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Hyphen Wines, Naturally-

Wine tasting. A glass of red wine on the background of a restaurant table with bottle at an evening dinner or event party. High quality photo

By Kevin Carlow

Hyphen Wines is dedicated to connecting customers to delicious, high-quality natural wines.

Here in Palm Springs it has become almost cliché to toss around the phrase “Rosé all day!” With wine trends changing so much over the last few years, is that still hip? “I’m a huge fan of rosé, especially at pool time, and even on through until dinner. For me rosé doesn’t really have a season.”

That’s according to local wine guru John Libonati, who says that classics like rosé and bubbly are still a perfect choice. John and I are talking about wine at Hyphen, the shop that he owns in the Uptown Design District, and we’re surrounded by a rainbow of wines that are backlit by the late-morning sun. It’s clear that rosé and bubbles are not all that Palm Springs has on the menu these days! Everything from timeless Bordeaux to trendy “orange wine” is available for purchase here.

I asked John about his background and what brought him to Palm Springs, and about the history of the shop. “I’m originally from New York City, but had a wine shop in Boston for almost seven years, and from there I went back to New York. I thought I would open Hyphen in New York, but it was such a saturated market and rents were out of control. Instead we decided to move to Palm Springs. 

hyphen interior

About John Libonati

John attended culinary school at Institute of Culinary Education and dreamt of opening his own restaurant someday. After interning for Bill Yosses at Boulé Bakery, and Mario Batali at Pò, John switched gears and opened Brite Bar in West Chelsea, a lounge and night club. During his Brite Bar years, John’s interest in wine blossomed.

In 2010, John and his husband Chris moved to Boston where he completed the Wine Spirit Education Trust programs. On a trip to London, he met Isabelle Legeron, who introduced him to the world of natural wines. That experience became the turning point. It inspired John to educate himself about the benefits of natural and organic wines. And with that, John went on to open Social Wines, a natural wine shop in South Boston.

After nearly seven years running Social Wines, it was time for a change. After a summer in Europe visiting some of his favorite natural wineries, John and Chris moved to Palm Springs, CA, where he launched hyphen– wines, a shop committed to bringing natural and organic wines to the local market. John and hyphen– are excited to bring passion and expertise to our community!

John libonati hyphen wine 2
Credit: George Duchanne

Why the name Hyphen-?

“The shop is a destination. People that come to the shop not only want to buy wine, they also want to learn about wine. They’re serious.” Almost on queue, a serious oenophile (a connoisseur of wines) comes in to chat with John about his latest curated picks, and leaves with a bounty of  intriguing  bottles. 

So, why the name Hyphen-? “A hyphen connects (used to join words), and what I’m trying to do is connect people with cool wines.” 

hyphen logo

Wine Trends

I asked about changing wine trends, and “orange wine” specifically. Why have these risen in popularity locally? “Because of the festivals, people were coming in [from all over the country] and they were into orange wines. Then more locals started hearing about orange wines. I would just tell people, do not think of a wine when you’re drinking this, get wine out of your mind, because it’s not like anything you’ve ever had before. Think of it as a cocktail. The flavor profiles just go on and on, they can start out with aromatics that are so incredibly floral, and fruity, you might think it’s going to be sweet. The extended skin contact creates a ton of tannin, which makes the wine very dry. The palate keeps going on.” Orange wine is just one of the many organic wine options available at Hyphen wines.

Group of unrecognizable women tasting wine . Comparing appearance, smell, aroma,t aste, aftertaste, holding wineglasses on the stems.The closest person to he camera is in focus is holding a glass of red wine and looking at its color. It's summer sunset, image is orange toned.

Natural Wines

I asked John about his ethos when it comes to selecting wines. “At a minimum, all of the wines have to be organic, they don’t have to be ‘certified’, but I will do the research. I will call the winery, and [I will] ask them about what their practices are.” While ‘biodynamically farmed’ is catching on worldwide, for John, the label ‘sustainable’ doesn’t make the grade. “The regulations are too loose, I find something ‘sustainable’, and I call and I find out they still spray. Your sustainability kind of goes out the window.” 

Biodynamics started in the 1920’s with an Austrian philosopher named Rudolph Steiner. It is a holistic and homeopathic manner of farming that focus on ideal days for harvesting, pruning, and watering. It is the oldest, anti-chemical agricultural movement that predates the creation of organic farming by about twenty years. Biodynamic wines much be certified.

biodynamic Wine-Calendar

Aside from the environmental concerns, why organic and biodynamic wine? “I don’t want people hooked on the same wine every single time. It shouldn’t taste the same every year. We don’t have the same seasons every year, and yet somehow there is wine that tastes the same every single year. It’s because [the wines are] manipulated with a ton of chemicals to taste that way. There are a handful of popular wines out there that add a ton of sugar, because they want to keep you addicted.” Organic doesn’t have to mean weird and funky, though. “One of the most famous wines in the world is a natural wine, but if you tell the people who are spending thirty thousand dollars on it that, they will say ‘No, it’s absolutely not.’”

Hands of a migrant worker holding cabernet sauvignon wine grapes in vineyard with copy-space.

Hyphen Wine Recommendations

Of course, no trip to Hyphen wines would be complete without bringing a couple of bottles home. I asked John for a few recommendations.

Le Puy Bordeaux “Emilien” 2019 [and the vineyard’s rosé as well]; “They’re grown on the same soils as the grand cru vineyards, but they’re not charging the grand cru prices.”

Scala “Ciro’” Rosé; “Last year it was hinting more towards an orange wine. This year it is [also] crazy good, it has a little bit more fruit to it, it has a touch more tannin, and it just drinks like a single malt scotch.”

Redentore Pinot Grigio; “This is probably the best pinot grigio I’ve ever had. I’ve tasted a lot of pinot grigios and tried to bring in others, but nothing drinks like that, it’s textured, it has weight, it has body. People keep coming back for it.”

redentore pino grigio wine hyphen le puy

John wants you to enjoy your wine, but one thing he always comes back to is a lot more important than a glass of vino. “Make good quality wine, and do better for the planet with what you’re doing.” Cheers to that, and rosé all day!

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