Reading the Future
Graziano Family of Wines
Nobody needs Tarot cards when they know Greg Graziano. If you want to learn which wines you will love in ten years, just ask him. Listen to what he says, and you could start cellaring tomorrow’s wines that nobody knows or wants now, paying a fraction of their future prices. A full 15 years ago he said, “When I go to a restaurant, I order Pinot Noir unless I go to a very simple restaurant and am eating something light. Then I drink Sauvignon Blanc. I never buy Cabernet or Chardonnay anymore. People’s tastes for wines are going to change. It’s just a matter of time.” This he said before most people knew what Pinot Noir was and were unable to pronounce Sauvignon Blanc. But Greg is anything but trendy. He is fiercely and doggedly loyal to his own history, which developed in Mendocino County. The grandson of Italian immigrants, he created two different labels that feature Italian grape varieties, Monte Volpe and Enotria. He developed another label that showcases the historic wines of Mendocino County, Graziano Family of Wines. When he started the winery 25 years ago, his first Saint Gregory label specialized in all of the Pinots plus Chardonnay, which he eventually kicked off the list. So what is Greg thinking now? Read on and learn what you’ll soon be drinking. Our conversation is slightly edited for length and clarity.
I hear you’re drinking whites, Greg. Is that true?
I’m a big fan of whites. I drink probably more white wine than red, and I actually like making white wine more than I like to make red. It’s more challenging. White wine is more elegant and subtle and harder to make. Our new vineyard in Potter Valley is planted with many Italian white varieties, like Tocai, Pinot Grigio, Arneis, Cortese, Moscato, and Pinot Bianco. And we have an experimental vineyard there where we’ve planted Moscato Giallo, Ribolla Giallo, Vernaccia, Vermentino, Coda di Volpe, Greco di Tuffo, Fiano and Falanghina, anywhere from 100 to 300 vines each.
You also have a big sparkling wine project.
In December 2013, we’ll be releasing our first vintage of about 750 cases of three different sparkling wines. Champagne has had some horrible vintages recently, and they’re having a terrible one right now. So their prices continually go up. We can make our sparkling wines more affordable and compete with them. What we’re producing right now is as good or better than most Champagne and better than most anything that comes out of California and also very unusual. We try to be creative, not just follow trends. Our sparkling wine is 100% barrel fermented like only the best producers do in France. We leave the wine on the yeast anywhere from four to eight months so that flavors become more yeasty, more toasty, more broad, and more complex, of course depending on the vintage and what type of wine we’re trying to create. And there’s no secondary malolactic fermentation in any of the sparkling wines, so they’re very crisp and high in acid. But we’re using Pinot Blanc in some of our sparkling wines, which the French basically do not. A few grower Champagne wines use Pinot Blanc, but the majority of producers use Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier, or Pinot Noir for blush-colored Champagne. But if you know anything about the Italians, Franciacorta and also Trentino-Alto Adige, and Friuli as a matter of fact, they use a lot of Pinot Blanc in their sparkling wines and use it very successfully. So we’re using some Pinot Blanc in our Brut and some in our Blanc de Blanc, limited to about 20% and blended with Chardonnay in those particular sparkling wines. And we’re making a Pinot Noir Brut Rose`, labeled as Pinot Noir because it’s 80% Pinot Noir. Most Rose` is a lot of Chardonnay with red wine coloring in it. We’re not doing that. We’re using 80% Pinot Noir and the rest Chardonnay. So that again makes us very unique from what’s going on in California. Our sparkling wines will probably be priced at about $35 a bottle, which is great for sparkling wine instead of $60 like a lot of French sparkling wine. For us, it’s a very expensive product because it is labor intensive, and we leave it in the bottle for so long before release from the winery.
Tell me about Potter Valley.
