Newsletter 45 FALL 2013

2012 CUVÉE BLANC    |    2012 FIANO

2011 SEGROMIGNO    |    2010 ZINFANDEL    |    2011 BARBERA



A few months back, we participated in a tasting called “The 7% Solution” here in Healdsburg.  The cryptic name refers to the amount of acres planted to everything other than the top 8 wine grape varieties in California (1). Got that? Sort of sounds like one of those stats you see posted on the big screen at a baseball game: Josh Donaldson is batting .493, with runners in scoring position whose last names end in “E.”

Confusing and pretentious name notwithstanding, the tasting was a fun way for folks to try wines made from lesser-known (in California at least) grape varieties.  We were happy to be part of the tasting, but I felt a little conflicted.  The 7% name implies that the promoted wines are a novelty.  While the current market is full of Chardonnay/Sauvignon Blanc/Cabernet/Pinot/Zinfandel, we are not making the 7% wines to “champion the obscure.” We think everyone else is crazy for not making wines from Barbera, Sangiovese, Grenache, Montepulciano, and Vermentino—at least here in Dry Creek Valley.

Why?  Barbera, Sangiovese, Grenache, Montepulciano and to a lesser degree, Vermentino, are heavily planted in their respective native Mediterranean regions.  It is impossible for anyone to miss drinking any of these wines when visiting Piedmont, Tuscany, The Southern Rhone, Abruzzo, or Sardinia.  Additionally, all of these grapes are planted in a variety of sites within their respective native regions. This indicates they possess versatility that might bode well for growth in California.

Zinfandel, (or Primitivo in Italy) is our beloved star in Dry Creek Valley, though it isn’t even considered a top red wine in Italy. Nor is it a DOCG2. One could make the argument that it was crazy to plant Zinfandel here, especially if you know anything about the inherent difficulties growing it (thin skins, tight clusters, un-even ripening, tendency to shrivel).

Now, thanks to the quality gains realized by Italian winemakers in almost every region, we are more aware of their noble grapes. While most wineries aren’t as obsessed as we are with this information, more and more new winemakers understand that these grapes have tremendous potential in California.

So ten years from now when you ask your dinner guests what they might want to drink and they casually request a glass of Barbera or Vermentino, it shouldn’t come as a surprise. And if I’m wrong, it will be ten years from now, and I’ll deny saying it anyway.



265 Cases the Hard Way?

Finally, we have Barbera available. Just not very much.

As many of you know, the 2011 growing season was not an easy one.  A very cool summer concluded with a short rain storm October 1st, leaving most growers scrambling; harvesting less than ideally-ripe grapes before losing them to bunch rot. After two consecutive weeks of this George stated the obvious for all of us: “It just takes all of the fun out if it.”

For the second consecutive vintage (2010, 2011), we had a reduced crop thanks to Mother Nature. In 2011, we experienced quite of bit of shatter (poor fruit set) thanks to a rain storm in early June.  This reduced our crop by 70%.  The cool season led to Barbera harvested with high acidity, making it a wine that has much in common with Piedmontese renditions. If there is any criticism I have of Barbera grown in a typical Dry Creek climate, it is that it can be too fruity.  This 2011 is a little more restrained than usual, which makes it even more compatible with food.

Sadly due to the short crop, we are limiting purchases to 6 bottles per customer. I loathe limiting purchases for any reason. It is the only way to give all of you a shot at the wine. Later this year we will be offering the 2012 Barbera, where the purchase limit is set at 6 cases per cases per customer...





Eight years ago when we began making Segromigno, it was a more drinkable style of a Sangiovese-based wine, versus our 100% Sangiovese.  Over the past few vintages, we have increased the amount of Montepulciano, now at 30%, making it a more serious and structured wine.  The 2011 Segromigno is what I call one of our dogs, Waylon: A big boy.

The 2011 Segromigno, true to the cool vintage, is very Euro in style—showing less ripe fruit in favor of floral, spicy, and earthy aromas and flavors.  The wine also has great acidity and lower alcohol than previous vintages. It should easily age 4 to 6 years, indicating the serious tone of this year’s model.

[caption id="attachment_3529" align="aligncenter" width="320"]I don’t often...well...I never drink wine, but when I do,  I’m sure I’ll prefer the Unti Segromigno.  - Waylon, Moose Heating Inc. I don’t often...well...I never drink wine, but when I do,
I’m sure I’ll prefer the Unti Segromigno.
- Waylon, Moose Heating Inc.[/caption]



Considering my opening remarks, you are probably wondering how I’m going to positively spin our Zinfandel. Fortunately for me, the 2010 Zin is much better at articulating my argument than anything I can say.

A million years ago, when we first started visiting Dry Creek Valley, the Zinfandels were robust but not extreme in alcohol, oak, or tannin. Back in the day these Zins were described as “brambly” meaning they had berry fruit qualities in a full-bodied wine.  Since that time, several DCV wineries have made award winning Zins that rival light-bodied ports—both in alcohol and residual sugar. This 2010 Zinfandel is a throwback to those “lower-octane” Zinfandels.

