Mosby Winery & Vineyard

Learning & Innovating at 80

Mosby Winery & Vineyard

Almost eighty years old and in the wine business for 40 of them, Bill Mosby has been the right man for the times. During his career, the business has undergone relentless change, which was the very reason that Bill embraced it. He could have continued to be a dentist but found the profession much less dynamic than enology and viticulture. After all, there are only so many ways to repair a tooth. Forty years ago, California wines were likely to be mass produced blends, made by a few giant wineries. Today in California, there are over 3,000 wineries operating in more than 200 appellations that continue to proliferate. Most of these wineries are small. Driven by both domestic and global competition, they employ every means possible to produce progressively better wine or die. The Mosby estate includes 45 acres and makes just 7000 cases a year in Buelton, California near Santa Barbara. “We’ve never wanted to be big,” Bill says. “We wouldn’t have time to innovate.” Learning and innovating is what he loves best, and the quality of his wines continues to escalate.

Years ago, Bill visited Italy and discovered Italian wines. What had been just a vacation became a pivotal experience in his life. “At the time, I was growing regular stuff, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, some Riesling, some Traminer. And on the airplane coming back, I began to reminisce about what I’d seen and decided right there that I would start making Italian wines. I’m sure glad I did.” Today, he makes the whites Cortese, Moscato, Pinot Grigio, Traminer, and Garganega . He makes a Rosato from Grenache, and makes the reds Dolcetto, Sangiovese, Primitivo, Teroldigo, Sagrantino, and Lagrein. He is the only person in California growing Garganega and Sagrantino.

Because Bill Mosby is making wine from Italian winegrapes, he has a competitive advantage in his own neighborhood and throughout the state. Santa Barbara tasting rooms recommend that their customers visit the Mosby tasting room, because Mosby wines are unlike theirs. And further, he says, “When you look at a store shelf, you see 40 Chardonnays. Try talking the wine buyer into taking one off and putting yours on. It’s like ‘why’? You don’t have a talking point.”

The market for Italian grape varietals may have crashed after 9/11 when California winemakers became less adventurous. But more recently in this current competitive wine market, newer and smaller growers and wineries are embracing Bill Mosby’s logic and understanding the advantages of unusual wines. More Cabernet Sauvignon or Chardonnay doesn’t resonate in a marketplace that is saturated with these wines.

But making unusual wines is not a recipe for success in itself. They must be delicious as well. Bill’s quest for quality has not been quick or easy, nor does it ever cease. What goes into the bottle reflects not only efforts in the cellar but also in the vineyard, whether the grape varietal is suitable to the particular piece of ground where it is planted and how the vineyard is managed. Many grape growers have planted vineyards where none have existed so that they have had to guess which grape varietals would prosper on their property. Only experience gives that answer, which at times can be cruel. Bad weather and disease infestations can also be catalysts for change. In the late 1980s and 90s, the philloxera epidemic destroyed countless acres of vineyards and forced growers to replant and re-evaluate what they were growing and how they were growing it. The result of these challenges and others is more choice and better quality for consumers. Bill Mosby has happily engaged with these issues without ever resorting to easy answers. They’ve given him the opportunity to create and innovate, which he cherishes.

When Bill first purchased his property in 1971, he was one of five grape growers in Santa Barbara County. They’d meet once a month and try to entice someone, anyone, to build a winery so that they could sell their grapes and begin to build a reputation for their locality. No luck. “So we did what we had to do. We started our own wineries.” Today there are more than 100 growers in the area. “They’re growing Cabernet way to the east up in the hills and Pinot Noir far to the west near the ocean, and Syrah and Chardonnay everywhere in between all over in every canyon on every hill.” Bill remembers that when he first purchased the property, he didn’t know what to grow. Because he was drawn to Pinot Noir, he planted some but couldn’t obtain the quality that he wanted. “Just a little over the hill in Santa Rita, a matter of a few hundred yards, they grow wonderful Pinot, but I had to pull mine out. You just learn by experience.” And he’s still learning. “I’ve got a Nebbiolo vineyard that has been a failure so far. I’ve been hoping for about three different harvests to get the Nebbiolo that I could be proud of. Maybe this year I’ll have it. We’ll see. Nebbiolo and Cortese, Piemontese grapes in general, are rough and tough to grow.”

Bill has recently learned not to pull leaves on the south side of the vines. Last year, some of his grapes were sunburned. Enough sunlight must penetrate the leaves to create pigment and flavor in the grape bunches, but too much damages the fruit. “The sun burns out the color, the pigment. It destroys the skin on the grape, and the quality of the fruit. But most of all, the flavor and the color are bad.” He’s also learned that timing is extremely important, for example removing a long cane in early spring so that later lateral leaves will grow. If the removal occurs too late, laterals won’t grow to their maximum. Since photosynthesis takes place in the leaves, they are in large part responsible for forming the sugars that then migrate to the fruit. Such fine tuning can make the difference between superior grapes and just adequate ones, which then reverberates in the wine.

