Giornata Wines: Story behind top California Italian brand

Stephanie “Stephy” Terrizzi, twin daughters epitomize brand’s drive to success

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The view looking north east on the Giornata Wines property in the hills southeast of Paso Robles.

When the San Francisco Chronicle published 2016 Winemakers to Watch, December 1, 2016, author Esther Mobley’s introduction pointed to characteristics that not only describes Brian and Stephy Terrizzi’s passion for Giornata Wines, but I believe describes their kids’ focus as well. I think all four have a “fearless desire to set new paradigms, a bootstrapping ambition and an attention to their craft.”

While Mobley no doubt intends the readership to discover the three other winemakers as well, and no disrespect to them at all, I couldn’t help but think that her quote describes the whole Terrizzi family. All four, including 11-year-old twin daughters, Aida and Kate, exude individual passions, are entrepreneurial-focused and driven, sharing an intense collaboration and close personal family connections.

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Brian and Stephanie “Stephy” Terrizzi relax at the Giornata Winery in Paso Robles.

And during my mid January visit with Stephy and Brian on their Paso Robles area property, not only did I further understand Stephy’s role as viticulturist and Brian as winemaker, but I saw their children’s love for the land, its relationship with the vineyards and winery. I ultimately came to appreciate all four individuals’ vision of enterprise.

While any blog post or article about winemakers needs to include information about their craft and product, the story behind the Terrizzis transcends a case count, Giornata’s net worth or their next and upcoming release. The family’s drive to success actually isn’t just about scores, growing the winery or financial growth.

Instead, Brian, Stephy, Aida and Kate all impressed me as they each wove stories of time spent in the vineyard, winery, soccer and tennis practice, tap dance, rock climbing and hanging out with other local winemaker families. They all spoke about new business ventures, including the next new vintage, a pasta factory in the new Tin City development plus selling soap and bath bombs.

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Not only does Stephy Terrizzi looks after the vineyards on the Giornata property, but she also manages the famed Luna Matta Vineyard in Paso Robles.

The Terrizzis own 11 acres just south west of Paso Robles with four acres of vineyards atop a knoll. With plenty of room yet to grow Giornata Wines on the property, Stephy is in charge of their vineyards as well as the famed Luna Matta Vineyard. Brian is the winemaker, markets the wines and is forever Giornata’s dreamer.

While Brian left to pick up the kids from soccer and ballet, I walked the Giornata vineyards with Stephy as she shared her past struggles and excitement for their future plans.

On the south west to southern portion of the property, she described how disappointing it was to watch a 2013 fall Nebbiolo planting die in a December freeze, decimating the vineyard. But their loss today looks healthy and happy as the new acre and a half of Nebbiolo clones planted in 2014 have are doing well.

“Our trips and time working in Italy have shaped us,” Stephy said. “We planted Nebbiolo because of our time in Piedmont. Imagine driving the tops of the hills and those Nebbiolo vineyards in Piedmont. Most all are on the south-facing slopes. We love how well those grapes do there and believe they are an excellent fit for our property. Everything here is planted on 1103 root stock. We replanted vineyard in 2014, using FPS Clones 6 and 8 and the VCR Clone 430.

“We planted the different clones so I could tell and know the difference between all three of them,” Stephy continued. “They are all planted next to each other but we will blend them all together.”

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The Giornata winery concept actually took root back in 2003 when Brian Terrizzi moved to Italy to work under famed winemaker Paolo DeMarchi, right, at Isole e Olena in Tuscany.

The Giornata brand and Italian adventure really began when Brian moved to Italy to work under famed winemaker Paolo DeMarchi at Isole e Olena in Tuscany in 2003. There Brian spent three months during harvest, learning under the man who ‘changed his life.’

Brian would later tell me Paolo taught him how to connect his story with the wine, manage a staff and an insatiable desire to educate and develop a vision to create a world-class brand.

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The 2014 Giornata Wines Nebbiolo as poured during my visit to the winery in January 2017. Their Luna Matta Vineyard Nebbiolo consistently earns 92+ points.

After Brian returned to the States, he met Stephy at Fresno State while studying enology, graduating in 2005. Stephy eventually took a position in 2006 in the Luna Matta Vineyard in Paso Robles. Brian continued to work in Fresno at Sam’s Italian Deli, establishing Nick’s Wine Corner and for Chambers & Chambers Wine Merchants until early 2007. Actually, this is where I first met Brian but never made the connection as our family were friends with the deli owners Sam and Angie at the time.

Giornata Wines became a full-time gig by 2007 and have focused on Italian varietals ever since.

While I spoke with Stephy about most of their premium Italian varietals offerings, on this day we spoke at length about the best varietals to plant on the Giornata property and bottling estate Nebbiolo in the next couple of years.

“The new plants have taken root and as the they go deep and look for water,” Stephy said, “they will do really well on the high Ph soils of our property. Eventually, especially on a wet year like this, we hope to dry farm the Nebbiolo.