If you love the jammy style of Zin, 2010 and 2011 were not for you. The weather simply didn’t afford one the option of achieving super ripe fruit. As such, we embraced the opportunity to make a more restrained style of Zin and in the process, have become more confident about picking Zinfandel at moderate sugars.

Less than ideally ripe Zin can be a little too peppery, which is what everyone has been trying to avoid since the buzz words “physiological ripeness” became part of the winemaker’s lexicon during the 1990’s. Back then I suspect Zinfandel yields were slightly higher, and raisins developed while waiting for most of the grapes to ripen.  You paid the price in the end with overly jammy wines.

Today, we carry less fruit on our Zinfandel vines and it seems like we are getting ripe flavors at slightly lower sugars, with fewer dried grapes. Perhaps we were simply fortunate in 2010 and 2011, but I’d be surprised if other local producers aren’t beginning to implement the same practices.

This 2010 Zin is bright, spicy and has vibrant berry fruit. We blended both Barbera and Mourvèdre to help balance the wine.  I really love this style of Zin, and hope it indicates the next trend in Dry Creek Valley.



When I was growing up, I remember radio commercials for Berkeley Farms Dairy that would end with a guy proclaiming: “Farms? In Berkeley???...Mooooo.” If we were to replicate those ads today for Cuvée Blanc it would be: “Oyster Wine in Dry Creek???? ...Meuhhhh!”

I think one of the great frontiers emerging with California wine is growing and making wine from Mediterranean white grapes; those whose native lands include Southern France, Corsica, Sardinia, Central and Southern Italy, Sicily and Spain. I wouldn’t be surprised to see some Greek white varieties start to be part of the mix.

Our limited experience with Grenache Blanc, Vermentino, Picpoul Blanc and now Fiano, has resulted in expressive flavors at moderate sugars, while retaining high levels of natural acidity. This is seldom the case when growing Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc here in DCV. Additionally, we tend to harvest our Mediterranean whites in late September and early October, usually two to three weeks after most folks have picked their SB and Chard here.

I’m not hating on Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. I drink French Sauvignon Blanc (Sancerre and Pouilly Fume) and Chardonnay (Chablis and Macon) wines regularly.  I simply have a hard time finding compelling versions locally. I never think of serving a local white wine when we have our New Years Eve Oyster party.  Now, when we run out of grower-producer Champagne and Chablis we can turn to Cuvée Blanc, which still blows my mind. Wines such as Cuvée Blanc are in the minority but offer a glimmer of hope when it comes to California whites, and that’s pretty exciting.

This 2012 CB represents all that we love about this wine style. Fruity aromas and crisp mineral flavors. It was fermented and aged primarily in concrete tanks, which seem to help add texture without imparting wood flavor.  Can you tell I’m excited about this wine?



2012 FIANO

For years, we’ve had a love affair with A-16, the iconic restaurant in San Francisco’s Marina district. A-16 is named after the highway that runs through Italy’s Campania region, home to of one of our favorite white grapes: Fiano.

When A-16 owners owners Shelley Lindgren and Victoria Libin opened the restaurant, they developed the most comprehensive selection of Central and Southern Italian wines ever found in an American eatery.  Shelley is almost single-handedly responsible for making SF folks (including all of us here at Unti) aware of such wines as, Fiano, Falanghina, Verdicchio, Greco di Tufo (whites), and Aglianico, Montepulciano, Nero d’Avola, Nerello Mascalese, Frappato (reds). In a very short period of time, she changed the Italian wine landscape in San Francisco.

Back in 2003, when A-16 opened, these wines were almost unheard of in the city. You can imagine the look on a typical Marina-ite’s face when, upon asking for a glass of Rombauer Chardonnay they were given a choice of a Fiano, Falanghina or Verdicchio. Now they ask for those wines by producer. Amazing.

If you mention Shelley’s name to almost any Italian winemaker, they immediately smile and ask how she is doing.  It seems every Italian winemaker knows and respects Shelley. I can’t think of any other American restaurateur who is more recognized by artisan Italian wineries. More remarkable, is that Shelley achieved this success while maintaining a flawless reputation as a warm, charming, and unpretentious individual—one who mentored many accomplished disciples in the wine business. To say that her passion for Italian wines is infectious would be a gross understatement.

After years of enjoying some of Campania’s best Fianos—Colle di Lapio, Pietracupa, Picariello—we decided to graft 1,000 vines to Fiano in 2011. This 2012 is our first shot at making Fiano, and it has made a great first impression. The wine was fermented and aged in a tiny stainless steel tank.  It is quite floral and fruity, leading to a dry high-acid white that has fiano’s classic waxy texture.  We love it.

Production is microscopic at 75 cases, so we are limiting purchases to 3 bottles per person.


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