There once was a man named Drago,
He came from Croatia a long time ago.
He grew many a vine,
And yelled loudly all the time.
The most interesting guy you could know.
Growing up in the Fraser Valley, Mike N. lived in a tight-knit rural community with several neighbourhood ‘personalities’. One of these personalities was named Drago (see limerick above.) 2009 happened to be one of the warmest years on record in the area and Drago had a bumper crop of grapes. Not knowing what to do with all these grapes, he tracked down the local neighbourhood wine nerd and said in his usual tone, “HEYYYY… MIKE… YOU VANT GRAPES?” (picture an unshaven middle-aged Croatian dude waving his arms in the air).
On the first day of October, Mike N. rounded up Mike R. to scout out Drago’s grapes. Upon arrival we asked Drago, “What kind of grapes are these?” His response: “I DON’T KNOW… I’M FROM CROATIA, EVERYBODY GROWS GRAPES!!!” Refractometer in hand we tested through his various plantings of ‘the mystery red wine grape’ and were pleasantly surprised to find them averaging at 20.5º Brix*
As of late Mike & Mike had had [had had?!] many conversations about natural winemaking and thought free grapes from Drago could be a great excuse to experiment. An important aspect of making a natural wine is allowing the grape’s wild yeast to create the fermentation, opposed to nuking the wild yeast with sulphites and adding a commercial ‘designer’ yeast from a nice little 5 gram packet. We had a yoghurt container’s worth of sample grapes to test our theory of wild fermentation. Fast forward two days: the yoghurt container had been sitting on Mike N.’s kitchen counter and things started happening. A flurry of text messages were sent to Mike R. excitedly proclaiming the advent of a natural fermentation! The sample was bubbling away, forming a cap and smelled like pizza dough.
After our successful wild yeast experiment we figured we would let Drago’s grapes hang for a couple more weeks to continue ripening. However, within a week Drago let us know that the birds and bees were having their way with our grapes. Not having access to any nets we decided it was time to harvest. We picked until dark and managed to pull together 120 lbs from every nook and cranny of Drago’s property (3 rows in the vineyard, behind the barn, the front porch, the overhead trellis and even some from Joe the neighbour.)
That evening we scrubbed down our feet, threw on our short shorts and jumped into our harvest bins. Forget potato mashers, feet were designed to crush grapes! We rifled through the bins to remove the green stems, consolidated the crushed grapes into one sanitized primary bin and dumped in our yoghurt container of test grapes. THAT’S IT! Nothing added, nothing taken away (including no sulphite additions.)
10 days after a textbook fermentation, the brix were down to -0.5º brix and we had wine. Using the tap we had installed on our primary we drained out the free run wine and got exactly one 23 litre carboy. Throughout the racking/aging phase we were amazed at how well the sediment dropped out and left a beautifully clear wine. Right off the bat and all the way to bottling, our natural wine had bright raspberry and mushroomy earth as it’s signature character.
The wine is now over 3 years old and with few bottles to spare it’s fresh, alive and full of interesting character, which is why we decided to name this wine DRAGO.
*Degrees Brix (symbol °Bx) is the sugar percentage in a liquid solution. The °Bx is traditionally used in measurements for wine, sugar, fruit juice, and honey.