Drink Picks

Making the Case for Offbeat U.S. Wines

Wine director Danya Degen has found success highlighting women-made and -owned U.S. wines made from nontraditional grape varieties like Barbera, Gamay, and Grignolino

Left to right: Division Gamay Noir ‘Lutte’ 2020; Terah Wine Co Barbera ‘Shake Ridge Ranch’ 2021; A Tribute to Grace Grenache ‘Shake Ridge Ranch’ 2018; Heitz Grignolino 2016. Photos (above) courtesy of producers. Photo (below) courtesy of Danya Degen.
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Danya Degen, director of operations and wine

Eastern Point Collective, Washington, D.C.

“At The Duck & The Peach, the menu is inspired by the American coast, with a California flare and a dash of New England comfort,” explains Danya Degen, the director of operations and wine at Eastern Point Collective, a collection of restaurants in Washington, D.C. “I take that pretty literally in terms of the wines; we have an all-domestic wine list. But the most important philosophy is that every wine is women-made or women-owned.” 

Right now, Degen is most excited by the recent slew of domestic wines made from offbeat grape varieties. “I’m excited by the range of international varieties that consumers are not as familiar with being grown in the U.S.,” she says. Italian grapes are a prime example, especially ones from regions like Tuscany and Piedmont. “Italy is focused on warmer-climate grapes, and since [the U.S. is] warming, they are doing well domestically,” adds Degen. 

In fact, all of the high-volume wines at The Duck & The Peach are in this category. Degen’s reasoning is: “People know and love Pinot Noir, so let’s try a grape that’s similar,” she explains. “A lot of the women winemakers that we work with are kind of like startups—they were previously scientists or previously sommeliers and now they are finding cool places to grow grapes.”

Selling Points for Offbeat U.S. Wines

  • Because these wines are less known, they tend to have lower price points. 
  • Many examples are medium-bodied red wines with medium tannins and medium acidity, which makes them very food friendly.
  • Vintage is less important because consumers are still developing their perceptions of these grapes, and the winemakers are still figuring out their style.

4 Offbeat U.S. Wines to Watch

  • Terah Wine Co Barbera ‘Shake Ridge Ranch’ 2021, Amador County, California “Barbera is one of my favorite Italian grapes. It’s a grape that can get up there in terms of alcohol, but it doesn’t mind a little sunshine,” says Degen. 
  • Heitz Grignolino 2016, Napa Valley, California: Heitz is already well-known, so guests are more willing to try an unknown grape when they know and trust the producer, explains Degen.
  • Division Gamay Noir ‘Lutte’ 2020, Willamette Valley, Oregon: “This is the highest volume BTB wine we have at The Duck & The Peach,” says Degen. “Guests just love it.”
  • A Tribute to Grace Grenache ‘Shake Ridge Ranch’ 2018, Amador County, California: “[Winemaker Angela Osborne is] another example of a winemaker falling in love with a grape and figuring out where it can grow best,” says Degen. The Shake Ridge Ranch Grenache makes a great bottle selection, while the Central Coast bottling from 2020 is perfect for BTG.

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Caitlin A. Miller is a New York-based wine writer and the current associate editor for SevenFifty Daily. Her work has appeared in Food & Wine, Vinous, and Christie’s International Real Estate Magazine. She holds the WSET Diploma in Wines and was the recipient of the 2020 Vinous Young Wine Writer Fellowship.

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