Viola adds some Wine Finds this week, featuring 3 of our dear industry friends
Wine Finds, Vol I – Week of April 6
WELCOME TO OUR WINE FINDS OFFER3 SELECTIONS FROM PERSONAL INDUSTRY FRIENDS
Dear Wine lovers,
I’m excited to bring you some more options for ordering wine this week and to branch out beyond the Viola creations and introduce you to a few special people to me that also happen to make kick-ass bottles of vino. I hope you will partake in the fun and order some wine so we can help support these small businesses as well as their local distributor. It probably doesn’t need repeating, but the closure of all the restaurants and many wine shops is having a significant impact on all of us who are small producers, so any support you can give is greatly appreciated. And you’ll get some fantastic wine to drink in exchange. Win-Win!
Let’s kick things off with some pink wine. The season is here, the sun is starting to come out and it’s time for some 2019 freshy fresh offerings. I decided to start off with possibly literally my oldest acquaintance in the wine industry, and it’s not your typical story.
ANDREW TOW of The Withers Winery
photo credit: @witherswinery Instagram page
The Withers is a small label made in a facility in Santa Rosa sourcing Sonoma and El Dorado county fruit for Rhone-inspired creations. But the proprietor and mastermind behind this project is Andrew Tow, who lives in Pound Ridge, New York. Pound Ridge just happens to be where I grew up as a little kid, living there from age 5-11. Then my family moved out to Bald Peak in the Chehalem Mountain zone and I integrated into life as a country kid on the outskirts of then rural Hillsboro. When I was 14, my parents told me that the son of some of their friends from NY was going to come stay with us for a few weeks before starting college at Reed. That kid was Andrew Tow, and since I was a teenager who didn’t have an older brother, I was pretty excited to follow him around Portland, check out Reed’s campus and see what life had in store once I got through high school.
Flash forward about 40 years and I hear from my sister that Andrew has started working in the wine business and created a label that a friend of his was making for him in Sonoma. So I reached out and reconnected and we had a fun phone conversation catching up on decades, families, life and the draw of the wine industry. We promised to exchange some bottles and each shipped a half case of new releases to each other across the country. I was particularly impressed at that time by his rosé and his Grenache, but the wines were tiny production, like ours, and not available in Oregon. That was in 2015 when I had stopped retailing other wines and focused solely on Viola so I never had an excuse to sell his wines. Shortly after that phone call, his wines were featured prominently by the Wall Street Journal with Lettie Teague giving him a glowing review and his wine star took off like a meteor. A couple years later, Andrew came to Portland and we met for drinks at Les Caves and caught up in person. He was launching his wines in Oregon with a new supplier and wanted the lay of the land. I was happy to provide him with insights and get better acquainted after so many years. His rosé had turned into the flagship bottling, featuring a Provençal style blend of Grenache, Mourvedre and Counoise and was driving his need to have national distribution.
To keep this long story short, I learned last week when I reached out to a few distributor friends to find out what wines were available and specifically what 2019 pink offerings had landed, that Andrew’s wines were now represented by our friends at Estelle Imports. That made the decision easy to snag a bottle to sample and include in this week’s feature of old friends.
2019 THE WITHERS Rosé. $24/bottle
The new vintage is as bright and fresh as I had remembered, singing with notes of strawberry and a hint of lime citron on the finish. Think Bandol without the weight or Miraval before Branjolina rebranded it. Quite quaffable, we couldn’t help but finish the bottle we opened over dinner. Try it with the spring produce showing up in the grocery aisle, serve it with your favorite pizza or just pop a bottle in the middle of the day on Wednesday because, well, you’re home anyway and who is going to stop you!
RENATO VACCA of Cantina del Pino
This is a more difficult story to tell. Renato Vacca was probably my closest Italian friend and we were lucky we both ended up with careers in the food & wine industry, which gave us a reason to keep in touch regularly. I first met Renato in 1994 when I was staying at Produttori del Barbaresco and educating myself on all things Italian. Renato was working in the cellar then, and mostly I remember him hosing out tanks all day while I helped English speaking tourists in the tasting room and loaded their cars up with cases of Barbaresco. At night, Renato, his cousin Aldo Vacca, myself and other young Piemonte winemakers would go out on the town, dining and drinking until late into the night. As the others were already leading their own wineries, Renato and I were the two ‘industry’ workers and so we forged a special bond. In 1995, he came to Portland to learn English (he literally could say about 3 words before then – which will come as a shock to most of you who have met him and know he spoke fluently and eloquently). While visiting, he crashed on our sofa in NE the same weekend we found the vacant space that would become our Italian restaurant in Sellwood, Assaggio. After working in the cellar for a few years, Renato convinced his father Adriano to withdraw their membership in the Produttori cooperative and keep the grapes so he could make wines under his own label. And so Cantina del Pino was born and I believe the first vintage of Barbaresco was the 1995, released in 1998.
Over the decade that we owned our restaurant, we had the chance to host Renato multiple times for wine dinners featuring his creations. Then as I moved into retail with cork, we again would feature his wines regularly. In 2011 when I took a group of customers to Piemonte on a tour, the visit to Cantina del Pino was a highlight. In recent years, we have grabbed coffee when he was in Portland or we were both in Seattle doing market trips, and of course we connected several times on trips Sarah and I took to Piemonte. We had the chance to meet his wife-to-be Franca a few years ago and host them at our house for a lovely dinner. We frequently talked of all getting together for vacations and such, but the life of a winemaker and vineyard owner never stops, and those plans were always put off for the next year.
