The phenomenal winemakers highlighted here all make wine for Naked Wines, a wine company which supports independent winemakers around the world while giving customers access to premium wines at prices up to 60 percent off retail.
Because of Naked Wines’ unique direct-to-consumer model, winemakers have creative control to make new and interesting wines without worrying about marketing, finance, and other time-consuming tasks. This creative freedom means that Naked Wines offers unique takes on your favorite varietals at a price point where it is easy to try something new.
For this wine tasting, I received a case from Naked Wines to sample. I tried one wine from the Lodi AVA, two from the Clarksburg AVA (both in California), and one from the Columbia Valley AVA in Washington. I also tried an unspecified-AVA California wine.
I invited a few neighbors over to share the bottles and get a few more opinions on the wine. There were four of us tasting the wines, each with varying levels of wine experience. One friend is very experienced, having lived near Napa Valley for a few years; my neighbor is a newbie to wine tasting; and my other neighbor prefers sweeter wines.
At the end of the tasting, I asked everyone to choose their favorite. I’ve never had this happen before and I used to run a wine club: No one could choose because we liked all the wines we tasted. I am a big red wine drinker, but this tasting reminded me that I used to just drink white wine and now I remembered why I loved it so much.
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1. F. Stephen Millier
Lodi AVA in California
Winemaker Stephen Millier has an interesting story. He was the first American winemaker to join Naked Wines back in 2012. When he joined, Naked Wines was a newer company, and he jumped on the opportunity.
“The idea was to have winemakers in control of their own wines and interacting with customers instead of working behind a wall,” Millier said. “I don’t think anyone realized how successful it would become — it was just an idea that [Naked founder Rowan Gormley] wanted to try out. As they say, the rest is history!”
Little did Millier realize what the collaboration would mean to him. He has now put his name on over a million bottles. He is so successful with Naked Wines that he is the #1 direct-to-consumer winemaker in the United States.
We tried F. Stephen Millier Angels Reserve Lodi Pinot Grigio. This light and refreshing wine is made from grapes from Millier’s estate. With the extreme heat in California, he ensures his fruit is night-harvested, which helps protect the delicate grapes.
Pro Tips: Serve pinot grigio chilled. It is a light, delicate wine that pairs best with salads, chicken, seafood, light pasta dishes, and risotto. Millier likes to serve it with steamed clams and mussels served in a savory broth with chunks of fresh sourdough bread to sop it up.
2. Karen Birmingham
Clarksburg AVA In California
Winemaker Karen Birmingham has an amazing depth of experience. Starting her winemaking career as a consumer, she spent weekends touring and tasting at California wineries. She worked as an enologist for Robert Mondavi Woodbridge Winery on their 70,000+ barrel program. Each day, she tasted over 100 barrels and worked on making blends, which trained her palate. She then went on to work for a family-owned estate winery, which was smaller but had a vineyard well known for its fruit, giving her the opportunity to make premium wines. Because of her relationships with the farmers, she can make wine for Naked Wines from some of the best vineyards in the area.
We tasted her Karen Birmingham Clarksburg Pinot Grigio 2021. It was a delight. Birmingham describes it as “the perfect white wine to drink every day.” Pinot grigio is my go-to white, and I truly enjoyed this one. It is full of lemony-lime fruity flavor, but it has a delicate, light taste that isn’t overpowering. It is perfect with pasta dishes with subtle sauces, such as vegetable lasagna or pasta salad. Like most whites, it pairs well with chicken, seafood, grilled vegetables, and cheese.
3. Katy And Justin Michaud
Columbia Valley AVA In Washington
Winemakers Katy and Justin Michaud are both successful winemakers individually, but they’ve always dreamed of working together to produce a wine. Katy has worked with top wineries in Washington, including Canoe Ridge and Kim Crawford; Justin has racked up gold medals for Coyote Canyon, a boutique Washington estate winery.