“We bought these clones at Novavine Nursery in Santa Rosa as they  are the most tried and true versions in the U.S.,”Stephy said. “I have them planted at Luna Matta as well. They’ve been around a while and have some traction behind them.”

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Stephy checks on her Trebbiano vineyard on the Giornata property’s north facing slopes. Daughter Aida will often join her, pulling weeds and helping mom train the vines.

Vineyards surround their home atop their hilltop perch. And as Stephy and I traversed the property with her mud-caked boots, a two-story rock climbing boulder/structure captured my attention as it dominated the hill.

“Kate loves rock climbing and one of our neighbors makes those structures,” Stephy said smiling and shaking her head. “While they both climb on it, its Kate’s thing.”

I nodded as it towered over us and initially obscured the chicken coup at the top of the hill.

“It’s been a tough week,” Stephy said as we walked up to the coup, “because their pet rooster ‘Red’ just died. The girls took it harder than the hens.”

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While most would not think twice about a rooster other than when he crows in the morning, ‘Red’ was the family pet, rescued from an underground cock fighting organization.

While I probably said something dumb like ‘any lost egg production?’, I didn’t yet know how passionately they or their twins cared about their pets or philosophy in raising them.

Red was not just a rooster. He was a rescue and probably was nearing 10 years old. The family rescued him from an underground cock fighting organization and he was one of their prized possessions.

As we arrived at the edge of the hill on the opposite side, looking due north, we peered down on the  oldest vines on the property: five rows Trebbiano, a full three years old, arguably the happiest vines on the property. Stephy went on to say they want to blend some Trebbiano in their Sangiovese with co-pigmentation. This is very typical to do in Chianti until about two years ago when the law was changed.

However, our conversation quickly morphed.

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Teaching responsibility and ownership happens at an early age for most families. The Terrizzi girls are no exception and care for a brood of chickens each week.

“This is a really fun place to work,” Stephy said. “We have two Italian Greyhounds who come out with me as I work in this area. They run around and catch squirrels, chase after gophers and mice.”

More sustainable practices I thought. Later she shared her admiration about the dogs. They loved the new a puppy and an 11-year-old. Both were adopted from the Italian Greyhound Rescue Foundation of Northern California.

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Both Terrizzi girls are active and use the climbing structure on the property as well as play sports, ballet, music and have their own business.

Stephy is the viticulturist for Giornata Wines but is also the vineyard manager for Luna Matta. She grew up in the midwest in Freeport, Illinois, and, while not on a farm, on the urban edge of a farming community. Growing up she was in 4-H, could milk cows and rope cattle and staunchly insists she still can.

Her work is already well documented by blogs and WordPress siteswine brokers and wine writer Jon Bonne wrote in his best selling book, The New California Wine: “Stephy has become the area’s great alternative vineyardist…making the most successful Nebbiolo yet in the state.”

High praise for a mom who still helps the girls make Valentine’s cards during the Monday before pink day, even though she would rather be pruning Giornata’s four acres of vineyards or on her prized Luna Matta site. But today she shared her dream and also spoke of future plans for her property.

“We would love to put in hazelnut and oak trees and start a truffle project at the bottom of this grade,” Stephy said, “but we really do not have enough water. We pump about two gallons a minute already but we have some big tanks to hold water but its not enough to do truffles.

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The Giornata property looking North towards Paso Robles.

“But at the bottom of the hill, we would like to do some bee boxes and a pig breeding project,” Stephy continued. “We already have a tack house at the bottom of the hill that used to house a horse before we bought the acreage. In fact, my daughter, Aida, wants to get involved and is saving up her money to buy a Llama. And I see 4-H in her future. Kate on the other hand will probably be a lifelong Girl Scout.”

The girls again. Later I found out, they too are entrepreneurs. With Aida taking on the ‘CEO’ role and Kate as the ‘CFO’ the twins own, operate, create, sell and deliver soap and bath bombs to their classmates, parents and occasionally to those who visit the winery. They even have participated in beauty and wellness shows in Atascadero. They take orders at school, make the products over the weekend and deliver the next week.

Their drive to create and sustain a brand takes passion, vision and a willingness to do more and do it longer than anyone else. This describes the Terrizzi family from the kids on up.

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Stephy Terrizzi is a well-renown and respected viticulturist as well as a sommelier. Photo by Julia P. Garrett © 2016 / http://www.juliapgarrett.photography

“I may also try Nerello Mascalese,” Stephy said. “I believe we can get this highly regarded Sicilian grape varietal next year on root stock. This is very exciting and I really would like to grow that. While this still might be two years away for us, we will see what happens but I definitely want some here.

“Down the road we would like to take the Trebbiano, the Friulano, and Ribolla Gialla, and do a skin contact white estate blend,” Stephy continued. “We should be able to get six tons of fruit from this property on a normal year. We can get a ton and a half of Sangiovese and two and a half to three tons of Nebbiolo.”

Giornata Wines is also known for their Sangiovese that is currently sourced from Luna Matta Vineyard and another Sangiovese crop that is farmed by a project run by James Ontiveros (formally of Bien Nacido) and Matt Turrentine. But Stephy is careful to point out that she is very picky as to how others manage their vineyards and ultimately their Sangiovese juice.

