“Not a lot of people know that all wines are NOT created equally,” says Evan Lewandowski, owner of Ruth Lewandowski Wines. “The FDA allows upwards of 50 additives to go into a wine that don’t have to be listed on a label.”
I was in shock and horror to learn about how much trauma my favorite wines go through before being lovingly sipped, or occasionally chugged, by party guests. (Or by my husband and I as we settle in for an evening with the Housewives and some Ramona Pinot Grigio.) But once you pull back the curtain on one of the world’s oldest and most beloved beverages, it’s hard to look back. The wine industry should be seeking redemption from the egregious sin of creating over-processed Frankenstein wines that saturate the market. Luckily, Lewandowski is a wine savior in our midst. He not only evangelizes natural wines but he makes them here in Zion.
Lewandowski started making wine in 2006 and has since created a striking line of natural wines that will have you questioning everything you’ve ever known about your favorite corked beverage- and in the best way. The CRUDE team was lucky to get a private tasting and an enlightening education from Lewandowski. But before we dive deep into his wines, let’s talk more about the wine world as we think we know it.
WHAT IS NATURAL WINE?
Lewandowski explains it perfectly.
“My goal with winemaking is to do absolutely nothing. Which is essentially how you define natural wine. I’ve sourced the best fruit that’s grown organically. I let it go through the natural process of fermentation. Then I bottle it. Nothing is added or taken away.”
At the risk of sounding redundant, I'll repeat that: Lewandowski's goal is to do as little as possible. He explains that it's less about what you do to the wine during the fermentation process and more about what you DON'T do. This resonated strongly with CRUDE'S own mission regarding the skin: leave no trace and let the natural processes do the work!
IS WINE TRULY VEGAN?
Brace yourselves, vegans.
“Poor vegans have no idea sometimes that a lot of wine is not vegan. A lot of wines contain fining agents, preservatives, and antimicrobial agents that come from animal byproducts. Isinglass (fish bladder) is used to clean up the proteins in wine. Egg whites are also often used. They do the same thing as fish bladder, but are less effective so more has to be used. Skim milk powder is also used to regulate proteins in wine.”
So, in essence, wine STARTS vegan...until winemakers put it through processes using animal byproducts, stripping it of its vegan title. Sadly this happens to the majority of wines, so it can be rough out there for a vegan imbiber. And since wine labels are basically the wild west, you can’t rely on the information on the bottle. Rest assured that all Ruth Lewandowski wines are truly vegan. You can also check out PETA and Barnivore for a list of other vegan wines.
WHY IS YEAST OFTEN ADDED TO WINE?
Yeast is commonly added to wine to speed the fermentation process and to give wine specific characteristics, like unique flavor profiles. Lewandowski explained that “There is already plenty of yeast on the fruit. Yeast is everywhere. You don’t need to add it. If you stick a bucket of fruit in the middle of a cellar, it’ll be wine in 2 weeks. Of course, that’s a simplified breakdown, but fruit wants to ferment. It’s nature breaking a substance down into its lowest most stable form. Wine is this very magical thing where when all the conditions are right, wine is made and [the fermentation process] stops at wine. When certain things go wrong along the way (like uninvited bacteria such as Acetobacter) you end up with vinegar. Wine is a magical middle ground.”
All Ruth Lewandowski wines go through the malolactic fermentation process, or “malo.”, which is the last stop on the fermentation train, leaving you with a more stable wine. Lewandowski encourages it for all wines.
"I want to know that this bottle is done and done. It’s not going to go through malolactic fermentation in the bottle. Our Rosé even goes through malo. Almost no one lets their rosé go through malo.”
But the malolactic fermentation process can be altered in a deceptive way. “Winemakers literally add packs of malolactic bacteria culture/yeast to their wine during this process. They choose a genetically certified strain to get a specific result. They ask themselves, ‘of the commercial lactic acid bacteria strains, which do I want to use on my chardonnay? Well, this one is good because it is a strong diacetyl producer and diacetyl smells, feels, and tastes like butter and people like that taste.’ That’s where that butter flavor comes from. Two Cultured strains of bacteria (through malolactic fermentation) add that flavor. Chardonnay, the grape, doesn’t actually taste that buttery.”
