Wines Made of Memories
Old World Winery
Imagine Giuseppe Martinelli, an immigrant from Friuli in northeastern Italy, homesteading and clearing land for a farm and starting a family in the woody wilderness of Sonoma County before the turn of the 20th Century. Today, he would have been less than an hour from San Francisco. But then, without trains, cars, or the Golden Gate Bridge, he was a world away. He never learned much English because he didn’t have the time, the opportunity, or even the need since he interacted mostly with his own community of Italian immigrants. His work was organized by day break, sun set, and the rotation of seasons, not unlike what he had left behind in Friuli. Picture his young son Lino, learning English at school, farming his father’s small but steep vineyard from the time that he was a young teenager, and later inheriting part of the land, including the vineyard. Sonoma County was a primitive area in the early 1900s, but agricultural activity was growing to meet the increasing needs of nearby San Francisco and Oakland across the San Francisco Bay.
Like Giuseppe, Lino Martinelli built his own house with his two hands, planted gardens and a small vineyard, tilled the earth with a horse and plow, but also acquired a tractor and eventually a telephone. Lino raised four children there and was basically self-sufficient like his father had been, living from what he cultivated on his land and hunted in the woods nearby. He needed money only to buy fuel for the tractor, his grandson Darek Trowbridge remarks. “I looked at his life and thought, ‘That’s for me.’ I have no idea why, but it struck me deeply. I just loved being out on the land with him, and that’s where it comes from, this land-based love. I wanted to make decisions that improved it and do good.”
Tall and slender with a warm hand-shake, a ready hug, and a lot of energy, Darek Trowbridge remembers helping his grandfather on many occasions from the time that he was 11 years old and strong enough at least to use a rake. “There was a lot of wild land out there, and my grandfather would go hunting.” Sometimes, they would eat blackbird stew, which was probably robin, already illegal to shoot then, Darek remarks. “He would make the best chicken stew with all these herbs from his garden, cook it slow and all day long, and serve it over polenta.”
Just as a song can evoke the entire context in which a person might have heard it, taste can do the same. Darek remembers not only the slow-cooked stews with herbs from the garden that infused the kitchen with aromas but also the wine they drank, often Zinfandel that was 16 to 17 percent alcohol although Darek has no memory of distracting alcohol flavors. The stews and the wines “went together, and the whole experience was so awesome.” Darek recounts that his grandfather survived Prohibition by running a still. “If you distill wine, it’s essentially like vodka until you put it in a barrel and age it, and then it’s brandy. He’d sell what he made in San Francisco, of course illegally, and that’s how he got the money he needed.” Lino made Zinfandel in the same way that he made Port, Darek says, adding alcohol to stop the fermentation and leaving two to four percent of the sugar unfermented in the wine. “It was sweet. I still to this day love those flavors. Zinfandel is just so opulent.”
But Darek makes a distinction between wines that are naturally rich and those that are unnaturally so. Through the Bachelor’s degree in viticultural at California Polytechnic State University, followed by the Master’s Degree in enology at Fresno State University, the memory of his grandfather’s wines and the time during Darek’s childhood when he drank them inspired him to craft the style of wine that he makes at his own winery today, rich and earthy, and totally without additives of any kind except for a bit of sulfur. The university trains students for corporate jobs with big wineries, he says, teaching them how to add yeast to the fruit, to supplement acid and tannin in the wine, and to increase sugar and color in the form of Mega Purple, finally adding a lot of sulfur to preserve the result. This recipe was not his grandfather’s and didn’t produce the wines Darek remembered. “The difference really was that my grandfather didn’t ever add anything. The grapes came in. We put them in a vat and fermented them. We didn’t add yeast or food for yeast or tartaric acid or anything, maybe some sulfur at the end. So I deconstructed myself. Everything that I learned at school, I set aside and started from the beginning. At first, I was really disgruntled with my education.”
Even when formulaic wines are initially pleasant, Darek says big wineries that make them are irresponsible. “It’s not art,” he says. Without ever tasting the fruit, they might wail till grapes ripen to 27.5 brix, the measure of sugar in the fruit, because they’ve reduced wines to particular formulas that get high scores. They want a wine that is 15.5 percent alcohol, regardless of the fruit’s best expression in the vineyard. “What’s missing is complexity and marriage, the marrying of flavors, like when you make a soup, and the flavors blend.” In terms of wines that are 17 and 18 percent alcohol, Darek says that on several occasions he has consumed three glasses of such wines, was “smashed,” and had to drive home. “As a consumer, that was when I started paying attention so that I knew how much to drink.” He adds, “Another thing that I don’t like about high alcohol wines is that they’re all lush and all fruit in the first three sips, but then I feel like I’m going to get gout. They’re too much for my palate.”
