Newsletter 53





Two years ago, we hired Jason Valenti to be our winemaker.  It was a long and somewhat tedious process, but I’m proud and happy to say Jason is the perfect fit for Unti Vineyards. Let me explain.

Unti Vineyards Winery is a small business, that we started in 1997. We produce between 8,500 and 9,000 cases a year.  You can imagine how challenging it is to find the right winemaker who has made Barbera, Grenache, Montepulciano, Sangiovese, Syrah, Zinfandel, Fiano, Grenache Blanc, Vermentino, and now Aglianico. Out of the 95 resumes I received, nobody had made even half of these wines.

So we had to adapt the adage Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis used by “drafting the best athlete.”   Upon meeting Jason one is almost immediately impressed with his energy, charm, sincerity, and as the ladies might say, his en fuego-ness.   Jason came to winemaking later than some folks, earning a degree in English and working in sales before heading back to school to study enology. That kind of experience tends to ground a person.

[caption id="attachment_4973" align="alignleft" width="197"]Jason UNTI Winemaker, Jason Valenti[/caption]

Since this would be perhaps the most important hire ever for our winery, we ended up interviewing Jason at least 4 times. The final interview was a blind tasting of 20 or so wines from around the world, and previous Unti wines. While he wasn’t familiar with many of the wines, I could tell Jason was an excellent wine taster.  He was either a wine-tasting version of Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man or was a quick study from his history working at Paul Hobbs and ADAMVS.

While Jason was at ADAMVS he worked with Phillipe Melka, a well-known Napa Valley Winemaker.  When I asked Phillipe about Jason, he remarked that “he was a good wine taster, had attention to detail in the cellar, was knowledgeable about viticulture, is a good family guy, works well with everyone—solid guy.” Phillipe then said he had only one problem with Jason—he’s an Oakland A’s fan and Phillipe is an SF Giants fan. I almost dropped the phone. “Are you messing with me?” I replied. After a lengthy guffaw, I told him that we have a policy of warning our employees if they come to work wearing Giants pride-wear too often. By now most of you know we are die-hard A’s fans, for better or worse.  (see Newsletter #30 from 2009).

So when Jason accepted the position, I had to tell him that he could have cut the prolonged time of his hiring in half just by saying a little sump’n sump’n.

Jason began in February 2015, and from the get-go he has improved our wines through more diligent involvement in the vineyards, and attention to detail in the cellar.  Jason and I did all of the 2014 final blends. 2015 was his first full crush here, and all of our 2015 whites were outstanding including our 2015 Rosé.  Our 2015 Zinfandel ranks as one of, if not our best Zin.

Jason represents an exciting era here at Unti. On behalf of everyone here, it is a pleasure to work with him.



91% Zinfandel   6% Petite Sirah   3% Barbera   //  750 cases produced

"Drought years have been berry berry good to Zinfandels”  - Chico Escuela 

[caption id="attachment_4976" align="alignleft" width="160"]Chico Escuela Chico Escuela[/caption]

2015 was the third consecutive drought year, and it really shows in our compelling 2015 Zinfandel.

Our Primitivo clone Zinfandel planted in 1998, is one of our more balanced vineyard blocks. We really don’t have to do much to the vines (crop thinning or canopy management) to facilitate high quality. This was even more obvious in 2015—due to a very low fruit-set we harvested less than 3 pounds per vine without dropping any crop.

The best vintages anywhere in the world happen due to a naturally low fruit-set. It always seems better than when we reduce crop ourselves. Our 2015 Zinfandel is an excellent example of this phenomenon as the wine is 91% Zin; the highest amount in our history!

While drought years are good for making concentrated wines, they can also mean overripe wines. Drought years usually result in an early harvest and 2015 was no exception. An early September heat wave really put the pressure on us to harvest September 14th—earliest date for our Zin. 

Our 2015 Zin definitely has ripe fruit, but blending Petite Sirah and Barbera is our way of making sure this wine is still an Unti—meaning the wine possesses solid structure from tannin, and lift from acidity. We are not the biggest fans of one-dimensional players—in baseball or in Zinfandel.