“We’re excited to bring our individual styles together under our Michaud family brand and can’t wait to see what this new venture has in store for us, and the amazing Naked Wines [members] who made it possible,” Katy explained.
“Two heads are better than one,” she said of working with her husband. “I am gonna say creative differences will come up and that mostly, I am right.”
We tried the 2021 batch of Michaud Columbia Valley Riesling. Naked Wines Angels (the affectionate term for their members derived from “Angel investors”) have made this the most decorated riesling sold on the site. It is so popular that it has been sold on the site for 9 years.
I am not a sweet wine fan, so I tasted this Riesling with a bit of trepidation. Rieslings vary so much from a drier wine that some winemakers will label “dry riesling” to so sweet to me that it is like a Boones Farm Strawberry Hill (also the gateway wine for many before their palate develops). The Michaud riesling has just the right touch, with peach contrasting with citrus flavors, that keeps this wine from being overly sweet. The Michauds’ go-to pairing is spicy curry. It also goes great with oysters and baked halibut.
4. Richard Bruno
Winemaker Richard Bruno has made wines for some of the biggest names in the business, and this gave him the opportunity to visit vineyards throughout California’s coastal wine region. It was here he had the insight to source premium fruit for a good price. Naked Wines drinkers can enjoy his premium wine at a reasonable price point.
“I love the unpredictability of winemaking — not knowing where I’ll be or what I’ll be doing before I wake up,” said Bruno. “And I enjoy working with like-minded, quality-oriented people toward making a singularly unique product.”
We tasted the Richard Bruno Clarksburg Chenin Blanc 2021. The fruit for this wine was sourced from a fourth-generation farm family in the Clarksburg AVA, which has a cooler climate. Chenin blanc typically produces a dryer wine, but a cooler climate produces a slightly sweeter grape.
“Chenin blanc is so pure and light with delicious fruit flavors and aromas. It’s great on a hot day by the pool and is terrific with a wide variety of foods,” said Bruno. The recommended pairing is with a beet salad tossed in a champagne vinaigrette with goat cheese and toasted and chopped almonds.
5. D.H. Elliott
Unspecified California AVA
Winemaker D.H. Elliott has 54 harvests and more than 42 years of experience under his belt . His forte is crafting good wines at incredible value for wine giants like Total Wines and Bevmo. During what he refers to as his “gypsy” winemaking years, he traveled to harvests in New Zealand, Burgundy, and Bordeaux. Elliott signed on with Naked Wines because he wanted to make some killer wines at great value for the Angels.
“I want to make all the wines that I dub ‘moreish,’” he explained. “Wines that once I have that first sip, make me want some more.”
We tried the D.H. Elliott California Sauvignon Blanc 2020, which I found to be light and crisp with a nice citrus taste to it. This wine is great value for such a premium-tasting wine. The recommended pairing is grilled chicken with fresh pesto pasta, but it is a very food-friendly wine that pairs well with a variety of food choices. For our tasting, I included pita chips with a sweet and spicy pepper relish mixed with Philadelphia Cream Cheese. This turned out to be a great pairing with all the white wines we tasted, but I particularly liked it with Elliott’s sauvignon blanc.
As part of my research for this article, I went through the Naked Wines website thoroughly. Each time, I learned something new. Naked Wines has a variety of groups that you can join, including Wine Newbies. It is similar to a Facebook group, and you can interact with fellow wine lovers and also see comments from Naked Wines staff.
I read comments and reviews noting Naked Wines’ excellent customer service. If someone didn’t like a wine and mentioned it in the comments, a member of the Customer Happiness Team replied and showed them how to get a refund or a replacement bottle.
I also learned that there is a Wine Advisor Team. When you call in, you can talk with someone who will recommend wines based on your likes and dislikes. Many Naked Wines vintages sell out, so if you really like a wine, you can get your name on the list to reserve bottles of the next vintage. Two weeks out, you will be notified by email, and you can decide if you still want them. No payment is required to reserve.
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