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Andy Young, winemaker and founder of The Marigny
Issue 13: An update on onions plus an ~exclusive~ discount for readers.
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If you drink natural wine, you know of The Marigny. Very much an it wine, Andy Young makes natural wine in the Willamette Valley that is juicy, crushable, and very much fun to drink. I chatted with Andy about his path to wine, The Marigny’s “Grape Friends” wine club, and how he sees his brand growing.
Brianna Plaza: Can you tell me a bit about your background and how you got into wine making?
Andy Young: I think my path was pretty similar to a lot of my peers that don't come from the wine world. I was working at a restaurant in Portland during the early stages of the booming food scene here, before the fever pitch where you could still come into it and not necessarily know a lot.
I basically talked my way into that job without knowing much. They gave me a bartending job, and they had a really good wine list. Before that job I had only a little bit of experience with wine, and I think in that moment, truly living in the terroir was really revelatory for me.
I got to a point where I wanted to continue to learn about wine and that led to several years of tasting. I actually took a job in Texas for a little while and continued to taste everything I could.
I took a sabbatical from my day job and worked a harvest and I really enjoyed it. I ended up doing another harvest and then going back to advertising for a bit, but I eventually went freelance and started making small amounts of wine. I was paying for all of this through freelance advertising jobs and I eventually made the leap to founder and business partner. All of this was around 2018 when I took on a partner and put the wines up online.
The carbonic pinot noir that I made in 2017 was featured by Bon Appétit as one of their favorite things that they drank in 2018. My partnership had started right when that came out. So it was very serendipitous.
Brianna Plaza: Not long after I saw your wine featured in that issue, I started to see your wine everywhere. How did you leverage that into marketing for The Marigny?
Andy Young: The brand was pretty much there, I just did not have the resources or the time to really push it out into digital until I partnered with my current business partner, Adam. We were able to basically take a lot of this collateral that I had built and digitize it, and put it into the system right when the Bon Appétit issue came out.
It was one of these situations where the stars just aligned a little bit in our favor, where there was a lot of interest in the wine. We were prepared when the moment came along.
Brianna Plaza: I feel like your brand was nicely positioned to be at the forefront(ish) of this shift toward natural wine. Did you make a conscious effort to go into natural wine or is that a style that you fell into after working around in the industry for a little?
Andy Young: It was definitely a choice. The first harvest that I was a part of was much more traditional, big-production wine. The second internship I took was with Chris Berg from Roots Winery, a much smaller producer.
We did maybe 10,000 cases that year and it was a really great experience because it was the first time that I had been around native fermentations. And that was a great way of seeing that come to life and realizing that producing that kind of wine is not a scary thing.
By 2015 I had pretty much fully started to commit to experimenting with carbonic wines using no sulfur at the crush pad or basically right at bottling. That was a decision that was made mostly by stuff that I was drinking at the time. I had started to get into a lot of these wines through reading books and blogs.
I've been really fortunate to be in a place where I have been able to work with a lot of great folks. We did a wine with Domaine LA, I did a wine with Donkey and Goat in 2018, where we traded some fruit. I realized that if I was going to start a brand, if I was going to make Oregon pinot noir, that I had to do something with it that felt unique.
Making really nice wines from well farmed fruit is not particularly challenging. I think there's a lot of difference between good and great, but there's a particular way to do it and it's been done that way in the valley for decades and there's plenty of people that do it really well. I realized that I was looking at an uphill battle if I wanted to try to be a part of that conversation.
By the time 2015 rolled around, I thought, "Well these are nice wines, the stuff that I'm drinking is more what's speaking to me. How do I take our fruit and make something that encapsulates the feeling of the wines I like?” There were lessons of “new world” wine that we were pulling from the California playbook and then also getting into a lot of the natural info from Europe.
Brianna Plaza: I feel like The Marigny has a particular voice. Was that also part of this effort to seem unique and new on this scene, or is this more of your personality coming through or a bit of both?