“What is really important to me is the farming aspect,” Stephy said. “We clearly live on our property and so it is important to treat the land in a respectful manner because we live here. We drink the water that we are ‘standing on top of’ right now so I don’t use herbicides at all.

“We don’t use a whole lot of anything,” Stephy continued. “Now as the grapes begin to develop, we will use fungicides but I strongly believe creating an ecosystem that is balanced. As you can see we have a cover crop of grasses. But we want to make sure we have lacewings around to keep the aphids and leafhoppers (in check) because when you do something, something else happens on the other side of the equation.”

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Stephy Terrizzi sustainability in practice focus is at the core of her vineyard efforts and Giornata wines are increasingly known as the highest quality tier of Italian-style wines in California. Photo by Julia P. Garrett © 2016 / http://www.juliapgarrett.photography

The Giornata wines are at the highest quality tier of Italian-style wines in California.

When it comes to sustainability, Stephy also is not only focused on what is best for her vineyards but for the land she loves, lives on. Sustainability is essential to continued success and a healthy balance.

“There is only so much land and as people move to California, and I am included in that. I am not a native Californian, it is important to keep this land healthy and not saturate it with synthetic fertilizers and chemicals. We’ve read in the last five-six years about the bee population plummeting. We’ve got almond and walnut trees on this property and without the bees … well and I’ve read that we’ve only got two years worth of food … and without the bees, we will all begin to starve. That is kind of a scary thought.

“We plan to get some bees out here pretty soon in February, get those up and running. It is really important to keep this balance and not become a monoculture and not let one thing take over another. It’s important to keep the balance on the property itself from vine to vine and have everything in harmony.”

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Italy meets California in Tin City area of Paso Robles. Owners and winemakers Brian and Stephy Terrizzi create premium Italian varietals. Photo by Julia P. Garrett © 2016 / http://www.juliapgarrett.photography

This is similar to the Terrizzi winemaking philosophy well. Like many who use biodynamic and sustainable practices, winemakers Brian and Stephy Terrizzi’s wines are natural and express a sense of place whether they are from their own properties or from area vineyards. Look for Giornata winery in the Tin City, which is quickly becoming the “epicenter of the burgeoning craft beverage community of Paso Robles,” according to developer Mike English.

Be sure to return to TalesoftheCork for Part II of the Giornata Wine story at the end of February. TalesoftheCork will further outline Brian and Stephy’s journey as they strive to create the finest Italian varietals in California. The upcoming post will detail more of Brian’s winemaker journey, latest releases and the couple’s new venture to open the summer of 2017.

Giornata Wines can be ordered via their website or and via the Tin City winery. They are located at 470 Marquita Ave., Paso Robles, CA, 93446. For more information, call their store: (805) 434.3075 or via email: info@giornatawines.com. Be sure to call, email or make online reservations in order to visit the winery. The are only open for tastings by appointment.

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Giornata Wines are known as California’s premium Italian varietals, including their Sangiovese, Barbera, Aglianico, Vermentino, Fiano, Ramato, Gemellaia, Nebbiolo, and blends.

Be sure to read TalesoftheCork’s previous blog post, “Trelio Restaurant reopens in Clovis.” And if winemakers, wineries or restaurants are interested in a TalesoftheCork wine and/or food review on the blog, InstagramTwitter and/or Facebook, please send us a request via email: talesofthecork@gmail.com or use DM on social media. TalesoftheCork also offers social media seminars for businesses.

Old Fig Wine Cellars: A Central Valley urban dream

Backyard winemaker Dave Carlson grows Fresno winery

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While owning Sports Point Photography for 30 years, backyard winemaker and Fig Garden resident Dave Carlson began making commercial wine from his one-acre plot in the heart of Fresno since 2010.

While local Fresno area residents often travel to Napa, Sonoma and Paso Robles to wine taste, many do not know a local resident has a boutique winery within the city limits.

Clovis resident and FresYes writer Kendra Gilbert called Old Fig Wine Cellars a Field of Dreams which accurately incorporates both the youth of the winery and the winemaker himself.

Nestled in the Westerlies of Fresno’s Old Fig Garden, this urban winery produces grapes on a county island on Dave Carlson’s one-acre plot in the center of the city.

“I was looking for a plot of open land in late 1999 in order to build a bigger house for my wife, Susan, who was about to have a second set of twins,” Carlson said. “I bought the property and its almond trees from a former Fresno State professor’s estate.”

Carlson actually grew up about six blocks from his new property but had no clue that there was 15 acres of open land just sitting here, ready to be developed.

“So I built the house, bought a new, bigger van, and became the first person in Fresno County with solar electric in May 2000,” Carlson said. “But after I was sitting in the backyard with a new mortgage, a new pool being dug, new mouths to feed, I thought, ‘I can’t afford a $25 bottle of wine.'”

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When a local wine shop would not carry Old Fig Wine Cellars because he did not have a white wine, winemaker Dave Carlson sourced fruit from Lemoore to create his Clean & Neat Chardonnay.

