A Short History of Rosa d’Oro Vineyards
Taste the Best of ‘Cal-Itals’
They have been listed as ‘Up and Coming’.
Their wines are winning awards in Canada.
And they’re now a supplier with Noteworthy Wines.
Lisa and I went to Lake County in California recently to visit Nick & Pietro Buttitta of Rosa d’Oro Vineyards, one of our newest suppliers. d’Oro offers an exceptionally unique opportunity to try something new with classic, Old World Italian grapes.
The Buttittas celebrate their Italian heritage and have chosen to focus on planting grapes that are a little closer to their hearts: Barbera, Montepulciano, Primitivo, Nebbiolo, Sangiovese, Refosco and so on. As an FYI, the first 4 are available for sale through Noteworthy Wines.
How It All Started
We asked Nick and Pietro about the history of their plantings. The first grapes to go in were Primitivo and Barbera, planted 15 years ago. Once these took hold, Nick wanted to try Nebbiolo, but Robert Mondavi – California’s master of commercial wine – claimed that it was almost impossible to successfully manage. He chose Dolcetto and Aglianico instead, both proving to be a good choice for them.
A few years later, Nick’s son and winemaker Pietro attended a tasting of Italian wines and they were inspired by the wines that they tried, and were again motivated to try Nebbiolo in their vineyards. They also decided to add Refosco to their selection of Italian varietals.
Fellow wine geeks may be interested to know that the Refosco wine grapes originated from Nova Grapevine Nursery. The owner – Milton Heath – reminded them that the To Kalon vineyard planted in 1888 originally contained about 50% Refosco vines. As an FYI, To Kalon is one of the larger vineyards of Robert Mondavi and is located in Napa. The Nebbiolo has recently attracted the attention of several reviewers, including a Gold Medal from Sunset Magazine.
For Pietro, growing several different varietals is not easy, but they make do with what they have and able to pull off consistent yields and wine from their Nebbiolo, Primitivo and Barbera, which are the main products that we’ll be carrying in the short term. We will also have some of the Aglianico, Montepulciano and small amounts of the Sangiovese for those who are committed to trying new things.
The Grapes: Italian Wines From California
As we’ve already mentioned, the focus of Rosa d’Oro is on reigniting and creating interest in California-grown Italian varietals. Many wine enthusiasts might wander over to the Italian section of their local wine store when they’re looking for Nebbiolos or Barberas, especially when the price starts to creep towards the $30 mark. Store owners, restaurant owners or product consultants that look for the easy sell don’t help, especially when many consumers haven’t heard of these varietals before.
However, there’s nothing like the California sun to help create a unique and tasty result for any of these varietals.
A new market referred to as the ‘Cal-Itals’ – California Italians – has been growing rapidly over the last few years as enthusiasts and collectors look to expand their cellar collection beyond the Cabs and Chards. For those who are interested, there’s a full listing here of Cal-Ital growers and production: http://www.cal-italia.org/wine.html.
All it takes is a few moments browsing this site to realize that Italian varietals never ‘left the scene’ in California.
The Central Valley had Nebbiolo turn of the century, Sangiovese was everywhere and, as I already mentioned, the To-Kalon vineyard in Napa was 50% Refosco. There were literally several hundred grape varieties being grown in California in 1900, and no Merlot or Chardonnay.
However, Prohibition and World War II introduced Americans to French wine and grapes like Cab Sauv, Merlot and Chardonnay became de rigeur. Mondavi popularized Sauvignon Blanc by pushing a ‘less French’ Fumé Blanc and the 1976 Judgement of Paris cemented the production of French varietals in California. Over a short period, the Italian grapes got overwhelmed by French volumes which ultimately helped put California on the map and drive it to the world’s fourth largest wine producer.
Wine enthusiasts would suggest that the drive to compete on a world stage with French varietals has resulted in California wines being extremely different from their traditional counterparts: over-oaked Chardonnay, McWine-style Cabs that are flavoured with chocolate or vanilla and super sweet Pinot Noirs or Muscats.
But back to the Cal-Itals. Pietro Buttitta feels that ‘Italian grapes are held to a totally different standard then French. Nobody tastes a $20 Cabernet and complains that it isn’t a 5th growth Bordeaux, but they do exactly that to the Sangiovese (not a Brunello), Nebbiolo (not a Barolo), Barbera (this isn’t Vietti) and Aglianico (this isn’t Taurasi)
Producers all agree the market is growing. Millennials are looking for what is new and the horrible Cal-Itals of the ’90s are forgotten. The Barbera Festival sells out all 1400 tickets in 5 days. Jon Bonné’s recent book ‘The New California Wine’ helps the consumer understand that California producers are producing an incredible array of grapes, including unique French wines, Italians and even Spanish grapes.
Ultimately, it comes down to education, sampling and distribution. Consumers need to look beyond the basic French varietals and sample new and different wines. They will be pleasantly surprised, especially when they try the Rosa d’Oro Italian varietals like Barbera and Primitivo.
In Ontario, the volume of Rosa d’Oro isn’t big enough for LCBO distribution, so we invite you to book us for a tasting or encourage your favourite restaurant to stock these products. This will help ensure that they Buttittas are able to develop a sustainable business while ensuring quality wines for all of us.
As production volumes and distribution improves, we will see better prices, but for now, we’re doing our best to moderate the impact with 6-bottle sample packs at $28 per bottle.
Most of Rosa d’Oro’s wines earn scores in the 88-91 range and an array of Gold and Silver Medals from a number of local events. Past vintages of the Barbera and Primtivo have had double-gold medals at competitions and the 2011 Aglianico has a double-gold as well.
Wine Enthusiast just released several glowing reviews about the Rosa d’Oro wines:
|91||Editors’ Choice||2012||Barbera||Clear Lake|
|90||2011||Trigrammaton – Bordeaux-style Red Blend||California|
Other Reviews from Wine Spectator:
Rosa d’Oro 2011 Primitivo
Wine Spectator: This Zinfandel shows an appealing touch of Italian earthiness, offering notes of cherry, smoky herb and spiced caramel. Drink now through 2017. –TF
Rosa d’Oro 2012 Nebbiolo
Bright in cherry and cranberry, this classically styled Nebbiolo is light red in color and buoyant in acidity. A sanguine back layer brings the earthier elements of the wine to life. With not much Nebbiolo to try in California, this one is worth a taste to savor the possibilities. — V.B.
Rosa d’Oro 2012 Montepulciano
Dark, rustic and plummy with layers of earthy meat and licorice, this medium-bodied wine is sourced from Tracy Hills and Lake County. Smoothly textured it’s ready to go with cured meats and cheese. — V.B.
Rosa d’Oro 2009 Barbera
A deep, dark, robust Lake County Barbera, tame by Barbera standards, with softened tannins but lots of black licorice, fruit—rustic plum, mostly—and a hint of baked bread. Worth a try with meaty pasta dishes. — V.B.
More details about reviews of their wines can be found here http://www.rosadorovineyards.com/#!trade/c1fxt.
We invite you to order your selection of Rosa d’Oro wines today. Call 519-914-1204 or email bill AT noteworthywines DOT ca.
Bill & Lisa Wittur
London Ontario Wine Agency