The Massoni Ranch
Zinfandel, Barbera, Petite Sirah and Sangiovese
In 1985 Jim and Sue Fox purchased the Massoni Ranch from Montevina. In doing so they acquired sixty acres of old vine Zinfandel. Over the years they have diversified and now offer Sangiovese, Barbera and Petite Sirah. I am not the only winery to discover their produce and many of our neighbors also offer wines produced from fruit grown on the Massoni Ranch.
Zinfandel, Barbera, Petite Sirah and Sangiovese
Nostro Vino Vineyard
Zinfandel and Primitivo
I met Tom over thirty years ago when I was the winemaker at Montevina and he was the vineyard manager. Together we planted a small experimental vineyard of Sangiovese and Nebbiolo on Tom’s ranch on Steiner Road. For almost a decade we had an arrangement; Tom grew the grapes, I made the wine and we split the resulting bounty. Later when I had started my small winery Tom approached me regarding Primitivo. He had the opportunity to plant some, but wanted to know that a winery would purchase the grapes. I said yes and he and his brother Bill have been my source of Primitivo ever since.
Colina Poca Vineyard
From 1990 through 1995 I was the winemaker at the J. Lohr Winery in San Jose. I spent a good portion of my time in Paso Robles where we produced the J. Lohr red wines. During this time I had the opportunity to make wine from a wide variety of grapes from throughout the Paso Robles appellation. Every year the Cabernet Sauvignon we made from Connie’s Colina Poca Vineyard was in my top two of three wines. It seemed only logical that when it came time to produce Cabernet Sauvignon I would return to her for the grapes. I did so in 2000 and we have been producing a vineyard designated Cabernet Sauvignon from her vineyard ever since.
While I was the lead winemaker at McManis Family Vineyards, Ron McManis sold chardonnay grapes to the Hess Collection. As a result I got to know their grower liaison Chuck McDonald. One day I mentioned to him that I would like to try a couple of tons of Cabernet Sauvignon from the Napa Valley. Chuck had enjoyed my wines in the past and knew the style I liked to produce and since he was dialed in with the growers in the area I thought he might steer me in the right direction. He introduced me to Will Nord and Will introduced me to the Cabernet Sauvignon from the Rancho Sarco Vineyard. It is a small vineyard just north of Napa and south of Stags Leap the flavors are full and the tannins silky. We crush three tons a year and produce just over 150 cases each year.
Dick Cooper Vineyard
The story goes that at a dinner party some thirty plus years ago the Sacramento wine merchant, Darrell Corti, was asked by the Cooper Family if he knew of an Italian variety that he thought might be appropriate for Amador County. Darrell quickly replied Barbera. When it was clear that no one was familiar with the grape he offered to write it down for them. Impatient, Darrell removed a dollar bill from his wallet and wrote Barbera next to George Washington. And the rest is history. Both Jay Wilderotter and I have produced a Barbera from Dick’s vineyard that has gone on to win ‘Best of Show Red Wine’ honors at the California State Fair. The Barbera we produce from the Cooper Vineyard are consistently our most awarded wines. Dick and his crew deliver terrific fruit every year and we are delighted to have the opportunity to work with his fruit.
Ambra Vineyard and Logan’s Rockwall Vineyard
Barbera, Charbono, and Dolcetto
Some years ago when we couldn’t get enough Barbera from the Dick Cooper Vineyard, Dick suggested that we try some fruit from the vineyard that he planted for a Danish gentleman, Jens Rask, the Ambra Vineyard. We did and have had success with the fruit. Dick no longer manages the vineyards and it has been leased to Josh Lyman and we continue to purchase the Barbera. Diane and David Logan have a small vineyard just off of the Fiddletown Road and they were gracious enough to graft a portion of their vineyard to both Dolcetto and Charbono. We crushed the first fruit from these vines last year and look forward to increased productivity from their endeavors. Josh Lyman is their vineyard manager.
Enver Salman Vineyard
Petite Sirah and Cabernet Franc
While I was the winemaker at J. Lohr in the early 1990s, my principal responsibility was formulating and assembling blends. My ‘ace in the hole’ was a Petite Sirah from Ken Wilson’s vineyard in the Sacramento River Delta just south of Sacramento. It was inky and had great depth but very soft tannins and added depth, color, and complexity to everything it touched. Naturally I wanted to make this wine for myself and approached Ken for some fruit. Unfortunately, Ken’s Petite Sirah was under contract and unavailable, but Ken recommended that I speak with Enver Salman. Surrounded by levees, Enver and his son, Joe, farm their Petite Sirah vineyard on Sutter Island. The fruit is terrific with even more color and silky tannins than I remember. We won ‘Best of Show Red Wine’ at the 2004 California State Fair with our 2003 vintage of the Enver Salman Petite Sirah. In 2005 Enver and Joe approached me about trying their Cabernet Franc and while my history with that variety was full of trials and tribulations we tried two tons and low and behold made a delicious Loire Valley style wine. So many Cabernet Francs aspire to be Cabernet Sauvignon, but this is a decidedly softer wine. Aged for just ten months it is supple and perfect for lighter fare.