After a couple of months with his feet in the backyard dirt, enjoying a glass of cheap red wine, Carlson mussed how big his backyard really was. And the longer he sat with his feet in the sandy soil, the more he believed he could “best Two-Buck Chuck and give Silver Oak a run for their money.”

By 2002 Carlson had planted Zinfandel and Petit Syrah. Two years later Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot and Cab Franc rows were added.

He created his first vintage as an amateur winemaker in 2004. And from that point on, according to Carlson himself, “it’s been a rollercoaster ride of the highest highs and the lowest lows.”

Today Carlson, while not an enologist or viticulturist, creates wines not only from his backyard vineyard, but sources grapes from other central Valley locations.

“I decided that at the outset, that if I was going to make wine from my limited studies,” Carlson said, “I wasn’t going to buy grapes or juice just from anybody. I wanted to go the whole nine yards because I figured to really understand the entire experience, I needed to have a feel of what goes on in vineyards close to home. So why not start on my one-acre plot?”

Old Fig Wine Cellars field of dreams really began as a way for Carlson to grow his personal wine journey, but today it has become his passion: Create a premium wine and build a brand name. Today his Chardonnays, Petit Syrah, Merlot, Zinfandel and Cabernet are all sold locally in Fresno.

Growing grapes is by far much more difficult than making wine

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Dave Carlton stands in his cellar ready to bottle his 2016 Rose blend of Pinot Gris, Merlot and Petit Syrah.

Carlson said the first couple years were like a honeymoon. Trying to get the perfect combination of sugar, PH, and acidity in a wine seemed next to impossible in the opening few years. Living and growing grapes in Fresno also has its challenges, including the heat, bugs and city water bills.

On a whim he planted two rows of Zinfandel and another Petit Syrah in 2006 and by 2009 earned a Double Gold at the California State Home Winemakers competition at Cal-Expo. His 2008 Petit Syrah earned the top prize but he only had 12 cases to share with his followers.

“Of course I was dumbfounded–no dumbstruck,” Carlson said. “However, that was either going to be great news or the kiss of death because now all my friends and followers said, ‘Hey Dave, you now need to be in the wine business. You are no longer an amateur.’ And, at that time, I really didn’t know whether I was really ready for all this. I most certainly don’t have the formal education.”

Carlson, who is a professional photographer by trade, knew the next level would be a big challenge.

“I’ve owned Sports Point Photography for almost 30 years,” Carlson said. “I started the business in 1990 when I moved back to Fresno from Sacramento and photographed team and individuals in baseball and soccer for a living. I started doing the grape thing with a ‘let’s see what happens’ attitude and now it could easily become a full-time gig.

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Old Fig Wine Cellars creates approachable, dry wines that are great alone or with food. Carlson’s Drinkable is a Merlot blend, combining his fruit with grapes sourced from Lemoore.

“It was then that I bought grape stock cloned to root stock which was suitable for the types of soil on my property,” Carlson said. “Soils range from concrete in some places other areas that have the most white sandy beach you’ve ever seen. And when I planted more Petit Verdot and Cab Franc, I used VSP trellising. This proved to help me get to the fruit zone easier where I wasn’t crawling in between canes.”

Farming has pretty much been trial by fire for Carlson. He’s had some help by a couple of viticulturists and a little advice from a couple winemakers, but this urban winery owner has learned via his mistakes since he first planted in 2002. And, of course a lot of that has to do with transitioning from an amateur winemaker to a commercial winemaker.

Carlson recalled a couple of rookie mistakes early in his winemaking career that nearly ended it before he gave away or sold a bottle.

“As a newbie with one of my first batches, I stuck my face in the tank to check if fermentation was taking place,” Carlson said. “After trying to take a deep breath to see or smell if the juice was rotting or doing anything, all I got was CO2. I pulled my head out of the vat even as I already was turning blue. My young daughters screamed and freaked out as they were watching dad do his  work. But I learned. Oh, I learned that the process was working. It was working even if I could not see it.”

But this was not the first time the novice learned a lesson the hard way.

“I nearly lost my little finger one year in the beginning when I was trying to do my own barrel shaving with a router,” Carlson mused. “Community Medical Center staff reattached part of my finger with over 30 stitches. The doc said I was lucky to still have it.”

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With a growing local following, Dave Carlson, seated right, often provides tastings at venues across Fresno County. Tim Ferris, above right, an MBA graduate student from Fresno Pacific University, has helped market the Old Fig Wine Cellars brand at events, including the Fresno County Wine Journey in November 2016.

The sports photographer and winemaker says he looks at winemaking today as being light years ahead of what winemaking was 50 years ago. Carlson also says he can’t even keep up with all the technology involved in making wine.

“People can get into the weeds on micro oxigenation of wines and oak alternatives,” he said. “While years ago you would put wine in barrels, now it can be made 50 different ways.

