What makes our Vya Vermouth so special and why don’t more people make vermouth?
Darin Peterson, Quady Winery’s assistant winemaker gave me some insight into these pressing questions and opened up about the challenges and excitement of being behind the curtain in the making of Vya Vermouth. The following is taken from our recent conversation.
“The recipe?,” Darin asked. “I don’t really know or I’m not supposed to know.”
The recipe behind Vya Vermouth is a secret. The exact 15 to 20 varieties of herbs – the proportions, the infusions – are all stored away in winemaker Michael Blaylock’s notes. This secret recipe is tweaked from year to year as, for example, the character of the cinnamon from Indonesia changes, and he finds that cinnamon from Mexico brings in a needed dimension.
Exotic and homegrown at the same time, the ingredients in Vya Vermouth start with orange muscat grapes grown near the winery in the San Joaquin Valley of California. Quality grapes give the vermouth good viscosity and background fruit and flavor not found in any other vermouth. In the sweet Vya, some of Quady’s port style wine is mixed in for added color and dimension. The other pieces of the puzzle – the herbs – come from India, Albania, Russia, Spain, Morocco, to name a few, and combined in the right proportions they end up being something unique made only at Quady Winery.
Here are some excerpts from a recent conversation I had with Darin:
The [difficulty] factor is high, he said, because the qualities of the herbs change from year to year and sometimes the supply differs due to things beyond our control, like agricultural calamity far away. We end up with maybe 80 different herbs coming in: the same herb from different lots will have different strengths (which we like) and for me it becomes an eighty-herb math test that Mike hands me, with each herb weighted differently, and each affecting every other herb. We had this one ingredient – a very special orange peel, from a certain African country, and after the first year we haven’t been able to get that exact same source, and Mike still misses that specific ingredient.
Darin describes winemaker Michael Blaylock’s attention to quality:
Once you’ve had success, you try to replicate your success, but with vermouth you’re a bit of an alchemist. It’s like cooking and there are slight differences each time. You really have to wrestle with the recipe to uncover all the same characteristics as the year before and to maintain a consistent product.
And his own feelings about being a part of the process:
“It’s heady,” he said. “If I dig into a giant bag of cardamom in the morning, it gets in my clothes and I’m just thinking pie all day long.” As you infuse and steep, he added, the flavors deepen and change and build quickly. With wine, the deepening of the flavors takes months, but because vermouth is really like a tea, you can see the results in a much shorter time. He said he feels “like an artisan” when watching over the vermouth.
Darin Peterson has been assistant winemaker at Quady Winery for seven years. He follows the direction of winemaker Michael Blaylock and assists in the production of Vya Vermouth and the other Quady wines.
Here’s a classic recipe made with our brand new Whisper Dry Vermouth (more about the Whisper Dry in my next post!):
Vya Whisper Wet Martini
1 1/2 oz Gin (choose a flavorful Gin such as 209,
Tanquerey 10, or Citadel
1 1/2 oz Vya Whisper Dry
2 dashes Fee Brothers Orange Bitters
Combine ingredients with ice. Stir gently until well chilled. Strain into a martini glass and garnish with one or two large Queen olives
To drinking well!