Gettin’ Groovy and Going Natural with Tyler Thrussell of Neon Eon Wine

Nothing catches our attention like good artwork, which is precisely what did it for us and Neon Eon Wine. We first saw the colourful and cartoonish natural wine brand last month via Instagram and had to learn more…

So we reached out to the man behind the wine, Tyler Thrussell, to fill us in on his inspiration behind the groovy grape juice from Summerland that’s got the local wine community feeling all tingly…

For starters, who are you? I’m Tyler Thrussell, the winemaker and owner of Neon Eon wines.

In two or three sentences, tell me about Neon Eon Wines. Neon Eon is about respecting the grapes that go into making wine. A healthy grape has everything it needs to make great wine and, when picked at the right time, only needs a little helping hand to unleash its magic.

Why did you start up this side project? My family has a winery in Summerland called Sage Hills, so wine has been a big part of my life for some time now. I decided to start Neon Eon as a creative outlet, to experiment and try new things. Neon Eon is something I have been working towards for several years now but I don’t really have a clear manifesto besides trying to make honest, interesting wine.

“Grapes are like people: struggle leads to resilience.”

What inspired the name and groovy logo? I take no credit for the groovy logo – that’s all @deep.gnome. I encourage everyone to check his work. You might recognize some of it; he’s done design work for a bunch of people in Vancouver. As for the name, I wanted one that didn’t take itself too seriously but also sparked some curiosity. I can think of a number of interpretations but the one I give out is that the wine is bright and full of life like ‘Neon’ and made using ancient techniques that have been around for ‘Eons’.

I love the label artwork! How did you discover local artist Will Dereume? I first saw Will’s work at the Vancouver Art Book Fair a couple years ago. At the time I was also in the planning stages of creating Neon Eon and thought his stuff would look good on a wine label – specifically his Eggshell Comics – so I got in touch and luckily he said yes!

Why did you think that him and his style were good fits for the Neon Eon brand? As I mentioned before, too many wine brands take themselves too seriously. In fact, wine culture in general takes itself a bit too seriously, though I think that is beginning to change, which is great. I asked Will to create labels for the first vintage of Neon Eon because of the lively, playful nature of his work which corresponds well with Neon Eon and the wines I aim to make. I also like his use of colour – the illustrations really pop!

Tell me a bit about the process of working with Dereume and creating the brand imagery in general. Smooth. I basically gave Will the label dimensions and a very rough sense of what I was aiming for and let him run with it. All the credit goes to Will for the front labels. I am really thankful he was willing to share his work with Neon Eon.

Dereume is in part a comic artist. What is your favourite comic book? All kinds… I like stuff from Robert Crumb, Joe Matt, Phoebe Gloeckner, Chris Ware, Art Spiegelman, Will Wray and a lot of the comics from the 40’s and 50’s for the use of colour. Oh, and William Dereume of course!

What sort of feeling (besides the obvious) do you want to evoke with the Neon Eon brand? Whatever someone wants to feel. I’m not going to pretend that no thought was put into the name and concept of Neon Eon, but there is definitely no over encompassing brand ethos either. I think I will just make it up as I go. Every vintage will have a different feel since I would like to have a different artist create original artwork each year. I think this compliments natural wine well since there can be so much vintage variability.

What food pairings do you suggest for your first releases? I am sure there are plenty but I recently had some roast chicken with the Sauvignon Blanc that was really nice. As for the Pet Nat, like the Frank’s Red Hot ad used to say, “You can put that shit on everything,” or something like that, right? Although, I strongly advise against literally pouring the Pet Nat on food.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but music seems to have an influence on the Neon Eon brand…what sort of musical pairings do you suggest for each wine? Music has definitely influenced Neon Eon. As for pairings it really depends, it’s all ‘set and setting’.

What music are you currently listening to in heavy rotation? My rotation changes pretty regularly but looking at my recent activity I see some early Stones Throw acts, Yo La Tengo, a bunch of dub, the new Floating Points mixtape, Stereolab, Alex G, and oh… uh… Sublime (a spring perennial guilty pleasure).

What tunes get you “groovin’ and shakin'” in the winery? Aka what are you listening to while you’re working? For this last vintage I couldn’t escape the latest Amen Dunes album. The new DJ Koze and Jay Rock albums got played a lot also. NO FUN Radio and podcasts get regular appearances too.