We bought 20 acres in 2006. Potter Valley is located at the northern end of Mendocino and is 200 feet higher in elevation than surrounding areas. I was interested in the appellation because the land was inexpensive there compared to many other places. So it was an ideal situation. As part of the Eel River watershed, it has an endless water supply, which is very important. Potter Valley is one of the most frost-prone wine regions in the world, so you need lots of water to fight the frost. About a thousand acres are planted to vines, but there are no resident wineries. Mondavi’s old vineyard is southeast of us, a big vineyard now owned by Constellation Brands. The McMenamy family vineyard is across the river from us and the Domenichelli’s Merlot vineyard is just up the road a bit. The Knotty Boy Vineyard is at the upper end, and they’re one of our growers. We use his Pinot Noir for our red still wine. Our vineyard is producing about 100 tons of fruit, so we’re able to use that and sell what we don’t need if the market is such that we have too much wine. It’s warm in the daytime, has a very high elevation, is very cool at night, and the fruit is very late ripening. We’ve had cool harvests in California in the last two years because the Humboldt Current and the Jet Stream are causing some real problems. For instance, in the last two years we picked our grapes for our sparkling wine almost a month later than Champagne did, and Champagne is one of the coldest wine regions in the world. So that should tell you something about the appellation. In addition to that Potter Valley vineyard, we’re looking for more ground to buy so that we can plant a ton of red varieties, all Italian or mostly Italian to increase our business and increase our control over our grape supply.
You also make more conventional wines.
We started off with the Saint Gregory brand and all the Pinot wines. And then we did the Monte Volpe brand, but we made so many different Italian varieties that I decided to split up the Monte Volpe brand and start Enotria for just varietals from Piemonte, Italy. That’s how we segregated them. I was going my merry way, and then about 2000, the Parducci owners from NY cancelled all the grape contracts that they had with Mendocino growers. So in 2001, a bunch of local growers were calling me, trying to sell me Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Zinfandel, Carignane, and Petite Sirah because they didn’t have anywhere to sell their grapes after Parducci stopped buying. I decided, okay, if you guys work with me, I’ll start a new brand, and it’ll be for these old Mendocino varieties. So I started buying these grapes, and that’s how the Graziano brand got started. We’re still buying a lot of those old grapes from people in my family, who own vineyards and other growers who have been around for a long time. We’ve made a lot of wonderful wines from these old Mendocino varieties. It’s been a nice niche for us because we can do normal wines that we didn’t have to explain to people like we do with Sangiovese and Barbera. So in some respect, it is a bit easier to sell those varieties, and it worked with our whole story because we’re one of the oldest grape growing families in Mendocino. Family members were growing a lot of these old varieties. We’re making more Zinfandel, Chenin Blanc, and the others for the Graziano label than for any of the other labels that we’re doing right now. It’s the latest brand that we’ve started and now the biggest one.
So you’ve become a larger small winery.
We’ve been as high as 30,000 cases, but we’re probably a little less than 20,000 now. We didn’t make any wine in 2008 because the forest fires in Mendocino County affected grape quality. So that cut down our production, which is fine with me because for us, quality is everything, and if we have to make less wine to make better wine, we don’t care. We also had a lot of bad debt with distributors going out of business and difficulty out there in the world. Wine is very sensitive to what happens in the economy. Unlike toilet paper, you don’t need wine. You and I need wine because we need it. But for a lot of people, who loose their jobs or one spouse looses a job, they have to cut out a lot of things. These are the new challenges that we face. But we have new vineyards now with all Italian grape varieties, the Potter Valley vineyard with all white varieties, and those have helped our business substantially because we’re growing so many of our own grapes instead of buying them. We sell wine all over the world, China, Japan, Denmark, England, and Canada, and in about 40 states here in the U.S. We’re with small distributors and mainly in restaurants and wine ships. That’s were we want to be.