It’s with great sadness that I have to reveal Renato passed away about a month ago after a year-long battle with cancer. We only learned about his illness recently, and while hastily trying to figure out a time to visit him in Italy, the coronavirus broke out and the world changed forever. Renato was 51. He is survived by his wife and their 2-year-old daughter Anna.
Today as we watch death mount worldwide, it’s a struggle to find bright spots. But Renato and his aura always lifted me up and so opening his wines now is giving me extra comfort in this trying time.
It means a lot to me to share this Barbera bottling with all of you. It’s one of his newer creations from a vineyard they started farming in Asti several years back. For those of you who have collected his Barbaresco over the years and would like to make additions to your cellar with the stunning 2015 vintage, please reach out to me by email and we will secure some for you as supplies are limited at this time.
2016 CANTINA DEL PINO Barbera d’Asti Superiore $24 Barbera is always a pleasurable red to drink with everything from pizza to pasta, whether cream sauce or red sauce is your preference. It holds up nicely to fatty dishes due to its naturally high acidity and it can age when vinified in oak barrels as this wine was. Superiore is the designation given only to Barbera aged an additional year in wood before release and where the grapes reach a higher level of ripeness before picking. Meaning the quality is ‘superior’ to grapes selected for the everyday table wines. Still, this is an affordable example of one of the best Barbera bottlings I’ve had in years. Plush with boysenberry fruit and subtle notes of vanilla and tobacco, it’s quite supple on the finish. Enjoy now through 2030 – so feel free to stock some away in the cellar!
Will Bucklin of BUCKLIN and OLD HILL RANCH
photo credits: @willbuckzin Instagram page and @UtahStories
The next character in this story of personal friends I’ve made in the wine business over the years is a humble and quiet guy who just happens to own one of the oldest living vineyards in America. Will Bucklin had just returned to his family’s Old Hill Ranch estate in Sonoma in 2001 when I met him for the first time. He had recently surrendered his position as head winemaker at King Estate in Eugene and returned home with a desire to have a smaller, more personal experience in the wine world. He had convinced his family to allow him to use some of the Old Hill fruit to start his own label and also was able to convince Joel Peterson of Ravenswood, who at the time bought 100% of the vineyard’s fruit for one of their top single-vineyard Zinfandel bottles.I was working in Sonoma for my first harvest, 9/11 had just taken place and I was feeling a bit isolated and lonely. I reached out to a mutual industry friend who insisted I get together with Will, since he lived in Glen Ellen and I was working there and living nearby in Kenwood at the time. We hit it off quickly as 2 wine and food nerds and over the years when I would return to visit in Sonoma, we shared many wonderful meals together and his wines are a staple in our personal cellar, making frequently appearances on cold winter nights and at the height of summer barbecue season.
Old Hill was planted as a field blend in the late 1800’s. Will, being a student of wine and viticulture, plotted every single vine in that historic vineyard, created a pixel chart showing each varietal, and then laid down the same vine DNA over a newly cleared plot of land at the Ranch and planted an identical ‘mixed black’ varietals of what would become the ‘young vine’ bottling. He also added a bit more Zinfandel to his estate, and today he uses that for the bulk of the Bambino blend.
2016 BUCKLIN Bambino from Old Hill Ranch $27
Planted back just before we met, the Bambino vines are now offering a mature dose of hearty red fruits, spice, white pepper and that garrigue we often associate with Rhone blends, but is equally prevalent in the hills and valleys of Sonoma – namely notes of rosemary, sage, tarragon, thyme and the like.
The grapes for this bottling are about 75% Zinfandel with Petite Sirah and Alicante Bouschet making up the balance. Hearty, spicy and plush, this will calm your nerves if you’re watching the evening news and hold up perfectly to smoked ribs, steak, burgers or your meatiest vegetarian creations.
GRAB AN ASSORTMENT!
OLD FRIENDS 6-Pack $120 OLD FRIENDS + VIOLA Mixed Case $230
If you want a sample pack, you can choose our Old Friends 6-Pack for a mix of 2 bottles of each of the above wines at 20% savings. Or if you want to throw some white wine in the mix, choose the Old Friends Mixed Case which includes the Viola Pinot Bianco and also enjoys a 20% discount. Order NOW on the website at violawines.com.
ADDITIONAL ONLINE ORDERING AND DELIVERY NOTES:
Bottles, mixed-packs and full cases of our wines can be ordered. Note that discounts are already built into mixed 6-packs and cases. We plan to deliver all Portland orders received by Tuesday night starting on Thursday. We will notify of your delivery date and an ETA on arrival.
When ordering, once you’re done filling your cart, hit the ‘Change‘ button next to ‘Order will be shipped’ and change it to Delivery before hitting the Checkout button in order to enter your Delivery information. Then just add your payment info and any specific notes to us. Delivery to the Portland area is FREE with a purchase of $50 or more. Again, orders received by end of day on Tuesday will be delivered THIS WEEK.
Anyone not in our delivery zone, you can have the wine shipped to you. We are using Fedex ground for all shipments for as long as possible while the mild weather continues. Select the shipping option at checkout and choose the right Fedex cost for your home state and the number of bottles you want shipped. Feel free to email us if you have questions.
Thanks for reading along and I hope we can get some of these wines in your hands to enjoy.
All the best,
P.S. Yes, our 3 current releases are still available and on the website for your ordering pleasure!