There is absolutely not a thing broken about winemaker Alie Shaper’s glorious Broken Land, and entrancing, hypnotically fragrant orange-style wine made by the seemingly indefatigable Shaper, who is also the winemaker for the rose-centric Croteaux, as well a partner in Chronicle Wines and its myriad labels with fellow winemaker, Robin Epperson-McCarthy.
For those in the know, orange wine—a style that is millennia-old—has easily become a cult favorite over the last bunch of years. There’s even a wine shop that opened in Manhattan a couple of years ago solely dedicated to the style, along with a sister wine club. But what’s it like? That depends on who’s making it.
For those who haven’t quite toe-dipped into the style, the easiest description is it’s a white wine made like a red wine—that is, after the grapes are crushed, instead of separating the flesh and juice of the grape from its skins, orange wines take advantage of the color and tannin, that tongue-snappy, drying stuff lingering in the skins of grapes, to make something with a little more more there-there.
Shaper’s version is a clever one. Gewürztraminer is a funny grape. Extremely aromatic with tropical-leaning, spicy, floral notes, it’s a sensory dynamo. But it also is grape that tends toward less acid (acid equals that refreshing, palate-cleansing quality—like when you squeeze lemon over a plate of fried fish; it brings it alive and lightens the load, if you will). Along with blending in other high-acid white grapes that alter from vintage to vintage, that time on skin adds a lovely layer of texture to Broken Land.
For Shaper, the path to Broken Land (the name, a nod to the Dutch name at the root of “Brooklyn,” the borough where her winemaking journey began) has been a delightful rabbit hole she happily dove down. “Sometime in early 2010, I’d stumbled on an article talking about orange wines, but hadn’t ever heard of it, let alone tasted one. I was instantly fascinated!” she says. “Being the curious person that I am, I decided I had to try making one, so I read as much as I could find at the time on different techniques. I sourced a single ton of Pinot Gris to try my hand, and boom, my orange wine journey began. I crossed my fingers, whispered to the Universe to ask for guidance and dove in!”
Since then, the style and composition have never been the same thing twice, but Gewurtraminer soon became the one constant from year to year. “It’s perfume just had me hooked. It’s since become my absolute favorite variety to use in orange wines,” she says. Over the years, she played around with adding Sauvignon Blanc to the mix, as well as a small amounts of Chardonnay, Riesling, or Vidal Blanc. But Gewürztraminer had her at hello.
Its aromatics always make Broken Land an olfactory temptress. The 2020 may be her most gorgeous version yet, all peaches, rose petals, dried pineapple and ginger; a little peach-pit grippy on your tongue with fascinating hits of saffron and geranium leaf It’s dry as a bone, but juicy as the same time.
“My customers that are Broken Land fans know it and love it for being ever-changing, and to be an expression of its current vintage,” says Shaper. “But that’s the fun of Broken Land; it’s never ‘broken,’ but rather, a wine to keep both the winemaker and the drinker on their toes. It’s a great way for me to be creative, and I love the shift-ability of this wine.”