Darek pursues intense aromas and flavors in a very different way. Unlike white wine, red wine is fermented with the skins and seeds, from which it derives its richer flavor. The challenge is to intensify flavor but diminish harsh tannins that also reside in the skins and especially the seeds. Darek explains that native yeasts in the vineyard add complexity to wine as does bacteria from secondary malolactic fermentation, which converts harsher malic acid to lactic acid. Submerging the cap of solids that rises to the surface of the tank during fermentation so that it mixes with the fermenting wine is an old and common practice and adds complexity. Used by celebrity winemaker Helen Turley, rack and return is a more recent method that creates big red flavors but diminishes tannins. The fermenting red wine is drained away from the grape solids, and a portion of the grape seeds, which can impart harsh tannins, are removed from the bottom of the tank. The wine is then pumped back into the fermentation tank. The process is repeated until the fermentation is complete and all fruit sugar is fermented into alcohol. But before fermentation can begin, the grapes must be crushed and the juice released. Darek does this in the most classic and gentle way by foot stomping, less likely than a metal crusher to release harsh tannins from the skins and seeds. Fifteen or twenty of his best friends show up at the winery, climb into the tanks, stomp on the grapes, and at the end of the day, have a party. “It builds community,” he says, and makes wonderful wine.
In 2007, Darek purchased a three-acre property at Fulton in the Russian River AVA (American Viticultural Area) and a little over a year ago opened the tasting room. The first winery to occupy the property was Williams Selyem, famous for Pinot Noir but also for Martinelli Vineyard Zinfandel from Lino Martinelli’s Jackass Hill Vineyard. Darek says that his uncle, his mother’s brother Lee Martinelli, who owns Martinelli Winery, including about 350 acres of vineyards, was unable to obtain grapes from his own father’s vineyard because between 1979 and 1992, Williams Selyem had locked up the fruit with a contract. That his grandfather’s grapes were made into wine at what is now Darek’s own winery is a connection that he cherishes.
Currently, Darek is making about 2500 cases of wine and buying fruit. “The most important things are that the vineyard is family farmed, that the right varietal is planted in the right location, and that one of the owners is the farmer. A lot of small vineyards hire contract farmers, and those guys slash and burn. They come in, try to make a bunch of money, and don’t really put anything back into the land. I know so many of them, and I know how they farm. It’s agri-business. That’s all it is. I need something more. I need native yeasts and want to make the most individual wines that I can from a particular block. I’m not going to get that kind of fruit if the owners don’t care.”
California Wines of the Month
Old World Winery – 2008 Tweek Block Chardonnay – 243 cases produced
Winemaker Darek Trowbridge’s Notes
The Vineyard: The Weeks Vineyard is managed by an old family friend, Ted Weeks, in the remote Occidential area of the Sonoma Coast appellation of Sonoma County. The site is located atop the highest of a series of small hills that build up to the Pacific coastline. These small hills can be steep at times, creating pockets of microclimates, which lend to the uniqueness and complexity of the flavors found in the bottle.
The Winemaking: All of our wines are fermented with native yeasts only. We add nothing to the wines except for a small amount of sulfur, which protects the wine during the aging process. We believe letting the wine make itself is the only way to truly express the vineyard through the wine.
The Wine: Aged for eight months in new French oak barrels, this Chardonnay displays layers of complex fruit, including baked apple, ripe fig, and pineapple cake on the nose. An attractively rich mouthfeel full of mouthfilling fruit is supported by an excellent acid backbone, providing a clean and crisp finish (14.9% alcohol).
Anna Maria’s Notes
“My favorite white wine is beer,” Darek says seriously. “I love the stuff.” He wanted to make a white wine that would be what amber ale is to lager beer, in other words rich. To give this Chardonnay its golden color and intense flavors, he left the skins with the juice for a few hours before fermentation instead of eliminating them immediately as is commonly done. The result is heightened color, aroma, and flavor. “I’m loving this style,” he says. You will too. Serve chilled.
Old World Winery – 2005 Fog line – 185 cases produced
Winemaker Darek Trowbridge’s Notes
The Vineyard: The Bei du Rocchi Ranch, located in the Sonoma Coast near the town of Cazadaro, has been owned and operated by the Bei family for four generations. The ranch lays one ridgeline from the Pacific Ocean on an easterly saddle that is protected from cool winds by Pole Mountain. With an elevation of 1600 feet, the fog usually rests below the vineyard, allowing for hot afternoons, which benefit the ripening of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah in an appellation that is considered to be mostly Pinot Noir country.
The Winemaking: All of our wines are fermented with native yeasts only. We add nothing to the wine except for a small amount of sulfur, which protects the wine during the aging process. The Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah are grown side by side in the Bei du Rocchi Vineyard. They were both picked on the same day and fermented together so that flavors completely integrate before bottling.
The Wine: Aged for 20 months in neutral French oak barrels, the wine is 82% Cabernet Sauvignon and 18% Syrah, which show bright fruit flavors, including plum and black currant with subtle blackberry notes that are present in this unique single vineyard blend. A pleasantly tart backbone makes this wine perfect for warm evenings (13.9 % alcohol).
