Thursday, May 29, 2014

Italian Restauranteur and Vintner Lorenzo Petroni Dies

I was just putting the finishing touches on the profile of Petroni Vineyards in my new apps Organically Sonoma: Wine Finder and Organically Sonoma: A Tasting and Touring Guide (coming in June) when I read that Petroni was hospitalized for esophageal cancer. Sad.

I was even sorrier to read today of his death.

His accomplishments as a man of the city (San Francisco), hosting celebrities, tourists and politicians at his celebrated North Beach Restaurant, will be noted.

But perhaps less well known are his contributions to organic wine grape growing and winemaking and his devotion to his 2,700 olive trees.

The Petroni family has 42 acres of vineyards on (or near) Cavedale Road in Sonoma - on the "back side" of Mount Veeder (to put in purely Napa-ian terms [as a New Yorker cartoon might]). It's a neighborhood where organic viticulture and fine wines go hand in hand. (Think Phil-Cotturi-farmed Kamen Estate, Stone Edge Farm's Silver Cloud vineyard and others.)

I stopped in for sips at the family winery's tasting room off the square in downtown Sonoma just two weeks ago. It's an unpretentious wine bar, sharing space with Wine Hardware, a custom wine storage shelf outlet (like "California Closets" but for wine) and a fair number of specialty wine books.

Petroni Vineyards makes about 7,000 cases of organically grown wine from its two estate vineyards, making it one of Sonoma's largest organic producers - just behind Benziger (9,000 cases), Marimar Estates (8,800 cases), Quivira (8,000) and Preston (7,000 cases).

The Sonoma property's olive oil is on every table of the restaurant.

It's a way of being that's uniquely Italian - making the house wine and olive oil for one's own restaurant. Maybe one day others will follow suit.

Until then, I'll raise a glass of Petroni's Brunello - like its Italian counterpart, released only when it's 6 years old - and give thanks for a Sonoma vineyard owner who cared enough to be organic. May it continue.

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