While Giovanna Drei Donà “hates” technical questions about wine, she is fond of horses; maybe more fond of horses than her children Ida Vittoria and Enrico, the fourth generation who have helped to run the winemaking operations at the picturesque Drei Donà estate now owned by her husband Count Claudio Drei Donà (who focused on its thirty hectares of land and its ‘La Palazza’ farmhouse, constructed around a fifteenth century watchtower, as a passion project after retiring from law in the 1990s).
Drei Donà’s wines are named after their several horses (after visiting during a media tour, I think that their ten or so dogs might be jealous, given their propensity for barking in seemingly coordinated protests), and she readily admits that she recalls the births of the horses “more than the birth of my sons!” Drei Donà’s horses earn their keep, apparently; they are one of the best litmus tests for proper grape ripeness: “when they start to eat the grapes, they’re ready.”
While “nestled” is an overused term bordering on cliche (both in the wine writing biz writ-large, and here on 1WD), if ever a vineyard was nestled, Drei Donà is it. The estate sits only about 150 meters high, located in the ancient hills between Forlì, Castrocaro and Predappio – on the other side of the hills from Montalcino. Its landscape is influenced by both the Adriatic coast and the Apennines mountains. As in ancient Romagnan times, Sangiovese is the focus here (“it’s maybe the oldest vine in the world” Giovanna proclaimed, though I suspect that’s true only in the world of Romagnan wine).
“Romagna is more known for food than for wine,” Giovanna admits, though Drei Donà makes a very good case for altering that global market perception. “This was a sort of peninsula in ancient times,” she notes, “with water running along the rocky soil beneath the clay and sand on which their vines are planted. Back to being nestled – bad weather tends to follow the hills and thus travel around their site, lowering disease pressure and enabling them to utilize organic viticultural practices. The results are wines about as bold – and with personalities nearly as strong – as Giovanna herself…
What gives one the impetus to isolate yeasts, experiment with, say, cumbersome large barriques, and pursue crafting world-class Sangiovese in a region best known for bulk wine? Probably having regional winemaking in your blood.
That’s the sense that one might take away from a visit to Tenuta Casali, in Romagna’s Mercato Saraceno, where Silvia, Francesco and Daniele Casali now work with the previous Casali generation, Valerio and Paolo, who themselves took over in the late 1970s from grandfather Mario, who farmed their alluvial, stony, and white clay soils since the 1940s as a grower. So there are five family members now involved directly, doing all of the normal family-winery stuff while also attempting the aforementioned experimentation/fine-tuning, and yet I got the impression that things were running well enough, and personally did not notice anyone trying to kill one another while I was there…
Tenuta Casali sits astride the Savio Valley, which itself sits astride Italy’s Appenine hills in Romagna, with approximately twenty hectares of vines (all but twenty percent of which are devoted to Sangiovese) in effect bordered by Tuscany and the Adriatic.
Their vineyard placement – which also enjoys an elevation of between 500 and 800 feet – seems to work some mighty Romagna magic on their Sangio fruit; their reds were some of the best that I tasted during my media trip to the region last year. Not that their whites are slouching, as we’ll get into, well, immediately…
Over the Winter holiday break, I managed to catch up with talented Sonoma-area winemaker and Philly-boy transplant Kieran Robinson, who will soon be opening a tasting room for his wines in the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it one-block section of downtown… Downingtown, PA.
Downingtown is basically my backyard, so I’m very much looking forward to the advent of Robinson’s new digs, and especially to trying to convince him to hire my band for live gigs once the tasting room opens (seriously… I have no shame when it comes to band gigs). But this little blogging vignette isn’t about Robinson’s wines, at least not directly.
Kieran brought along his friend and boss Scott MacFiggen, the main man behind Sosie Wines, and for whom Robinson consults as a winemaker. MacFiggen – who started the Sosie brand after falling in love with French wines in Nuits Saint Georges and falling out of love with the corporate world – has a sort of mutual love-affair with 1WD, and so I was happy to meet and get my grubby lips on more of their Napa-Sonoma-based products.
Sosie is a small outfit – they produce only about 800 cases, and so tend to hy away from the ‘major’ varieties” as MacFiggen puts it. As for Robinson’s decision to consult, he put it this way: “no distributor wants to pick up someone with just one wine; business-wise, that doesn’t work. And you get itches to make new stuff.”
Those itches make for some very satisfying scratches, some of which I’ll attempt to relay in the far less satisfying written word…
Among Idaho’s state slogans and motto (which have included Esto perpetua, “Great Potatoes,” “What America Was,” and “Tasty Destinations,”) was the phrase “Not California.”
There’s a slight air of desperation and defiance in defining your identity in the negative; though in the case of Idaho’s budding wine production scene, it’s not entirely inappropriate: despite 150+ years of winemaking history, this is a state whose first AVA (Snake River Valley) was recognized less than fifteen years ago (and is probably more famous for Evel Knievel than it is for wine). Idaho’s other two AVAs – Eagle Foothills and Lewis-Clark Valley – are less than five years old, and one of those is a sub-AVA. Despite its visually stunning expanses, the state has a mere 1300 acres of grapes planted, almost all of it in the Snake River Valley, and is home to just over 50 wineries (for some perspective: California has about 4400).
We can forgive Idaho for having a bit of a petulant-attention-seeking-middle-child chip on its wine producing shoulder, because there’s little reason that the state can’t make very, very good wines. Formed from ancient volcanic and flooding activity, Idaho’s soils are sandy, sedimentary and well-draining, and its climate is dry with cold winters; all of which are good conditions for reducing pest and disease pressure for grape vines (and in some cases, allow the vines to be own-rooted).
Actually, there is one very good reason why Idaho wine doesn’t get the media luv right now: there simply isn’t enough of it. As Idaho Wine Commission Executive Director Moya Shatz Dolsby told me when I visited the state last year, “our biggest problem is that we don’t have enough grapes.”
Following is a (very) brief overview of the wines that stood out the most to me during my Idaho travels. There are, I think, three basic themes that, like Idaho’s famous rafting rivers, run throughout the best of their vinous experimentation: a sense of purity (possibly helped by the lack of a need to graft on to American rootstocks), a pioneering spirit (sometimes to a fault), and a diversity that few American wine regions can legitimately claim to be able to match…
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