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  • Grape Spotlight: Fiano di Avellino with Feudi di San Gregorio

    Posted: 2022-05-23 05:00

    Like all the so-called archeological vines of Campania, Fiano barely escaped extinction. In the 1930s, the region was hit with phylloxera. That blight was followed by the devastation of World War II, which left Campania felix smoldering. During post-war recovery, the government encouraged farmers to plant prolific workhorse grapes like Malvasia and Trebbiano. Fiano, with its small berries and naturally low yields, was abandoned. Ode to an Ancient Grape: Fiano - Patricia Thomson


    Fiano di Avellino DOCG (2003) is an appellation for white wine, located in the Avellino province within the Campania region and just to the south of our last Grape Spotlight -- Greco di Tufo.  

    Fiano was saved from extinction by the Mastroberardino family and by other small producers and now is grown in several regions of 
    Campania. However, it flourishes in the area of Avellino which is closest to the Apennine Mountains. This smaller region maintains its own mild microclimate; large diurnal temperature variations; and mineral-rich, volcanic, and calcareous soils.

    Fiano most likely was recognized as a distinct grape variety over two thousand years ago. Its name is derived from Vitis apiana, meaning vine beloved of bees.  A different kind of vineyard pest. According to wine-searcher.com, "this wine was appreciated in the Middle Ages. The story goes that Charles d'Anjou, King of Naples, was so enamored with this variety that he had 16,000 Fiano vines planted in the royal vineyards". 

    Over 20 years ago the Capaldo and Ercolino families established Feudi di San Gregorio in the tiny village of Sorbo Serpico in order to produce wines from indigenous grapes well suited to the porous volcanic soils of Mount Vesuvius.  They stress the importance of the microclimate of Irpinia, a historical region of the Campanian Apennines, "where vineyards have always coexisted with fruit trees, woodland, olive trees and herbs: a rugged and yet gentle territory with a strong and genuine identity".  In addition, "Irpinia is an ancient inland whose vineyards were even described by ancient authors such as Pliny, Columella and Strabo. The Irpinia region is very varied, with a succession of mountains, hills and plains with rivers and streams in between. The territory’s orography causes a system of winds that gives the region good rainfall and creates a microclimate that sets it apart from the other Campania areas: vegetation is varied and thick; the short winters are extremely cold and snowy, while the summers are mild and long".

    Feudi di San Gregorio Fiano di Avellino 2019 ($28)
    This wine aged for about four months in stainless steel and is a very unique profile with citrus notes mingling with spices and nuts. Such an interesting combination without oak treatment. Expect sufficient minerality and light acidity. Excellent. 

  • GPS and Organic Farming at Page Mill Winery

    Posted: 2022-05-19 07:00

    When the Livermore Valley Winegrowers Association refused to assist us in designing an itinerary during our visit to the region, Dane Stark of Page Mill Winery quickly responded and scheduled a tour and tasting of his facility. Over pours of wine and a tour, he described the history of the winery. Page Mill was founded in 1976 by his father Dick Stark, but construction started a year before when he dug a huge hole under the family's house on Page Mill Road in Los Altos Hills to build out a winery and cellar. For the next 28 years. the winery operated at their home at the base of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Eventually, Dane took over the operation, and in 2004, Dane moved the operation to the "underestimated" Livermore Valley.

    Stark refers to Livermore as being underestimated because he says there is a false impression in the Bay area that the region is too hot for grapes. Apparently, the S.F. news channels include Livermore in their daily weather reports and not only does it have the highest temps in the region, but that high temperature often reaches into the 90s. However, Stark noted that these broadcasts don't include the nighttime temperatures which show a large diurnal swing and help prolong the growing season and increase acidity. 

    Since moving to Livermore, Page Mill Winery's estate vineyard has been farmed organically and driving into the premises visitors immediately notice the cover crops and tractor-pulled chicken coup.  The chickens help control the insects and babydoll sheep are an alternative to mowing as their manure also acts as a fertilizer. In fact. "sheep offer some of the best natural fertilizers as their manure pellets take time to dissolve into the soil". And in 2019, Stark moved toward biodynamic farming with the first release of biodynamic wines planned for the 2022 vintage.  

    In the meantime, Page Mill's current portfolio is outstanding.  We started with a lively 2021 Livermore Valley Sauvignon Blanc followed by the 2021 San Francisco Bay Chardonnay. The grapes derive from Page Mill's former location near the Santa Cruz Mountains. Interestingly the hierarchy of AVAs starts with the Central Coast AVA then down to the San Francisco Bay AVA which the Livermore Valley AVA is a sub-AVA within. We sampled a range of reds that truly showcased the diversity of the region from cool-climate Pinot Noir to a Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. My favorite was the GPS - a blend of Grenache, Petite Sirah, and Syrah that just melts the palate.  Looking forward to posting on its longevity by opening the 2016 I purchased.  

    I also want to return on the third Sunday of every month for Page Mill's BYOB program where consumers can fill one of their bottles for $10. A great idea. 

