june 2020 newsletter

Bottles in an ice bucket

chilling out about
“natural” wine

Dear Friends,

As summer heats up, some people steer clear of wine, claiming that drinking it in hot weather gives them headaches, or doesn’t fit their swimsuit diets.

In recent years, so-called “natural” wine has been touted as the miracle beverage that avoids these pitfalls. Natural wine, it is said, is the ideal complement to your summer wellness régime: It won’t give you a hangover, and won’t add to your waistline.

So what is natural wine, exactly? For years, no one was entirely sure. Just like those “all-natural” products on supermarket shelves, the word “natural” hasn’t been officially defined to mean anything… Until now.

The French INAO (National Institute of Origin and Quality) recently declared an official designation, Vin Méthode Nature, for wines that fit a strict set of criteria. Vin Méthode Nature must be:

  • Made from hand-picked, certified-organic grapes
  • Fermented without commercial yeast
  • Made without additives or interventionist procedures

Only French wines are eligible for this special label as of now, but we follow a similar philosophy at Mila Family Vineyards. We farm Biodynamically and follow a classical Old World winemaking style, without additives or interventions. 

We also hear from customers that they don’t get headaches from our wines. Do we describe them as “natural,” however? We would rather not, since many “natural” wines are technically flawed (more on this below). While their tart, vinegar-y aromas and flavors can be refreshing in the summertime, we don’t believe that these wines will age well.

To describe our own winemaking style, we prefer terms like “classical,” “Old World,” and “traditional.” But we’re curious to hear from you. Can you drink Mila wines in the heat of summer without getting a headache? Whip up a batch of Loretta’s Spicy Tuna & Avocado Crispy Rice Squares, pop open a bottle of Mila Rosé, and let us know how you feel the next day!


Signed "Best wishes, Michael and Loretta"

what’s on loretta’s sonoma table:
crispy rice squares topped with
spicy tuna, avocado & sea salt

Poolside platter: Rice cakes and Mila Rosé

A couple of years ago, just after Christmas, we escaped to the Bahamas for a much-needed reboot before starting the new year. Some dear friends joined us, and while our kids played in the waves, we watched the ocean, played euchre, drank delicious wine, and generally lazed around. It was divine.

We all developed an addiction on that trip to the signature poolside snack: crispy house-made rice cakes topped with tuna sashimi and avocado. No matter how much we had eaten at lunch, we found ourselves popping these savory bites in our mouths all afternoon long.

Michelin-starred chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten is the genius behind the cuisine at The Ocean Club, where we stayed. The summer after we returned from that trip, I got to wondering if I could replicate his dish. I started with a recipe from Food & Wine magazine, and tinkered with it until my family confirmed that I had created a close approximation of those “addictive crispy rice squares” we all remembered.

Whenever I serve these, they fly off the plate. They are best enjoyed with Mila Rosé—poolside or oceanside if possible.

For a print-friendly version of the following recipe, click here:  RECIPE

Yields approximately 50 servings. Requires overnight chilling.


Rice Cakes:
2 cups sushi rice
3 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 tablespoon fine ground sea salt
9 tablespoons avocado oil

7 ounces sushi-grade fresh tuna, cut into small cubes (about 1 cup)
2 tablespoons thinly sliced scallions
2 tablespoons masago (orange, salt-cured smelt roe), optional
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
5 tablespoons ponzu
1 teaspoon la-yu (Japanese chile oil)
½ teaspoon flakey sea salt (I recommend Maldon Sea Salt Flakes)
1 Serrano chile, seeded and thinly sliced

1 medium-size ripe avocado
flakey sea salt, to taste


Rice Cakes:

To prepare, cook sushi rice according to directions, place in a large bowl and allow to cool. Line a rimmed quarter sheet pan (13″ x 9″) with plastic wrap, leaving 2 inches of overhang on all sides.

Stir together rice vinegar, sugar, and salt in a small bowl until dissolved. Pour over rice, gently folding together. Divide seasoned rice evenly into two rows on lined pan. Moisten hands slightly and gently press rice into an even layer.

Lay another sheet of plastic wrap directly over the rice; press firmly to create a compact, even layer, ½” to ⅝” thick. Fold overhanging plastic wrap over top, gently pressing on top. Chill 8 hours or overnight.

Preheat oven to 475 degrees, with racks placed evenly in the middle and lower third. Remove plastic wrap atop rice, invert rice onto a work surface, and remove remaining layer of plastic wrap. Set bowl of warm water and towel nearby for periodically immersing sticky knife and wiping it clean. Cut rice into approximately 50 (1½” x 1”) pieces, ensuring knife is slicing cleanly.

Brush 3 tablespoons avocado oil on top of rice pieces. Brush 2 rimmed baking sheets evenly with remaining avocado oil.  Place 50 rice pieces, coated side down, on each oiled baking sheet. Bake in preheated oven until crisp and lightly golden, 14-20 minutes.

