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November 2016

News Highlights

 Harvest Update: Exceptional quality and measured pacing.
 First Montemaggiore Magnum: 2013 Reserve in a large format bottle.
 Introducing Delizia: our first estate-grown, late harvest Viognier.
 Seasonal Recipe: Pear and Almond tart pairs with Delizia.
 From Vincent: Grape growing lessons from the baseball greats.

Italians say ”While there's life there's hope.” In the season for hope and blessings, we have a lot to be thankful here at Montemaggiore: a caring family, supportive friends—and the Chicago Cubs winning the World Series!

Those who’ve met Vincent undoubtedly know that he’s a die-hard Cubs fan, even before his older brother took him to his first baseball game at Wrigley Field at the tender age of nine. He lost his voice at many games as a Little Leaguer, and cut classes in both high school and college to sit in the bleachers on sunny days.  Vincent still goes back at least once a year for a game at Wrigley because the “lovable losers” have never left his heart. At the beginning of every season his hopes start out high but undoubtedly by October his heart has been broken. In 2016, however, the Chicago Cubs’ 108 year World Series drought ended—and Vincent has been humming “Go Cubs Go” ever since.

To celebrate the Cubs’ victory along with the conclusion of a wonderful grape harvest here at Montemaggiore, we want to introduce two new wines. Given that Montemaggiore is a mom-and-pop operation focused on estate wines, we don’t often have the bandwidth or the “ingredients” to create completely new products, but we can offer our first large-format bottle and our first late harvest wine. Read further for all our news, and if you are interested on how baseball shaped Vincent’s grape growing career, don’t miss his final note.

Another great Harvest in 2016

With last year’s 35% deficit still shadowing our memory, we are happy to report that this year’s vineyard yields were spot-on normal—but even more exciting is that the fruit was of exceptional quality! The entire growing season was slightly cooler than average, perfect for deeply colored, complex wines. Towards the end, ripening and harvest proceeded at a fairly measured pace, which made tasks and tanks easy for Lise to schedule in the winery. She had a fabulous harvest assistant this year in Max, his third harvest with us.

Our harvest kicked off on September 24 with Vincent and a five-man crew picking the uppermost Hilltop Syrah block. The timing of this first harvest being the last week in September is a little early but not unusual for us. Then we picked on an additional five days over the next 2+ weeks. The fruit was perfectly ripe, in good shape, with exceptional flavors—and the wines are now in barrel. The fermentations were healthy, and Lise extended the macerations (leaving the wines on their skins for a longer time before pressing) in order to smooth and fill out the mouthfeel. Time will tell, but we are hoping for some of our most balanced and silky wines, with good depth and intensity.

An extra-special wine: 2013 Reserve Magnum

Ever since we started Montemaggiore fifteen years ago, many of you have asked for large-format bottles for special occasions (dinner parties, anniversaries, gifts, etc). A large format bottle, whether a magnum (1.5 Liters or 2-bottle equivalents) or a Nebuchadnezzar (15 Liters or 20 bottles), does make quite a dramatic presentation at the dinner table! And wine in large format bottles ages more slowly thus lasts longer, often developing more complexity and nuances than wines in smaller bottles ever will.

We are delighted to present our first large-format bottle, the 2013 Reserve Magnum. The 2013 Reserve is only the third Reserve wine we’ve made in fifteen years—you may have tasted our 2004 or 2007. The 2013 Reserve is a blend of 94% Syrah and 6% Cabernet Sauvignon. Montemaggiore Reserves are truly special wines, coming from a great vintage yielding exceptional fruit, special barrels selected for their intensity and depth of flavor, blended together into an extraordinary wine.

In a magnum bottle with a wax-dipped top, the 2013 Reserve is even more special! “[A magnum] is widely regarded as being the ideal size for bottle ageing fine wine, being large enough to slow the ageing process, but not so big as to be unwieldy or unthinkably expensive.” says Jancis Robinson. Wine in magnum format ages more slowly than in the standard 750ml bottle because relatively speaking, large format bottles have a smaller amount of air or ullage between the cork and the wine. The oxygen in the ullage interacts with the wine, causing a chain of chemical reactions over time, developing flavor and aromatic nuances.  Thus the amount of ullage in a bottle dictates the pace of maturity, a 375ml half-bottle aging much faster than a 1.5L magnum. 

