The incredible flower wines of West Oakland’s Aaliyah Nitoto

In a 300-square-foot shipping container in West Oakland, Aaliyah Nitoto is making aromatic, elegant, memorable wines from flowers. Following in the ancient traditions of female garden winemakers, Nitoto’s wines are dry, complex and aged expressions of lavender, marigold and hibiscus. And their quality is shaking up the wine world.

Nitoto, a health and nutrition educator for Healthy Black Families Inc., a Berkeley nonprofit, came to flower winemaking after years of working as an herbalist and studying the powerful properties of flowers. Together with her partner Sam Prestianni, she launched Free Range Flower Winery in 2018 with 15 cases of small-batch, hand-crafted wines. Production is expected to hit 1,000 by year’s end, and double by 2022.

Until then, preorder now to score Nitoto’s wines, which sell out quickly. Her latest, a crisp, highly-drinkable rosé made from the flowers of the pineapple guava plant, will make a splash when it debuts in September to wine club members (she only made six gallons). You can also find the wines at Oakland’s Alamar Kitchen & Bar, Portal, Agave Uptown, Alkali Rye and Piedmont Grocery.

We recently spoke with Nitoto about the process, history and potential of flower winemaking. Here are her words.

Q: How are flower wines made? 

A: The process isn’t a secret. What I do is boil water and turn it off and pour on dried flowers. Kind of like making a tea. The other way you can do it is by taking fresh flowers and macerating them and pouring cold water on them. There is a sugar source, for the alcohol content, and yeast. Depending on the wine there is also a bit of citrus. The initial fermentation is about two weeks and the wine can sit for four to six months in stainless steel before going into the bottle.

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Free Range Flower Winery produces, from left, Marigold wine, Lavender sparkling wine, and Red Hybiscus wine. (Doug Duran/Bay Area News Group) 

Q: Where do you source your flowers? 

A: My flowers are sourced locally and organically, except for the feijoa, which I use to make my new new pink wine. I wildcrafted that myself. It grows in Oakland and Berkeley, so I went to my friend’s garden and picked the flowers myself. Fresh flowers are hard to get a hold of because there aren’t many farms that mass produce them in the amounts I would need. Nobody thinks of them that way.

 Q: Why isn’t flower winemaking more prevalent? Can you tell us about the history?

A: Flower wines have been made for as long as or maybe even longer than grape wine. Looking at the history, which is sparse, part of the reason is because they were mostly made for the home by women, middle and lower-class women, who didn’t own land or tractors and had no power to dictate what was popular wine. But the traditions are ancient. China’s chrysanthemum wine dates back to the Han dynasty. Dandelion wine has always been made in Northern Europe and the British Isles. And I recently …read more

Source:: The Mercury News – Entertainment

      

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