Three Dreamers. Three Grapes.
Some winemakers focus on making the best cabernet sauvignon or the best pinot noir. There are others who indulge in flights of fantasy with obscure grape varieties that seemingly speak directly to them. Sometimes, only to them.
“I don’t know,” Elisa Dilavanzo said, gesturing with her hands. “It’s just that I love yellow muscat, you understand?” It was not just the make-you-melt Italian accent, or the intensity in her eyes as she said it, there was something about her entire being that conveyed her passion for moscato giallo, as the grape is identified in Italy.
Sally Ottoson knows the feeling. ‘There are a number of long-time families in Mendocino and Ukiah, many from Piemonte in Italy, who had these amazing vineyards of old vines with grapes like charbono,” the Mendocino Coast winemaker said about discovering a fruit for her dreams. “I just fell in love with them. It was new to me and just so exciting.”
And in Venice, Italy, Gianluca Bisol has created a hotel, a Michelin-starred restaurant and a destination for wine lovers, all around a grape called dorona, which, without his intervention, may well have disappeared. A visit to Venissa, on the tiny island of Mazzorbo, is a matchless culinary, wine and historical experience.
What bonds these three winemakers is that they share passion for grapes that may well make great wine, but are, to the rest of the wine world, anomalies. But these are labors of love. Perhaps one day there will be demand for dorona, charbono and moscato giallo. That’s why the efforts of these creative winemakers are courageous and important.
Dilavanzo came to wine relatively recently. An exuberant, emotional and welcoming soul with boundless beauty (she reluctantly admits to being a former beauty queen), she was hired in 2010 to restore a hilltop vineyard in the volcanic soils of the Euganean Hills just west of Venice. There she fostered a fondness for a number of obscure varieties, but especially the moscato giallo. “It is so fragrant and there were so many ways that it can express itself. I just love it,” she said.
Today, one tale of the grape is told in her Maeli Moscato Fior d’Arancio Colli Euganei DOCG 2015, a stunning sweet sparkler that is as beguiling a wine as one can find today. With just 6 percent alcohol and 110 grams of residual sugar by the liter, this wine marries sweetness with orange/tangerine floral notes and a creamy, balanced texture on the tongue.
Ottoson and her husband Mark are the stewards of one of California’s winery gems. The tiny Pacific Star Winery sits perched upon an impossibly green slope that juts into the Pacific on the coast just north of Fort Bragg. It is here that she crafts one of the few 100-percent charbono wines made in California today.
A little known grape, with origins in either the Savoie in the foothills of the French Alps or Piemonte in Italy, depending on whom you wish to believe, charbono is gaining acclaim in Argentina under the moniker bonarda. It is dark, tannic and worthy of intense examination.
“Inglenook and Parducci used to make charbono, but it had dwindled to just about 47 acres of plantings,” Sally explained to me last year on a winery visit. A few acres of charbono remained under the care of a Ukiah grower. “I asked him to plant a couple of acres and people started to take notice,” Sally said. Today there are close to 90 acres of charbono, producing wines that many consider to be cult classics. The 2012 Pacific Star Charbono is surely one of those.
Bisol and his family have a storied history in the Valdobbiadene region of Italy making some of Italy’s finest prosecco. But it was on a trip in 2002 to Torcello, Italy, that Gianluca found his muse.
“I noticed an old grapevine in a private garden beside the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta. I managed to persuade the owner to send me some of the grapes when they had matured,” he recalls. “The crates arrived full of lovely, thick-skinned grapes with a brilliant golden color. It was the famous dorona, also known as the golden grape, well-loved by the Venetians and served during the banquets of the Doges and then lost to history.”
Gianluca has since devoted himself to the project of producing Venissa, not just the resort, but a wine from the golden dorano that has become, in a short time, one of the most sought after white wines by aficionados.
Here’s to the dreamers.
Kelly J. Hayes lives in the soon-to-be-designated appellation of Old Snowmass. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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