If opening a bottle of beloved natural wine from Ashanta Wines feels like a revolutionary act, it's because it is. And not just because of the occasionally electric and unexpected colors OR the wide open and engaged flavor palates, not because each bottle tells its own place-specific story of fermentality, and not just because the vintages fall well outside the expected narratives of traditional wine culture.


The revolution comes from the mind and storytelling-heart of Chenoa Ashton-Lewis—who gives her name and her vision to Ashanta alongside her partner Will Basanta—and her holistic appreciation for incorporating locally foraged and ritually processed botanicals—either wild-growing in the tumbling valleys of Northern California or re-discovered from forgotten, abandoned, or wildfire-impacted vines. Her winemaker's magic feels like sorcery, but it's really a marriage of intention and the powerful patience of allowing: the ability to hear the voices of land, history, nature, catastrophe, opportunity, beauty, and wildness and weave them into her own delicious story.


We talked with Chenoa about that patience, the ebb and flow of connecting with the soil, and the art inherent in ancestral knowledge.


Chenoa wears the Bell Handknit Cardigan and Utility Pant  




Winemaking is simultaneously a very precise process and also a very wild one. How do you tame (or ride/or drive) that wildness?

It’s a fine balance. Lagom, a Swedish word for not too much, not too little, the perfect amount, defines the precision of our process. Since we rely on healthy, organic vineyards and native yeast fermentations to guide our wines, there is only so much taming we can do. We listen to the wines, and we allow them their freedom when we believe they are on the right trajectory. They are kind of like children, or teenagers, at some point, when you attempt to tame their boisterous energy, they will rebel and displease you. Rejecting your conformity. When we allow the wines to have a voice, we have to listen very closely to the early stages of that voice. It starts as a faint whisper. But we listen, and the wines will tell us whether they want to be directly pressed, foot stomped, destemmed, crushed, crushed then pressed, fermented for only a few days. The options are expansive and the first day the grapes are pulled from the vines, is the day the wines tell us who they want to be. We do our best to listen, shepherding the wine to its final product, which still develops into a whole new personality once it’s in a bottle. 

There is something that feels very... different about the way you approach your winemaking, yet the methodology of gathering, dreaming, and simply *allowing* the ferment is also ancient. How do you balance the revolutionary energy with the patient and ancient?

This balance has been incredibly instinctual for Will Basanta—the other half of Ashanta Wines—and I. Our foraging projects, our native fermentations, our zero s02 additions, harken winemaking from 7000 B.C. Millenia before the industrial revolution widely spread laboratory chemicals such as roundup or commercial yeast into our agricultural land and products. When we forage for wild elderberries deep in the canyons of the San Gabriel Mountains at 6,200 feet elevation, or pick feral Mission grapes from 120 year-old-vines in Sonoma County, we feel humanity’s origins, the hunter-gatherer mentality, at our fingertips. We become an original version of ourselves, far from the technological advances we exist with now. As we grasp onto the tiny, ash blue-purple berries of elderberries, or the 2-feet long green and flushed red, juicy clusters of Mission, we sense that less and less people are currently doing this, while many people have done this before us. We share an intimate secret with the earth, with its antiquity. We approach our winemaking holistically. It consistently interweaves revolutionary moments and teaches us about patience, the earth's primordial soils, and the ineffable spontaneity that is ancestral winemaking.

Radical fermentation in this current moment of climate acceleration is a strange and miraculous enterprise, delivering stories and flavors of both place-specific resilience, aching loss, and pure luck. What are you taking from this tension and what does it give you?

Aching loss and resilience were the essential emotions that inspired Ashanta Wines. After the destruction of my family’s land due to California’s now infamous wildfire season, and the death of my grandfather, I desired to learn and connect with an ancestral craft. A craft that my grandfather spent 50 years pursuing, and a craft his grandfather in Sicily once did. When all was lost, deep guidance ignited and told me to pursue a tradition that could be verbally bequeathed despite destruction. I would have not arrived to this path as soon as I did if it was not for immense loss. Within that, I’m unpacking my ancestry while connecting with ancient humanity that guides Ashanta Wines winemaking practices.








Chenoa wears the Sloan Cardigan and Standard Overall.  





How do you want to feel in your clothes?

Comfortable, airy, and sensual.


How does that inform your personal style?

I’ve grown to find that less is more, and quality/material is a priority when it comes to comfort. I like to blend the lines of existing in an organic state where my legs, breasts, hips, butt and arms are unrestrained by straps and tightness, while also giving my physical shape its freedom to breathe, express itself and reveal its beautiful contours.


What brings you joy in the present? What are you dreaming about for the future?

Creating my passion brings me my greatest joys. Winemaking, writing and art, uplift my soul and give me purpose. I dream for the expansion and constant evolution of these crafts, and that they have a positive impact on the community. As a Black woman, I find that representation is one of the many steps in shifting a global attitude. I want my art to continuously touch and inform a larger audience, and inspire others to focus on a tactile existence that requires mentorship, and ancestral knowledge. Technology connects communities, yet simultaneously disconnects humans from our own humanity. I hope I can become a mentor and teacher to other Black and Brown bodies, reigniting our connection to land through agricultural work and sparking a global reawakening.


Follow Chenoa Ashton-Lewis on Instagram here, and Ashanta Wines here. Photos by Will Basanta.

Shop Chenoa's OZMA picks here.







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