“Once you take a stroll through a healthy, naturally farmed vineyard you can really see the symbiosis of all the living creatures that you just don’t get on an industrially farmed vineyard. I could spend all day watching the various animals going about their business.”

Tell me about your own personal discovery experience with this practice? There are several experiences I’ve had which have developed my appreciation for natural wine. The first time I discovered ‘natural wine’ was during a trip to Austria 5 years ago with my brothers. At a restaurant in Vienna I was poured a gewurztraminer that looked like super oxidized apricot juice. I had never seen anything like it and once I tried it I never looked back – it was like when Jeff Daniels’ character in Pleasantville sees colour for the first time. I was also working as a rep for an unnamed commodity wine producer then and I think the contrast between the worlds really reinforced my feelings, especially when I visited one of the wineries which looked more like a petro-chemical plant than a winery.

I’ve also spent a lot of time working in my family’s vineyard in Summerland where I grew a deep appreciation for organic, natural viticulture. Like I said before, the abundance of life in the vineyard is really beautiful – you feel a connection to what you’re doing.

For those who don’t know, what is the difference between “organic” and “biodynamic” in your own words? What are the advantages/disadvantages to one over the other? Organic is a bit complicated and sometimes misleading… Basically ‘organic’ means that no synthetic pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers etc. are used in the vineyard – only natural products. Though this is far better than ‘conventional’ or industrial farming there are still a number of approved substances which can be harmful, which can build up in soils over time and last for generations. So I guess what I’m saying is not all organic is equal. My family’s vineyard is a good example of organic viticulture: we use small amounts of sulphur during the growing season to control for mildew and apply organic manure every few years, that’s it. The same applies to the vineyards I source grapes from for Neon Eon – they are organic and use an absolute minimum of inputs.

Biodynamic viticulture takes it a step further and again is quite complicated. I’m certainly not a source for information on the topic but I know there is a big emphasis on natural, celestial rhythms which help dictate what’s done in the vineyard throughout the seasons. There are also various teas made from plants, called preparations, which are applied in the vineyard. I am certainly interested in biodynamics and I think that from an environmental perspective it appears to be the ideal we should all strive for, but I definitely need to learn more.

What are the advantages to biodynamic wine? I don’t use biodynamic grapes. I fully support biodynamic agriculture and would love to have the opportunity to use biodynamic grapes but haven’t found any growers with any to sell. I won’t get into all the proposed advantages of biodynamic agriculture but in general the few inputs used (called preparations) have the least impact on the surrounding environment, which is what we should all aim for. I do use 100% organic grapes with minimal inputs used at the moment but if one day I am able to own my own vineyard I would certainly go for Demeter certification. Grapes are like people: struggle leads to resilience.

Who has been your mentor? I’m kind of self taught so I was never some wine sensei’s ‘young grasshopper’. As a result, I’m still learning as I go which definitely has its pros and cons. Though I guess I would say anyone that takes risks by pushing the boundaries is inspiring.

To what do you owe your affinity for the environment, sustainability and sustainable wine, in particular? Shouldn’t we all have an affinity for the environment and sustainability at this point? As for wine in particular, I think that naturally farmed grapes are the starting point for good wine, period. Especially low intervention and natural ones. Also, once you take a stroll through a healthy, naturally farmed vineyard you can really see the symbiosis of all the living creatures that you just don’t get on an industrially farmed vineyard. I could spend all day watching the various animals going about their business.

What other wineries are doing great things that you think that we should know about? There is definitely a new wave of producers in the Okanagan which is really cool and I’m looking forward to seeing how this new era develops. That being said, I just had some of Bella’s new releases which were really on point! I was also lucky enough to try a whole cluster fermented Riesling from Syncromesh that was killer! There seem to be new wine producers popping up like mushrooms (e.g. Neon Eon) so I’m sure there are a bunch of people doing great things I’m not hip to!

What’s next for Neon Eon? Lots of exciting things! I have a bunch of wild plans for 2019, you’ll just have to stay tuned in to see.

Where do you see yourself in the next year? Five years? Decade? Right now I’m just taking things one year, one vintage, at a time – I like it that way for now. I guess if I were to look into a crystal ball it would definitely be nice to own a vineyard someday.

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