“The winemaking aspect has radically changed and coming from a place without formal experience, left me to sort out by trial and error,” Carlson continued. “The hard part is waiting six to nine months and up to two years before I understand what happened. And now I have to try and figure out why did that turn out so good.”

Carlson likes to be somewhat of a purist at heart. While he may sometimes use oak chips to flavor wine, he would rather the grapes speak for themselves.

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There are five reds in the Old Fig Wine Cellars portfolio, including the Five Susans Petit Syrah.

“One of my biggest mistakes in winemaking as a new commercial winemaker was making wine that I wanted to drink instead of what people were willing to buy,” he said. “I had a rude awakening a couple years back when it really just came to a head.

Carlson was pouring wine at a local event three years ago and everyone walking up to his table said ‘give me your sweetest wine.’ All he had was dry red wine. And when the next person who came up asked the same question, and seven people after that asked the same question, reality set in.

“I can’t do that,” Carlson said. “So there was a shift in my thinking about how I had to approach the market. And when local wine shops initially did not want to sell my reds because I didn’t have white wines, that also changed how I approach winemaking.”

Old Fig Wine Cellars now sells five reds, two whites, a Rose that is poised to be released in time for the FC Wine Journey’s Wine & Chocolate Lovers Weekend, Feb. 13-14, and, for the first time, will have a Petit Verdot and a Cab Franc by March 2017. Currently Old Fig Wine Cellars wines can be purchased locally at the Sierra Nut House, Fig Tree Liquors,  The Meat Market in Fresno and Clovis, ApCal, Monet’s in Exeter, Cafe 225 in Visalia and at Harris Ranch. The Grape Tray also places orders.

Tim Ferris, an young apprentice winemaker and Fresno Pacific University MBA student has been proactive in the Fresno area helping Carlson create the Old Fig Wine Cellars brand since January 2016. In the podcast to follow, Young Fig (Tim) shares how the original Fig (Dave) has influenced him and the Old Fig Wine Cellars brand.

Ferris also shared part of the Old Fig Wine Cellars story on Central Valley TV.

Carlson is poised to create a premium local wines on a limited basis all from a plot of land within the confines of a 100 year-old neighborhood. While he makes all his wine in the vineyard he will continue to put them together Old Fig Wine Cellars in the garage.

Be sure to read TalesoftheCork’s previous blog post, “Garlic Parmesan chicken in cream sauce.” And if winemakers, wineries or restaurants are interested in a TalesoftheCork wine and/or food review on the blog, Instagram, Twitter and/or Facebook, please send us a request via email: talesofthecork@gmail.com or use DM on social media. TalesoftheCork also offers social media seminars for businesses.

Sipping a Cambria Moonstone Cellars Tempranillo

TalesoftheCork wine reviews

moonstone1Visitors planning a trip to Cambria, California, often stroll along the wooden boardwalk, go whale and elephant seal watching, visit Hearst Castle and dine at one of Moonstone’s beach-side restaurants.

But in downtown Cambria, a small boutique winery and wine shop should be on your list, besides window shopping. Pencil in Moonstone Cellars.

While we don’t get over to Cambria very often, a leisurely walk in the picturesque town and nearby ocean boardwalk, visitors will find boutique and antique shops, mom and pop cafes and restaurants and the local wine shop and winery: Moonstone Cellars.

Located in West Village on the corner of Main and Sheffield streets, Todd Clift and his dad, Muril, opened the family-owned winery and began producing wines since 1998. Todd proudly creates his wines made from Central Coast grapes.  Moonstone Cellars offers a wide variety of varietals. From a lighter style Grenache to a full bodied Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon, or a crisp Sauvignon Blanc to a dry Riesling, there is bound to be something for everyone.

While I did not travel this week, I sat down to post with a glass of Moonstone Cellars 2009 Paso Robles Tempranillo beside me. The Spanish varietal and Central Coast grown was splendid. With notes of cherry, ripe plum, cracked pepper, spice and a rivulet of vanilla flowing through it, the medium bodied wine and tannins lingered.

moonstonetempranilloWhile I sipping the wine, purposely on #TempranilloDay, I soon wanted an afternoon snack to pair it with. The point of this is I did not plan this particular pairing or ‘event’ but rather just quickly looked what we had in the fridge. We had some Asiago, Manchego and a blue Camembert, olives, salami, grapes and pistachios in the pantry. I quickly put them on a black serving dish beside me and I continued writing.

While most of these appetizers went well with the Tempranillo, I hold and share a common wine lovers phase often: “Drink what you like.” For me these cheeses pair well with the terroir and flavors of the wine.

My point is simple: Take the time to explore the wineries in the places you visit and taste the wines they are pouring in the tasting rooms. And while you may not like all you try, purchase a bottle or three of the variety you like to take home. Then later at home, if you’ve kept the notes you were given or wrote down your own, open the bottle and imagine what food will go well with it. And if you need help, follow a blogger, Instagramer or Twitter feed of someone you trust and ask or email them. You might even follow this feed or keep TalesoftheCork a favorite on your device.

