In the heart of Wallingford there is a winery, Solera Bravo Wines.
Well, it is technically a winery, but more specifically it is a vermoutherie. What started as a hobby for Nacho Bravo over decade ago has turned into a full commercial enterprise, which Nacho and his wife, Melissa, run together, turning wine from Eastern Washington into a vermouth made right here in Wallingford, Vermut Del Sol.
Vermouth is an aromatized, fortified wine, produced by blending wine, alcohol, and dry ingredients and aging it until the (typically cheap) wine flavor subsides and a more “drinkable” drink is produced. Inspired by trips to Madrid, where “la hora del vermut” is an afternoon tradition wherein locals relax with friends and “do the vermouth,” Nacho began making his own vermouth in the mid-2000s. He would bring his aperitif to Christmas parties, serve it up, and have bartender friends say, “Hey, I’d buy this!”
Through a process of trial and error, infusing botanicals and spices (local and organic, when possible) into oak-aged brandy and blending it with sweet Muscat wine, Nacho and Melissa refined their recipe into their Spanish-style sweet red vermouth, turning the hobby into a business which bottles and kegs around 100 cases of Vermut Del Sol a year for Puget Sound-area bars, restaurants, and retailers, including Wallingford’s own City Cellars.
On a recent Friday evening, Nacho and Melissa were kind enough to give me a tasting tour (with an emphasis on tasting!) of their facility—an approximately 200 square foot detached garage situated behind their century-old craftsman bungalow. With the converted garage barely big enough to handle their current volume, they are looking for a bigger space so they can increase production of Vermut Del Sol and also explore creating another type of vermouth.
The current space is tidily organized but cramped, filled with barrels, jars, kegs, and more. The largest vat, sitting in a corner, is where Nacho and Melissa age and blend their Vermut Del Sol using the solera method. New batches of vermouth are added to older batches, allowing the average age of the vermouth to increase, creating a richer and smoother drink as time passes.
We started our tasting with a glass of straight vermouth. Though it’s a sweet vermouth, Vermut Del Sol tastes spicier and earthier than I expected, with a touch of bitterness. Nacho then poured us Manhattans—two parts whiskey and one part vermouth. Straight whiskey is not my thing, and the vermouth added a nice cut to it (Melissa likes her Manhattan upside-down—one part whiskey and two parts vermouth, making for a lighter cocktail). Finally, we had a vermouth and soda—one part vermouth, one part soda, with ice and a slice of lemon. Now THIS is my drink! Refreshing and light (Vermut Del Sol is only 16% alcohol), it would make for the ideal summer cocktail.
Prior to meeting with Nacho and Melissa, I knew little about vermouth beyond the bottle of Martino & Rossi dry I’ve had in my basement for at least a decade. I’m a beer guy. I like the hoppy bitterness of a Pacific Northwest ale. But this vermouth packs a ton of flavor, and some day soon there will be a warm, sunny afternoon when I will skip the IPA and instead open my bottle of Vermut Del Sol, add some club soda, a slice of lemon and a couple of ice cubes and do the vermouth. ¡Salud!