Rosé is definitely at the top of the list for summer. With its cool, refreshing sweet notes and its totally Instagrammable hues, rosé is the perfect go-to for many wine drinkers once the warmer temperatures hit. But what if we lived in a world where rosé was celebrated and encouraged to be enjoyed all year round? One Walla Walla Valley vintner, Fiona Mak of SMAK Wines, is on a mission to do just that.
After years in the restaurant industry, a cross-country move to attend Walla Walla Community College’s Enology and Viticulture program and the opportunity to work at Napa Valley’s Opus One, Mak has gained a variety of experience in the industry, all leading her to one passion — rosé. But why only focus on rosé? From the method she uses to make her wines to why she fell in love with rosé, we sat down with Mak to find out more.
1) How did you get your start in the wine industry?
I started in the wine industry as a restaurant manager and sommelier for a steak house in New York City. The restaurant group I worked for was very generous and supportive of me pursuing the sommelier courses from the Court of Master Sommeliers.
2) Why do you focus only on rosé?
When I moved to Walla Walla in 2013, there were very few rosés, and the wineries who made them would sell out before mid-summer. The temperature would get over 100 degrees and there would be no rosé to drink. I also take frequent trips to the French Riviera to see my family, and I fell in love with rosé and the French mentality behind it — basically when you’re sitting outside no matter rain or shine or snow, you’d drink rosé. I decided to bring all of that to Walla Walla.
We not only focus on rosé, but we also promote the “rosé all year” concept. We hope to change people’s mindset into drinking rosé all year instead of thinking of rosé as just a summer beverage. This is why we create different rosés and model them after the seasons.
3) What method do you use to make your rosés?
We use the direct press method, meaning the grapes go straight into the press as soon as they arrive at the winery. The skins and stems — eventually called must — are separated from the juice and we take the juice and ferment it. This limits the skin contact to keep our rosés pale. Color, [which] comes from contact with grape skin, is really phenolic compounds that add weight to your palate.
We want to create crisp, French-style rosés, so we don’t want any skin contact. We also have to make sure our picking decisions are on point because once the juice is separated, you pretty much deal with what you’ve got.
4) Why do you think rosé works well in all seasons?
Rosé is actually a very versatile wine as it can be made with any grape that has a red skin. It has yet to be explored and defined. It’s also extremely food-friendly as typical rosé winemakers pick grapes early so they retain great acid to pair with food.