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.

Changing Lodi Zin culture: Klinker Brick Winery

Fifth generation farmers Steve and Lori Felton grow brand

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Fifth generation grape growers, Steve and Lori Felton, opened Klinker Brick Winery in Lodi, Calif. in 2000.

A Zinfandel stronghold and track record of over 150 years, Lodi, California, has long attracted lovers of Old Vine Zins. Since the early 1900s though today, generations of families have farmed and produced over 40% of California’s premium Zinfandel and the region has long been branded that way.

Steve and Lori Felton, fifth generation Lodi grape growers, continue this family farming tradition and now exclusively farm, grow and produce wine on land their ancestors planted. And while they worked in the industry for years producing Zinfandel for other wineries in Napa and Sonoma Counties on 16 individual vineyard blocks of Old Vine Zinfandel, today they produce premium Old Ghost Old Vine Zinfandel under their Klinker Brick Winery label.

However, Klinker Brick Winery, founded by the Feltons in 2000, continues to change the way wine enthusiasts view the Lodi wine region.

From their first vintage of Klinker Brick Old Vine Zinfandel in 2000  and their first vintage of Farrah Syrah in 2001, the Feltons and Klinker Brick have set out to produce world-class wines that move far beyond the Lodi growers who singlehandedly kept the American wine industry alive during Prohibition, sending out thousands of railcars each harvest full of Zin, Tokay and Alicante Bouschet.

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Old Ghost represents the best Zinfandel harvested each year at Klinker Brick Winery. This is lush excellence, perfect with prime porterhouse, grilled lamb or beef stews.

With a passion for producing exceptional wine and the vision and passion of winemaker Joseph Smith, Klinker Brick views themselves as stewards of the land and their ancient vines. They have also expanded and are creating award-winning Syrah, Petite Sirah and dry Rose among other wines. In addition to their own property, they manage a number of vineyards in the region with the goal of producing award-winning fruit.

Smith joined Klinker Brick in 2008 after starting his career in the nineties as an apprentice with Gnekow Family Wines. In fact, Smith actually made his first bottle with Felton as a consultant in 2000. Smith says his and the Felton family’s love for many varieties helped fuel their passion and they seemed to gel. The Feltons were ready to expand from just the farming aspect of the business and took Smith on to build Klinker Brick Winery as a label.

“While we are known as Zinfandel producers and branded as a Zinfandel region, we are wine drinkers and wine producers,” Smith said. “We like Zinfandel but we also like Rose, Cabernet, Cab Franc, Albariño and many others. I like all these wines and it depends on the occasion and where I am at as to what I want to drink.

“Kicker Brick has been very successful in creating world-class Zinfandels but I (we) wanted more,” Smith continued. “Five years ago, I knew I made a great white wine and Rose, and even though we started little by little, people have applauded our efforts. The wines have done very well in the tasting room. While this makes good business sense, it has been the love of our product that has grown the Klinker Brick brand.”

Klinker Brick concentrated on wine distribution first and then built up their tasting room. While they distributed a core three wines nationally, they used tried and true Lodi varieties  that had been forgotten by some. Consider their Carignane vineyard is over 108 years old and their Old Vine Zinfandel is harvested from an 90-year-old vineyard.

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Klinker Brick Winery owner Steve Felton (middle left) and Farrah Felton-Jolley (right) are now six generation grape growers in Lodi, California. Winemaker Joseph Smith (middle right) has led the winery’s production since 2008.

With the help of their daughter, Farrah Felton-Jolley and her husband, Stefan, the family now moves to the six generation of grape growers. Farrah joined the winery in 2009 after graduating from the University of the Pacific with a degree in Business Administration. With a passion for grape growing, organic gardening, cooking and a love for wine, she travels and promotes the family winery and wine as VP of marketing & sales. Stefan is the most recent addition to the Klinker Brick Family, managing winery operations, compliance, website and information technology.

“We are making wine that we love and believe in,” Smith said. “We don’t short change ourselves or the consumer. When we decided to make a Rose, it had to captivate me–a Rose from start to finish. We grow our grapes for Rose with all Rhone varietals (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre and Carignane). That’s our style of Rose. We are serious producers of a classic dry, crisp Rose.”

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Wine Enthusiast gave Klinker Brick Rose blend 90 points and a “Best Buy” designation for their 2015 version. It is a dry blend of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre and Carignane.

