Breweries, Wine, and Cheese Lifestyle

The Grapevine: Message in a Barrel

Pouring red wine from bottle into glass with wooden wine casks on background

By Elspeth Brown

Some of my favorite memories growing up in South Carolina are the sweet smell of peaches I would pick with my dad on our farm and the luscious taste of warm, fresh figs my grandfather and I shared outside during our walks in his garden. Those smells and tastes bring me right back to everything I enjoyed when I was small. It is amazing how a smell or a taste can transport a person almost immediately.

I will always remember the first time I tasted wine from Coturri Winery in Sonoma County, located right above Glen Ellen. I had recently opened my business and I was being plagued by wine reps hoping I would carry their wines. When I was poured a sample of Coturri Carignane, I can remember exactly how the bouquet smelled. I can still feel the gritty, unfiltered, texture from the wine that was left in my mouth. The wine was natural and untouched. At that point in my wine career, I was not adept enough to know much about the term natural wine. But Coturri was natural when natural wasn’t cool.

Natural winemakers use biodynamic, organic or sustainable practices. They let the wines ferment spontaneously with native yeasts, and they do not add any of the allowed additives. The wines are unfiltered, and the winemaker uses a very hands-off approach.

Coturri Winery has never used pesticides, herbicides or fungicides, and they do not plan to do so. Red Coturri founded the winery in 1979 with his sons. At the time, there were only 13 wineries in Sonoma County and now there are more than 180. Even in the ‘70s when they opened the winery, Red and his sons only used indigenous yeast and neutral oak. They never added sulfur dioxide or filtered their wines. In addition, they have dry-farmed since 1978, and used cover crops to control weeds which helps add to the soil’s nutrients.

Being a biodynamic winery in the 1970s was not always easy. Consumers were interested in filtered, pristine-appearing wines. Orange wine has similarities to Coturri wines because even though it is one of the newer wine trends, it has not always been in fashion. Orange wine, or skin-contact white wine, was originally how whites were produced. The winemaker would leave the skins in for a period of time, giving the wine an orange hue, and it would always be unfiltered, making the wine cloudy.

As the American consumer voiced their wants and wine needs, they required a clear, filtered, more sophisticated, or correct, white wine. The red wines seemed to follow suit. As we wine consumers begin to explore the new trend of orange and natural wines, remember that there is history in these winemaking techniques. Remind yourself what the wines might have been like and try to smell, taste and savor the memories in the bottle.

Take a moment when you open a bottle of wine to reminisce about the smells and tastes. Is it nostalgic? Does it remind you of growing up, where you grew up, the people you spent time with during that part of your life? Coturri wines bring up those fond memories for me because it reminds me of when I first opened my wine store. It also reminds me of the reason I got interested in wine. The unique qualities that the wines of Tony Coturri, the man on the mountain, impart make me excited and curious, and that is how every wine drinker should go forward with their wine journey.


Elspeth Brown is the owner of Maggie B’s Wine & Specialty Store, 10 C South Main Street in Weaverville. For more information, visit or call 828.645.1111.

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