The Boston Globe’s weekly Ocean State Innovators column features a Q&A with Rhode Island innovators who are starting new businesses and nonprofits, conducting groundbreaking research, and reshaping the state’s economy. Send tips and suggestions to reporter Alexa Gagosz at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Prior to moving to Rhode Island, San Francisco-native James Davids would regularly hop on a plane to Germany to help create new wines with small family farms. His wife, Medfield-native Marissa Stashenko, was in advertising for large retail brands at the time but ready to make a career switch to join her husband in the winemaking business.
Fast forward to 2019, and they founded Anchor & Hope Wine based on partnerships they already had with small family farms in California, Oregon, and Germany. The farms ship their young, “early stage” wines to the couple soon after harvest, where they are then aged and packaged in the Rumford section of East Providence (in an industrial yard that has been recreated for various business, and where the couple plans to open a tasting room in May 2022).
And they swear by their environmentally (and economically) friendly winemaking process where all skins and stems are composted back into the home vineyard. They ship only in the winter to avoid refrigerated transport; use minimal and sustainable packaging; and resell their transport tanks to locals to use for irrigation for agriculture and community gardens, maple syrup, and local brewery composting, among other uses.
When they started, their entire business model was shaped around pushing wine in kegs (because one 19.8 liter stainless steel keg eliminates 26 empty wine bottles, labels, corks, and cardboard bottles, and then can be used for at least 30 years). It brings the cost to make the wine down, allowing restaurants and bars to keep their price points low.
But then the COVID-19 pandemic hit last year and forced them to think about bringing wine into people’s homes.
Q: Tell me about some of your wines.
Davids: I helped work on the vineyard in Germany that we partner with Eckehart Groehl on, who is a 13-generation winemaker at Weingut Eckehart Gröhl, and whose son and daughter will be taking over soon. There, we grow our dry Rieslings and our Sauvignon Blanc. Because of how dry it is (the Riesling), it’s kind of what people here don’t expect when they take that first sip. His vineyard is on the cliffs of the Rhein, and goes back to when the Romans planted seeds there. Our chardonnay is grown from the sandstone hillside in the village of Flonheim (with winemaker Nico Epenscied, also in Germany).
Our Mendo Red is a single harvest blend of old vine Syrah, Grenache, and Zinfandel, which we partner with Scot Bilbro at his family winery in Sonoma. It tastes like a wine from Southern Italy. It’s true and classic, not this giant tannic cabernet sauvignon from Napa that costs $150. This is a $17 bottle that’s rustic and easygoing.
Q: What’s the “art series?”
Stashenko: We have three wines that are part of this series (a 2017 Grenache, a 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon, and 2019 Chardonnay). The label is painted by my mother, Kristin Stashenko, who is an artist in Massachusetts.
Q: A lot of what goes into drinking wine is educational. How are you honoring the small family farms you partner with so the consumer knows where they came from?
Davids: A lot of wineries that are sourcing their grapes from other parts of the world don’t label it correctly — like false advertisement. We want to honor the small, family farms and winemakers that we partner with directly on the bottle. In Groehl’s case, there’s a lot of history and tradition that would scare some Americans when they go into a wine shop and see all of this German language on a bottle. You don’t know what any of it means so you tend to put the bottle back on the shelf and reach for the same old wine you typically drink.
Stashenko: So instead, we make it a lot more simple: breaking down the flavor profile (with pictures), putting everything in English, and writing a blurb about where the wine comes from. We make these really high-quality wines more accessible with a simpler label and a not-so intimidating look.
Q: The majority of your wines are about $20 or less. Why is that important to you to keep a low price point?
Davids: Everything we do is to inform the customer on what they are actually drinking (single farm wines that are eco-friendly), and to introduce them to something new. If they drink this dry white from Germany from us, or a robust, Californian red, maybe they’ll start to experiment a little more. We’d rather have them try smaller wineries and smaller farms than keep reaching for those mass-produced bottles.
Also, because of being eco-friendly in our shipping, bottling, and growing processes, we can afford to keep it at a lower price point.
Q: Coming from California, how would you rate the Rhode Island wine scene here?
Davids: We need more of it. Growing up and working in wine country in California, it’s very normal to break bread, share equipment, and just work with other vineyards. Here, there’s not as much industry, and frankly, competition is a good thing. We are in the beginning stages of working with Greenvale Vineyards, who really share the same vision as us. Hopefully, we can also start partnering with some land trusts because there’s so much great farming land, in places like Jamestown and in East Providence, that could be used to really help our brand build out but also build out the local industry.
When there’s more industry in Rhode Island, it means consumers will become more educated, will think of coming to a tasting on a regular Saturday. It should just become a normal thing to do.