Andy Young: It felt like I was going to a lot of tastings and there was a lot of swirling and spitting. I wanted to try to make something that was really delicious but you didn't necessarily have to sit there and talk about it forever. I wanted to try to make wines that were conversational, but not about the wine. It was a wine that drove conversation about other things.
And when you've got something that's low alcohol, bright, and refreshing, you come back to it over and over again, but you're not really pontificating on it and that's the whole point. It's just really well-farmed fruit with rigorous standards in the cellar. All of that stuff we take very seriously but we think that the drinking experience can be fun.
Brianna Plaza: The “Grape Friends” wine club is very well positioned for the current world. Was there a conscious focus on getting into wine clubs? Or do you think that is where the industry is going?
Andy Young: We were always building towards having a club-based model in addition to having the wines in the best shops. I would rather have the wines be in places that are highly curated by people that are really invested in selling them and buying them, as opposed to them being in a grocery store.
That's why we have chosen to work with distributors that we love and respect not only them, but their work. We have a direct relationship with these people, they're like family to us. We also want to have a direct relationship with the people buying the wines and actually consuming them.
That's really fun for us because I don't think that often you get to have that relationship, it stops at the distributor level. But if you can take the time to get to know the people that are actually drinking your wine, I think that you can really start to fine-tune what it is that people are enjoying about the wine and then you grow with them.
The wine club has been a really positive thing for us, especially with 2020 being what it was. It's almost hard to remember some days that before all the wildfires, we were dealing with a pandemic. And now we're back to dealing with the pandemic and wildfires are over but there was this moment where the wildfires actually superseded what we were feeling about the pandemic and how that was affecting the community at large.
Brianna Plaza: How have the wildfires affected how you think about your business?
Andy Young: I think that we've been really fortunate that our wines were not particularly affected by the smoke this year. I think that we are possibly the exception to that. I know that I'm really happy with our red wines.
I think our stuff tastes pretty great this year, and I feel really lucky about that. I also think that there's techniques that I'm maybe employing that I wouldn't otherwise, that hopefully won't change things too, too much.
In terms of the fires, I think we've been really lucky because most of our sites are in the very, very northern tip of the valley, and they're high elevation and they didn't necessarily get into the line of some of the fires that happened.
Brianna Plaza: How do you see your business growing in the next couple of years? Do you think it will expand to more grape varieties or more markets or both?
Andy Young: We're doing a small amount of grafting in one vineyard, taking some pinot gris over to Aligoté. Nobody will even see that for another two or three years.
That's just the reality of doing something like that. It’s likely just an experiment for us, to play with the fruit a little bit in the cellar, and I'm not totally sure what would happen to it from a sales perspective.
We are interested in Aligoté, we're also interested in a few other white varietals. But for the most part, our focus has been on pinot noir and pinot gris because Oregon is about these varietals - that's the story of this place.
It’s really expensive to graft plants. For every 200-300 plants, you might get 50 cases once they're full tilt. It takes a lot of expense to graft a vineyard if that's the way that you want to go. Or it takes you finding land, buying land, planting it yourself.
But even doing that, you're looking at several thousand dollars per acre on top of the land cost. So it's a major investment to switch over to a grape varietal and I think it's one of the things that people have maybe yet to wrap their head around fully with our industry. If a certain grape is trending now, in three years when it’s ready, is it going to be trending still? Does it even matter?
And I guess the point of that is that pinot noir is one of the few grapes that lends itself to be malleable and you can express your point of view with it. And that can be a changing point of view, while the vine itself remains the same.
There are a ton of factors that determine how the end product comes out: how you farm the grapes, how you hang the fruit in terms of weight on the vine, how many clusters you let each vine have on the shoot, when do you pick it, how you trellised it, how and when you pick it, how you process it.
There are a million different decisions that you can make about the stylistic trajectory of a wine without adding a single thing to the fruit. Intention is everything when it comes to where you're going in terms of your product.
Other things ~
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Turns out, someone did notice the onions:
I made these Garlic Braised Short Ribs With Red Wine from NYT Cooking last week on a cool, rainy spring night and they were fantastic. They could have used more garlic, but 10/10 would make again.