The winery distributes their Bricks Rosé nationally, producing 4,500 cases. The blend has is crisp, light with citrus aromas and flavors of ripe strawberries, grapefruit and subtle watermelon.

However, the winemaker believes they still produce an award-winning Rose because they do not shortchange the vineyard. They grow the grapes, cultivate the vineyards and are managed from beginning to end.

“The process is quality driven,” Klinker Brick owner Steve Felton says. This starts in the vineyard. We’ve got to have the highest quality right there. And that’s the tough part of growing grapes–maintaining the quality. Fortunately for us, not only are we a winery but we are also growers and we’ve been doing that for six generations. I guess you could say, we have a handle on growing grapes.”

Over the years, Steve has been growing grapes for some of the best producers in the State, so that keeps them in close to the heart beat of the land and the expectation high quality demands.

“We always over deliver wines for the price and that starts in the vineyard,” Felton said. “And of course our winemaking staff is outstanding. Joe is very hands on. He still makes sure he is there each step of the way.”

With a large winemaking staff, Smith’s challenge is to keep quality high despite a high case count with so many different varietals. And he definitely is the one behind what’s in the bottle.

“While I am in charge, and then collectively, nothing goes in the glass without the round table,” Smith said. “I am the guy in the cellar making the protocols. I haven’t changed how I make these wines from day one. I am physically in the winery and in the vineyard, making sure the wines are made the way we want it done.”

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The 2013 Farrah Syrah has ripe plum, blackberry, anise, pepper, exotic spices and earthy notes. Serve it with grilled meats, spicy tacos or mushroom risotto.

Of course the Klinker Brick is still widely known as a top shelf Zinfandel producer. Their  Old Ghost Old Vine Zinfandel ($37) is created with standout fruit, sourced from the best Lodi vineyards. Taste the blackberry, anise and exotic spices. Pair with your prime porterhouse or grilled lamb.

The winery owns or manages 18 Zinfandel-vineyard blocks that range from 50-125 years old in the Mokelumne River sub-appellation of Lodi. Wines from this warm climate and sandy loam soil create yields from gnarly, old vines with intense color and flavor. This region produces exceptional Zinfandel and Syrah.

Klinker Brick has access to Syrah vineyards over 125 years old in the same Mokelumne River region. Their award-winning Farrah Syrah and Farrah Syrah Grand Reserve are rich, vibrant and full of black fruit and spice flavors.  These are first class wines created for foodies and hearty wine drinkers. Both have amazing structure and balance with long, lingering finishes.

The 2013 Farrah Syrah exhibits aromas of ripe plum, cacao, and smoky oak with subtle earthy floral notes. The palate is greeted with bright and vibrant flavors of blackberry, anise and exotic spices. Supple tannins and superb balance lend structure to this full-bodied Syrah with a long, lingering finish. Enjoy with grilled meats, spicy tacos and Mexican dishes or mushroom risotto ($20).

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The Old Ghost Old Vine Zinfandel paired so well with the rich, herbed  earthy sauce of the beef stew.

Their Old Vine Zinfandel is their flagship and still their most popular wine. Wilfred Wong, Wine.com gave the latest release 94 points. It is a blend from 16 different vineyards with an average of 85 years. Taste these beauties as the dark fruit, spice and tannins with just a hint of pepper and anise will tantalize you ($19). This is a go to Zin for burgers, BBQ, hearty pizza or by itself.

While the farming aspect has long been a part of the Felton family’s history, an expanded Klinker Brick Winery from its modest beginnings is now an internationally-distributed brand of world class wines. And as Wine Enthusiast named the Lodi region their 2015 winner, isn’t it time you booked your next wine tasting trip to Lodi, California? There are 88 wineries to explore but be sure to put Klinker Brick Winery on your list.

For more information on the wines of Lodi, California, read Lodi Wine Country: Boutique winery innovation and learn more about the Lodi Wine & Visitor Center (LoCA).

Kinker Brick Winery is located at 15887 N. Alpine Road, Lodi, California 95240. They can be reached via phone: (209) 333-1845 or through email: info@klinkerbrickwinery.com. Their wines can be ordered online or find a retail outlet via the Klinker Brick website.

Be sure to read TalesoftheCork’s previous blog post, “Old Fig Wine Cellars: A Central Valley urban dream.” 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.

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The Klinker Brick Carignane is easy to drink and fresh with black cherry and black tea aromas. I love hints of leather and earthy dried sage notes. caption
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The Petite Sirah is rich and brooding with flavors of espresso, dark chocolate and blueberries that linger long on the palate.