  • Grape Spotlight: Greco di Tufo DOCG from Feudi di San Gregorio

    Posted: 2022-05-16 07:20
    "According to Greek researchers, the broader picture of Italians of 'Greek origin' such as Greco di Tufo, Grecanico, Grechetto actually look to be non-Greek as none of them share visual traits commonly carried by Greek varieties.", 'Greek' grape varieties in Italy not Greek? Jancis Robinson
       

    Greco di Tufo is a DOCG (DOC in 1970; DOCG in 2003) of the Campania wine region in southern Italy and shares the name with the region's predominant grape. The Greco di Tufo grape variety is a clone of Greco Bianco and was once believed to have been introduced to Campania from ancient Greece. However, as stated in the Jancis Robinson article above, that view is strongly debated. 

    Although the Greco di Tufo grape also grows in Lazio, it thrives in the tuff-filled, volcanic soil surrounding Tufo and the seven other villages. According to wine-searcher.com, "the name Tufo refers not only to one of the villages from which the wine comes but also to the type of rock on which the village was built. Known as tuff in English - but distinct from limestone tufa - it is made of ash ejected during an eruption which then compacts.

    The vines from which Greco di Tufo wines are made are cultivated at an altitude of 450 to 500 meters (1,310–1,640ft), where the cooler temperatures allow grapes to enjoy the persistent summer sunshine without overheating or having their photosynthesis shut down. This allows them to ripen without losing too much acidity, an effect magnified by the higher diurnal temperature variation here. The best Greco di Tufo vineyards are found on the volcanic hills of the Avellino province in central Campania. Only eight villages can legally claim to make Greco di Tufo: Tufo, Montefusco, Petruro Irpino, Chianche, Torrioni, Altavilla, Irpina and Prata di Principato Ultra".

    Over 20 years ago the Capaldo and Ercolino families established Feudi di San Gregorio in the tiny village of Sorbo Serpico in order to produce wines from indigenous grapes well suited to the porous volcanic soils of Mount Vesuvius.  They stress the importance of the microclimate of Irpinia, a historical region of the Campanian Apennines, "where vineyards have always coexisted with fruit trees, woodland, olive trees and herbs: a rugged and yet gentle territory with a strong and genuine identity".  In addition, "Irpinia is an ancient inland whose vineyards were even described by ancient authors such as Pliny, Columella and Strabo. The Irpinia region is very varied, with a succession of mountains, hills and plains with rivers and streams in between. The territory’s orography causes a system of winds that gives the region good rainfall and creates a microclimate that sets it apart from the other Campania areas: vegetation is varied and thick; the short winters are extremely cold and snowy, while the summers are mild and long".

    Feudi di San Gregorio Greco di Tufo 2020 ($28)
    This wine was aged for four months in stainless steel tanks and in contact with its lees at all times. This process creates a richer body that allows the strong citrus profile and minerality to linger throughout the mouthfeel. There's also a hint of herbaceousness that comes worth with the steady acidity.  A beautiful wine. 

  • A Trio of Cabernet Barrel Choices at McGrail Vineyards and Winery

    Posted: 2022-05-13 06:53
    How often does a good experience result from rejection? During our spring BevFluence Experience, we planned an outing to visit wineries in nearby Livermore Valley. After the Livermore Valley Winegrowers Association flatly refused to assist us in designing an itinerary, an experienced wine industry friend recommended we contact Page Mill Winery and McGrail Vineyards and Winery directly.  And sure enough owner Dane Stark at Page Mill and winemaker Mark Clarin at McGrail quickly set time aside from their busy schedules to provide a tour and tasting at their respective facility. 

    Regarding McGrail, we could have missed out on a unique horizontal tasting of their 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon aged in three different barrel types. In 1999, Jim and Ginger McGrail first planted a Cabernet Sauvignon vineyard where they originally sold the harvest to Steven Kent Winery. soon they started planning on opening a winery and tasting room which launched in April 2008. Late the following year they hired Mark Clarin as their winemaker and over a broad tasting of their wine, Mark described his career before McGrail. I strongly recommend subscribing to the Swig & Ramble podcast to hear this telling in his own words.

    Since his hiring, Clarin has expanded the Cabernet Sauvignon program by again that wine in three sources of oak: French, American (Missouri), and Hungarian. To completely over-generalize and based on all toast levels, French oak barrels are made from a softer wood and tight grain and provide "a fruity, cinnamon/allspice character, along with custard/ crème brûlée, milk chocolate and campfire/ roasted coffee notes".   American oak barrels fall on the other side of the spectrum with denser grain, more porous, and provide vanilla, tobacco, dill, and baking spice character. Hungarian oak falls in between even though it's the same species as French oak and has "high perceived-vanillin content, with roasted coffee, bittersweet chocolate, and black pepper characters".  A comparison of French, Hungarian, and American Oaks

    Each of the three wines is bottled and released separately and a portion of all three is blended together for their Cabernet Reserve.  According to McGrail, "the 2018 growing season was one of those “perfect” growing seasons with moderate temperatures in Spring and Summer, allowing for the wine to mature slowly and develop beautifully concentrated fruit flavors".  The wines were all made from grapes harvested from the McGrail Estate Vineyard. Conditions for an interesting comparative tasting. 

