Community Supported Alcohol: Enlightenment Wines

Wild Melaides wine

You’ve heard of Community Supported Agriculture — but what about Community Supported Alcohol?

Enlightenment Wines — which prides itself on “Putting the Alchemy back in Alcohol” — offers a Cult Wine and Mead CSA, where the “A” stands for “Alcohol.” I sat down with wine-, potion- and mead-maker Raphael Lyon to talk fermented flowers, the path to Enlightenment and what’s on tap for 2012. Below is an edited transcript of our discussion.

(Note: Lyon is providing wine pairings for an intimate tasting dinner at Eat on January 29th; contact him for details.)

Let’s start at the beginning. How did you start making wine?

Enlightenment Wines

Enlightenment's upstate winery-in-a-barn

Well, I started making alcohol probably 15 years ago. I was into a lot of DIY technology and solar stuff, and just seeing how responsible one person could be for all the stuff they consumed. I was farming in 2000 for a year; I did a subsistence farm from scratch.

Tell us a little bit more about what you’re doing at Enlightenment.

…As much as I like grape wine, it’s kind of like making a Western in that it’s supposed to have certain parts, certain characters. If you (drink) a Beaujolais Nouveau, there are expectations that come with it, and everything is measured against this sort of ideal…

So, the reason what I’m doing is actually really radical is because I’m not doing that. I’m not working in genre. I don’t wanna start out by saying, “Well, am I gonna make a Western, or is a Romance or a Sci-Fi?”

Where do you source your ingredients from?

What I’m doing is more like making a mixed drink over six months; it’s always about blending several fruits and herbs. Everything I make is natural, from New York state farms, and I’m lucky enough to work with juice providers who don’t pasteurize their juice. I get the cherries from Red Jacket Orchards – their Cherry Stomp.

I don’t sterilize the must; I don’t UV it; I don’t do much except compensate the balance of sugars and acids. I avoid using white sugar. The sugar I add is usually honey, and there’s a bit of maple in the dandelion wine. Technically, almost everything I make is mead. From the government’s point of view, if there’s a drop of honey in it, it’s mead. All my honey is totally raw, from Tremblay Apiaries. The dandelions I picked right outside the winery [near New Paltz]. 

Is there a new recipe you’re particularly excited about?

Making dandelion wine

Making dandelion wine

I made a dandelion wine. It’s taken like three years to figure out how to do it. Dandelion wine’s really interesting because it’s a very particularly New England wine. Most people end up with something really sweet, because if you don’t know what you’re doing, the safest thing to do is dump a lot of sugar in it because then in the end the alcohol level goes way up and it preserves it safely. The one I make, Memento Mori, like all my wines is very dry.

How does the CSA work, and are there any openings?

It’s a bi-annual drop subscription. We have a few spaces open right now, and anyone who’s interested can email me or go here for more information. You get 12 bottles for $250 for a case. They’re very pretty bottles, and I’ll usually have at least three varieties in a case.

Where else can readers find Enlightenment? Are you planning to broaden your distribution? 

You can usually find Enlightenment at Spuyten Duyvil, and a handful of wine shops.

I think a lot about the energy efficiency of what I do, and how much water I’m using. My biggest carbon footprint are the bottles and the gas it takes to drive them from the upstate winery down to the city where my customers are, so I’ll either move the winery to Brooklyn or have a second space here [in Brooklyn].

Bottles are really wasteful. That’s why I want to do more cask wines and larger containers, and work with restaurants so I don’t have to bottle everything. Working with restaurants is sort of Stage Two. I want to have the same relationship with restaurants that I have with my CSA [subscribers].

Images courtesy of Enlightenment Wines

Note, the dinner at Eat was previously scheduled for January 30th.

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