Where Have All the Vermouths Gone? An Interview with Winemaker Michael Blaylock
Michael Blaylock is the winemaker for Quady Winery, a premium winery in Madera, California that is producing remarkable aperitifs and offbeat but serious dessert wines. With what Michael describes as "an alchemists' alliance," he has worked with vineyard owner Andrew Quady for 23 years to create a twist on older more traditional-styled wines or obscure varietals. Quady's Vya Vermouths have put vermouth back on the map and given us OCD Martini Drinkers a new reason to obssess.
Whether he's creating boutique vermouth, Orange Muscat dessert wine or a Port-style wine called “Starboard”---so named because it's the other side of Port---Blaylock makes spirits and wines that are against the grain of the vodka, Cab and Chard commerical landscape. Think about it: who in their right mind would make vermouth in the land of dry martinis? Thank God Andrew Quady and Michael Blaylock's minds are twisted.
DCDrinks: When did you decide to start making vermouths? Was there a particular inspiration? And why vermouth over other fortified wines and spirits?
Michael Blaylock: Our first vermouth was formulated a little over 8 years ago. We had been playing with the whole new/old category of aromatized wines. Flavored spirituous products were showing up everywhere. Staying with our tradition of taking something old and giving it a twist, we thought vermouth had been neglected for far too long.
DCDrinks: What does Vya mean?
Michael Blaylock: Vya has absolutely no meaning. But then... “a rose by any other name.” We originally had a full promotional agenda to have patrons of great martinis ask for Vya with an up-raised hand and two fingers displayed in the traditional “V” for victory sign. This, I’m glad to say, was not just twisted but stupid. So the meaning of the name “Vya” is up to you.
DCDrinks: Did it take you awhile to find the right formula for each vermouth, and is there a touchstone ingredient?
Michael Blaylock: The "Mad Professor," Andy Quady, worked long and hard through many a night to come up with new vibrant vermouths that were not just a reiteration of those tired formulistic insipid wines that are often passed off as vermouth. For the Vya Dry Vermouth we tried to capture the essence and feeling of a spring meadow just after a light shower. The Vya Sweet Vermouth calls to mind those holiday memories of sugar and spice. These vermouths stimulate not just aromas and tastes, but memories.
We have tweaked the formula a couple of times, especially when we find a new and exciting herb.
DCDrinks: Are there other vermouths you respect, or do you think the market is a little dry right now (pun intended)? Is the tendency to order vodka Martinis sans vermouth to blame?
Michael Blaylock: If, God forbid, I have to order a Martini sans Vya, I like either Noilly Pratt or Cinzano. Lillet on ice with a twist can do in a pinch. Ever since someone started to equate a Martini with Dry Vermouth to a Dry Martini (sans vermouth) the world has lost one of those quintessential delights of grace and harmony. Making and drinking a well made Martini is comparable to an elaborate Japanese tea ceremony. All of your senses are stimulated: the vision of the perfectly shaped glass on a thin stem, the sound of the ice in the shaker, the complex and intimate aromas of fresh botanicals, that chilling touch to the lips followed by an oily clean spirituous taste.
DCDrinks: Amen. Do you have a ratio for making Martinis with Vya Dry Vermouth? And what gin do you recommend?
Michael Blaylock: I am very partial to Tanqueray 10. Its citrus notes pair well with Vya Dry. I find that I like a mixing a ratio of about 3 to 4 parts gin to 1 part Vya.
DCDrinks: Do you think there is a resurgence of craft distillers/wineries?
Michael Blaylock: There is definitely a resurgence of craft distillers. Many are researching old often forgotten recipes and using ingredients that lead to whole new expressions in distillates. Some of the flavored vodka distillers are actually using fresh ingredients in the distillation instead of flavorings. Domaine Charbay and St. George Spirits come to mind.
DCDrinks: Any new products or experiments you want to share with us?
Michael Blaylock: A new twist on something old: we will release a new Amontillado Flor Fino Sherry made from biodynamic grapes. Call us crazy, but Frazier can’t be the only sherry drinker out there. An exciting and twisted new product is our new wine called “Deviation.” It's an Orange Muscat dessert wine infused with Damiana (a Mexican herb with reputed aphrodisiac properties) and Scented Geranium (a potent "love" herb). The intriguing aroma and flavors are otherworldly.
DCDrinks: Anything you wish to add?
Michael Blaylock: Not much else except our flavor of “twisted” around here sure is fun. I think one of my favorite drinks is a Negroni: one part each of Vya Sweet Vermouth, Plymouth or Malacca gin, Campari with a burnt orange peel.