 

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.

Lodi Wine Country: Boutique winery innovation

Lodi Wine & Visitor Center offers in-depth winery information

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While Lodi is the self-proclaimed Zinfandel capital of the world, over 85 boutique wineries offer a broad range of varieties, including 200-300 wines in the Lodi Wine & Visitor’s Center.

While I did not grow up in the San Joaquin Valley, I have lived close to its vineyards, crops, orchards and beneath the shadows of the Sierra Nevada Mountains for over 35 years. However, for the first time since I began sipping, then collecting wine, I visited Lodi Wine Country in mid November.

Sheepish. Or maybe a little red-faced. That’s how I felt when both Lodi Wine & Visitor Center (LoCA) and Snooth reached out to me during the past summer. I have to admit my knowledge of Lodi wines was pretty much  limited to a few boutique wineries and the historic, well-known wine houses like Sutter Home, Gallo, Louis Martini and Robert Mondavi.

But I could only name a couple of boutique wineries who had already made a name for themselves.

I’d hear of Lodi’s wine history, even after it was named the 2015 Wine Region of the Year Star Award by Wine Enthusiast; however, the lure of Paso Robles, Sonoma and Napa distracted me from exploring the rural landscape of farms and wineries, even those run by its 4th and 5th generation families.

With wine tasting trips to their big brothers to the West and wineries in France and Italy, I totally misjudged the growth and subsequent evolution of Lodi’s 85 plus boutique wineries and now established premium wine grape varieties.

Well, I’m not claiming ignorance now. Bring on LoCA and the wines of Lodi, California.

One visit to the Lodi Wine & Visitor Center and chat with Stuart Spencer, Program Director of the Lodi Winegrape Commission, last week changed everything. I had to check out for myself why people from all over the world visit the Lodi wine region.

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I spent a couple of hours chatting with Stuart Spencer, (right), Lodi Winegrape Commission, program manager, at the Lodi Wine & Visitor Center in mid November.

From the repeal of prohibition in 1933, Lodi has seen its planted acreage change from a source of fruit for blends of “red” and “Chablis” to premium varietals. The 1940s-1960s produced sought-after Lodi dessert wines and a source of Zinfandel. The Lodi American Viticultural Area has transitioned to premium grape varietals and also has its own AVA since 1986 as well as adding seven smaller AVAs in 2005.

That same year the “Lodi Rules” certified sustainable wine growing program was formed, demonstrating leadership in sustainable agriculture, energy management, soil conservation, water quality and disease management and is a model for many other wine regions. Today over 20 wineries farm bearing “Lodi Rules” on the label.

Spencer attributed the growth of the wine region to the establishment of the Lodi Winegrape Commission in 1991. Today over 750 growers in the Lodi area belong to and tax themselves much like a milk board might. This forms the base source of money to support the organization. In fact, the Lodi Winegrape Commission just celebrated its 25th year! The primary goals of the Winegrape Commission are to educate the region’s winegrowers, conduct grape-growing research, and raise awareness of the quality of Lodi grapes and wines through innovative marketing and public relations campaigns.

“Many of the winegrowers and wineries wanted someone to tell their story,” Spencer said. “A lot of our guys wanted someone to share the Lodi story. They also created an extensive grower education, which became the sustainable viticultural program in 1992. This provides day-to-day promotional and educational opportunities to improve famers.”

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The Lodi Appellation is about 100 miles directly east of San Francisco at the north end of the San Joaquin Valley. The Mediterranean climate allows Lodi winegrowers to craft a diverse set of full-flavored varietals.

I love it that so much leading research has been done to improve farming in Lodi. Deficit irrigation and management to mechanization, canopy management, rootstock and trellising, and a host of other innovations have given famers the tools to excel and craft world-class wines in vineyard specific sites.

“Our commission provides information in real time to help farmers,” Spencer said. “We then shared the research story along with our growers’ story. This research not only helps our famers improve but it also gets more buyers to the area, marketing Lodi grapes to the North Coast and the big players and buyers in the industry.”

Spencer went on to say that Lodi has created a real culture of sustainable wine growing program. From the growers to the winemakers to the consumers, Lodi on the label now brings prestige. The farmers are innovative, respond to consumer needs for diversity (they lead the state in alternative or experimental plantings) with over 75 varieties in commercial production and 25-30 experimental varieties.

