Nebbiolo! To gain some understanding and knowledge of making Nebbiolo, I went to the source of where the best ones are made - Piemonte! E-mail correspondence to start and then a visit in 2017 all helped build a toolkit for how to make this happen.
I start by cooling the grapes and submerging the cap to keep oxygen out. This allows the juice to interact with the skins without too much abrasion and tannic buildup. Once the wine begins a natural fermentation and builds up co2, I pull the submersion and perform light pump-overs for about a week to 10 days. Towards the end of the primary fermentation, I will put the ferment back under submersion for another 30 days before pressing. The wine goes into old neutral Austrian barrels for about 18 months. Nebbiolo needs a lot of time to evolve and thus, I like to let the wine sit for about 9-12 months in bottle before release.
KS: Damn. That's a lot of work. What can you tell us about the vineyard that you sourced the fruit from?
TM: The grapes come from the old vines on Ciel du Cheval on Red Mountain in Washington. The site features a warm to hot, dry Mediterranean climate that feels somewhat like Piedmont, and typically doesn't feel the full effects of fall and winter weather until late October or November. Like most of the Pacific Northwest, the vineyard sits on a complex basalt based volcanic bedrock. The Red Mountain area has mostly layered sandstone soils, which are quite low in water holding capacity. The site has been farmed without herbicides since inception and while it does not follow a strict organic regime, the thoughtfulness and care for the ecology is second to none in the region.
KS: What's next for Nightshade? Do you see the label expanding, and are you planning to work with any other Italian grape varieties?
TM: We expanded to an additional block at Ciel du Cheval in the 2021 vintage, which I hope to expand the Nightshade Nebbiolo from 2 to 4 or 5 barrels - maybe get to 100 cases! I am also interested in other Nebbiolo blocks to create a few different site variations of Nebbiolo. I think it would be pretty cool to test the capabilities of Nebbiolo here and hopefully make some special wines along the way!
KS: Amazing! Thanks for taking the time, Tom! We can't wait to try the next wines.
Tom's Nebbiolo is a showstopper. The thoughtful, and precise approach to making this bottling as resulted an extraordinary wine, easily one of the best things I've tasted this year. For those that enjoyed our pervious offers from other like-minded American winemakers playing with Italian grape varieties, Nightshade is not to be missed. This is a wine that I firmly believe will change people's perception of domestic wine. With only 2 barrels made in 2019, we are one of the only the shops in New York to get this wine, so supply is limited, and we've had to set a single bottle limit on all orders.
|Nightshade Nebbiolo Columbia Valley 2019 [1 bottle max per customer]
Elegant, ethereal and nothing short of exquisite, this is American made Nebbiolo with alpine inspiration. Aromatically pure, with rose petal, sandalwood and Mandarin orange zest. Deceptively complex given its delicate color, marked by vibrant acidity, ripe Rainer cherry, freshly tilled earth and tomato leaf. A long, focused finish supported by the wines polished tannins. Drinking excellently now, but has plenty of life ahead of it.
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