Winemaking itself obviously has an impact on quality, and proper equipment can be most useful. “We’re a small winery, but I have equipment that will match larger wineries,” Bill says. “It also helps me, a one man crew, to do the work. After I crushed the grapes, I used to move the juice through a hose that I had to haul up into the tank. Now I just hook it below and the juice goes up through a curved stainless steel pipe and drops down gently into a stainless steel tank. Little things like that throughout the winery help out.”

Even though American wine making equipment is oriented toward large wineries, Bill wanted to buy from American manufacturers instead of Europeans because they were close, and in the event of a problem, he could get the equipment repaired quickly. “But I had something go wrong, and the guy on the phone didn’t even know what I was talking about.” Now he buys from Italian companies, which he says cater to small wineries since small producers abound in Europe. If something goes wrong, Bill puts the machinery on a plane and has it back in good working order within three days. “They’re real artisans when it comes to stainless steel. When you look at the workmanship, you can see that they’re great mechanics.” His next upgrade, “before the dollar goes to pot completely,” will be a new Italian press that will press the grapes without any exposure to air so that the fruit doesn’t oxidize. “The juice from white wine that goes through a regular press looks brown like cider, and the one that is pressed with no oxygen contact has a beautiful light green color. I can see that it’s going to be a big improvement. My excuse for getting it is for the whites, but I’ll probably use it for whites and reds both.”

The first time that I met Bill Mosby many years ago was on an early Friday evening. His staff of about six people gathered around a butcher block table in the winery kitchen. Bill was slicing prosciutto, cheeses, and bread that everyone was enjoying as they tasted wines. The feeling in the room was good-humored and affectionate but with an undertone of seriousness. “We still do that every Friday,” Bill says. “We get together and try new wines. We have to know what other winemakers are doing. We button up everything and come into the kitchen, and everyone has a bottle to share, something they heard about that they want to try. It’s a great learning experience. I bring my wines out too and want a real honest critique. My people are going to have to sell them.” In addition to staff, Bill has a friend, a Doctor in Agronomy at the University of Torino, who visits once a year to give vineyard advice. “I’m always upgrading and learning to make better wine.”

California Wines of the Month


Artisan Series

Mosby Winery & Vineyard – 2005 Primativo, Central Coast

Winemaker Bill Mosby’s Notes

The 2005 Mosby Primativo displays deep ruby color in the glass, hinting at its character. Rich aromas of maple, cedar and leather lead to vivid flavors of boysenberry and spiced crab apples. These integrated layers of flavor flow into a well-balanced finish with hints of toasted walnut skins. Primativo is grown in Apulie (Puglia, Italy) and is a relative to Zinfandel. The grapes for the 2005 Primativo are grown in the central coast, 20 miles inland from the Pacific Ocean. This location has the ideal heat factor needed to grow good Primativo. This wine is a natural paired with grilled meats. We like it with tri-tip, pork loin or grilled Portobello mushrooms. It’s excellent with lamb and lovely with hearty pasta dishes.

Anna Maria’s Notes

The labels for these wines are as beautiful as the wines themselves and were created by renowned artist Robert Scherer of Appiano, Italy. Beginning with the nose, followed by flavor and texture, this Primativo, also known as Zinfandel and referred to affectionately as Zin, is delicious and equally elegant. It’s an unbelievable 13.5% alcohol when most of the Zin fraternity is closer to a knock-out 16%. I hope this is a trend.

Mosby Winery & Vineyard – 2008 Pinot Grigio, Monterey County

Winemaker Bill Mosby’s Notes

Light and refreshing, the 2008 Mosby Pinot Grigio delights with aromas of ripe pear, apple, and vanilla bean. The crisp, citrusy taste is followed by a dry, clean finish with an element of wet stone. Historically, Pinot Grigio originates from the Fruili-Venezia Guilia of Italy. Said to be a mutation of the Pinot Noir grape, the Pinot Grigio seems unsure whether it is a red or white wine grape. Hence, grigio, meaning gray.
Bill Mosby was the first winemaker in Santa Barbara County to release Pinot Grigio wine and continues to realize much success with international acclaim.

Anna Maria’s Notes

If you’re accustomed to wimpy Pinot Grigio, you’ll be surprised by this one. It’s got lots of character, a powerful floral nose, and full flavor. It’s a beauty.

