My Journey on the Wine Road
I first became interested in wine having been exposed to it by family and friends. On the Italian side of my family, wine was a staple at the dinner table. Carlo Rossi Paisano or CR Cellars Fortissimo were always present at my grandparents’ and relatives’ houses in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. I spent time in France while in high school and college: Not a bad place to cut one’s teeth. Well before I turned 21, I had developed a taste for Loire ValleyMuscadet, Vouvray and Chinon, as well as first growth Bordeaux. I was fortunate enough to linger over many amazing meals with families that appreciated fine wine.
In the early days after college in Michigan, it was certainly very easy to find good, imported wines. California was harder to come by. I continued my wine education working as a server in a fine-dining restaurant that specialized in Italian-inspired cuisine. Many great Chiantis, Barolos and Barbarescos were on the wine list. This era was also the very beginning of imports from Sancerre to the US. I recall first discovering them on the list in the wine bar at the Earle in Ann Arbor, MI. After college, I traveled (among other places) to wine-producing countries such as New Zealand, Australia, Germany, Austria, Italy and Portugal. I lived and worked in France and Spain for two years. My wine tastes were very Eurocentric.
It was after Europe, while working in Chicago, that I started to discover Californian wines. I quickly became enamored with wines from Sonoma County and a new (to me) red variety: Zinfandel. I loved the intense fruit and full-bodied character in the Zins of the late 80s and early 90s. In 1995 I moved from Chicago to San Francisco and this Michigan boy, raised on lots of imports, got to dive deep into California wine. Sonoma County remained a favorite destination. I grooved on the rural, rustic vibe and fell in love with small-town favorites like the Sausal Zinfandels and the Foppiano Petite Sirah (wow!). Obviously, I also had a healthy appreciation for California Cabs.
I think I might have never looked too much further until my first job at a California winery introduced me to Pinot Noir. Pinot Noir became the focus of my passion for several years, and I completed my first foreign harvest inBurgundy. There I immersed myself in the many different expressions of this grape from different terroirs. I still am enamored of Pinot, but I have also found my calling back in California Cabernet. This grape, too, can express the terroir of different sites.
In my winemaking career, I have had the distinct pleasure of working with grapes from some of the greatest Cabernet vineyards in California, in both Napa and Sonoma. Cabernet is exciting. It has wonderful fruit expression, phenomenal complexity and to make things challenging, tannins that have to be nurtured and sculpted. Cabernet can be a monster. Grown in the wrong places, it will never mature properly. Over-cropped, it will yield simple, uninteresting, characterless wines. But from the right site, and properly managed, it will provide a wine of stunning elegance and complexity. One that will pair with the best meats and complex dishes. I will always be captivated by a great Cabernet.
With my new project, Sassoferrato, I am excited to bring my passion for Italian wines into the California Cab context. I can’t wait to see how the Super Tuscan-style red I have aging will turn out in a couple of years. Here’s to the future of my journey down the wine road. Cheers!