Every somm wants to make their own wine. Every bartender wants to make their own new drink. But Jordan Salcito, director of wine special projects for David Chang’s Momofuku restaurants in the States, has actually done it – she created her own brand, which is now in the UK. We chat to the woman behind Ramona spritz and put the products to the test.
What was the thinking behind creating Ramona?
I’ve spent most of my adult life studying and being inspired by wine and its ability to connect us to one another. I’ve also spent over a decade working in wineries to understand how production decisions relate to quality and taste. Ramona exists because I became increasingly aware that beverages for casual moments unilaterally compromised on quality, and I didn’t agree with that.
As the beverage director for David Chang’s US Momofuku restaurants at the time, I understood what was on the market and saw a void for a high-quality organic beverage brand that tasted delicious, met my standards and didn’t take itself too seriously.
And what was the physical process of developing them?
The first iterations involved juices, fruits and purees, various base-wines and an at-home carbonator. I played around with recipes and shared them with some friends – some industry, some not.
How did you choose which wines/juices to blend? Was it a bit like food-matching?
A large part of my inspiration was Italy’s beloved spritz so ultimately I focused on grapefruit as it’s an inherently bitter yet balanced flavour. As for the base wine, from the beginning I knew that Italy had extremely high viticultural standards (they banned the use of glyphosates in 2016 for example). And I wanted Ramona to be an organic product because that’s what I personally like to consume and support.
So after a lot of due diligence and recipe testing, organically grown Zibibbo grapes from Sicily emerged as the base wine that met both the philosophical, agricultural and taste standards we wanted.
How did you do it while having a full-time job?
I like to joke that I had two babies at the same time: my son, Henry, was born in January 2016 and Ramona really took shape while I was on maternity leave. I’ve long worked multiple jobs and side hustles, but having a few months away from the restaurants gave me the headspace I needed to evolve Ramona from an idea into a business.
Which channels are they aimed at – on- or off-trade?
Years ago I read an Andy Warhol quote in which he praises Coca Cola as something that everyone from Elizabeth Taylor and the President of the United States to ‘the bum on the corner’ can enjoy. ‘All the Cokes are the same and all the Cokes are good. Liz Taylor knows it, the President knows it, the bum knows it, and you know it,’ he said.
Ramona is for anyone who wants to drink a low-alcohol delicious spritz. That is our intention. We have distribution in some of the best restaurants and bars in the world and Ramona is currently available in 43 markets across the US, plus Canada, England, Ireland and Singapore.
How do you see bars/restaurants using them?
We like to say Ramona is ‘wine without rules’ and we try not to be prescriptive with how people use it. One of my favourite recipes is a frozen Negroni by Kelly Fields of Willa Jean in New Orleans. There are some other great iterations at places including Legacy Records, Santina, Pasquale Jones, Porkchop &. Co and Beasley’s Chicken + Honey. Momofuku use it as a cocktail base or modifier.
WHAT DO WE THINK?
There are four wines in the range. Three spritzes – ruby grapefruit, lemon and blood orange, and a dry sparkling rosé. Only the first two are currently in the UK.
The two Ramona’s we got to try looked good. The packaging is playful and sassy, the 25cl size is useful, and the can packaging (which we’ve spoken positively about before for wine) is eco-friendly, reliable and space-saving. 20-somethings should love it.
Flavour wise, the most striking element of these is that they are both pretty sweet – perhaps because they were made initially for the US. We’d imagine that the demographic for Ramona are fairly young, too – and probably coming to these through drinks other than wine, so sweetness isn’t likely to be a turn-off.
The lemon variant was our favourite of the two. It tastes a bit like Muscat with lemonade – which for a certain market is undoubtedly a good thing. Stick it in a long glass with some ice and, at only 7% abv, it could work pretty well as a prosecco substitute.
The grapefruit variant has a really attractive pale pink hue – ticking a lot of boxes at the moment – and there’s an element of Kiwi Sauvignon Blanc to the nose, but it’s really sherbetty on the palate, and the sweetness builds to a finish that, to our palate, was cloying rather than refreshing. That said, lovers of sweet, fruity cocktails could use it as a lower-alcohol alternative, and we can see this putting in a shift as a lower-abv cocktail ingredient – perhaps with tequila and a squeeze of lime.
Ramona Spritz are available from Louise Holstein at Uncharted Wines, firstname.lastname@example.org