February 4, 2011

Umamiventure #31: Sutton Cellars Vermouth Lab (SF)

by Kayoko

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All photos by Yoko Kumano unless otherwise specified.

On a warm, sunny day in San Francisco, 23 guests and I had the distinct pleasure of visiting Sutton Cellars Winery for an afternoon Vermouth Class, where we learned about its history, evolution, production methods, and different taste profiles and components. The man behind the podium (er, wine shipping crate), was Carl Sutton.

As I’ve mentioned before, Carl is a Bay Area winemaker and proprietor of Sutton Cellars. Inspired by Amaro Montenegro and other Italian vermouths, Sutton released his very own dry vermouth in 2009, naming it Brown Label–it is a white wine that has been macerated (NOT infused!) with an unaged brandy and 17 different herbs and botanicals.

Last year, Carl moved his headquarters from Sonoma to the Dogpatch district of San Francisco, and brought his entire operation with him. It is surreal to drive up to this industrial section of town, where the city and the shipping industry collide, wire fences abound, and gravel replaces cement. There was a behemoth cruise ship docked in the distance–could a winery really exist here?

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Behold: Sutton Cellars Winery. Can you believe it? This is urban wine-making at its finest.

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We were warmly welcomed by Carl and his wife Sharon, and found that the winery had been turned into a classroom! Tables and chairs were lined up, glasses ready for tasting, a spit cup available along with pitchers of water. We were ready to go!

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While waiting for everyone to show up, Carl and Sharon prepared for us their drink of choice: the Sutton & Soda.

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Sutton vermouth and soda, on the rocks, with a twist. This is how Carl best recommends drinking his vermouth–which is bottled-to-order on premises. Once opened, please refrigerate and consume within a week or two.

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Alright, let’s get started. Carl divided up the class into four parts.

PART I
First Flight: Comparative Tasting of Vermouth

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From left to right:
1.) Dolin Dry, Chambery FR; est. 1821
2.) Noilly Pratt Dry, Marseillan FR, 1812
3.) Sutton Cellars, San Francisco CA, 2009
4.) Martini & Rossi Rosato, Turin IT, 1863
5.) Martini & Rossi Rosso, Turin IT, 1863
6.) Carpano “Antica Formula”, Turin IT, 1768

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Vermouth
Photo by Travis LoDolce.

You would think that this is in order of, “driest” to “sweetest”, but I did not think this was necessarily true (as I found #4 to be cloyingly sweet), so let’s just say we tasted from lightest in color to darkest. Antonio Carpano (#6) is regarded as the “Inventor of Vermouth”–at least he was the first to brand and sell it commercially. It is complex with spice, with a caramel finish.

Sutton’s vermouth on the other hand fell into the middle of the spectrum. While dry, it is earthy with hints of fruit and herbs. There is no burn at the finish, as the Noilly Pratt did (Yoko found). Sutton calls his, a California-style vermouth. Awesome.

PART II
Second Flight: Component Tasting of Sutton Vermouth

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Sutton, known to be highly secretive about his vermouth recipe (as are all the vermouth and bitters makers in Europe) did divulge to us three main factors in his vermouth: orange peel, chamomile and rosemary.

1.) Dried orange peel macerated in base wine
2.) Chamomile macerated in base wine
3.) Rosemary macerated in base wine
4.) Sutton Cellars vermouth (final product)

This part of the class was definitely the most interesting to me. Breaking down each component allowed us to better learn about Sutton’s final product, and really made us pay attention to the ingredients.

Second Flight - Component Tasting
Photo by Travis LoDolce.

Chamomile:

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PART III
Martinis

Carl mixed his vermouth with two local gins for a side-by-side tasting.

Sutton Making Martinis
Photo by Travis LoDolce.

“Martinis are probably the most misunderstood drink, ever,” Carl said emphatically. This mantra is something Happy Hour columnist Paystyle also always preaches. A proper martini should consist of gin, vermouth, stirred, with a twist. If it’s shaken, it’s a Bradford. If there’s chocolate in it, well, it’s not a martini. Plus, it’s gross. Ha!

1.) No. 209 gin, Sutton vermouth, Regan’s orange bitters (3 to 1 gin to vermouth)
2.) Junipero gin, Sutton vermouth, Regan’s orange (1 to 1)

Vermouth Class Martinis
Photo by Travis LoDolce.