But I guess what impressed me the most about my visit was listening to Spencer talk about the collaboration of winegrowers who have struck a balance between creating wine of place, tradition, independence, balancing modern science with traditional methods and support of each other. They place a high value on Lodi as a region–a destination–a favored place; they value its history, heritage and pioneering spirit. Most growers are working together, in many cases as fourth and fifth generation winegrowers, to provide leadership in education and research for those in their AVA and beyond.

As I walked around the Lodi Wine & Visitor Center and tasting room, I marveled at over 200 different selections of Lodi’s wines beautifully displayed from over 60 wineries. While it opened in 2000 with far fewer selections, Spencer said today there are between 200-300 selections are available over the course of the year, depending on the calendar and recent releases.

For those who still have doubts, the Lodi Wine & Visitors Centers now has over 700 wine club members, further solidifying its status. Four times a year, 3-4 local Lodi wines are sent to members for about $80.  I for one, will be looking to find my favorites amongst the wineries represented.

And as Claudia Angelillo wrote in her Oct. 13, 2016, article, “Lodi is changing the way we think about wine,” I too have become convinced Lodi wines need and will be a part of my wine cellar and table wine pairing.

Take the time to return and/or bookmark TalesoftheCork for future posts on Lodi area wineries on my subsequent visits to the AVA. While my time was short on this day, I plan on returning to visit and taste some of Lodi’s favored wines.

Pencil in Lodi Wine’s next event on your calendar as they gear up for spring. The 20th annual Lodi Wine & Chocolate Weekend is slated for Feb. 11-12, 2017. Over 50 wineries will provides tastes and a chocolate snack for visitors. Tickets are $55 advance and $65 after Feb. 10. They will go on sale the first week of December 2016.

The Lodi Wine & Visitors Center is conveniently located just two miles from Highway 99 on 2545 Turner Rd., Lodi, CA 95242. LoCA is open daily from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. They can be reached at 209.365.0621 or via their website: lodiwine.com. They are also on social media as well.

Be sure to read TalesoftheCork’s previous blog post, “Five Thanksgiving sparkling wines.” 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.

Five Thanksgiving sparkling wines

With the holiday season just a few days away, its time to put your Thanksgiving dinner menu together and put some thought to sparkling wine choices for the table.

Whether your holiday meal includes turkey, stuffing, cranberries and candied yams/sweet potatoes or beef brisket, roast/mashed potatoes, orange duck or goose, there are many choices and price points to consider.

Whether the following five choices fit your taste profile or pocketbook, sparkling wine can be a great way to open a gathering or holiday meal. The most important aspect to remember when trying something new is to take note of your preferences, and drink what you like.

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Segura Viudas Cava Reserva Heredad makes a nice opening beverage for your Thanksgiving table.

There may be non or occasional wine drinkers at the holiday table who would rather have a glass of bubbly, Beaujolais or a light white wine with appetizers and, in some cases, with dinner. There may also be others who’d prefer a craft beer.

Sparking wine and/or Champagne are great choices for Thanksgiving and holiday meal times as their bubbles go so well with cheese, nuts and fruit to spicy foods as well as potato chips and popcorn. Whether your sparkling is only for the opening toast or with shellfish or cheese pasta, egg rolls and Japanese food or quiche, crispy French fries and mussels, it is bound to bring smiles and get the holiday atmosphere rolling.

While a Blanc bubbly is often a celebration starter, an aperitif or paired with a starter, sparkling Rosè, with its heavier fruit, will go very well with your turkey dinner as it can help tone down garlic and savory tastes in the meat and can handle sweets like candied yams and cranberry sauce.

Five Thanksgiving sparkling wines:

While I like the Best Cheap Champagne choices the WineTurtle suggests, I also want to add a couple of sparkling bottles I’ve come across.

1) Segura Viudas Cava Reserva Heredad Brut ($20): The sparkling Spanish Cava winemaker’s notes include yeasty and smoky aromas with hints of brioche, honey, fruit and flower petals. This is a full flavor dry Cava with dried fruits and a touch of honey and apple on the finish. I love its elegance, luxurious and tart mouth feel. Heck the bottle gives the table a stately look.

The Segura bubbly pairs well with pasta in cream, butter or truffle oil along with most shrimp and shellfish dishes. I know biased meats can even be served with this Cava. We toasted our daughter’s acceptance into her diabetics internship program and we will serve this Champagne at the start of our Thanksgiving meal.

