Kermit Lynch. Alice Feiring. Jay McInerney. All wine heroes. But the one person who inspires me every time I drink wine, write about wine, and think about wine? That would be Dr. Steve Brule. Never heard of him? People, c’mon.
The enlightened know he was a character played by John C. Riley on the classic Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!, which ran on Adult Swim from 2007 to 2010. Dr. Brule only had one special report from wine country in the series’ five seasons, but damn was it special. Dr. Brule was not a man in a suit civilly sipping Cabernet Sauvignon, quipping about tannic structure. He was a cable access reporter gone rogue, stained purple from teeth to toes, yelling the now infamous rally cry “SWEET BERRY WINE!!!” It ripped at snooty wine culture while illuminating a universal truth: Wine is delicious and fun to drink.
So, when I heard Eric Wareheim, the co-creator of Tim and Eric and the lovable Big Bud of Master of None, was releasing an actual “Sweet Berry Wine,” I was skeptical. Anyone familiar with Tim and Eric would have probable cause to believe it was a hoax; perhaps a new Cinco product, or a prank from Wareheim himself, a dude who used to regularly caption wine as “bottles of piss” on Instagram. Anyone into wine could quickly relegate it to the laughable category of “celebrity wine,” one of the hottest ways to diversify portfolios since pop stars cornered the perfume market. And in the rare crosshairs of Tim and Eric fan and wine writer, there was me: impractically wanting a bottle of wine that could be joyfully gulped, paid homage to Dr. Steve Brule, and was like, well-made.
The release is one of four coming this fall from Las Jaras, Wareheim’s project with up and coming winemaker, Joel Burt. Like many modern California winemakers, Burt draws inspiration for Las Jaras from the 1960’s and 1970’s, when the Golden State reigned supreme with lower alcohol, higher acidity, and terroir-driven wines. Along with that old school style comes low-intervention winemaking practices, meaning they use as little chemicals as possible in both the vineyard and the cellar. “Our mission is to show people that wine isn’t boring. You can have a lot of fun with it, and it doesn’t have to be so serious,” Wareheim told me last week while tasting the wine at his home in Los Angeles. “But it’s also our mission to make really good, clean wines. Not novelty wines.”
“Sweet Berry Wine” is a dark beet juice color that definitely looks like it could stain your whole face if you decided to go full Brule on a bottle. But that is where the similarities to the original sketch end. “John [C. Riley], Tim [Heidecker], and I had the idea to make a Sweet Berry Wine for our fans. Every bar, every restaurant, everyone jokes with us about Sweet Berry Wine,” says Wareheim. “So, I talked to Joel, and I said let’s make this wine, but let’s make it good and not sweet.”
“Good and not sweet” it most definitely is. The unfiltered 100% Carignan smells like a walk at dusk down a back road, with just enough heat left from the afternoon to get whiffs of ripe blackberries and wet dirt in the distance. Dry with a light-medium body, it tastes like juicy, brambly raspberries rolled in soil and seasoned with fine black pepper. Chilled, the “Sweet Berry Wine” teeters on glou-glou, that juicy easy drinking thing, but as it warms to room temperature it evolves into a fantastic food wine. Wareheim—a well-documented food lover even beyond his exploits on Master of None—says he’d serve it with, “A salumi plate to start, maybe pepper salami, truffle salami, lots of cured meats. Then some grilled eggplants and grilled chicken with Vietnamese spice and mint. I think this is so good with things that are charred and have spice.” He takes a sip and sighs. “It’s just so good!” he laughs before licking the side of his decanter. Because it is that kind of wine. It is delicious, and it is fun to drink.
But what I love most about Las Jaras’ Sweet Berry Wine is that it has the potential to reach a lot of people and give them an opportunity to taste a low-intervention wine they may not have otherwise. Think about the huge Tim and Eric fan who buys this bottle because Dr. Steve Brule’s face is on it, even though they have never liked or understood wine before. It probably tastes unlike any wine they’ve had before, and they might start thinking about wine as a part of the larger eco-system, how chemicals used to farm grapes affect the environment, how additives and fining agents affect consumers, and how buying small production wines are not only better for them and the environment, but also for small businesses, like winemakers and wine shops. Maybe.
While that may sound idealistic, don’t all of us have that one bottle that took us from not giving a damn about wine to finally giving a damn?
Who’s to say yours isn’t going to be “SWEET BERRY WINE!!!”
Sweet Berry Wine ($35) will be available for order at LasJarasWines.com starting October 12th.