California Wines of the Month
Graziano Family of Wines – 2009 Zinfandel, Mendocino County
Winemaker Greg Graziano’s Notes
Our Zinfandel comes from 10 different old vine Zinfandel vineyards scattered throughout the bench lands and hillsides of Mendocino County. Old vine vineyards, such as Bertozzi, Kaznet, Venturi, and Zeller contribute to this fine wine. The blend also contains Petite Sirah from three different vineyards. Many of these vineyards are still farmed by third and fourth generation Italian-Americans. This vintage displays a rich, dark, purple-garnet color and deep aromas of black cherry, boysenberry, plum, and spicy sandalwood with hints of toasty oak. Uplifting flavors of plum, black cherry cola, and a subtle earthiness combine to give this full-bodied Zinfandel a generous mouth-feel. Rich full tannins and balanced acidity lead into a long, lingering finish. Enjoy with garlic and rosemary seasoned lamb chops, Italian sausage, or spicy tomato pasta dishes. A grilled burger with melted gorgonzola in one hand and this Zin in the other hand is what the good life is all about (alcohol 14.5%, total acidity 0.71 g/100ml, pH 3.54).
Anna Maria’s Notes
This Graziano wine is 85% Zinfandel and 15% Petite Sirah, a recipe that the Italians created when they planted Mendocino County’s first vineyards in the early 20th Century, usually planting both varieties in the same vineyards. The wine was aged for 28 months in a combination of French, American, and Eastern European oak barrels, only 20% of which were new. Perfectly delicious, the wine whispers balance between Zinfandel fruit flavors, clean acidity, smooth but apparent tannins, and oak aging.
Graziano Family of Wines – 2010 Chenin Blanc, Mendocino County
Winemaker Greg Graziano’s Notes
Chenin Blanc produces some of the greatest white wines of France. In the Loire region, the wines of Savennieres, Vouvray, and Saumur produce a wide range of styles of Chenin Blanc from sparkling to sweet to everything in between. The grapes for this wine come from two sources, 48% from the Norgard Vineyard in the Talmage district just north of Ukiah, growing on a rugged, north facing slope. The remaining 52% come from the Heil Vineyard in Ukiah, a head-trained vineyard over 40 years-old that is situated on a special Pinoli white loam that resists the root louse Phylloxera so that these vines can grow on their own roots instead of Phylloxera resistant rootstock, which is common in vineyards now. These are two of the oldest and last of the Chenin Blanc vineyards in Mendocino County. We made the wine in a dry European style with crisp clean aromas and flavors of pears, apples, and minerals. Its body is full and rich but well-balanced by ample mouth-watering acidity. The wine was fermented in neutral French Burgundy oak barrels and aged on its lees for five months. No malolattic fermentation occurred, which could destroy the wine’s acidity and fruity aromas. This wine combines the mineral-laced steely acidity and structure of a classic Loire style wine with the rich creamy texture, roundness, and fullness of fruit of a California wine. Aromas of wet stone, peaches, pear, and citrus all comingle in this racy, complex wine (13.5% alcohol, total acidity 0.77, pH 3.01).
Anna Maria’s Notes
Common in the 1970s, this fragrant and delicious wine is rare in California today. Greg Graziano is proud to have saved the old Heil Vineyard. After Beringer stopped buying the fruit, the owner was unable to find another buyer. He was about to pull out the vines when Greg offered to purchase the fruit.
Coro Mendocino Background
Coro Mendocino is a collaborative effort started by eight Mendocino winemakers in 2001 to create a class of distinctive wines that showcase the rich heritage and unique characteristics of Mendocino County. This is the first time in U.S. history that vintners have set blending and aging parameters for wines distinctive to a region although the practice is common in Europe. Each winery created its own individual blend based on the protocols and each blend is reviewed by a panel of winemakers in four blind tastings before the wine is accepted as Coro Mendocino. All of the fruit must be exclusively from Mendocino County with a requirement that Zinfandel be at least 40% of the blend. Each winery personalizes the common label, which will be recognizable as Coro Mendocino, and bottles the wine in a uniform bottle. Coro comes from the Latin meaning “from many into one.”
