When she launched Amy Atwood Selections ten years ago, Amy Atwood was by and large alone with a portfolio that was defined by mostly pure and low-intervention wines. The wine author and friend Alice Feiring helped Amy to understand that her tastes had migrated to wines of this style and individuality- and these were the wines that Amy put in her portfolio.
‘Nothing added, nothing removed’ is the philosophy of those who strive not to intervene in wine that is a pure expression of its grapes. The wines in Amy’s portfolio are fermented by means of the native yeasts that they brought with them from the vineyard. These wines were fermented and stored in vessels that imparted little additional flavor like cement, clay or well-used barrels. The white wines were sometimes made like the red wines, allowing the white wine must some time in contact with its skins, harkening back to ancient wine-making traditions where there was less difference between the white and the red.
The grapes worthy of this kind of winemaking are best grown organically or biodynamically. Again, ‘nothing added’. In the ‘vigneron’ model where the winemaker also grows the grapes, which is more common in Europe, organic grapes are commonly produced even in difficult locations. In California, the grower and the winemaker are more frequently separated and the winemaker often finds that desirable grapes are not available without some chemical inputs. Farming without chemicals is more challenging and costly.
Ask Amy about why certain of her California producers do not source organically farmed grapes (including her own brand ‘Oeno’) and she will tell you that they are working towards it- there are added costs, it takes time to change, and things are getting better. It is a process.
Still, much of this generation’s wine consumers seek wine grown organically as well as created without additives that are often used to ‘improve’ a wine’s flavor or maintain consistency from year to year. For this market, most of Amy’s wines are wildly popular. So, as the natural wine movement helps pull the larger part of the industry toward more purity and disclosure, Amy observes a trending process moving toward improvement. She foresees an environment where winemakers will voluntarily declare their use of organically grown grapes and list the ingredients (or lack thereof) on their label thereby separating themselves from those who include additives.
Should labelling rules be hastened? She wouldn’t disagree, but who wants an added layer of government oversight? Maybe her relaxed approach is because she has carved out a unique space that is largely insulated from the wine distribution system as a whole where much of its product derives from chemically farmed grapes and slavishly ‘consistent’ (read manipulated) wine. Or maybe because she has cultivated her business over ten years and she knows patience.
She shows her sunny disposition with easy laughter, often speaking about the inherent good in the professionals around her. In this interview, I provide the often negative foil to human motivation that she sees as essentially positive. These beliefs flow from an enthusiasm for her work which is the outcome of many years of hawking wine for others and eventually the realization that she could sell wine for herself. Furthermore, she could sell the wines that she liked. It would be accurate to say that many of the wines in the AAS portfolio are natural wines, but they are better defined as being wines that Amy loves.
Her creation of her unique import/distribution company, Amy Atwood Selections, Oeno wines and her joint ownership in the new gin brand Future Gin illustrate her belief in our inherent ability to move toward what we desire. That attitude is inspirational.
*At one point in the interview, I say that ‘as went Shiraz, so went the Australian wine industry’. I misspoke when saying ‘ …the Australian wine industry’. I meant ‘…premium Australian wine in the U S’.