1. Lauverjat Menetou-Salon: A Family Battles Historic Forces; ‘We No Longer Have Seasons’

    Lauverjat Menetou-Salon: A Family Battles Historic Forces; ‘We No Longer Have Seasons’

    We were at a small wine shop, looking for a nice end-of-summer white. We spotted the bottle at the same time and both said, “Awwww.” It was Menetou-Salon, a Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire Valley of France, which we don’t see that often. When we do, we think of Windows on the World in New York’s World Trade Center, where we first tasted it decades before terrorists brought down the twin towers on Sept. 11, 2001, killing almost 3,000 people. We recalled that first bottle when we had another Menetou-Salon at a French restaurant in St. Maarten during a cruise in 2006 and toasted our dear wine-loving friend Cathy, who we lost in that devastating attack 21 years ago. 


  2. Mario Paoluzi of I Custodi: Rediscovering Mount Etna's Traditions

    Mario Paoluzi of I Custodi: Rediscovering Mount Etna's Traditions

    Mario Paoluzi is the owner of I Custodi, an artisanal winery located on the northern slope of Mt. Etna in Sicily. I Custodi refers to themselves as the "keepers" or the "guardians" of Mt. Etna's vineyards. Their mission is to preserve the land and traditions of the region as well as to respect the people.

    Paoluzi teamed up with well-known and highly regarded oenologist Salvo Foti to produce wines from Etna's indigenous grapes using traditional methods dating back centuries. The winery is part of a very important association of Sicilian growers and producers called "I Vigneri," which dates back 500 years but has more recently been revived by Foti as a way to pass on the skills and techniques of grape growing and winemaking from older generations. As a result, previously abandoned vineyards have been revived and there has been a renewed interest in the wines of Etna. 

    Christopher Barnes: Mario, tell us a little bit about how you got into the wine business.

    Mario Paoluzi: It was 2007. I was already here in Sicily, in Catania since 2001, since I moved here from Rome for a family business reason. And I had the chance to meet with Salvo Foti, who was following at the time a project called Il Cantante that...

  3. Indigené Cellars: It’s All About Giving Back – and Amphoras

    Indigené Cellars: It’s All About Giving Back – and Amphoras

    We were at a large tasting hosted by the Association of African American Vintners in Oakland a few months ago when John sampled a Grenache Blanc, a variety we generally consider more solid than exciting. This was an exception. It had a combination of generous fruit, tropical life and an earthy roundness that made it complex and delicious. When John said all of this, the man who poured it smiled and said: “That’s good to hear because otherwise I wasted a whole lot of money on terra cotta pots.”

    John rushed to get Dottie to taste the wine. Then we vowed we’d find out more about this man and his wine.

    The man is Raymond Smith, owner of Indigené Cellars, with a winery in Carmel Valley and a tasting room in Paso Robles. It turns out he has a story quite unlike any other we’ve heard over the years, featuring bottling lines, the value of mentors and even a soul food supper club for at-risk youth in San Francisco.

    And many amphoras.

    Amphoras are ancient, but also a little bit of a trend in local winemaking. Famed Napa Valley winery Dalla Valle Vineyards has used some since 2018. In a recent press release, winemaker Maya Dalla Valle said the use of amphora “adds to the complexity of the wine without introducing higher quantities of new oak to overpower the fruit and nuances it contains.”

    Smith, who is 59, studied journalism in college, but he found a job at a large winery in Paso Robles. “I learned all about bottling and barrel work, like the mid-part of winemaking,” he told us when we called.

    A few years later, someone contacted him about helping to start a mobile bottling operation. “So we got this business up and running,” Smith said. “These guys were the money part and I was the sweat equity part, the guy who had the knowhow. It changed my perspective of winemaking from learning from one guy to learning from 400 guys because I was traveling all over California and meeting new people and learning about new ways of blending wines, new ways of making wines.”

    As a result, Smith speaks with intimacy about multiple regions of California in a way we’ve rarely heard.

    In a short time, Smith bought the bottling business. That’s when his education really took off. He told us he always had mentors, winemakers who were eager to discuss everything with him. Many had one thing in common: “I always for some reason was hooked up with some crusty old Italian guy. I always met Italian varietal makers for some reason and kind of stayed close to them and these were guys who I had a deep relationship with.”

