Many food fanatics around town know Evan Lewandowski as the sommelier and wine manager for Pago restaurant, where he's assembled one of Salt Lake City's more interesting and eclectic wine selections. But Lewandowski is also a winemaker, and a very passionate one at that.
Making wine in Utah is already an uphill battle. Making all-natural, organic, "hands-off" wines in Utah would seem to be the folly of a modern day Don Quixote. But, as Lewandowski says, "If I don't do it, someone else will."
His wines are made and marketed under the Ruth Lewandowski (RuthLewandowskiWines.com) label. This leads many to think that the wines are named for Evan's mother. In fact, Ruth is Lewandowski's favorite book in the Bible: The Book of Ruth, which deals with death and redemption. He sees parallels in winemaking: "Nothing that is alive today could be so without something having died first," Lewandowski says. And indeed, it's this natural cycle of life that informs his approach to farming and to winemaking.
Ruth Lewandowski wines are unique, to say the least. They are truly natural, and undergo virtually zero manipulation anywhere along the way. Eventually, Ruth Lewandowski wines will be made from grapes grown here in Utah. For now, until those grape mature, Lewandowski makes his wines with grapes from California's Mendocino County. They are organic and grown without the use of synthetic pesticides, fertilizers, fungicides or herbicides.
The wines themselves are made here in Utah. And this is where Lewandowski really partners with nature. Beginning with organic grapes, he produces wines that don't employ cultured "designer" yeasts or bacteria. "No acid additions, no sugar, no water, no tannin, no filtration for filtration's sake, etc.," he says. "Insomuch as it is possible, I strive to produce wine made of solely grape juice. That is, to me, the true expression of the land via the grapevine."
Try Googling "approved wine additives" sometime. What you'll discover is an almost endless list of FDA-approved additives ranging from acetaldehyde to calcium sulfate (gypsum) to polyvinyl-polpyr-rolidone (PVPP), whatever that is. There are additives for clarifying, preserving, fermenting, stabilizing, coloring, producing tannins, smoothing, filtering, defoaming, fining and purifying wines, plus a lot more. Lewandowski utilizes none of them, citing the cutting-edge Alsatian winemaker Christian Binner, for whom he worked in France. Binner, probably more than anyone, is Lewandowski's mentor and winemaker model. And like Binner, Lewandowski pushes the limits for what is technically possible in winemaking.
For anyone accustomed to industrially produced wines (i.e., most of us), a wine like Ruth Lewandowski Mahlon, made from organic Cortese and Arneis, is a revelation, with bold minerality, spice and floral qualities. Ruth Lewandowski Boaz—made with the not-so-widely known Carignan grape—is surprisingly bright and even delicate, not traits normally associated with Carignan. Of the three other Ruth Lewandowski wines released thus far—which include the Italian-style varietal Feints and sushi-friendly Cortese-based Chilion—my vote goes to Naomi, a 100 percent Grenache Gris wine with sexy white peach aromas and tropical fruit flavors.
Now, my profile of Lewandowski might lead you to think he's the prototypical wine geek. And, well, he sort of is. But he's also totally down-to-earth, and a really fun dude to shred the slopes with at his favorite ski area, Brighton.
Lewandowski makes his wines in a discreet location in South Salt Lake, at 3340 S. 300 West. Tasting and sales are by appointment only, and can be made by calling 801-230-7331.