Punk Not Plonk

Jun 06, 2024

By Liz Miller, West End Wine Manager

I was only ten years old the first time I heard The Ramones. The song “Beat on the Brat,” though laden with static, wafted through the speakers of my compact boombox and consumed me with wonder and delight. That same year, I bought my first guitar and fully immersed myself into the punk subculture. Punk music and its synonymous ideologies have followed me into my adult life, and my standards for the wine that I purchase and consume share similar core values. I have always been attracted to creatives - those who are passionate about their craft. It’s a no-brainer then that juice made by people who have their hands in every aspect of the winemaking process appeal to me most. 

Just as punk was a reaction to the bloated and corporate nature of prog rock bands and their superfluous guitar solos, low-intervention wines are a reaction to over-manipulated wines made for mass consumption. Punk also embraces a D.I.Y. (do it yourself) ethos in which many bands produce their own records and distribute them through independent labels. As is such with many smaller production winemakers who have the determination and resourcefulness to carefully tend to the micro ecosystems that they cultivate. 

There is also a certain appeal for confident representation of what the average person finds ugly - for example, Soo Catwoman (now considered a fashion icon) with her head shaved right down the middle. People don't like to think about where their ingredients come from, and they certainly don't want to think about it being dirty or sharing space with insects or microorganisms. Think of mass-produced wines as the glossy, genetically modified tomatoes that you find at big grocery store chains - the ones that taste like water. The little guys are keeping their produce happy and healthy and aren't afraid to get dirty while doing it. It only makes sense that the end product would express more character and complexity than the uniform industrial, for-profit wines. 

This leads me to give some insight on a few producers that create fringe wines with a D.I.Y. approach, and respect for the people and land that they work with. Likewise, they could care less about the rules or regulations that come with having clout or brand name association. 

Marcel Lapierre “Le Beaujolais” Gamay $35.99

The first person that comes to mind when talking about “punk wines” is Marcel Lapierre - the French cult wine icon/leader of the appropriately named “Gang of Four”. Many of the post-war generation of vignerons in France were using an insecticide (DDT) that was used during WWII to control malaria, body lice, and bubonic plague. We now understand the detrimental impact that DDT has on both humans and the environment. However, it seemed like an easy solution at the time for vignerons that were losing their vines to pests. When Marcel took over his family’s estate in 1973, he eventually discontinued use of all chemical fertilizers and herbicides. The fruit was harvested late, meticulously sorted by hand, and fermented with native yeasts. He chose quality over quantity, and allowed the drinker to experience the truest expression of Beaujolais’ terroir. He was a pioneer of the time, using unusual practices in a country that has autocratic control over its wine production, and whose impact on the wine world can still be felt today. Lapierre inspired wine makers to produce simpler, fresher wines - just as the Ramones inspired the impetus of British youth to form stripped down songs with radical lyricism. 

The wine: Although Marcel is no longer with us, his children Camille and Mathieu continue his legacy. “Le Beaujolais” is their entry level juice from multiple parcels in Beaujolais. Although a “simple” representation of Beaujolais, it drinks like a top-tier Morgon, with loads of bright cherry and silky violet. 

Maison Noir “Oregogne” Pinot Noir $45.99

Winemaker and Sommelier, Andre Mack, had his humble beginnings washing dishes for the mega-corporation, Darden. Eventually, Mack moved his way up in the industry and became a sommelier for The French Laundry in California, and Per Se in New York City. In 2007 he began making wine under the moniker, Mouton Noir, French for “Black Sheep” - then cheekily changed the name to Maison Noir, French for “Black House”. With labels like “Black Sheep” and “O.P.P.”, one can easily find themselves charmed by his irreverent responses to the bourgeois generalizations towards wine culture. His “Oregogne/Garage d’Or” series is no exception, with one of the wines actually being titled “Bourgeois”. He’s making a point with his wines, showcasing Oregon terroir in a way that stands up to the cultural clout of Burgundy wines. 

The wine: Bright cherry, brambly blueberry, and forest floor, followed by flowing minerality. 

Testalonga “Keep on Punching” Chenin $25.99

Testalonga’s Craig and Carla Hawkins debuted their first wine in 2008 - a skin-macerated Chenin Blanc. Allegedly this was the first orange wine produced in South Africa, a style not formerly permitted in South Africa’s wine appellations, and therefore failed classification. The couple have since pushed the boundaries of natural winemaking, and fought a long battle to change what South Africa allows to be classified. Testalonga are leading the way in terms of exciting and experimental winemaking in their conservative country, and are drawing international attention along the way. They fully embraced their image of being South Africa’s winemaking rebels, with the winery's namesake being a Sicilian outlaw, and their ranges affectionately named “El Bandito” and “Baby Bandito”. 

The wine: Crisp green apples, white peach, and zesty lemon pith - with refreshing minerality and zipping acidity. 

It wouldn’t be an homage to punk without the music, so here is a selection of punk songs from my personal collection for your listening pleasure: 

"Punk not Plonk" Spotify Playlist

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