In a 300-square-foot shipping container in West Oakland, Aaliyah is creating elegant, memorable wines scented with Nitotto flowers. Following the ancient traditions of female garden winemakers, Nieto’s wines are dry, complex and aged expressions of lavender, marigold and hibiscus. And his virtue is rocking the wine world.
Healthy Black Family Inc., a Berkeley-based nonprofit. Nieto, a health and nutrition educator for Nitto, came to flower winemaking after years of working as an herbalist and studying the powerful properties of flowers. She launched together with her partner Sam Prestiani Free Range Flower Winery In 2018 with 15 cases of small batch, hand crafted wines. Production is expected to reach 1,000 by the end of the year and double by 2022.
By then, pre order now For scoring Nitoto’s wines that sell out quickly. Her latest, a crisp, highly drinkable rosé made from the flowers of the pineapple guava plant, will make a splash when debuting to Wine Club members in September (she only made six gallons). In the East Bay, you can also find wines at Oakland’s Alamar Kitchen & Bar, Portal, Agave Uptown, Alkali Rye, and Piedmont Grocery. They are also available at Almaden Ranch in San Jose and Total Wine & More stores in Stevens Creek.
We recently spoke with Nieto about the process, history, and potential of flower winemaking. Here are his words.
Q: How is flower wine made?
a: The process is no secret. What I do is boil water and strain it off and pour it over the dried flowers. I like to make tea. Another way is to take fresh flowers and mash them by pouring cold water on them. The alcohol content and is a sugar source for the yeast. The alcohol base also has a bit of citrus in it. Initial fermentation is about two weeks and the wine can sit in stainless steel for four to six months before going into the bottle.
Q: Where do you get your flowers?
a: My flowers are locally and organically sourced, except for feijoa, which I use to make my brand new pink wine. I wildcrafted it myself. It grows in Oakland and Berkeley, so I went to my friend’s garden and picked the flowers myself. Fresh flowers are hard to get hold of because there aren’t many farms that mass produce them in the quantities I need. Nobody thinks of them that way.
Q: Why isn’t flower winemaking more prevalent? Can you tell us about the history?
a: Flower wines are made to last longer or even longer than grape wines. Given the history, which is sparse, this is because they were mostly built to house women, middle and lower-class women, who did not own land and what is popular liquor . But the traditions are ancient. China’s chrysanthemum wine dates back to the Han dynasty. Dandelion wine has always been made in Northern Europe and the British Isles. And I recently discovered a Japanese wine made from cherry blossoms and cherry wood bark. These wines are not unheard of, they are simply taken to the forest behind.
Q: Feijoa, your latest wine and first rosé, is inspired by Lady Gaga. can you explain?
About a year ago I did an interview with I Like This Grape and one of the questions I had was what kind of wine would I make for some celebrities. One of them was Lady Gaga. I thought of her as fabulous and out of control, in your face but still really feminine and the woman herself. So I chose pineapple guava flower for him and he planted the seed in my mind.
Q: Ultimately, what is your goal as a winemaker?
a: I want to make these wines ubiquitous. I want people to know about these wines. If you think about the hundreds of edible flowers that are out there in the world and all the recipes I’ve found in my research, the possibilities are endless.
four flower wines
Like grapes, the flowers have aromatic compounds, complex flavors and produce bold and jewel-like colors. Here are four in Free Range Flower Winery’s portfolio. The alcohol content in the wine ranges from 12 to 14 percent and starts at $23; www.freerangeflowerwinery.com
Marigold flower: Golden colored, liquid sun-like with medium body. The aroma of honey is a bit bright. Reminiscent of an aged Chardonnay. Pairing: Baked fish or chicken in a creamy sauce.
L (lavender): Depending on the flower lot and the age of the wine, this lightly radiant, slightly sweet sipper can range in color from gold to blush pink. It has a strongly floral aroma and flavors of citrus and anise. It’s begging for a flute and brunch. Pairing: Waffles with Berries.
Rose Pinot, meet your match. This bright, ruby-colored wine is light in body with velvety tannins, aromas of sandalwood and white pepper, and especially raspberry. Pairing: Cheese and charcuterie.
Feijoa: Made from the flower of the pineapple guava plant, this dry pink wine is reminiscent of traditional rose, with aromas and flavors of melon and strawberry. Pairing: Sushi, french fries.