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Conversations with Enrique Pallares

Today we’d like to introduce you to Enrique Pallares.

Alright, so thank you so much for sharing your story and insight with our readers. To kick things off, can you tell us a bit about how you got started?
We grew up in a gypsy way, moving a lot but with the constant gravitational pull of the kitchen table. We were raised with books, nature, good food and good drink, and being in the wine and food industry was always a family dream. In 2016, that vision began to take form when along with my wife, Laura, and my brother, Felipe, we founded Casa Carmen, a small sort of winery, vermutería, bodega, tapas bar and tinned fish paradise in Chestertown, Maryland. This is when we met our partner, California winemaker, John Levenberg. John had been making great wine as a consultant for years and was a wealth of knowledge, a brilliant mad scientist winemaker, or as we like to call him, a wizard.

Our two families then set on a path of creating a vision for a truly special project: a winery that would act as a gathering place for the bounty of this region and that would push the boundaries of quality and sustainability. We had always deeply cared about living a life of authenticity and responsibility towards nature and others, and with this new project, we were able to start working on making natural wine and vermouth, experimenting with different methods of fermentation and maceration, a giant artisan workshop with a tasting room and tapas bar at its very center.

We wanted to bring people behind the veil of winemaking by creating a winery with a tasting room in the middle, a sort of contrivance of theatrical mutuality where the winery and the tasting room are each other’s audience, witnessing the spectacle of making and feasting together–a logistical nightmare and a conceptual dream. And we are so happy that we did it, because despite how difficult the path has been, we are doing something that I believe is truly unprecedented not just in the area, but in the country.

I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle free, but so far would you say the journey have been a fairly smooth road?
In every one of our wine labels, there is a little phrase that explains that we make wine and vermouth with other farmers, that we do it here in a warehouse in Baltimore city, “in a relentless pursuit of excellence and sustainability. And most importantly, together.” Today, this is truer than ever.

Because it has been a very hard road, a road that we would have not been able to travel if it wasn’t for passion, grit, and true friendship. We would not have been able to do any of it without the amazing community that we have around us and the many unknown heroes. From our amazing staff, who is bound together like a family of rebels that refuses to give up on the daily fight for what is truly beautiful, to the many business and community partners that have believed in our dream.

The cliché of the iceberg metaphor holds really well. Beneath the mighty towers of stainless steel, the green tile and the copper bar, beneath the beautiful Instagram and the humbling media appearances, behind the crisp wine and the irresistible vermouth, beneath it all there are hidden lives of real people who pour their entire being into this dream day in and day out, countless efforts of constant commitment, and quite literally blood, sweat and tears.

But in a sense, this is all good. It’s not something we have ever shied away from, because as Tom Hiron says, “Only when you are broken / will you discover the life / beneath this life.” And this is very true of any challenge, and what I hope the world can glimpse as we collectively travel through this not-so-unprecedented struggle.

Thanks – so what else should our readers know about your work and what you’re currently focused on?
I spend a lot of time with words. I love reading and writing and thinking. I studied literature in college and am still writing a dissertation to finish my PhD in philosophy. I try to live honestly and close to beauty in every way that I can, and all my work is an outpouring of those efforts. Leonard Cohen once said, “Poetry is just the evidence of life. If your life is burning well, poetry is just the ash.” And this is just how I experience life. The task of making wine, vermouth, and food, of creating projects and of writing alone at my desk in my farm, behind a large window the leads to the woods, it’s all the same to me in a fundamental way.

We’re always looking for the lessons that can be learned in any situation, including tragic ones like the Covid-19 crisis. Are there any lessons you’ve learned that you can share?
Yes. First, read Paul Benkert’s last post in his blog. It’s called “Listen to Your Enemy.” I agree with all that.

Second, during the pandemic I’ve learned in my own skin something that I already knew to be true in theory: that the world is a complicated place with complicated self-interests fighting each other and it does not care about you or me or our wellbeing or happiness or even survival. Yet, your friends and neighbors, your parents and siblings and spouses, your partners and employees, and sometimes those who didn’t expect, they care about you, and they sustain you and fight for you and soothe you and stand behind you. They see you, and sometimes that is all you need.

Contact Info:

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  • Instagram: @thewinecollectivebaltimore
  • Facebook: @thewinecollective

Image Credits

Sarah Culver
Drawn to the Image

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