I braced for the answer, ready to take in every detail of what would surely be a long, complicated and involved oration.
‘A line with direction and magnitude,’ my son answered simply and without hesitation. I think I’d like vectors. They sound strong and decisive.
I couldn’t decide which wine region to visit this past week-end. I love visiting Napa and Sonoma, but hesitated at the thought of the three hour drive. As I studied the map, Grass Valley caught my eye. It isn’t its own AVA, but part of the Sierra Foothills AVA. There are about a dozen wineries there, and it is just a short hour and a half drive from home. Because of the warm climate, I expected Grass Valley to be like other Sierra Foothill regions, big on Rhone varieties and Zinfandel.
Chicago Park is an unincorporated section of Grass Valley in northern California. It was settled by four Italian families who after immigrating to Chicago, decided they wanted to live in a rural area to get back to their agrarian roots. They came to California for the warmer climate. They settled in Chicago Park because it reminded them of their place of origin, Italy.
Mark Henry, owner and winemaker of Montoliva Vineyard & Winery settled in Chicago Park for a similar reason. When he came to the Sierra Foothills in search of a site for his winery back in 2000, he was looking for three things. He wanted bad soil, as in ‘What soil? We plant on rock…the rock is granite.’ He wanted good climate, warm days, cool nights. And he wanted culture, a story behind the region. He found all three in Chicago Park. He also found rolling green hills similar to the hills of Italy.
Both the Italian heritage of the region as well as the Tuscan scenery are the inspiration for his Italian grape variety wines. His vineyards are organic. The rows of grapes are planted close together, just as they are in Italy, so that the vines have to compete for nutrients, producing more intense, flavorful grapes. Montoliva makes some blended wines. But if there is a variety named on the label, then the wine is 100% that variety, not 75% which is allowed by law. Much like a European wine maker, Mark Henry feels passionately that the grape and terroir alone should speak for the wine. He wants a bottle of Sangiovese to taste like a bottle of Sangiovese. The 2008 has great acidity and medium body with flavors of cherry, sweet herb and a little smoke. When I noted the slight smoke aroma, Kristin who was pouring told me that there had been a fire in the area in 2008. It is possible to remove smoke aroma from grapes, but Mark considers the fire part of the terroir, so the slight smokiness became part of the wine.
The 2013 Pinot Grigio has a nice crispness to it with aromas of white flower, pear and mineral. The Folio is a blend made with Pinot Grigio and unfermented Muscato. It tastes like a sweet juicy apple. Sei Ore Rosé 2013 is a blend of Sangiovese and Barbera. It is earthy and dry with aromas of rhubarb and strawberry.
The 2011 Nebbiolo is a new release. It is meaty with a medium plus acidity and tar and roses on the nose. The 2010 Aglianico has a slight coffee aroma with cherry and cranberry notes. Sierra Bella 2011 is a blend of Teraldego, Nebbiolo and Barbera. It tastes of tart cherries and rose water. The 2011 Barbera has soft fruit aromas, tangy acidity and medium tannins. The 2010 Late Harvest Barbera is rich with sweet bing cherry aromas, raisins and a whisper of lemon.
All the wines we tasted at Montoliva are intense. In that way they reflect not just the terroir, but also, the winemaker. Mark Henry took the time to show us his vineyards and spoke with us extensively about his winery. During the course of his talk it became clear that he doesn’t just take pride in his wines; he loves them. He is very focused on and very intense about both the vineyards and the wines. One might even say he produces wines like a vector; with direction and magnitude.