House of Fermentation
Location: Gilroy, California
Owner & winemaker: Andrew Lardy & Issamu Kamide
Vineyard area: urban winery working with a variable selection of vineyards all over California
Vineyard management: mostly practicing organics and pursuing certification, some sustainable
Soils: depending on the vineyard, mostly sandy and alluvial soils
Main varietals: Mission, Petit Sirah, Carignan, Riesling
Winemaking: low-intervention exploration – co-ferments, field blends, piquette-style beverage with added fruit. Spontaneous fermentation, neutral barrels and tanks, no fining, no filtration, minimal sulfur additions at bottling.
Annual production (approx.): 1000 cases
- Andrew and Issamu are two high school friends from Virginia that made their way to California and started a label playing with wine and other fermented beverages like piquette
- The guys both currently work full-time, fermentation-related gigs – Andrew is the Head Distiller at the Spirit Guild Distillery in downtown Los Angeles and Issamu does marketing and product innovation for a major kombucha brand
- The label started after a long, intense and inspiring time the guys spent at Despacio, a unique disco pioneered by James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem and the Soulwax brothers
- The name “Wonderwerk” actually originates from a cave in South Africa that is believed to have the earliest sign of human cooking – a million-year-old hearth – where humans manipulated nature for enjoyment as much as sustenance.
Wonderwerk is Andrew Lardy and Issamu Kamide, two high school friends from Virginia that made their way to California and started a wine label that they hope will morph into “The Wonderwerk House of Fermentation”. Andrew was originally working on a graduate degree in neuropsychology when he realized the science and experiments he was working on were too far removed and less tangible than he’d like – too clinical if you will. He’s always had a passion for culinary exploration and wine and would often find himself bootlegging cider or moonlighting as a bartender in college. Making wine felt like that perfect mix of science and art he was after so he up and moved to California and enrolled in the Fresno State Enology program. After Fresno State, he cut his teeth working in several different wineries on California’s Central Coast – around the same time that Issamu came back from a stint in Brazil to go back to school in Virginia for brand management which led him to LA to work in CPG food & bev.
While in LA, Issamu would regularly visit Andrew in San Luis Obispo and they’d go through all the wines Andrew had been drinking and making. “I started to familiarize myself with the world of wine, eventually studying through to WSET 3. But we both knew eventually we’d have to stop working on other people’s ideas because we had so many of our own,” Issamu says. After a fateful day when the guys attended “Despacio”, a roving, high-end discotheque pioneered by James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem and the Soulwax brothers, they emerged from a disco daydream to ask themselves “how could we make a wine that tastes like that?” And thus was born Wonderwerk’s first wine, Discovino Donna Rosé.
The grapes come from different vineyards around California, selected by Issamu and Andrew based on their respectful cultivation: “We seek responsibly farmed fruit that provides us with unique character in the winery. Sometimes we go looking for a particular profile or varietal, sometimes the site finds us. Most of our vineyards use organic practices and are pursuing certification, sustainable farming is a minimum requirement,” they assert. In the cellar, Wonderwerk is about inclusivity and the freedom to explore new directions in fermentation – “bringing our desire to twist, turn, and tweak flavors and ideas into something enjoyable for everyone”, Issamu describes the philosophy behind their co-fermented wines and piquette, all made without fining or filtration, with just a bit of sulfur at bottling.
The name “Wonderwerk” actually reflects on this experimental, avant-garde spirit as well – it originates from a cave in South Africa that is believed to have the earliest sign of human cooking – a million-year-old hearth – where humans manipulated nature for enjoyment as much as sustenance. The guys both currently still work full-time, fermentation-related gigs while running Wonderwerk: Andrew is the Head Distiller at the Spirit Guild Distillery in downtown Los Angeles, immersed in botanicals and aromatics day and night, and Issamu does marketing and product innovation for a major kombucha brand.
Wonderwerk stands out also for their colorful, eye-catching labels: “We wouldn’t be anywhere without our friends Anton Goddard and Lana Shahmoradian who design all of our branding and label artwork, as well as the slew of other friends who lend their creative energy to making some of our more absurd and visual ideas come true,” Issamu acknowledges. “It’s true that you “drink with your eyes first” and so we’ve always wanted to create wines that jump out at you, grab your attention and make you go “what is this all about…?” Well, New York, thanks to this hot addition in the Jenny & Francois book, you can now wonder about Wonderwerk’s work as well!
Andrew and Issamu on this wine: “Free Your Mind is a novel co-fermentation of skin-fermented Riesling and old vine carbonic Carignan. The idea is to be more than the sum of the parts. At its core, Free Your Mind is an aromatic skin-fermented Riesling. When the Riesling begins to ferment, pressed carbonic Carignan is gradually blended in via pump-overs. Our goal was to conduct a layered extraction of Riesling skins; first in a water matrix (Riesling must, with little to no alcohol), followed by an alcohol matrix (mid-ferment Riesling, with pressed late-ferment carbonic Carignan).”
Grapes: 50% Carignan, 50% Riesling
Vineyard: Sandy Lane Vineyard (120-140 yo head-trained vines of Carignan on sand, Contra Costa County AVA, Antioch, CA; sustainable), Zabala Vineyard (old riverbed in Arroyo Seco AVA, Soledad, CA; practicing organics)
Making of: Carignan underwent 2 weeks of carbonic maceration as whole clusters before being pressed to tank and fermented nearly dry. Riesling was de-stemmed and fermented on the skins with twice daily pump-overs and occasional punch-downs. At approximately 1/3 Brix depletion, Riesling pump-overs were instead conducted with the pressed carbonic carignan, yielding a red riesling fermentation cap. The pressed carbonic Carignan was integrated into the Free Your Mind cuvés over the course of one week. Once dry, the wine was pressed to a stainless steel tank, where it underwent malolactic fermentation. Produced without fining or filtration, with 30 ppm sulfur added at bottling.