Coro Mendocino 2006 Graziano
Our 2006 Coro Mendocino is a unique blend of old vine Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, and the classic Italian grape varieties, Sangiovese, Barbera, and Dolcetto, which have come together to create a wine that has great structure and elegance. Aromas of intense plum, black cherry, and spice weave through the full-bodied, complex mouth-feel, culminating in a rich harmonious finish, laced with vanilla, earth, and toasty oak. The wine’s complexity and depth of flavor will continue to evolve with further bottle aging. This wine is a blend of 56% Zinfandel, 14% Petite Sirah, 10% Barbera, 10% Sangiovese, and 10% Dolcetto, aged for a total of 20 months in French Burgundy Vosges Forest oak barrels, 40% of which were new (alcohol 14.5%, total acidity 0.69 g/100 ml, pH 3.63).
Coro Mendocino 2007 Graziano
Our 2007 Coro Mendocino is a unique blend of old vine Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, and the classic Italian grape varieties, Sangiovese, Barbera, Dolcetto, and Primitivo, which have come together to create a wine that has great structure and elegance. Aromas of intense plum, black cherry, coffee, and spice weave through the full-bodied, complex mouth-feel, culminating in a rich harmonious finish, laced with great acidity, vanilla, earth, and toasty oak. The wine’s complexity and depth of flavor will continue to evolve with further bottle age. This wine is a blend of 51% Zinfandel, 11% Petite Sirah, 11% Barbera, 11% Sangiovese, 11% Dolcetto, and 5% Primitivo, aged for a total of 20 months in French Burgundy Vosges Forest oak barrels, 57% of which were new (alcohol 14.5%, total acidity 0.71, pH 3.44).
Anna Maria’s Notes
The Graziano Coro Mendocino wines are equal to or better than the best wines made in California today. They are a tribute to the history of Mendocino County and to the wine making skills of Greg Graziano, whose dedication, energy, and enthusiasm for his trade never wanes.
Menu of the Month
Menu of the Month
Pappardelle with dried & fresh mushrooms & a sprinkle of
chopped flat-leaf parsley, served with grated Parmigiano cheese
Roasted and thinly sliced chicken breast, drizzled with extra virgin olive oil,
sprinkled with capers & chopped parsley, and served with lemon wedges
Thinly sliced zucchini with red onions and chopped mint,
dressed with olive oil and red wine vinegar
Sliced Roma tomatoes with fresh basil, dressed with extra virgin olive oil
A platter of chilled watermelon wedges
Recipe of the Month
Pappardelle with dried & fresh mushrooms
The ingredients are few and simple in this flavorful pasta, so all should be the best of their class. I chose Community Grains pappardelle, probably 3/8 of an inch wide and made from 100% whole grain and whole milled California hard amber durum wheat. Faro would be another alternative. Both are richly textured pastas, as delicious as they are beautiful. In the Tuscan dialect, pappardelle means “to gulp down,” and that is exactly what you’ll have to restrain yourself from doing. The sauce is uncooked, so it could not be easier to assemble. Enjoy!
10 ounces whole wheat or faro papparedelle pasta
½ cup dried porcini mushrooms, rehydrated with boiling water
10 fresh, white button mushrooms, about 4 ounces, thinly sliced but not so thin that they would break apart when mixed with pasta.
1 or 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/4 cup flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt to taste
Drain rehydrated porcini mushrooms and, together with chopped garlic, olive oil, and salt to taste, place in a bowl large enough to hold the pasta after it is cooked and drained.
Add pasta to a large pot of salted, boiling water. Stir to separate after pasta softens. Cook 8 to 10 minutes so that pasta is chewable but not soft. When done, drain pasta and add to bowl containing the rehydrated mushrooms, garlic, and olive oil. Add fresh mushrooms and parsley and mix. Add more salt if necessary. Distribute among 6 plates if serving as first course. If main course, the amount will serve 4. Pass grated cheese at the table.