Friday, April 20, 2012

Italy in Paso? A Mille Grazie for Giornata

Brian and Stephy Terrizzi
Italian wine in California for years has meant Zinfandel. But Zinfandel plays almost no part in wines in Italy.

There the big red grapes are Nebbiolo (which makes Barolo and Barberesco), Dolcetto, Aglianico, Sangiovese (which is the grape in Chianti), and international varieties (Cabernet, etc.) along with others.

Experimenters here in California have cultivated Cal-Italian varieties - see for a list - but without hitting many home runs.

Among the organic producers, Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon did Malvasia, Dolcetto and Nebbiolo (which he is only offering library vintages of now) but seems to have backed out of all (except Muscat).

Pavi wines in Napa also offers a few great Italian varietals - organically grown Dolcetto (a medium-to-light bodied red wine) and Pinot Grigio. But for the most part, growing and making the big Italian reds have been abandonned.

Along comes Giornata, the brainchild of Brian and Stephy Terrizzi, in Paso Robles.

Paso Robles is a region famous for its Zins - and there are very few organic producers in the area (Castoro, Lone Madrone, Ambyth, and Rhone-growing Tablas Creek).

This makes the Terrizzis all that much more unique in the region, which they came to after visiting a nursery in Santa Rosa to find Nebbiolo vines (rarely grown in California), which lead them to a unique vineyard here in the Paso area.

They were astonished to visit the Luna Matta vineyard here, one of only three sites growing nebbiolo. The owners had no market for the grapes. They were happy to let the Terrizzis tend them and later buy the grapes.

The Terrizzis were excited - they'd found calcium in them thar limestone hills - which they say is a close match to the soils of Piedmont where Nebbiolo excels. Nebbiolo famously likes fog (the word Nebbiolo comes from the word "nebbia" which means fog in Italian.) The vineyard is located not far from the Templeton gap in the hills that passes cooling marine influences along.

The Terrizzi's are growing certified organic Nebbiolo ($40) in Luna Matta vineyard, which became certified organic last year. They also produce a Sangiovese ($30) and an Aglianico ($30).

The couple are a unique partnership - she's the vineyard manager and he's the winemaker - which seems like the perfect combination (and one I haven't come across before).

Stephy, a graduate of Santa Rosa Junior College with a degree in viticulture, worked in Napa previously. She grew up on an organic farm in Wisconsin and is a passionate local expert in Paso on organic viticulture, sharing her knowledge with locals. She is also a certified master sommelier and conducts wine tastings locally. She is committed to polycultural approaches and growing her own family's food on the property. The Luna Matta vineyard also has an extensive walnut grove.

Brian, a graduate of Fresno State, in enology, also studied winemaking in Tuscany, and toured Italian wineries - including on Sicily, where he has distant relatives. The two love Italian wine and decided to make them their professional passion.

Read more about them in this recent Wine & Spirits magazine article - or just check them out in person. Visitors (by appointment) are welcome.

Their wines are available from their web site at: You can also find some of them at Arlequin Wine Merchants in SF. The organic ones are those from the Luna Matta vineyard, pictured above.

I for one look forward to visiting their vineyard soon!

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