“Yeast can also be selected because it is designed to be efficient, clean, consistent and safe. But sometimes it works too hard. So the designer yeast deplete their available food sources, such as nitrogen, more quickly than a natural yeast would. The yeast gets stressed and starts to produce a sulfur smell. So then winemakers add diammonium phosphate (DAP), a phosphate salt that provides the yeast nitrogen. It’s an additive that unsurprisingly smells like a hair salon/ammonia. One process necessitates another thing until you end up with a hollow shell of a wine. Like locusts leave a shell behind, the wine moved on and left a crunchy thing. We’re drinking the crunchy thing.”
We couldn’t help but nerd out and compare this to CRUDE, as we see the same process with soap and the skin. Soap destroys your microbiome and natural moisture barrier so you have to use toners, conditioners, and protectants to replace what you stripped off. One thing leads to another and leaves a hollow shell of your skin. CRUDE was founded on the belief that your skin will solve the problem naturally if you leave it the fuck alone.
WHAT OTHER AGENTS ARE FOUND IN WINE?
“Polyvinylpolypyrrolidone (PVPP) is a nylon-type polymer that is an anti-astringency agent, anti-bitterness agent and anti-pinking/browning agent for white wines. Activated carbon, bentonite clay, copper!? And NOBODY KNOWS THIS. Now, these agents are all filtered out before being consumed, but everything that goes into liquid, soil, or the air leaves its mark. It changes things. If you add copper to liquid, surely it will change the energy and magnetism, or ionic charge. If you’re an alchemist you would call it a corpse. The agent gets left behind or filtered away but the memory is still there. It alters the wine in a way. All of these steps along the way make it less healthy.”
So we’re all basically drinking wine containing the corpses of additives. It’s a wine zombie apocalypse in a glass and we didn’t even know it.
“All Ruth Lewandowski wines are 100% dry. Dry meaning absolutely no residual sugar. Sweet wines usually contain the most sulfur.”
With that tidbit we had to ask: should we assume that if we’re drinking a super sweet wine that it’s been through process Hell?
“Yes. Or a lot of stuff went into the process and then got filtered out. So also yes.”
But there’s good news, fellow winos!
“Wine is actually good for you. Trace minerals and elements of alcohol are good for your system at a certain level. If left to its natural processes, it’s just juice. It’s an agricultural product,” said Lewandowski.
With natural wine, so much rests on the fruit itself. Lewandowski explained, “I didn’t do much to get this result. It screams to how amazing the vineyards, farming practices and the people that farm them are. I couldn’t do what I’m doing without perfect fruit. If anything it’s a compliment to the grower that these wines exist and that they’re as good as they are cause it’s pretty special to have additive-free wines.”
Lewandowski serves his wines at 55-60 degrees. He said that it “shows the character much more freely and readily. The colder the wine, the less you can smell. Right out of the fridge, wines are pretty boring.” Then with a clever smile he adds, “If the wine is poor quality, serve it REALLY cold.”
Without further ado, ladies and gents, the Ruth Lewandowski lineup. (RL has a sixth wine, Mahlon, but it was absent from our tasting.)
NAOMI - The Femme Fatale
This beauty is made from 100% Grenache gris grapes; a variety that is very rare in the US. They come from the oldest vineyard in the country (dating back 113 years) in California. Naomi has a riesling-like quality. It is described as having “the sexiest faintly peachy glow, which just so happens to match the white peach aroma. Overripe pear and a touch of creamy pineapple round things out. Whites made from the Grenache family often have a somewhat waxy or oily texture. This rings true here, with a refreshingly balanced acidity to counter the weight.”
Lewandowski paired Naomi with cheese from Franche-Comté region of eastern France because of its nutty, earthy, dusty cellar characteristics.
ROSÉ - The Self-titled Gender Bender
Rosé is supposed to be a sweet, pink, grandma wine, right? Aka: the Kool-Aid of wines? Wrong. Rosé has come around and is now the fashionable thing for a boss to drink (cue Lisa Vanderpump) and a true rosé is actually dry—not sweet. Because of its pink color, it has culturally skewed “feminine” in the past, but it actually has more “masculine” bass tones if Lewandowski were to assign a gender to the flavor. It also pairs perfectly with sausage. The result? Rosé is the perfectly androgynous wine.
Rosé can stand up to a lot, flavor-wise. Lewandowski provided chorizo goat sausage and herbed tome de bordeaux cheese to pair with it.