The Moonstone Cellars Tempranillo will also go very well with beef stew or a backyard BBQ. The wine will go very well with tacos, burritos, pizza, polenta dishes. Heck, I could have even served it with our lasagna the other night. Take the time to try wine with the foods you like. Some will go better than others.

It’s your table. You create the food. Own the right to serve what you like.

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Moonstone Cellars is moving from its location on Main Street. Go around their former location to a building just behind them on 812 Cornwall Street in Cambria (as pictured).

Moonstone Cellars can be found at 812 Cornwall Street in Cambria’s West Village. The staff welcomes walk-ins daily between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. Walk right up to their U-shaped bar and ask Todd for a tasting, which cost $8 for 6 wine pours of varying varietals. Moonstone Cellars wines are also available online or call them at 805.927.9466 or 877.517.9463. Or just send them a note via their contact page. Moonstone Cellars also belongs to the Pacific Coast Wine Trail whose organization stretches from Morro Bay up to San Simeon.

Be sure to read the previous TalesoftheCork blog post: “Rigatoni à la Bordelaise with Bordeaux.” And if winemakers, wineries or restaurants are interested in a TalesoftheCork wine and/or food review on the blog, InstagramTwitter and/or Facebook, please send us a request via email: talesofthecork@gmail.com or use DM on social media. TalesoftheCork also offers social media seminars for businesses.

Simple Caprese lunch with Emmolo SauvBlanc

Young winemaker Jenny Wagner continues the family tradition established by her great-grandfather as she creates Emmolo Sauvignon Blanc and Merlot.

TalesoftheCork wine reviews

Whether busyness takes you away from what it is otherwise important or too much has already gone under the bridge, take a moment for yourself soon. A 30 to 60-minute vacation from all that is distracting you is necessary to regroup, rebuild and refocus.

Today that is exactly what I needed and created a simple side dish that became a Caprese salad lunch and glass of Emmolo Sauvignon Blanc with my wife after a busy week for both of us. I needed a ‘place’ to forget about a couple of issues and took advantage of a sunny moment in the kitchen.

Fresh home grown tomatoes were on the counter and a quick trip to a market served to add a couple of whole milk fresh Mozzarella balls and some lush, sweet smelling basil. In this case, Trader Joe’s a half mile away had me in and out of the store fast.

We love the aroma of fresh cut tomatoes and basil and the addition of lush Mozzarella coated with extra virgin olive oil and a drizzle of aged balsamic vinegar as hits the spot like no other. A little cracked pepper sprinkled over the plate adds a final layer of spice to an amazing lunch.

Today’s choice to whet our whistle is a small glass of Emmolo 2014 Sauvignon Blanc from Rutherford in the Napa Valley. Pour yourself a small glass of EmmoloWines 2014 #NapaValley Sauvignon Blanc to sip and appreciate what Jenny Wagner is creating, adding to her great-grandfather’s winemaking tradition.

With just a quick stop at the market, a caprese salad can be created in just minutes.
With just a quick stop at the market, a Caprese salad can be created in just minutes.

According to their Wagner Family website, “the Emmolos have a long history in Napa Valley with Jenny’s great-grandfather, Salvatore Emmolo, starting the family’s grapevine rootstock nursery in St. Helena in 1923. Her grandfather, Frank Emmolo, not only managed the nursery, but also grew Sauvignon Blanc and Merlot on their family property.”

The Emmolo #SauvBlanc is dry, refreshing, crisp and tart. The light wine is smooth and balanced with a hint of peach & Kiwi with melon and and lime notes. Love the minerality and herbal overtones and allow the pear and and citrus aromas tempt you. This is a winner!

We’ve enjoyed this wine with oysters and scallops in the past but would also love it with shellfish pasta and chicken salads. While their website is not yet complete, check out EmmoloWines soon. #TalesoftheCork loving their simple elegance.

Wagner Family Wines and Emmolo Wines can be tasted and purchased at Camus Vineyards, 8700 Conn Creek Rd., Rutherford, CA 94573. However, it is not always on the tasting flight menu. Call ahead at 1.707.967.3010 to check for availability. If a trip to Napa is not in the works, try their Wagner Family Wines finder.

Be sure to read the previous TalesoftheCork blog post: Pre travel checklist for overseas visit. And if winemakers, wineries or restaurants are interested in a TalesoftheCork wine and/or food review on the blog, InstagramTwitter and/or Facebook, please send us a request via email: talesofthecork@gmail.com or use DM on social media. TalesoftheCork also offers social media seminars for businesses.

Grocery list for Caprese salad:

One ball from an 8-ounce container of Whole Milk Fresh Mozzarella in lightly salted water

One container of fresh leaf basil or one sprig of basil

Two vine ripe whole tomatoes

Cracked pepper to taste

Olive oil and Aged Balsamic Vinegar of Modena to taste

Calistoga’s Tuscan medieval castle lures Napa visitors (VIDEOS)

Since the completion of the winery in 2007, a trip to the northern end of Napa Valley is not complete without a tour of the Tuscan medieval-inspired Castello di Amorosa castle.

