Making Music and Wine in New Orleans: Mario Palmisano
By Rebeca Pinhas
Click aqui para español- >Creando Música y Vino en Nueva Orleans: Mario Palmisano
Mario Palmisano and I have a couple of things in common: we are both musicians (I’m retired, Mario plays guitar with Flow Tribe), Loyola graduates, and obsessed with wine.
As a typical Covid-era acquaintance, we started discussing wine online before we met in person. Mario works at one of my favorite wine shops in the city, and I recently learned he is also into making wine. While winemaking in New Orleans may be the last thing that crosses one’s mind, the truth is that globalization makes the impossible a bit more plausible for all of us mortals. As he admits, Mario’s education in winemaking ranges from hands-on learning with a Napa winemaker to YouTube videos; and his first experimental wines came to life through DIY kits. In any case, I have learned that there must be a particular innate talent and a significant amount of patience when it comes to the art of making wine.
Thanks to his Italian descent, wine is “a cultural thing” always present in his life. Mario tells me how his grandmother let him try Marsala - a fortified wine from Sicily- at an early age and how much he hated it. “They weren’t great at keeping things fresh back then.” He then shares the outrageous and comical story about his great-grandmother, a Prohibition-era widow turned bootlegger to make ends meet. When a neighbor called the cops on her, she drained out an entire bathtub worth of alcohol to get rid of the evidence. Oh, the joys of Prohibition!
After his touring musician life took a mandatory break due to Covid, Mario had some free time and started taking some wine classes. As the pandemic continued and the opportunity came up, he decided to join harvest in Napa last year. There, he was able to physically work the vineyards and learn as much as possible from the in-house winemaker. “I was annoyingly asking everything,” he says when describing his experience in California. Mario was also a first-account witness of the wildfire that sadly affected many vineyards that year.
Mario’s approach to wine is that of low intervention and “let it do its own thing.” He thinks the winemaking process should be this “beautiful appreciation for and relationship with the land and nature.” He is not alone in this vision. A current trend of winemaking is going back to the process used millennia ago, before using the technology we can access nowadays, which is as helpful as tempting in terms of overly manipulating the grapes and the wine.
While Mario had made wine at home before, 2020 was the first year he followed the process from beginning to end: he picked, pressed, and fermented his own grapes (a red blend of Syrah and Grenache). After an epic drive all the way home with the precious cargo, he culminated the process in New Orleans by bottling his vintage. Still, his wine needs to age for a couple of months in the bottle to reach its prime. I am eager to taste it and share an update!
This year, Mario plans to bring in fruit and complete the whole process here in New Orleans, which will be an exciting experience as our weather is unpredictable. Even making bread -a process that also includes the use of yeast- is a challenge sometimes. I have no doubt, however, that Mario will pour his heart into his wine the same way he does into his music.