To Serve:

Stir together tuna, scallions, masago, mayonnaise, ponzu, la-yu and ½ teaspoon flakey sea salt in a medium bowl. Top half of the rice squares with about 1 teaspoon tuna mixture per square, topping each with 1 serrano slice.

Cut avocado in half lengthwise, remove pit, and slice thinly, horizontally. Top the other half of the rice squares with 2-3 avocado slices over each cake. Sprinkle with sea salt to taste.

notes from the cellar:
about sulfites

Another requirement for a wine to qualify for the French Vin Méthode Nature label is that its finished sulfite level cannot exceed 30 milligrams per liter. That’s 30 parts per million—an amount so miniscule that many winemakers are scratching their heads wondering how it’s done. The natural fermentation process alone, with no sulfite additions, can produce up to 40 ppm of sulfites.

The low-to-no-sulfite requirement may be why some people believe that “natural” wines don’t cause headaches or hangovers. But if you truly think you are sensitive to sulfites, take a look at your consumption of dried fruits, tea, potatoes, poultry and other meats, citrus, and other culprits. Those golden raisins in your granola, for example, can contain ten times the sulfites found in wine.

The public fear of sulfites dates back to the 1970s and ’80s, when food and restaurant workers sprayed sulfites indiscriminately—most notably, on salad bars—as a preservative. Those who had allergic reactions were breaking out in hives because of those visits to the salad bar, not because of the glass of red wine they were drinking with the main course.

(So what causes wine headaches, then? As this article points out, tannins, alcohol, and histamines are the likely culprits. And if you’re determined to remove the sulfites from your wine, Wired has got a hack for that.)

All the same, the natural wine movement frowns upon sulfur, because—apart from whatever is naturally produced during fermentation—it’s an additive. In organic viticulture, it’s permissible to spray sulfur in the vineyard to prevent mildew. If any residue remains on the fruit at harvest, this will be detectable in the finished wine.

In the cellar, winemakers have been using sulfur candles for centuries to sanitize barrels. Today, sulfur wicks or pucks are still burned in barrels for this purpose—and any sulfur in the barrel leaches into the wine. Finally, and most significantly, winemakers add sulfur dioxide directly to grapes, juice, and finished wine as a preservative to protect against possible browning or spoilage.

In the United States, 350 ppm of sulfites are permissible in wines by law; our wines never exceed 100 ppm after aging, and often come in closer to 75 ppm. We don’t feel the need to use much sulfur because our Biodynamically farmed fruit is very healthy at harvest, and we keep our winemaking equipment spotlessly clean. We only add a minimal amount at bottling to ensure longevity in our wines, so that you can age them in your cellar with confidence.

Hands in a vat of crushed red grapes.

Don’t those crushed grapes look healthy?

learn our language

We’ve been discussing sulfur (also spelled sulphur) and some of you may be wondering why this, in any amount, would be welcome in wine. So let’s clarify.

If you’re thinking of that nasty rotten-egg smell, you’re thinking of hydrogen sulfide gas, which is sulfur bonded with hydrogen. When wine stinks of H₂S, it’s typically the result of reductive winemaking techniques that allow for minimal to no oxygen exposure. Allow your stinky wine to aerate in the glass or a decanter for a while and the sulfur stink should dissipate.

Fortunately, our classical winemaking style at Mila includes plenty of opportunities for our wines to breathe, including aging in semi-porous oak barrels, and repeated racking (moving wine between barrels), so we don’t worry about sulfur stink.

The sulfite molecules found in certain foods and beverages—including wine—are composed of sulfur bonded with oxygen. In its gaseous form, this is known as sulfur dioxide. (It, too, can have a distinct smell: that of a just-lit match.) As discussed above, we do use a minimal amount of SO2, just before bottling, to prevent spoilage, although some wineries add it multiple times during winemaking.

This explains why many “natural” wines smell and taste like kombucha: Without the addition of SO2, they go a little wild and develop vinegar-y notes. We like the sour flavor of these wines every once in a while, but overall, we prefer a cleaner, more classically styled wine.

Loretta and Michael in the vineyard.

in the news

Mila Family Vineyards was recently featured in cleveland.com and The Plain Dealer newspaper. Thanks to journalist Marc Bona for educating readers about our “Ohio-centric project in Sonoma.”

In other news, we are proud to announce that we are co-chairing the T.J. Martell Best Cellars Dinner, Cleveland, in November. We are strong supporters of the foundation’s mission to fund critical cancer research.


This summer, in Ohio: Intimate Back Porch Parties! (Contact us at info@milafamilyvineyards.com to learn more.)
Or: Book a private tasting at our Sonoma winery. (Contact Shelley at 440-915-5748 to arrange your appointment.)
August 21: Winemaker Dinner, Firestone Country Club, Akron, OH
October 23: Gran Fondo Hincapie Celebrity Chef Dinner, Hotel Domestique, Travelers Rest, SC
November 5: T.J. Martell Foundation Best Cellars Dinner, Cleveland, OH