The ingredients in Vya Whisper Dry, Vya Extra Dry, and Vya Sweet Vermouth start with a blend of grapes, including Orange Muscat grown at Quady Winery in the San Joaquin Valley of California. Quality grapes give the vermouth good viscosity and background fruit and flavor. The Vya base-wine philosophy is that it should be fresh and clean without a lot of varietal character, providing a palate for the herbs to make something entirely new. In the sweet Vya, some of Quady’s port style wine is mixed in for added color and dimension. The other pieces of the puzzle – the herbs – are sourced from India, Albania, Russia, Spain, Morocco, Mexico to name a few. The herbs are carefully steeped in the right proportions in small batches of fortified wine and transformed into unique vermouth made only at Quady Winery.
Similar to the storied vermouth producers of Europe, the recipe behind Vya Vermouth is a carefully kept secret. Only natural ingredients are used: whole herbs, wine, and grape spirit. The exact 15 to 20 varieties of herbs – the proportions, the infusions – are all stored away in Michael Blaylock’s notes. Michael is the Director of Winemaking at Quady Winery and it’s been his job to transform the initial batch of Vya made by Quady Winery founder, Andrew Quady, into a consistent and sustainable product, made in batches several times at year. Blaylock works closely with Winemaker Darin Peterson to select the best herbs and the highest quality grapes, and also to carefully infuse and meld these ingredients into the flavors and aromas we recognize as uniquely Vya. The Vya recipe is tweaked from year to year as, for example, the character of the cinnamon from Indonesia changes, and he finds that cinnamon from Mexico brings in a needed dimension. The harvest quality of the grapes also fluctuates each year, but in spite of changing conditions, the quality and flavor of the Vya remain consistent. Through organoleptic analysis (a fancy word for smelling and tasting), as well as meticulous math equations, Blaylock and Peterson manage the production of Vya and assure consumers that when they buy a bottle of Vya, their expectations will be met.
The idea of Vya originated in 1997 when Quady Winery founder, Andrew Quady, was inspired by friends in the restaurant business to come up with a vermouth that tastes good. Meaning, you could drink it on its own and it could play a starring role in delicious cocktails. If anyone could make great-tasting vermouth, it seemed like it could be Andrew: a sweet, fortified wine specialist with a love of plants and a background in chemistry.
Andrew dug up his notes from a 1972 lecture at U.C. Davis on vermouth, secrets of Spanish vermouth producers, delivered by a legend in the food science department, Professor Maynard Amerine. He carefully replicated the artisanal process, and then innovated using fine wine and fine herbs, focusing on balance, aroma, and complexity. He spent a couple of years fiddling around with herbs from around the world – lavender, linden, gentian, galangal, orris – to name but a few, and perfumed his house up beautifully. At the end of his obsession over bitter qualities balanced with sweet, Vya Sweet and Vya Extra Dry Vermouth were born in 1999. Twelve years later, Andrew introduced Vya Whisper Dry, which is similar to Vya Extra Dry, without the bitter qualities, much lighter, and less aromatic.
The French word apéritif is a beautiful one. In Latin it means “to open”. That’s exactly what great vermouth does. All of the herbs combine to open up your palate and stimulate your digestive juices before a meal.
Vermouth has a long history as a favorite apéritif in Europe and Argentina, beginning in the 1800s in Italy. First used as a tonic for intestinal worms, vermouth tasted like the bitter active ingredient that it derives its name from: wormwood. As time passed, more herbs and less wormwood was used to improve the taste. Europeans commonly enjoy vermouth on its own, on the rocks, or with a splash of seltzer.
In the U.S. we’ve only just begun to appreciate good vermouth. Whereas in France, Spain, and Italy the young and old have taken to an apéritif hour before dinner, in the States we’ve been into stronger cocktails. But no more! These days we’re into tasting more than the alcohol in our drinks, and good vermouth is naturally making its way into more of our glasses.
To find seasonal cocktail and aperitif recipes made with Vya, visit our cocktail page.