FEINTS - The Deceptive Dancer
Too light to be a red, yet too dark to be a rosé, some might say Feints is having an identity crisis. But they couldn’t be more wrong. Feints knows exactly what it is, and it’s soon to be one of your new dream wines. “Feints is a light refreshing red wine. There aren’t a lot of crisp reds on the market these days. But it’s a rich tradition in Europe- far eastern France, Austria and Germany- to produce lighter reds. They’re more acid driven, fresh, and drinkable. With California there’s no lack of intense fruit profiles, so I fermented 3 reds and 1 white together, all picked on the same day, and treated very gently with a light hand employing a geeky method of fermentation call carbonic maceration- which favors freshness, high-toned acidity and spiciness. It has an adult Fruit Roll Up characteristic. Fresh and funky like an early 90s rapper,” says Lewandowski. “Feints is THE wine for mid-summer Utah. 20 minutes in the fridge and you have a super smashable (easy to drink) wine on your hands. Fresh, youthful, chuggable wine.” Très chic.
CHILION - The Orange Demon
The only reason a red wine is red is because it spends time with its skins. Most white wines are fermented apart from their skins entirely. Not Chilion. It’s a white wine treated like a red wine. It knows its skins intimately. The juice ferments with its skins the whole time (both primary and malolactic fermentation) then it spends another 5 months sealed up with its skins in the tank (red wine usually spends an average of 2 weeks with its skins). “It’s a super old-school eastern European style. A lot more wines used to be made like this but the desire for pristine white wine has overshadowed this method. Most winemakers don’t dare leave whites with the skins for 5 months.” It’s the true test of Evan’s wine-faith to leave it in the tanks that long. But the results are miraculous. And polarizing. People either love it or they’re too afraid to try it. The cult wine. Spicy, strange, herbal, with notes of bourbon. Made with the Cortese grape, the wine is actually orange. Why is it orange? The skins actually turn golden-orange when they’re close to harvest. They bronze up in the sun creating the hypnotic hue. Chilion is the wine adventure you didn’t know you needed.
Chilion pairs perfectly with smoked gouda, apricots.
BOAZ - The Mother of Reds
Boaz gets her grapes from the Testa vineyard, which was planted in 1912. Four generations later Maria Testa is still farming it. With its strong matriarchal lineage, the vineyard is well-balanced and zen. And it comes through with Boaz. When Carignan, Grenache and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes ferment separately, each are complex and gorgeous on their own, but if you combine them all and ferment them together, something different and altogether unique is created. Enter Boaz. You don’t know the full spectrum of red wine until you’ve tried a natural red like Boaz.
“Very little intervention in the cellar took place with Boaz. No inoculations of any sort, no acid, no tannin, no water, no sulfur, no nada. Unfined and unfiltered.”
SAVING THE BEST FOR LAST
One more perk to natural wine? Little to no hangover! (I can speak to this from personal experience.) Lewandowski doesn’t claim to be a Dr. but he’s chugged a lot of natural wine in his day and swears by the fact that there is little to no hangover. His theory? “Our livers are toxin sponges and they prioritize what they process. Sulfur is at the front of the line for processing, so while the liver is busy with sulfur, the alcohol is running rampant. With natural wine, the liver isn’t busy with the sulfur so it more fully processes the alcohol.”
See? You’ll never look at wine the same way again. Especially after tasting natural wine. We asked if Lewandowski could name another non-sulfur wine on the shelf? “No. And now that you know the truth, I’m sorry that I’m the only answer.” We’re not sorry at all, but we hope this natural trend continues.
And about the name, Ruth Lewandowski?
“Contrary to who most people imagine Ruth to be, she is not my mother, nor my grandmother, but my favorite book in the Bible. Without sounding 'preachy,' and in the interest of concisely summing things up, there is no better depiction of death and redemption than the book of Ruth (who just happened to be from a town called "Moab"). Much of my philosophy of farming and, in turn, winemaking is derived from this cycle of death and redemption (both in the physical realm we can see and the spiritual realm we often do not). Death is, indeed, the engine of life.”
And Lewandowski is, indeed, a wine savior.
Ruth Lewandowski wines aren’t available in State Liquor Stores, but you can purchase them directly from Evan in his tasting room. Open Saturdays (12/10, 12/17, 12/31) 11-4pm or by appointment. 3340 s 300 w Suite 4.