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.
"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 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," Nitoto explains.
The flowers are sourced locally and organically, except for the feijoa, which is used to make 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."
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