RI Winemakers Raise the Bar by Raising a Glass

Local négociant finishes and distributes wines all over the state, sourcing from grape growers around the world

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It’s crystal clear when you speak to globetrotting winemaker James Davids that his craft is more than just a profession: it’s a passion. Winemaking has consumed his entire adult life, first by studying viticulture and enology at the University of California, Davis; later as a winemaker in Germany and New Zealand, working at wineries in Napa and Sonoma; and finally, launching Anchor & Hope, his own négociant winery that he developed with wife and business partner, Marissa Stashenko, originally from Medfield, Massachusetts.

The couple met on the West Coast, where Stashenko was working in digital marketing. In 2018, the two decided to head east to launch a new winery concept that makes the most of the diverse, international partnerships Davids has forged with small family grape growers in Oregon, California, and the Rheinhessen – Germany’s largest wine region. “The downside of being in California was I couldn’t really collaborate with all these people who I really admired and respected in the industry, people I had worked for or studied with, so that’s the idea of opening this négociant winery,” explains Davids.

The word “négociant” means “trader” in French, and Anchor & Hope acts as the trader, or wine merchant, that sources wines from multiple growers – in their case, growers with whom they have long-standing personal relationships. They purchase the wines, finish them, age in barrels if needed, bottle, label, and sell to retailers and restaurants all over the state and beyond. Davids and Stashenko, along with one additional employee, do it all from an industrial space at Phillipsdale Landing on the Seekonk River in the Rumford section of East Providence.

“When you’re actually working with a specific vineyard and you believe in it, then year after year, you’re pulling that same fruit from that vineyard and trying your best to make the best wine you can to honor whatever tradition there is surrounding the wine,” explains Davids. “The wines come here when they’re still very much alive and still fermenting.” 

Their rosé, for example, their most popular wine, is grown at a family estate in the Rheinhessen that practices sustainable farming and minimal intervention winemaking. Davids then ferments the wine in stainless steel tanks in Rumford until it achieves its light “zippy” finish, featuring notes of strawberry and

guava “with peppery and floral aromatics.”

Many think of winemaking as people stomping on grapes, what Davids calls “the most romantic part” of the process, but he’s quick to point out that winemaking is a farm business more than anything else. “The tirage, the aging of the wines … and bottling them in a state where they continue to taste good as time goes on; it is carrying the wine to the finish line. At this point of my life as a winemaker, it’s not where the glamour is, but it’s certainly the finesse of winemaking.”

Anchor & Hope’s wine portfolio also includes bottles and cans of sauvignon blanc, two types of riesling (one is dry and the other is more traditional, called Feinherb), chardonnay, pinot noir, cabernet franc, Mendo Red (a field blend of old vine Syrah, Grenache,
and Zinfandel) and Grüner Veltliner.

Davids and Stashenko are planning to increase their footprint by opening a tasting room and expanded space on the waterfront just steps from their current location. In addition, they plan to start buying grapes from local farmers or leasing some land and planting grapes. 

Says Stashenko, “Every wine grown in its own region has its different characteristics, which is really cool, and that’s why we’re really excited to play around with wine grown here now that we’ve been here for a little while. We’ve done some experimentation with some local grown hybrid varietals that you probably never had heard of but that grow well here.”

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