$38/ bottle    $34.20/ bottle (1 case or more)   $30.40/ bottle (2 cases or more) 

Purchase it from our online store



100% Sangiovese   //  388 cases produced

Okay, I admit it. I love Sangiovese. When it is right it provides all I want in a wine. Dark color, intense fruit, complex flavors, fine tannins, and last but not least, good acidity. That, ladies and gentlemen, describes our 2014 Sangiovese.

Sangiovese is a labor of love around here. Through specific vineyard block selection and extensive crop-thinning, I think our Sangiovese is in a good place. Once again our west hillside section of our original benchland vineyard comprises the core of this wine.  It is simply the best batch of Sangiovese out of the 6 or 7 we make… by a long shot.

The other component in this wine comes from the south block of our Sangiovese planted on 420-A rootstock.  420-A is our favorite because it tends to mitigate vigor in varieties like Sangiovese, Grenache, and Montepulciano.

Both 2014 and 2015 produced lower-than-normal fruit set and featured warm summer weather, which helped our Sangiovese ripen past the vegetal aromas and flavors. The trick is to achieve physiological ripeness without losing too much acid, achieved consistently by our hillside site.

I’m proud to say we accomplished this in 2014, as the wine has purity of fruit with great texture and acidity. We age this wine in 30-40% new French oak barrels because it has the fruit and tannin to take the oak in stride. I would try to hold on to this wine for a few years; you will be rewarded if you do. It should be fine even after 10 years. Note: If you notice a little sediment, it is harmless. Part of the gig when you bottle wine unfiltered.

Our 2014 Sangiovese is an elite wine for Unti. Guess you could say it is the Kevin Durant of our line up.

                    $50/ bottle   $45/ bottle (1 case or more)   $40/ bottle (2 cases or more)     

1.5 L  MAGNUM $105

Purchase it from our online store



85% Sangiovese  15% Montepulciano  //  1102 cases produced

I’m fresh off a winemaker night at the Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant in San Francisco. The wine flight included our ’14 Sangiovese, ’14 Barbera and our ’14 Syrah; all wines that can easily steal the show.  Yet, the most surprising wine of the night was our 2014 Segromigno. It was the first wine glass drained out of the flight, which put a smile on my face.

Our original reason for making Segromigno was to keep the West Hillside separate for a “reserve” or Brunello-style bottling.  The other lots of our Sangiovese show bright fruit and good acidity, but can lack the depth of the West Hillside. Montepulciano provides plenty of color depth and tannin, which makes for a Chianti-style wine.

The drought conditions of 2014 make this version of Segromigno closer to what we would want to make every year; a wine with bright fruit, and fine tannins, making it drinkable now. It is the ultimate utility player in your wine fridge. The kind of wine that is always ready to come off the bench and give you quality minutes on the dinner table. 

If our ’14 Sangiovese is the KD of Unti wines, then this Segromigno is Andre Iguodala. Love Ig.

                             $28/ bottle    $25.20/ bottle (1 case or more)   $22.40/ bottle (2 cases or more)

Purchase it from our online store



81% Verdicchio  19% Picpoul //  145 cases produced

Tired of boring Chardonnays and Sauvignon Blancs? Why not try what Ian D’Agata (Native Wine Grapes of Italy author) calls one the noble whites of Italy, Verdicchio?

While our Verdicchio vineyard block is still a work in progress, the wine shows remarkable varietal character- floral aromas with classic almond and pear flavors. This Verdicchio is softer than what we will eventually make, due to a little lower acidity. We blended Picpoul to add acidity.

Fermented and aged in concrete, this wine shows why we love the fruity whites of the Mediterranean.  Just say no to oak-fermented and aged whites!


                            $22/ bottle    $19.80/ bottle (1 case or more)   $17.60 bottle (2 cases or more)

Purchase it from our online store

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