One of my biggest disappointments about leaving J. Lohr in 1996 was leaving Paso Robles Syrah behind. While many of my colleagues felt Paso Robles was too warm for this variety, the Australian’s are producing outstanding Syrah from similar climates. It is not uncommon for Paso Robles to see fifty degree swings in temperatures during the fall while the grapes are ripening. These cool nights are what differentiate Paso Robles from the interior valley locations such as Bakersfield and Fresno and allow Dan and Bob to provide deep fully pigmented fruit with loads of flavor. Their vineyards are located on the east side of highway 101 on the Estrella River Plain. I prefer this location because of the silky tannins and the less extracted character this region provides.
Los Carneros, Napa Valley
Bob and I have known each other for close to thirty years. We first met when I was at Montevina. Bob and his young company, Innerstave, were developing barrel renewal systems and I liked their products. With time Innerstave became very successful and Bob and his wife Muriel purchased a small vineyard on Cuttings Wharf Road in Los Carneros and the southernmost tip of the Napa Valley. For years they supplied Chardonnay and Pinot Noir to Napa Mumm, but in 2000 with inventories backing up, Mumm decided they didn’t want Bob’s Pinot Noir. I still remember the phone call when Bob asked me if I was serious about trying to make Pinot Noir. Pinot Noir has a reputation of being very difficult to produce, but this has not been the case with the Sisters Vineyard fruit.
Alta Mesa, Lodi
Grenache, Touriga, Tannat, Souzao, Tempranillo and Trincadiera
Say what? Trincadiera?? What’s that? Sounds more like something you get from undercooked pork. But it is not. It is a Portuguese grape variety often used in the production of Port. Ron Silva is the king of Iberian Peninsula varietals. Of Portuguese decent he specializes in growing Spanish and Portuguese grapes in the Alta Mesa District of Lodi. We met when I was looking to produce a light picnic style red wine. I had visions of making the wine from Napa, Gamay or Valdigue, but after two disastrous attempts I threw in the towel. A fellow vintner, Thomas Coyne, of Livermore asked me if I had ever considered Grenache, and he put me in touch with Ron. Every year Ron convinces me to try another one of his grapes. We have been quite successful with Grenache and Touriga, another port variety, and have developed a following in the tasting room for some of the other varieties Ron has provided.
Block House Vineyard
Andy Hoxey and I met while I worked at the Napa Valley Cooperative Winery in St. Helena and he served on the board of directors there. I remember making a tiny lot of Dolcetto back in 1987. We still have a picture of me pressing the pomace in an old hand cranked basket press on the wall in the tasting room. I returned to Andy and his family for some Dolcetto when I discovered that on the famous ‘Darrell Corti’ dollar bill upon which he scrawled Barbera he also wrote the name of another Italian varietal; Dolcetto. At the time I couldn’t find Dolcetto in Amador County but was interested in pursuing it because of its success growing in the same region as Barbera in northwest Italy. It makes sense that if these two grapes do well in the same region in Italy and that since we do well with Barbera here in Amador we should probably be equally successful with Dolcetto.
Fairplay, El Dorado County
Charbono, Alicante Bouchet, Malbec
Located just a few miles north of us and a bit higher in elevation, John Smith grows an array of different varieties. John shares with me a sense of adventure when it comes to exploring new flavors and grape varieties. I am thankful that he is willing to share his efforts with me. We tried Charbono in 2010 and Alicante Bouchet in 2012 and will get some Malbec in 2013.
Joe Aparicio Vineyard
Planted just after the repeal of prohibition in the 1930s the Carignane from Joe’s vineyard has been on my radar screen for a long time. Fifteen years ago I spent some time with the Spinetta’s as a consultant. During my time with them they produced a Carignane from the Aparicio vineyard and it was absolutely astounding. For years I teased Joe about when I was going to get a chance to work with the grapes. It wasn’t until Joe retired in 2010 and leased the vineyard to the Murrills that I got the opportunity. The timing was perfect because we lost the Carignane from the River Oaks Ranch in Lodi and the fruit from the Joe Aparicio Vineyard will allow us to continue to offer an old vine Carignane.