Gosh, this martini taste-test was so interesting! The Junipero martini, while it contained more vermouth, was still very stringent and “gin-ny”. The gin definitely asserted itself here. On the other hand, the No. 209, while it had a more modest gin to vermouth ratio (1:1), created a more well-rounded cocktail.

PART IV
Fourth Flight: Wine-Based Aperitifs & Digestifs

Fourth Flight - Aperitifs
Photo by Travis LoDolce.

Carl concluded the vermouth lesson with other bitters available. Although these are not considered “vermouth”, they are also made of various botanicals and herbs.

1.) Cocchi Americano, Asti IT
2. Cardamaro, Asti IT
3.) Bonal, St. Laurent Du Pont FR

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The Cocchi is similar to the more commercially known French Lillet Blanc–light, refreshing and citrus-y. Bonal is quinine based, which I also have enjoyed on the rocks, with a twist. The Cardamaro is a lovely concotion of cardoon and blessed thistle–a very warming digestif.

This concludes my report on Umamiventure #31. What an incredible event! I’d like to thank everyone who attended and special thanks to Yoko and Travis for taking such fantastic photos. Big THANK YOU to Carl and Sharon for hosting us, and teaching us so much about vermouth and bitters. We had such an awesome time!

For those of you who missed this, don’t worry, we’ll do it again. Umamimart + Sutton Cellars, hooray! Meanwhile, stay tuned for details about the next Umamiventure, where we will celebrate CHOCOLATE.

Sutton Vermouth can be found at various liquor stores in the Bay Area such as D&M Fine Wine and Spirits; Cask; and Ledger’s Liquors (my favorite, in Berkeley). For further inquiries about Sutton Cellars wine and vermouth, please contact Carl directly at winevine@sonic.net.

Enjoy the rest of the photos of our lovely afternoon!

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Kayoko Pours #2
Photo by Travis LoDolce.

Sutton's Pour
Photo by Travis LoDolce.

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*Umamiventures are organized monthly, exploring the far reaches of the galaxy for good food/drinks + awesome people, for great times.

**Become a Facebook Fan or follow UM on Twitter to stay updated on all future trips!

Past Umamiventures include:
1.) Ocean Jewel Restaurant – Flushing, NYC; June 2007
2.) Red Hook Ball Fields - NYC; June 2007
3.) Taste of Jackson Heights – NYC; October, 2007
4.) Sripraphai Restaurant – Woodside, NYC; November 2007
5.) WINTERMARKET – South St. Seaport, NYC; December 2007
6.) Jackson Diner- Jackson Heights, NYC; January 2008
7.) Pacificana – Sunset Park, NYC; February 2008
8.) Puerto Alegre – The Mission, SF; March 2008
9.) Dinosaur BBQ – Harlem, NYC; April 2008
10.) Bohemian Hall and Beer Garden – Astoria, NYC; May 2008
11.) Brooklyn Banh Mi Crawl – Sunset Park, NYC; August 2008
12.) Sheapshead Bay Lobster Crawl – NYC; September 2008
13.) Flushing Food Circuit – NYC; October 2008
14.) Strong Beer Month – SF; March 2009
15.) Loisaida Throwback Crawl – NYC; April 2009
16.) Harley Farms Goat Dairy – Pescadero, CA; June 2009
17.) Tomales Bay Oyster Farm – Marshall, CA; August 2009
18.) Din Tai Fung – LA; September 2009
19.) Din Tai Fung – Tokyo; September 2009
20.) Schroeder’s Oktoberfest – SF; October 2009
21.) Fish Taco Crawl – San Diego; November 2009
22.) St. George Spirits & Hangar One Vodka -  Alameda; January 2010
22.5) Everett & Jones – OAK; January 2010
23.) Sammy’s Roumanian Steakhouse – NYC; February 2010
24.) Guerilla Ramen Night – SF; April 2010
25.) Knife Sharpening Workshop at Hida Tool & Hardware – Berkeley, May 2010
26.) San Pedro Fish Market - LA, June 2010
26.5.) Candytown – LA, June 2010
27.) The Trappist – Oakland, July 2010
28.) San Tung Restaurant – SF, August 2010
29.) Bitters Tasting with A.B. Smeby - Brooklyn, NYC, September 2010
30.) Four Barrel Coffee Cupping – SF, November 2010

One Comment

  • Posted February 4, 2011 at 7:18 pm

    this looks awesome! Were people wasted by the end or did they use their spit cups. I would have been DRUNK. Hope to make it to one of these!

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