Anna Maria’s Notes
A rich and rustic red, this wine is perfect for barbecued beef and sausages. But given the weather in many parts of the country, including here in the San Francisco Bay Area where it has been raining, you might have to delay the pleasure. Serve at cool room temperature.
Old World Winery – 2005 Laughlin Vineyard Zinfandel – 184 cases produced
Darek Trowbridge’s Notes
The Vineyard: The Laughlin Vineyard is located in the Russian River Valley near the town of Fulton. Mark West Creek flows along the northwest border of the vineyard and provides cool, foggy mornings for the vines. The heat does arrive, however, later in the afternoon to ripen our fruit. The vines are vertically trained to maximize sunlight penetration of the berries. Lee Martinelli Jr., the vineyard owner, holds the vines to about 2.5 tons of fruit per acre, which provides a concentration of fruit flavor not found in higher tonnages.
The Winemaking: All of our wines are fermented with native yeasts only. We add nothing to the wine except for a small amount of sulfur, which protects the wine during the aging process. We believe letting the wine make itself is the only way to truly express the vineyard through the wine.
The Wine: Aged for 20 months in 100% French oak barrels, our Laughlin Vineyard Zinfandel is an instant classic. The nose bursts with concentrated aromas of black cherry, raspberry, prune, and fig, overlying a subtle backbone of chocolate and espresso. The texture is mouth-filling and leads into a long and rich finish. This wine is a very muscular Zin that can be enjoyed now or cellared five years for further enjoyment (15.9% alcohol).
Anna Maria’s Notes
The Italians call a wine this powerful a “contemplation wine.” In other words, its aromas and flavors will dwarf most dishes, so why bother trying for the “right” pairing. Instead, serve it after a light meal only to your best friends with a last course of assorted cheeses.
Old World Winery – 2007 Field Blend – 197 cases produced
Darek Trowbridge’s Notes
The Vineyard: The Mounts family has been growing premium wine grapes for over 60 years in the Dry Creek Valley. Every vineyard block design reflects the unique orientation of hillside sun exposure, soil type and depth. Each of these factors determines the variety, the appropriate clone, and the most favorable root-stock that the family has planted there to achieve the greatest possible expression of fruit character.
The Winemaking: All of our wines are fermented with native yeasts only. We add nothing to the wine except for a small amount of sulfur, which protects the wine during the aging process. The Zinfandel and the Petite Sirah for our 2007 Field Blend are grown side by side in the vineyard. They were both picked on the same day and fermented together, allowing the flavors to completely integrate before bottling.
The Wine: Aged for 20 months in 100% French oak barrels, the wine is a blend of 89% Zinfandel and 11% Petite Sirah. The aroma contains gobs of blueberry liqueur, dark cherry, roasted figs, and vanilla. Also present are hints of coriander, cardamom, and cinnamon with a subtle earthiness in the background. The wine displays pure fruit in the mouth behind a full-bodied frame with enough acidity to retain a sense of freshness (14.8% alcohol).
Anna Maria’s Notes
Rich and earthy, this Old World Winery Field Blend would pair well with assorted grilled or barbecued meats or one of the slow cooked all day stews made from wild game that Darek remembers his grandfather serving. Serve at cool room temperature.
Menu of the Month
Grilled Salmon for Spring
Mixed olives, rinsed and coated with olive oil and finely chopped rosemary,
local cheeses, and fresh baguettes
Oven-roasted or grilled whole salmon with roasted or grilled potatoes,
carrots, zucchini, and quartered red onions, lightly coated with olive oil.
Mixed organic spring lettuces with a garlic-lemon-olive oil dressing
Mixed red berries, marinated in Triple-sec and fresh mint, scoped over shortcake,
and topped with freshly whipped cream
Recipe of the Month
Oven-roasted or grilled whole salmon
Water diversion, low rainfall, and man-made dams prevented Northern California king salmon that spawn in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta from swimming to the Pacific Ocean where they would remain for three years before returning to spawn the next generation. Four years ago, their numbers were depleted to the point that local commercial salmon fishing was banned. This year, the salmon population is estimated at 750,000 compared to 2009’s 39,500, according to Sophie Brickman writing for the San Francisco Chronicle. Everyone along the food chain, from fishermen to consumers, is rejoicing that this ultimately sustainable, delicious, and healthful local fish has returned to our plates. While king salmon won’t be inexpensive, especially now at the beginning of the season, it is less expensive if you buy a whole or a half and cut it into steaks yourself.
2 pounds fresh, wild salmon, filleted
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt & pepper to taste
Coat the salmon with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Place salmon, skin-side down, under the broiler or on top of the grill, heated to medium-high. Broil or grill for about 15 minutes or until the flesh springs back when touched. Cut into serving sizes and garnish with fresh lemon wedges. Serves 4.