Though not the first to plant Vermentino in California, arguably we have been its staunchest proponent and its largest producer this century. Only somewhat recently introduced into our state, it arrived with a wave of ‘alternate white’ cultivars and has sought recognition amongst diverse offerings such as Albariño, Grenache blanc and Verdelho. A key attribute of Vermentino, as opposed to the ubiquitous Chardonnay, is food affinity. And unlike the often highly stylized (ritualized? fetishized?) Chardonnay, it eschews new oak which would dominate (and we think ruin) the expression. The goal is keeping it clean and fresh, not making it dense and woody. Our 2019 botting provided an opportunity to translocate decades of experience growing this variety in Lodi, to our home in Napa - specifically the Carneros AVA. Whether you are enjoying Mediterranean, vegetarian, seafood or American farm-to-table - Vermentino is a great choice!
As we traverse the highways and byways of the wine world, a persistent question has always been “are Primitivo and Zinfandel really the same?” Well, the answer is yes and no. After years of sleuthing and research, plus genetic testing - ampelographers discovered both are variants of a Croatian grape called Crljenak Kaštelanski (aka: Tribidrag). It seems likely Primitivo may be a more pure example, while Zinfandel had more opportunity to mutate and evolve. (Hmmm… does this explain ‘monster’ Zins?) Anyway they are not exactly the same but very close. After close examination, their subtle differences are apparent. It is usually more lively, generally offering a brighter expression than is typical of Zin (think fresh blueberries, not blackberry preserves). Our version is neither Croatian nor Pugliese, rather it is a delicious example from the heart of Lodi’s Mokelumne AVA and the perfect complement with all manner of casual American cuisine.
Our inspiration for this wine comes from two sources - the earliest wines made at Montevina in Amador and a series of blends that were named Arte and crafted by Domenico Clerico in Italy’s Piemonte region. Now you are probably wondering why? Mountain grown in the favor zone! Montevina was essentially California’s first new, exciting winery project in our foothills, while Clerico’s Arte was a novel approach to blending and aging. It was also a minor revelation during Piemonte’s late 20th century revitalization. We thought now for something totally different! It is highly unlikely our ‘BZ’ (Barbera & Zinfandel) blend from the foothills (in this instance El Dorado) will ever become as ubiquitous as a Central Coast ‘GSM’ (a three letter acronym for Grenache, Syrah & Mourvedre) but as Bill Graham once famously said of the Grateful Dead… “Not only are they the best at what they do, they are the only ones doing what they do.”
While the mysteries surrounding Charbono have for the most part been solved, back in the day it was truly an enigmatic grape. Because it shares a physical trait with Dolcetto (red veining in its leaf structure) it was thought to be related. And because many tons of it had been crushed as Barbera (at Inglenook, where they should have known better) it was referred to as Barbera. Well one trait they do share is later ripening. Other traits they definitely do not share are many, including - lower vs. greater pigmentation, high vs. low acid and minimal vs. formidable tannins. The mystery lasted until research of grape genetics using DNA became more widely used, along with an ampelographic focus on its origins, to realize it is a unique cultivar. However we never let a lack of exact knowledge get in the way of enjoying the mystery of Charbono, a journey we embarked upon over 25 years ago, back when we made our first Charbono (coincidentally from an historic Inglenook vineyard source).
When facing the removal of our beloved test planting/trial block of Vermentino (for a planned winery expansion - incidentally, the first planting of this varietal in the Lodi AVA) we pondered the vine’s fate and decided to mix equal parts of inspiration and perspiration, drying the grapes in the sun to craft a ‘passito’ style of wine.We are (and have always been) winemaking minimalists, though generally just short of the geek zone. However it would be hard to get more ‘geeky’ in making this wine - no cultured yeast, no SO2, completely barrel fermented and even barrel aged. All for a sweet dessert wine! And what do we like for dessert? We enjoy this wine with roasted hazelnuts and aged Gouda, though of course aged Reggiano-Parmigiano might be considered apropos. This could be our most popular wine, if only folks knew what passito meant (passum is the Latin word for dried and over time, raisinated wines became known as passito).