Methode Sauvage + Pioneer America
Ask winemaker Chad Hinds (Methode Sauvage, Iruai) for a pairing suggestion and you're more likely to end up with an old VHS of Suspiria than a recipe for grilled salmon.
In fact, watching this 70s horror film will likely tell you a lot more about Chad’s approach to winemaking than anything you’d find in the pages of Wine Spectator.
Still only in his early 30s, Chad’s clear aesthetic vision has already earned him a place among America’s leading natural winemakers. And it’s easy to see why. His wines make me feel rebellious, accepted, alive — the way I felt as a teenager, cutting class to drive around and blast Pavement’s Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain on repeat. Methode Sauvage Chenin Blanc is artfully unkempt, yet strikingly beautiful, like a sunrise after staying up all night.
But it’s Iruai — the winery that Chad and his wife, Michelle Westbrook Hinds, are building together in Northern California’s rugged Siskiyou Wilderness — that reveals his deeper environmental vision. Tucked into the southern end of the Cascade Range — that dramatic chain of mountains and volcanoes that sweeps down from Canada and through the Pacific Northwest — it’s a place of alpine forests and high mountain deserts. Switzerland meets Montana, says Chad: “with a heavy dose of Twin Peaks.”
And above it all looms the (possibly active) volcano, Mount Shasta — picture Mount Fuji’s big brother — which nudges the region into a near-mythical realm.
And we’re not the only ones feeling a bit high from the altitude. Chad’s feeling it too — so much so that he’s even taken it upon himself to give the region a name that reflects his new-found alpine bliss: Shasta-Cascade.
For a winemaker, a blank canvas is a rare and wonderful thing, and neither Chad nor Michelle plan to let the opportunity go to waste. The couple is clearing trees, staking fences, building nurseries, and planting own-rooted vines — “with our fingers crossed,” says Chad. It’s their chance to experiment and let their imaginations run wild, as the decision of how best to translate this culturally and ecologically distinct place into wine is fully their own.
Their north star is their love of the crunchy, herb-infused wines of the French Alps, which they are invoking through a number of varieties native to France’s Jura and Savoie regions. Varieties, Chad acknowledges, with “no historical reference” in the area.
As if the stakes weren’t high enough, the couple is also putting some of their more radical agricultural philosophies to the test. For example, they are applying a stripped-down method of permaculture adopted from the 20th century Japanese farming guru Masanobu Fukuoka, known as natural farming: no tilling, no fertilizers, no pesticides, no weeding. It’s an approach which requires a kind of meditation on the vineyard and surrounding landscape — from soil to cover crops to forests —to see it all as a single uninterrupted ecosystem. In a way, it’s a process of agricultural re-wilding — a quest to grow the vines as they might want to grow themselves.
Chad explains, “We’re trying to find the plants that grow at the edge of the pasture and the forest and bring them into the vineyard. This will lead to vines that require less human input to develop and grow healthily.”
Die-hard Methode Sauvage won’t be disappointed — Iruai might be transforming Chad from an indoor kid into a new kind of American pioneer, but he’s still plenty in touch with his inner slacker. Doing things naturally, he says, is all about having more time for the things that matter: “harvest meals, drinking beer, and spending time in the vineyard.”