Local Nebbiolo Grapes go to Sonoma for Winemaking
Who Is That Lady In The Green Bottle?
We were first seduced by her in 2007 at the tiny picturesque village of Barbaresco on a rocky ridge above Alba, Italy in the Langhe Hills of the Piedmont Region. Dark and mysterious, she went by the name of Spanna, although we later found out that she has aliases. Her origin is unclear, in fact cloudy, and her success somewhat of a wonder
Where we live in Sonoma County, California this saucy little number is known as Nebbiolo—possibly from the Italian word “nebbia” for the fog of her habitat, or “nobile” for her alluring noble stature. She has lived in the shadows of the Alps of Northern Italy for years thriving in the rigorous environs there. In any event this nebulous, nefarious and yes, naughty, viticultural seductress represents one of the world’s finest wines. For my wife Sandy and me in Barbaresco it was love at first taste.
Sandy is Italian-American with cousins living in Piantedo north of Como, Italy. They bear the surnames Pedroncelli and Acquistapace which are familiar names in Sonoma County. Their ancestors came from Madesimo and Gerola Alta, small towns not far from where they now live.
When we decided to visit them this year we discovered they reside in one of the largest Nebbiolo growing zones in Italy—larger than those of Piedmont, where the grape is best known. The popular Piedmont Barolo and Barbaresco wines are made from Nebbiolo grapes, but named after towns in Piedmont.
Following a week-long wine cruise along the French Riviera, we drove north into Italy to Valtellina—a beautiful alpine valley crossed by the Adda River, near the north tip of Lake Como. This is Nebbiolo country—almost every vineyard is Nebbiolo. We toured Casa Vincola Nino Negri, a surname also familiar in Sonoma County. Located in the village of Chiuro, the winery is 6 miles west of Sondrio and is the largest wine producer in the Valtellina (www.ninonegri.net). We were warmly greeted by Fabiana Sondalini, the one-person office manager, who promptly closed her office and took us on a two-hour private tour of the winery.
Later at dinner our wine list revealed our seductress Nebbiolo had taken the local name of Chiavennasca, a white wine made from the red Nebbiolo grape. Of course I ordered it immediately, and was presented with a delicious, clear wine. What a versatile character, this vamp of a grape!
Our visits with family renewed our links with them, and our visit to Valtellina opened new vistas, including a deepened passion for the beloved Nebbiolo. In fact, we are making the wine at home this fall with grapes from Sumu Kaw Vineyard in El Dorado County, where Sheila and David Bush graciously consented to sell us a small allotment of their Nebbiolo harvest. Their vineyard is at 2900 feet elevation, slightly higher than that of the Valtellina, so their grapes are at home in some ways. For a comparison they recommend the 2010 Madrona Nebbiolo of El Dorado County, California (www.madronavineyards.com).
Here in Sonoma County we are fortunate to have a Nebbiolo grower and wine producer in Sebastopol. Castelli Winery is owned and operated by Emilio Castelli (www.castellivineyards.com), who produces fine wines. Being from Bellano on the east coast of Lake Como he farms and makes Nebbiolo wine in the traditional Italian style. You may want to try his wines and see for yourself why we love it so. It’s not really a mystery.