With three trips to Napa already behind me, it was time to tour some of the winery and castle’s 107 rooms, caves, ramparts, battlements, apartments, prison and dungeon. Besides, I heard owner Dario Sattui’s small lot wines and winemakers have scored well in competitions and U.S. News & Travel writes that visiting Castello is the “No. 4 out of 9 Best Things To Do” while in the Napa Valley.

Determined to make the medieval Tuscan castle authentic, owner Dario Sattui only used old, handmade materials or employing old world techniqus to build Castello di Amorosa in Calistoga, Calif.
Determined to make the medieval Tuscan castle authentic, owner Dario Sattui only used old, handmade materials or employing old world techniqus to build Castello di Amorosa in Calistoga, Calif.

After a lunch visit with owner Mark Young of Calistoga’s Brannan’s Grill (an upcoming post), Geena and I hooked up with long-time local resident, Peter Stetson, and made our way to Castello di Amorosa down Highway 29 to visit the time-warped 13th century castle.

While I was unable to meet owner Dario Sattui, the fourth-generation winemaker’s imprint is everywhere. After nearly a 30-year labor of love, including 15 years of research and 14 years of building his old world castle (VIDEO by ThumbsUpWine), the guided tour of the winery, castle and wines still amaze me two weeks later.

The inspiration behind the 121,000 square foot castle and three acres of rooms resulted from Dario’s fascination with Italian medieval architecture. It began with a passion for Italian ancient properties and grew to an obsession.

The Castello di Amorosa is not just the Disneyland of wineries.

While I foolishly avoided the castle on previous trips, too many outstanding reviews piqued my interest on Castello di Amorosa’s accomplishments since opening. While the $40 million castle on 171 acres, 30 of which are grapes, is all Dario’s vision, the V. Sattui Winery in St. Helena was his first responsibility as he has rebuilt its reputation after his great-grandfather, Vittorio Sattui, one of California’s first vintners, let it fall into disrepair during Prohibition.

Dario Suttui collected and built in all the elements a medieval castle would have possessed, including a moat, drawbridge, high towers and ramparts, torture equipment and ancient armor.
Sattui collected and built all the elements a medieval castle would have possessed, including a moat, drawbridge, high towers and ramparts, torture equipment and ancient armor.

However, as a child, Dario would play among the barrels and tanks in the underground cellars while dreaming of reviving V. Sattui Winery when he grew up. Following college graduation, Dario traveled around Europe for two years in an old VW van. It was during this period his fascination for medieval architecture began to take shape.

Living out of his van, he would visit medieval castles, monasteries, palaces, farmhouses and wineries studying their designs, taking photographs and completing detailed sketches and renderings. And after he rebuilt the V. Sattui Winery, its very success became the impetus for Dario to further expand his dream to create a medieval castle and winery.

After driving up the cyprus-lined drive, Peter escorted us up the grand stone-chiseled stairwell into the castle. The inside main Courtyard was just as impressive, maybe even more, than the outside. The estate has a wooded forest behind the castle and vineyards in the front.

I marveled, smiled and had to think back on my many trips to European castles. I loved how Dario placed his Tuscan-inspired vision on a hill overlooking the Napa Valley. The castle’s “ruined” tower (5 defensive towers in all), high ramparts, courtyards, well, functioning church, stables, vaulted and arched wine cellars ushered me back in time.

After numerous trips to Italy and specifically Tuscany, Dario knew his Napa Valley dream needed skilled old world men and women to create an authentic context for his wine. He hired Italian artisans who crafted all the leaded glass windows by hand and hand-carved all the ceiling beams. In fact, Italian artists made all lamps, iron gates and decorative iron pieces by hand over an open forge. He hired craftsman from Denmark, Austria and France as well. Each room was hand built and original. No room is the same, including the gorgeous antique brick cellars.

My wife Geena and I stopped for a moment to admire The Courtyard, complete with a well, before we moved upstairs to the Il Passito Room to relax and wine taste.
My wife, Geena, and I stopped for a moment to admire The Courtyard, complete with a well, before we moved upstairs to the Il Passito Room to relax and wine taste.

The drawbridge spanning the moat and the gargoyles perched atop the entrance column earn the respect of the visitor. The hand-painted Italian-style frescos and maze of underground rooms, including the 12,000-square-foot Grand Barrel Room, create a sense of awe and appreciation for the varied building styles of a castle created to emulate centuries of building techniques.

As we toured, I saw an authentic stone fireplace from the 14th century, ancient wine press, a wrought iron dragon from the times of Napoleon and an Iron Maiden from the late Renaissance, which dominates the torture chamber. The dry moat, chicken, ducks and sheep and goats farm all add to a wonderful experience.

As the tour guide walked us though the eight levels of rooms, my wife kept telling me to hurry up; I kept getting left behind. At one point I was annoyed. I wanted to wander amongst the 107 rooms at my leisure taking in each niche and nuance. I was definitely transported back to the Italian castles I visited a few years earlier. I didn’t want to reenter the 21st century.

