Until a couple weeks ago, Chëpìka was something I had heard about but never actually seen a bottle of it. I was lucky enough to get a small sip of it during the Rosé Soirée from an unlabeled green bottle; which just stirred my curiosity further. What was this wine that was the talk of the town in New York City, and yet, despite being made from Finger Lakes grapes, was unavailable locally?
About Chëpìka Wine
Chëpìka Wine is the project of winemaker Nathan Kendall and master sommelier Pascaline Lepeltier. The word Chëpìka means “roots” in the Lenape language, a language spoken by the Delaware tribe of Native Americans; a fitting choice given that the wine is using native grapes, natural yeasts and the ancestral method of creating sparkling wine. Let’s break each of these down.
First, the wine comes in two different varietals: Delaware or Catawba. Both of these are native to North America and were thriving varietals during the early days of the New York wine industry in the early 19th century. While these varietals were popular then, they went out of favor when winemaking resumed after prohibition. Like they did in the 1820s, the grapes come from Hammondsport on Keuka Lake.
Second, the wine is made using natural yeasts, which means nothing is added to the wine- they just wait for yeast from the environment to start the process of fermentation.
Finally, it is made using the ancestral method, also known as Pétillant Naturel, which is often shortened to Pet Nat. Unlike other sparkling methods, nothing is added to the wine like extra yeast or sugar to aid fermentation. It is called the ancestral method because it is believed to be one of the earliest ways that bubbles were added to wines.
Tasting Chëpìka Wine
Nathan Kendall, who is also the winemaker at Hickory Hollow and produces his own self-named label, recently had a tasting party to celebrate the new release of Chëpìka, where we finally got to try this bubbly.
We started with, my personal favorite of the night, the Delaware 2016, which has a nose that immediately smells of crusty bread and lemon, with additional notes of pear. On the palate, these lemon notes become amplified and candied, and are balanced by a bright acidity. Like all, the bubbles were soft and delicate.
When compared with the Delaware 2017, there were similarities such as the bright lemony notes on the nose. However, the 2017 version, which unlike the 2016 was naturally fermented, had no added sulfer and had 10% skin contact, was a lot funkier with notes that reminded me of a farmhouse style ale (not the smell of brett… just something funky which is a horrible descriptor but I’m lacking the wine words at the moment so let’s just go with farm yard). It ends with a pleasant tannin that reminds me of slightly overbrewed tea.
We then moved onto the Catawba 2016. This has a nose of that reminded me of key lime, pie crust, peaches, and hints of orange blossom, with lime sour patch kids on the palate and a big punch of acidity to drive that note home.
The Catawba 2017 had some similar notes to the Delaware 2017, like those funky farm yard notes I’m failing to adequately capture in words. But it also had citrusy, grapey and increased floral notes that made it stand out, and a slightly less punchy acidity.
Where to Find Chëpìka
If you’re looking to score a couple bottles, you can start by visiting Hickory Hollow to see if they are still carrying the 2017 vintage, or you can try some online retail stores. Honestly, your best bet is to find a friend living or visiting New York City who can head over to one of the local shops there that has it. Currently, Kendall and Lepeltier are making such small batches of these wines (like 800 bottles) that it is a little tough to come by. Your best bet? Follow Chëpìka Wine and Nathan Kendall on Instagram to find out when they will be doing their next local tasting.