    2018 Patriot Cabernet ($54)
    The wine was aged in 100% new American oak from Missouri and after bottling aged an additional five months before release. The wine explodes with flavors and tannins with a large mouthfeel, cherry and vanilla, which transitions to a more earthy and tobacco character. This wine will be difficult to cellar since it's very drinkable now. 

    2018 Good Life - A Jo Elet ($59)
    This wine was aged for 32 months in new Hungarian Oak. This is a full-bodied and dense wine that even though has fresh fruit flavors, needs to pihenés for a number of years.  The juicy tannins envelop a plethora of spices and notes of vanilla, dark chocolate, leather, and some cinnamon and coffee, I will open my bottle on St. Stephen's Day 2025. 

    2018 James Vincent ($79)
    The James Vincent was barrel-aged for 35 months and then bottle-aged for 3 months before being released. This wine's quality and overall deliciousness substantiate the higher price. It is softer and more elegant with a fresh dark cherry aroma and flavor. It finishes with baking spices grappling with firm tannins for a long luscious tail. 

    2018 Cabernet Reserve ($49)
    This wine is an interesting blend of the three-barrel types which none taking center stage. It seems to have a darker fruit profile and the tannic structure falls closer to the Patriot. There are plenty of spices and earthy notes that compliment the mouthfeel and this one is drinking nicely right now. 

    A special thanks to Mark Clarin for allocating time for us on such short notice and providing such a comprehensive tour of the wines, vineyard, and facility. And I apologize for not highlighting your phenomenal first release of Grenache Blanc. Cheers. 

  • What We Learned While Visiting Ridge Vineyards

    Posted: 2022-05-11 15:15
    During our BevFluence tour of Ridge Vineyards, we learned valuable insight into the geography, history, and production processes of this iconic winery.

    The winery is located in the Santa Cruz Mountains, a mountain range in central and northern California that forms a ridge down the San Francisco Peninsula, south of San Francisco. They separate the Pacific Ocean from the San Francisco Bay and the Santa Clara Valley and are bisected by the San Andreas Fault. The tension within this tectonic boundary between the Pacific Plate and the North American Plate pushed limestone soil to the surface of Monte Bello Ridge in which Ridges' vineyards are planted. 

    The current tasting room was formally the production winery. When Paul Draper joined the partnership in 1969, they quickly planned to transfer processing to the recently purchased and abandoned Monte Bello Winery located near the top of Monte Bello Ridge. This facility was originally constructed in the late 1880s by Osea Perrone who also planted the first vines on the ridge at the same time. The facility included a large cellar built into the mountainside and a spring where water can even run through the winery after heavy rains. 

    Ridge implements regenerative farming practices that complement its organic philosophy.  They plant an extensive range of cover crops to add nitrogen and organic matter, increase the population of beneficial insects, control erosion, and control vine vigor in excessively fertile soils. They also planted hedgerows in vineyards to "help harbor and expand beneficial insect populations, provide shelter for animals, shade for waterways, fix carbon from the atmosphere, and break up the monoculture of vineyards". Finally, they practice no-till (mow only on alternative rows) on our hillside vineyard blocks to help minimize erosion and build organic matter in the soil.

    Through its estate vineyards as well as plots they manage, the Ridge harvests a plethora of grape varieties. These include Picpoul (which is blended into their Grenache Blanc), Petite Sirah, Zinfandel, Mataro, Carignane, Counose, Grenache, and Malvoisie. Vice President of Vineyard Operations, David Gates, even planted Croatian Tribidrag in their Lytton Estate from cuttings directly from Zinfandel's home country.  This replicated a similar venture where Puglia Primitivo clones were planted at the Lytton Estate.

    When Draper arrived at Ridge he was inclined to use American oak barrels, but in 1974 they started a trial comparing wine aged in American and French oak. The American oak was sourced from a cooperage in the Ozarks using Appalachian wood and made in a smaller bourbon size.  After the trials, the team determined that the American oak was better suited for the Monte Bello vineyard’s tannic grapes. Since the American oak is twice as dense as French, it contains more spice and wood sugar compounds that slowly extract and fill out a wine’s body. 

    In February 2022 the winery named Trester Goetting as Monte Bello Winemaker where he will take over all winemaking duties at Ridge Vineyards’ Monte Bello winery. Previously he was the head wine-maker at Robert Biale Vineyards where he focused on Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Bordeaux, and Rhône varietals from heritage vineyards. Perfect training for Ridges' similar focus. Good Luck,

    Finally, the ridge sometimes becomes a home for rattlesnakes in June and October. When that occurs the snakes are trapped and relocated to more remote areas.


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