Winemaker Series

Mosby Winery & Vineyard – 2006 Sagrantino, Santa Barbara County

Winemaker Bill Mosby’s Notes

The Mosby Sagrantino is the first domestically-produced Sagrantino available for sale. Sagrantino is an Italian grape varietal that grows around the hilltop town of Montefalco in Umbria. Bill imported the cuttings and tended them in his estate vineyard for four years before his first Californian Sagrantino harvest in 2006. The wine is true to its Italian heritage. Dark garnet-red in the glass, this wine offers up exotic fragrances including rose petal and horehound. The flavor combines brooding elements of tobacco, “sotto di bosco” (fruit of the forest floor), and sassafras bark, intertwined with bold dark fruit and a chewy, mouth-filling texture. The firm tannins complement these rich flavors and create a pleasantly-defined finish. This release is still a youngster so we recommend opening the wine to breathe for about a half hour, then serving it with full-flavored foods. We enjoy our 2006 Sagrantino with cheeses such as Manchego, Cabrales or Parmesan; red meats including bison, lamb, game or pepper steak; poultry such as squab or duck and any dish flavored with truffles, mint, or rosemary. This wine will cellar well for five to seven years.

Anna Maria’s Notes

Mosby wines all have amazing aromas. Drink in the scent before you drink up the wine. If this is the first time that you’ve tasted this unusual grape variety, certainly here in California and even in Italy, you’re absorbing antiquity when you drink it. Sagrantino is another of those lost varieties in Italy that has been resurrected by an observant and devoted winemaker, who notices the odd vine in the field that nobody can identify, only to find out after DNA analysis that Pliny the Elder mentioned it 2000 years ago. That Sagrantino should then be replanted here in California is a little miracle, brought to us by Bill Mosby. Enjoy and appreciate.

Mosby Winery & Vineyard – 2006 Sangiovese, Santa Barbara County

Winemaker Bill Mosby’s Notes

The 2006 Mosby Sangiovese has a lot going on! We detected amazing scents of cocoa, dried cherries, lavender and lilac. These delightful aromas progressed into layered flavors of crushed dark berries, spice and light oak. The full body of this release is nicely balanced by brisk acidity and smooth tannins, making it an ideal wine for food pairing. Our suggestions include beef or game ragus, tomato-based pasta sauces, or spicy Tuscan-style chicken. This wine is ready to drink now, but will cellar well for three to five years.

Anna Maria’s Notes

You won’t smell the roses but you’ll smell the cocoa in this wine, one of the best Sangiovese wines in California, I think. At almost 80 years old, Bill Mosby is making the finest wines of his career. They will no doubt be even better by the time he reaches 90.

Menu of the Month


 

The Night is Young

Appetizer

Steamed artichoke with garlic, parsley, olive oil & salt

Main Course

Grilled wild salmon garnished with nasturtium flowers & lemon wedges
Faro with chopped lemon zest

Salad

Mixed garden lettuces with lemon-olive oil dressing

Dessert

Fresh berry granite with a dollop of whipped cream

Recipe of the Month


Steamed artichoke with garlic, parsley, olive oil & salt

Artichokes seem to be an acquired taste, and no wonder. They’re produced only in California, where they are probably the least expensive. In the rest of the country, they’re costly enough so that prices don’t encourage consumption. Nevertheless, if you want a dinner table adventure, the artichoke, a giant bud from a thistle plant, might captivate you and your guests on the first try. Apart from its unusual flavor, the artichoke magically turns most liquids sweet in your mouth, certainly water and also wine. Serve it with a white wine, but don’t expect the flavor that you perceive to be the true flavor of the wine.

Ingredients

6 large artichokes

3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped

A handful of flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped

1/4th cup extra virgin olive oil

1/2 teaspoon salt

Directions

Add garlic, parsley, and salt to the olive oil and set aside.

Snap off the small outer leaves near the base of the artichoke and those with cracks. Lay the artichoke on its side, and with a heavy, sharp knife cut off the top half inch or so, eliminating the prickly edges of the leaves. Cut the prickly edges of the other lower leaves with a kitchen shears. Cut off the stem so that the bottom of the artichoke is flat and can sit upright in a pot. Gently open the artichoke so that the leaves fan out a bit. Place a steam rack in a deep pot that can be covered, and fill the bottom of the pot below the rack with water. Place the artichokes on the rack and divide the garlic-parsley mixture between the six artichokes. Cover and steam for a half hour or until a leaf can easily be pulled from the base. Drain and serve. If necessary, drizzle with a little more olive oil and sprinkle a bit more salt over the artichokes, and serve with lemon wedges.