Yup, you read it correctly. Drawing from her studies of biology, herbalism, and nutrition, winemaker Aaliyah Nitoto combines her knowledge of flowers and plants, taste profiles, and science into the art of flower winemaking. Meet Free Range Flower Winery from Oakland, California.
Aaliyah Nitoto has a process that marries garden winemaking traditions of women from centuries past with the innovative spirit of today’s San Francisco Bay Area food and drink culture.
Ok, flower wine?! How, why, what was the impetus to choosing flowers over grapes?
Flowers have such amazing qualities, the aromatic compounds, dynamic colors, complex and unusual flavors, nutritional and healing properties. Flowers are magical and powerful. For years, through my work as an herbalist, I had learned about the deep history and wellness benefits of flower-based essential oils. Then I discovered these flower winemaking traditions, hundreds even thousands of years old, from all over the world.
Ancient Egypt, Greece, Rome, China. Also Korea, much of Europe, Colonial America. It was often women making these wines. And now, since they’ve basically been neglected for so long, they’re barely known. So this really intrigued me and touched my heart, and I wanted to bring these wines back with a modern spin.
What’s the reaction from other winemakers when you talk about making wine from flowers?
Surprisingly, the reaction is often “of course!” Given that winemakers are passionate about wine, they’ve probably heard about flower wines some place down the line, whether it’s dandelion or elderflower. These wines are historically established. They just aren’t widely known by the general public—yet.
When do you think consumers will start to see flower wine in the supermarket?
It’s happening now. Our wine is already available in gourmet grocery stores, if not supermarkets, and as we’re currently expanding our production and distribution, it looks like we’re going to soon be partnering with Good Eggs, the San Francisco-based online grocer. They appear to be dedicated to quality, flavorful, ethically produced products. That’s our mission, too, so we’re really excited about this relationship.
In terms of broader mainstream adoption of flower wine, we’re confident it’s going to happen over time. Think about how long it took farmers markets to reach the general public and organic produce to find its place in the mega grocery stores. Now they’re both everywhere. And then there’s the rise of so-called natural wine. Alice Feiring pinpoints the late 1970’s as its modern-day starting point. Fast-forward forty years, and natural wine is now a global phenomenon. We expect a similar trajectory for flower wine.
There are a number of artisanal, high quality, flower wine producers in both the U.S. and abroad, and while it may be a boutique movement for now, it’s a movement that’s got legs!
Exciting times ahead! Now, on to the wine itself. Can flower wine age like grape wine?
Yes, it can, depending on the flowers. Some flower wines are better as young wines, while others definitely need aging to reach their full potential or fullest expression of their unique personalities. Flowers with more tannins appear to age better than those with fewer. Of course, since there are countless flowers that can be made into wines, and I’ve only begun to scratch the surface, I’m excited to learn more about what these wines are capable of.
How do you describe the taste of your lavender sparkling?
First, I would say it’s a sensory-immersive experience like nothing else, really. We originally described the lavender wine as having a soft rosé blush and an assertive floral nose with an implied sweetness.
It’s crisp and dry with a bright mouth-feel, refreshing acidity, and an elegant clarity of expression with hints of citrus, juniper, and aniseed. Now, when I’m doing tastings, I like to ask people to just let go of any expectations they may have about wine, then close their eyes, savor the wine’s bouquet, and take a first sip.
I’ve found that those willing to abandon their preconceptions and experience this wine on its own terms get the most out of it. Maryland artist Renee Kirby just made this beautiful graphic for us, which wonderfully conveys the tasting experience. Also, I would say drinking lavender wine *feels* different than other wines. Lavender’s biochemical properties are unique. It’s a next-level body experience.
Your wines are from organic flowers, why did you make this choice?
I wanted to use ingredients that are the healthiest. When you’re talking about wine, people don’t usually think about “health,” but as a nutrition educator, the health qualities of what we put into our bodies is important to me, even when we’re talking wine.
Think of it like this. It takes thousands of flowers to make wine. And each flower, if it was covered in pesticides, you’d have this massive poison soup.
I want to make something that’s clean, pure and natural. The aromatics, colors, flavors, “magical” elements flowers have are so incredible. Why would you want to undermine or destroy the value of that with pesticides? For me, using organic flowers in winemaking is about respecting and harnessing the natural power of the flowers and our bodies.
Your top 3 favorite wine regions and why?
These days? Lodi, Paso Robles, Willamette Valley. I can’t remember tasting a wine from these regions that hasn’t been excellent.
Let’s play a quick game, we’ll give you 3 celebrities and you tell us from what flower you’d like to make a wine for them that matches their personality
I love that you’re asking this question! Turns out, the first wine I made, the Lavender, was created with Janelle Monáe in mind. I tried to channel her spirit as a rebel woman, unapologetic and assertive. She defies expectations and sparkles, filling the room with light. Just like Lavender wine! OK… on to the game…
White Rose. I really love Lady Gaga. Looking at the arc of her career with what she’s done musically, visually, with herself, her art, fashion and acting. At first, I was thinking of this flower called Pineapple Guava, which is this really bright, explosive-looking little flower that’s almost like a burst of fireworks.
That would have been the flower I would have used to match her early in her career. But now, as she’s grown, I would say, her style is more elegant and deliberate, so I would choose White Rose, which, I’ve heard, also happens to be one of her favorite flowers, and it does complement her really well.
Wild Bergamot. Steph is so much more than meets the eye. He’s incredibly talented and obviously one of the greatest NBA shooters of all time. He seems truly committed to his family, active in charities and devoted to his faith.
Did you know that for every three-pointer he makes,he donates three mosquito nets to the Nothing But Nets campaign to combat malaria? That’s just wild to me. And Wild Bergamot is so much more than just beautiful. It’s also a powerful, immunity-boosting herb that’s sacred in Native American communities.
Passionflower. Boisset is known for his fantastical, theatrical sense of style, which is why I chose Passionflower. It’s sophistication and drama personified.
[Editor’s comment: Ms. Aaliyah Nitoto I couldn’t agree with you more on this one! Jean-Charles is like the P. Diddy of wine!]
Launched in the summer of 2018, Free Range Flower Winery is an award-winning, family-owned urban winery located in Oakland, California, that handcrafts wine in small batches from locally sourced, organic flowers—not grapes.
Winemaker Aaliyah Nitoto combines her knowledge of flowers and plants, taste profiles, and science into the art of flower winemaking.