    We think his secret was that he listened. As he put it: “I had no problem ever saying I didn’t know and once I did that they had information for me every time I showed up.”


  4. Alberto Graci: Champion of Mount Etna Wine Traditions

    Alberto Graci: Champion of Mount Etna Wine Traditions

    Alberto Graci grew up experiencing winemaking through his grandfather who had made wine from family vineyards in central Sicily.  He was working as an investment banker in Milan when the death of his grandfather brought him back to Sicily and to wine.

  5. Celebrating Georgian Wine: Ruso Chochishvili of Kapistoni Winery

    Celebrating Georgian Wine: Ruso Chochishvili of Kapistoni Winery

    Kapistoni Winery is a family-owned, traditional wines business located in a certified Eco-Zone in the Saguramo village of the Mtskheta region in Georgia. They work with indigenous grapes such as Chinebuli, Shavkapito, Tavkveri, Saperavi and Rkatsitelli in traditional Qvevri Georgian method, using ancient, unique, indigenous grapes selected and harvested from the best varieties in ecologically cultivated vineyards from the regions of Kartli and Kakheti.

  6. Kitá Wines, First Native American Brand in U.S., Will Close

    Kitá Wines, First Native American Brand in U.S., Will Close

    Kitá Wines of Santa Barbara County, the first U.S. winery and vineyard owned by a Native American tribe with a winemaker from the tribe, will close its doors, Kenneth Kahn, tribal chairman for the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians, said Tuesday.

    In 2010, the coastal Chumash tribe purchased 1,400 acres from the estate of Fess Parker with the intention of building housing that the reservation needed and a community hall. The land, which was once property the tribe had lived on for 9,000 years, according to its website, included the 256-acre Camp 4 Vineyard, on the eastern boundary of the Valley, at the entrance of Happy Canyon AVA, home to other vineyards. Camp 4 refers to the stage coach stop on the route from San Francisco to Yuma, Arizona. Kitá, in the Chumash language, Samala, means “Our Valley Oak.”

    (Winemaker Tara Gomez)

    The tribe hired as winemaker the daughter of one of its elders, Tara Gomez, 48, who in 1998 was one of two women to earn enology degrees from the University of California, Fresno, and who had interned at Fess Parker Winery & Vineyard while a student followed by a fulltime job there after college, and later nine years at J. Lohr Vineyards & Wines. Before taking on the assignment, she also traveled to wine regions in Germany, France and Spain, learning how winemakers in those regions worked.

    The tribe had funded her studies at UC-Fresno and her first releases in 2013 of the 2010 and 2011 vintages of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Grenache proved its trust well-placed as the wines won awards and garnered positive reviews. The sustainably farmed vineyard grows 19 types of grapes and Kitá produced 2,000 cases annually.

    “The tribe, with a focus on diversifying our investment portfolio, has made the business decision to leave the wine industry at this time. Tara Gomez successfully produced award-winning wines while telling the story of our tribe to a new audience. We thank Tara for the years of dedication and hard work she poured into Kitá Wines, and we congratulate her on cementing her legacy as a top-flight Native American woman winemaker,” Kahn wrote in response to our query. “Thank you to all of you who enjoyed and supported Kitá Wines throughout the years.”

    Dorothy J. Ga...

  7. Sangiacomo Wines: A Grape Farming Family Takes a Leap

    Sangiacomo Wines: A Grape Farming Family Takes a Leap

    "The family business started with Vittorio, who came to California in 1913 from Genoa, Italy. After working on farms and starting a successful scavenging business, he yearned to work with the land as he had done in Italy. So he bought 52 acres of fruit trees in Sonoma in 1927 and the next year married Maria, a young woman also from Genoa. They focused on growing pears and apples and during the Depression, when land was cheap, they kept buying it, working it with their four children." Dorothy J. Gaiter and John Brecher

  8. Daniele Delaini of Villa Calicantus on Going Natural in Bardolino

    Daniele Delaini of Villa Calicantus on Going Natural in Bardolino

    Daniele Delaini of Villa Calicantus discusses his natural wine evolution in Bardolino, Italy.

  9. Santa Barbara's Native Son:  Justin Willett

    Santa Barbara's Native Son: Justin Willett

    Justin talks to us about his most adventurous project to date and what it means to 'tread lightly' on your own home turf. 

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