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The Ferrari Brut Rosé can be a wonderful celebration sparkling or used at the holiday table as a versatile bubbly with most dishes.

As I posed earlier, a Champagne Rosé can go so well with a turkey or other meat Thanksgiving dinner. With so many competing flavors on the table, you might add a a pink version as well depending on your meal choices.

Sparkling Rosés have deeper depth, more acidity. Many have more body and fruit. Champagne is so versatile. Take the time to research whether the bottle is sweet, semi-sweet or dry and how much or the variety of fruit flavors burst on the palate.

2) We enjoyed a bottle of Ferrari Brut Rosé Trentodoc ($30) earlier this year. It is a classic Italian sparkling with gorgeous aromas of wild strawberry, flowers, red currants and fresh baked bread with an old copper hue. Whether its sipped alone or with dinner, the wine is fresh, fruity and has a sweet almond elegant aftertaste with its dried fruit.

The Ferrari Rosé is made with Pinot Nero (60%) and Chardonnay (40%) created under the metodo classico style that is delicate with a gorgeous mouth feel and light citrus notes, finishing with a hint of musk.

Additionally, I like what Fiona Beckett posted in her Best food pairing for Rose article last year. Rosé wine and sparkling are no longer just spring and summer wines. Depending on your choices, you could move from one style of Rosé to another as the appetizers move to entrees and beyond the holiday meal.

3) Roederer Estate Brut Rosé is one of California’s most consistent, well received sparking year after year from the Anderson Valley ($29). This is a food-friendly, medium bodied bubbly which can easily move from the family or living room toast to the table. The Brut is 55% Pinot Noir and 45% Chardonnay. Oak-aged wines make up 10-20% of each cuvée, adding consistency year after year.

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All three of the Varichon & Clerc, Rogederer Estate and Lucien Albrecht sparkling wines have their appropriate places for Thanksgiving and/or holiday celebrations.

While an elegant wine, its gentle Pinot Noir nuances of gentle cherry, raspberry, light pear, red apple, graham cracker and hints of spice and almonds with pineapple aromas create the illusion of a more expensive wine. There is a touch of ginger and vanilla on the finish to cleanse the palate. Bring on the holiday dinner!

4) Lucien Albrecht Cremant d’ Alsace Brut Blanc de Blancs ($18) is one of the most versatile sparking wines on the market. Whether its Easter Sunday, birthday celebrations, a popcorn party or a toast on Thanksgiving, this French Brut is inexpensive for a toast or with a variety of foods. It also comes in a Rosé version that is bound to please. The Brut Blanc is 80% Pinot Auxerrois, 10% Pinot Blanc and 10% Chardonnay, delicate and crisp, straw color with grapefruit and citrus flavors along with a yeasty finish. 

With a beautiful brilliant golden colour, it exhibits a predominantly floral nose, has fine and persistent bubbles and is both elegant and balanced on the palate. As an aperitif, at cocktail parties or receptions, it is the classic drink for all festive occasions.

5) Lastly a bottle of Varichon & Clerc Brut Privilège Blanc de Blancs might fit the budget minded host(ess) who is looking for more than a grocery store bottle of bubbly and needs to find one around $11. Created near the mountains of Lake Geneva and Lake Bourget near the Alpine Savoy region of France, this sparkling producer has continually produced classic “Methode Champenoise” wines since 1901.

The bubbly is smooth, creamy with gentle pear, apple, vanilla a hint of exotic fruit notes along with a toast and nice minerality. While this bubbly may not be for the entire Thanksgiving meal, it would make a nice toast and apertif. Serve with light appetizers, cheeses such as Brie and Camembert.

All five Thanksgiving or holiday sparkling wine choices can be ordered online via their websites and through most local wine shops in your area. As I live in Central California, most of these and many other choices are available via The Grape Tray in Fresno.

All five Thanksgiving or holiday sparkling wine choices can be ordered online via their websites and through most local wine shops in your area. As I live in Central California, most of these and many other choices are available via The Grape Tray in Fresno.

For more information, read The Grape Tray reopens in Fresno’s Opus I Center. Call owner Stan Kato at 559.226.6828 for these and other suggestions. Be sure to visit his shop at 6023 N. Palm Ave., Fresno, CA 93704. The Grape Tray can also be reached via email: stan@grapetray.com and on Instagram: @GrapeTray.

Be sure to read TalesoftheCork’s previous blog post, “Sipping a Cambria Moonstone Cellars Tempranillo.” 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.