You won’t catch me in any big box or department stores on Black Friday; I’m usually hitting the trails. But for the past two years I have sought middle ground by supporting local and small businesses. Last year I attended the Surf City Vintners Art, Wine, & Gift Bazaar here in Santa Cruz, a fantastic event for finding quality gifts from local artisans and always the spot to discover the latest Santa Cruz brews and wines.
This year for Thanksgiving I was in the east bay visiting my best friend—while trying to appease my Italy withdrawals (I just got back) with Barolo and Valtellinese Nebbiolo. So the next day I went to find my friend, Ken Musso, winemaker and one of the proprietors of the winery, Due Vigne di Famiglia.
Their tasting room, along with a handful of others, is located in the Old Sugar Mill in Clarksburg, California, just south of Sacramento. The weekend after Thanksgiving the Old Suagr Mill puts on a holiday boutique, showcasing local artisans’ crafts so I went to check it out.
We originally met because Ken actually found me first via this blog and the article I posted about California Nebbiolo back in the summer of 2011. He grows Italian varieties in the Sierra Foothills. In 1995 he planted Nebbiolo, Barbera, and Dolcetto in El Dorado County and now also produces Sangiovese and Primitivo. Ever since 2011, we’ve been talking about the development and potential of Nebbiolo and other Italian varieties here in California. I first had the opportunity to try his wines at the semi-annual California Nebbiolo event in August of 2013.† Last winter I was able to make a quick visit to his tasting room but stopped in this past Friday for a more proper visit.
His production is so limited—with only about 100 cases (give or take) of each wine—that he has no problem selling out of each of his wines soon after release. At my visit on Friday, he had sold out of his current Dolcetto, Sangiovese, Primitivo, and Nebbiolo. But I was able to taste the Barbera La Collina and the Rosso. The latter is actually a blend based on Dolcetto. So I didn’t feel too cheated.
Due Vigne also produces a Russian River Sauvignon blanc, El Dorado County Chardonnay, Stags Leap District Merlot, and a couple of Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignons (as part of the partnership) and I did get a chance to try all of those. I must add that they all impressed me but they are not the subject of this blog so I won’t go into them. But you should try them if you get the chance—and if I didn’t mean that, I wouldn’t have even mentioned it.
The Due Vigne Rosso from El Dorado County is a blend of about 75% Dolcetto from 2011 plus a tiny bit from 2012, along with Sangiovese and a dash of Petite Sirah. Since Dolcetto can be finicky and 2011 was a remarkably cool and difficult year in some parts of California, Ken did what he could to produce a quality wine. And he succeeded. The Rosso is completely agreeable and pleasant with well-ripened red and black fruits and a good structure with notable tannins and spice. If California produced more wines like this at this price point ($16), we would all be in better shape! ★☆
Ken’s Barbera La Collina 2012 from El Dorado County is more serious with a focused expression of black and red cherries and good structure. The vines grow on a south-facing slope in granitic soil. They retain acidity because they see mostly cool nights during the growing season given their altitude of 2,400 ft. The passage in neutral French barrels allows the Barbera to express its inherent character without being dominated by oak. ★★
Even though he is technically sold out of the Nebbiolo, he opened a bottle of the 2011 for me. Actually Jeremy, the tasting room manager opened it. And we all enjoyed it together. Then Ken proceeded to bombard me with barrel samples … a bombardment that I am always happy to receive!
Nebbiolo Cinnamon Hill Vineyard 2011. The color is a ruby-magenta. The wine starts off—seconds after the cork had been popped—with dark fruit and black cherry, vanilla, cinnamon, and lots of dusty minerals. After a couple of hours those have evolved to smoky aromas. The 2011 is in a great spot and the wine continues to evolve in the glass. On the palate there is great body and length. The finish is playful and spicy. ★★
Note: I am not going to rate the barrel samples yet but I imagine they will all rank close to where I put the 2011.
Nebbiolo 2012. Ruby red color. An even year climatically. Red licorice leads the aromas. Big and spicy, opening, evolving, offering rustic tannins. After a couple of hours in the glass, the aromas become less sweet.
With the 2013 harvest Ken changed his canopy management and yeast selection. With the 2013 vintage, the Nebbiolo grapes are now a bit more shaded during the height of the summer sun. We hypothesized that the turn to a deeper color could be because the grapes are receiving less heat. (In general, the cooler years produce more color in Nebbiolo.) He also traded his Barolo 97 yeast for a Burgundy yeast. The Burgundy yeast makes the fermentation go longer at lower temperatures. It’s possible that that new yeast promotes a darker, more brooding aroma set, or the longer maceration could have something to do with it. The 2013 and 2014 wines do display these differences to a certain extent, compared to the 2011 and 2012.
Nebbiolo 2013. Magenta in color, with more purple hues than the previous two (although it is also younger, of course). A warmer year with heat spikes. Purple fruit dominates the nose. Lush and soft tannins.
Nebbiolo 2014. Also magenta in color. An extremely dry year. Bud break as well as harvest were early by two weeks. The summer was actually moderate. Bold and chocolatey in the aroma profile. Black fruit and hefty tannins. It reminds me of something from Rocche dell’Annunziata, a vineyard producing masculine wines from the La Morra zone of Barolo. Still undergoing ML.
Ken brought me a couple more barrel samples. The 2013 Primitivo is pleasant: dusty, rosy, and full of plum. And my blind barrel sample, I nailed: Dolcetto! Turns out it was the 2013 Dolcetto and I think it will be a fine year for sure. It will be released in January or February of 2015.
Last year I somehow ended up with a 2009 Dolcetto and it was a stellar representation of the grape in California! (And believe me, I have had a ton of Dolcetto from all over Piemonte and California.) The other vintages are completely sold out, except for what is in the Rosso. So go get the 2013 when it comes out in a couple of months!
If you go to visit Due Famiglia and the Old Sugar Mill (and you should!), you are going to get hungry. The perfect solution is Historic Husick’s Country Store. The staff are super nice and it’s less than half a mile from the Old Sugar Mill.
– – –
† The next California Nebbiolo gathering is set to happen in February of 2015 in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Leave a comment or email me (enoteca.marcella at gmail dot com) for more information.