Personality: a chillable orange-red wine hybrid!
Andrew & Issamu on this wine: “Piquette! An old school wine cooler of sorts, this is a low alcohol wine that was traditionally enjoyed as a mid-day thirst quencher on the farm. Piquette production is a scary process that violates this winemaker’s sensibilities. With minimal alcohol and acidity contributions from grape pomace, we had to think outside of the box to troubleshoot the shortcomings of this wine style. How can we borrow alcohol and acidity naturally – from other agricultural produce rather than from powders and extracts – while also layering more complexity onto a pomace re-fermentation? How can we develop a more complete flavor profile? We found those answers in ume and jamaica hibiscus, thanks to a little help from our friends at Tsubaki and Masiendain Los Angeles.
Grape: Carignan and Riesling pomace from Free Your Mind & Toot Toot Beep Beep wines, Ume, Hibiscus
Vineyard: Contra Costa County, Arroyo Seco
Making of: Pomace was retained, hydrated, and re-fermented post-pressing from carbonic Carignan cuvée (Free Your Mind) and 48-hour skin-contact Riesling cuvée (Toot Toot Beep Beep). The co-fermented pomace cuvée was pressed after a week. To increase acidity and complexity, a concentrated brew of Heirloom Oaxacan hibiscus (aka jamaica) from Masienda (Los Angeles, CA) was added. To bolster the alcohol content and provide further complexity, preserved California-grown ume (aka Japanese plum) processed earlier in the summer were also added. Blended with a 30% (v/v) addition of finished Free Your Mind wine (Carignan + Riesling co-ferment), then some Riesling juice was added just prior to bottling to provide a low level of carbonation after bottle conditioning. 6% ABV.
Personality: Wonderwerk’s take on Piquette – inspired by Los Angeles and just as colorful and intriguing.
Andrew and Issamu on this wine: “Forgive us for saying so, but the Mission grape has a lot of shortcomings! Next-door neighbor-grape Petite Sirah is a bit of a hoarder, well-stocked with wine attributes. A small blending fraction of Petite can lend a lot of structure, extract, and yeast nutrients to an anemic Mission Cuveé. Our goal was to update a classic wine- California’s first wine, born of religious ceremony. We much prefer a strategic co-fermentation to the yeast nutrient and acid additions that are often employed to address the shortcomings of Mission grapes.”
Grape: 67% Mission, 33% Petite Sirah
Vineyard: Somer’s Vineyard (organic, dry-farmed 100yo head-trained Mission vines on sand, Mokelumne River AVA, Lodi, CA), Jag’s Vineyard (15-30yo vines on sand in Mokelumne River AVA, Lodi, CA, practicing organics)
Making of: Petite Sirah was fermented as whole clusters in an open-top fermentor. Mission was de-stemmed and dumped into the fermentor on top of the Petite Sirah. Vigorous foot-treading and soft punch-downs were employed to best mimic classic winemaking techniques. The wine was pressed to neutral French Oak barriques as soon as the tannin pickup (from Petite Sirah) gained traction. Aged 6 months in barrel and bottled unfined and unfiltered, with 15 ppm sulfur added at bottling.
Personality: “a natural solution to the limitations of the Mission grape and evolution of California’s first wine”
Andrew and Issamu on this wine: “Portuguese and Italian immigrants settled Contra Costa County in the late 1800s, drawn to the offshore whaling industry and the prolific salmon fishery of the Sacramento River. Vineyards were planted to field blends of Carignan, Mataro, and Zinfandel and harvested together for the production of a single cuvée with simple, low-intervention winemaking. This wine has been made by many generations before us and it’s an honor to continue to share this story. We strive to intervene as little as possible and present the same wine experience. As Above, so Below.” Only 98 cases produced.
Grapes: equal parts Carignan, Mataro, Zinfandel
Vineyard: Sandy Lane Vineyard (120-140 yo head-trained complanted vines on sand, Contra Costa County AVA, Antioch, CA; sustainable)
Making of: The fruit was hand-harvested on the same day. Zinfandel was de-stemmed and co-fermented with whole cluster Carignan and Mataro in a 2-ton open-top fermenter. The fruit was gently foot-treaded to liberate juice and macerated at cellar temperature. Fermentation was managed with a generous initial pump-over, followed by 1-2 daily punch downs. The wine was pressed to neutral French oak barrique after an 11-day maceration and aged in barrel for 13 months. Bottled unfined and unfiltered, with 30ppm of sulfur.
Personality: a tribute to old vines and old days, this is a sunny and balanced field blend red.
Andrew and Issamu on this wine: “Mission is the first wave of California winemaking, the true origin of California wine and aka “the los angeles grape”, among other aliases. The grape was introduced to Spanish missions in California in the 18th century as fodder for sacramental wine – we are certainly not talking about your Run-of-the-mill wine grape! Mission is more akin to a table grape with sass than it is reminiscent of a “noble” wine grape. Strap in, we’re taking a funky stroll down our ancestral memory lane.” The name is a tribute to the funk icon Chuck Brown and his eponymous hit.
Vineyard: Somer’s Vineyard. Organic, dry-farmed 100yo head-trained Mission vines on sand, Mokelumne River AVA, Lodi, CA
Making of: Whole clusters were loaded into tank and flooded with carbon dioxide for two weeks of carbonic maceration.
Personality: “low-key glowing gusher made from wild style vines and funk”. Or “glowsé”, as the guys like to call it with a term of their own!