Dario either brought over the building materials from Europe or instructed the craftsmen to create the building out of local materials as old world counterparts did centuries ago. I loved the Great Hall’s 500 year-old fireplace. It is flanked by hand-painted Italian frescoes which took two artists nearly a year and a half to complete.

The 22-foot high coffered ceiling rivals many of the great ceilings in Tuscany. Celebrities like Arnold Schwarzenegger, former NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani Jon Bon Jovi, Joe Montana, Clint Black, Gordon Getty, Jr., Robert Redford, and others have been hosted in the Great Hall.

The Grand Barrel Room uses 40 ribbed Roman cross-vaults all constructed from ancient brick shipped from Europe and includes a 40-foot, hand crafted travertine tasting bar.
The Grand Barrel Room uses 40 ribbed Roman cross-vaults all constructed from ancient brick shipped from Europe and includes a 40-foot, hand crafted travertine tasting bar.

Near the end of the hour tour, we ended up in the 12,000 square foot Grand Barrel Room with its 40 ribbed, Roman cross-vaults containing hundreds of wine barrels and a 40-foot, hand crafted travertine tasting bar. We also viewed other small lot cellars containing wine bottles and large formats from the original V. Salluti collection.

I chose not to spend time in the gift shop or La Fattoria (Italian Farm Store) for olive oil, teas, flour, etc., so we headed up to the Il Passito Club Room to continue our Wine Aficionado Tour.

Just outside of the Il Passito Room is the hidden gem of the Castle. The Il Passito patio secluded terrace has views of our hilltop watchtower as well as our crushpad below. It is also only a few steps from Castello’s Lake Mario. Open to the hillside, but unknown to most patrons of the castle, it boasts some of the best sunset views in the Diamond Mountain region.

Enjoy a guided tour through the castle and winery followed by a private tasting of six of Castello di Amorosa wines, including low production, high end reserve wines. Reservations are highly suggested.
Enjoy a guided tour through the castle and winery followed by a private tasting of six of Castello di Amorosa wines, including low production, high end reserve wines. Reservations are highly suggested.

The three of us finally settled into the Il Passito Room to relax and wine taste perched high above the Courtyard. We were a world away not only from Napa but from the crowds and bustle of Castello’s daily grind. The Il Passito Room normally functions as the Wine Club Member’s room.

However, the millions of dollars spent on the castle and grounds has not prevented Dario from establishing a world class array of wines.

While his vision created Castello di Amorosa, Dario has a team of winemakers and staff to ensure his mostly Tuscan-influenced Italian-style and growing Bordeaux red wine programs continues to produce world-class results. Sebastiano Rosa of Bolgheri, Italy, winemaker at Tenuta San Guido – producer of Sassicaia- one of Italy’s leading Bordeaux-style red wines joined the San Francisco International Wine Competition’s 2012 Winemaker of the Year, Brooks Painter, Peter Velleno and Laura Orozco in March 2012 to form a strong group under the Castello label.

Our host, John, was superb in his knowledge of Castello di Amorosa’s wines and was willing to chat about background, vineyards, soils and technique. I began the tasting with a 2012 California Vermentino. It was so refreshing on a warm Napa afternoon. The traditional Mediterranean white grape is grown in Northern Italy and Southern France. It was very aromatic with plenty of citrus (I’m a grapefruit fan) and a subtle minerality to finish. I loved it! At home I paired a bottle of Vermentino with grilled, chilled salmon salad (dill, capers, celery, onions, raspberry vinegar, red onion).

While not on the wine list, the 2012 California Vermentino is excellent; the dry crisp citrus aroma and flavor is wonderful.
While not on the wine list, the 2012 California Vermentino is excellent; the dry crisp citrus aroma and flavor is wonderful.

For more on my Castello di Amorosa wine tasting experience, return to TalesoftheCork for my July 4 post: Tuscan tasting: Castello di Amorosa 2012 Rosato. Castello di Amorosa wines are only available at the castle or by mail order. They are not available in restaurants. To order Castello wine, visit their web site at CastellodiAmorosa.com or call 1.707.942.8200.

Castle and wine tasting tours
General admission ranges from $18-$43 per person depending on the level of wine and/or castle interest. No reservations necessary for groups under 12 for general admission. However a guided tour through the castle and winery followed by a tasting of five premium wines in one of the castle’s private tasting bars requires reservations.

For more videos on Castello di Amorosa, visit their Video Gallery.

Location:
Castello di Amorosa is open seven days a week from 9:30 a.m.- 6 p.m., March-October and 9:30 a.m.- 5 p.m., November-February. The castle/winery is located 5 1/2 miles north of St. Helena and 2 miles south of Calistoga at 4045 N. St. Helena Highway, Calistoga, CA 94515. Phone numbers: Office (707) 967-6278; Reservations: (707) 967-6272.

For another view on Dario Sattui and Castello di Amorosa, read the Sacramento Bee’s article, Sattui’s castle awaits Napa Valley visitors .

If you missed my first post on my Calistoga visit, read Tuscany trip takes Calistoga detour: First stop Fanny’s B&B.