About 10 years ago, concurrent with the onset of the artisanal cocktail movement, small-batch European vermouths began showing up in the U.S. market. Winemakers took notice, and some started experimenting with producing their own. Today, vermouth is enjoying a moment, with some of the very best being made in our own backyard, by Afton’s Flying Fox Vineyard.
Winemakers Elliott Watkins and Emily Pelton were inspired by small-batch gins, with their quirky bottles and elaborate labels, to make vermouth for Flying Fox, the Veritas spin-off. It’s safe to say they’ve succeeded. Not only are the vermouths delicious and intriguing, but they have fabulous labels and, yes, a quirky bottle.
The label designer is Dani Antol, of Rock Paper Scissors, the Charlottesville custom paper-goods shop. Watkins wanted “the labels to be the tasting notes,” Antol says. They harken back to watercolors of fruits and flowers popular in the 1800s but are fresh and modern. Each one shows the ingredients—botanicals, fruits, and spices—that impart the wine’s flavors.
A fortified wine, vermouth always includes wormwood, a bitter, medicinal herb. What makes the Flying Fox version unique is that four iterations, one for each season, are produced yearly. Two are available now: Fall Sweet Vermouth No. 18.03, flavored with orange peel, cardamom, ginger, turmeric, and persimmon; and Winter Sweet Vermouth No. 18.04, made with raisins, dates, apple, pear, and cinnamon, and finished with bitter-sweet pomegranate. The Spring Sweet Vermouth No. 19.01, due for release in mid-April, will feature notes of strawberry and rhubarb.
Flying Fox sources most of the ingredients locally, and has begun growing botanicals. With the unusual elixirs growing in popularity, a greenhouse to ramp up production of the flavorful additives is on the drawing board. Purists may enjoy the vermouth on ice, but it also makes a sweet cocktail.
Flying Fox Vineyard, 10368 Critzer Shop Rd., Afton. 361-1692. virginiavermouth.com
Not your run-of-the-mill martini, this drink offers subtle fruit and herbal flavors.
1.5 oz Hendrick’s Gin
3 oz Flying Fox Spring or Summer Vermouth
Twist of lime peel
Splash of club soda
Serve over spring-water ice in a tall glass.