Only 60 magnum bottles of 2013 Montemaggiore Reserve were produced, so don’t hesitate if acquiring one is on your wish list. 

2013 Reserve Magnum, 1.5L     $120     Add to Cart
2013 Reserve Magnum in custom Wood Box     $150     Add to Cart
2013 Reserve, 750ml     $48     Add to Cart

Introducing Delizia, a Late Harvest Viognier

As wine consumers, we can never be bored because there are always new vineyards, varietals, and vintages to explore. And as wine makers, Vincent and Lise are always energized by new experiments even given that our estate vineyards and varietals don’t vary. In 2015, we experimented with leaving our viognier on the vine almost a month later than usual in order to make a sweet wine. Because it turned out to be quite delicious thus we named it Delizia (which translates as delight from Italian).

The 2015 Delizia is our first estate-grown late harvest Viognier, a lightly sweet and highly aromatic wine which pairs well with cheese or foie gras—or can be served as an aperitif before dinner.  And while many sweet wines are intended to be enjoyed instead of dessert, Delezia pairs quite well with not-too-sweet desserts including fruits (apricots, figs), cheesecake, crème brûlée (Lise's favorite), and pear tart.

The grapes for this wine were harvested over three weeks later than normal, to accumulate extra flavor and sugar. Harvested at 32 Brix (about 32% sugar), the grapes were pressed and the juice fermented in stainless steel. After fermentation, the wine was 13.7% alcohol with 9% sugar (with 8.5 g/L acidity for those who keep track). As late harvest wines go, Delizia is somewhat sweet but not super-sweet and definitely not cloying. The aroma of peaches, orange zest, and honey is what makes this wine so tantalizing, delicious, and memorable.

2015 Delizia, 375ml     $30     Add to Cart


Seasonal Recipe: Pear and Almond Tart

We usually don’t promote wine pairings with dessert here (although we both have a sweet tooth). But given the inaugural release of Delezia, we’ll make an exception. This Pear and Almond Tart Recipe is not only a family favorite, but a classic dessert throughout northern Italy and France. It’s the perfect autumnal dessert with seasonal fruit, a buttery crust, and lightly sweet almond filling. The aromatics and sweetness of Delizia marry well with the nuanced flavors of the tart. This pairing was a big hit at our most recent Italian Cooking Class focusing on the cuisine of Tuscany!

Baseball taught me everything I know... 

Raising a teenaged son, I realize that America’s favorite pastime has a lot of competition these days from football to video games to music. But when I was growing up outside Chicago in the 60s and 70s, baseball and the Cubs were my entire life. I threw a baseball against a neighbor’s wall incessantly, played pickup games in the corner empty lot all summer, memorized the statistics on all my baseball cards, and idolized players from Ernie Banks (Mr. Cub) to Yogi Berra (I was a catcher). But to relax in the bleachers at Wrigley Field on a sunny day, with the verdant ivy in the background, the old-fashioned scoreboard, watching my idols play my favorite game...there are no words.

In addition to keeping me “off the streets," baseball taught me a lot about life. Others much more eloquent than I have put that baseball essence into words. To this day, their wisdom follows me through the vineyards, tending the grapes on our mountainside in Sonoma County. It’s a long way from Wrigley Field... or is it?

“It ain’t over until it’s over.” Yogi Berra

There are so many great Yogi-isms, but this one completely captures the life of a winegrower. I may revel in a nice wet winter, a spring with even temperatures, and a relatively cool summer—but it’s not over until the grapes are in. If it rains at harvest, all could be for naught. Also for the winemaker, the grapes might come in clean and tasty, but something could go wrong in the fermentation, a spoilage yeast could take over in barrel—so until Lise puts the wine in bottle, it ain’t over.

Yogi's advice perhaps applies best to adverse situations. I thought I had a disaster on myhands: a tractor stuck on a muddy slope with a flat tire and a ton of freshly picked grapes in tow—but just one day prior, I purchased a spare tire (true story).  So it’s usually not quite over! And in the grand scheme of life, my winegrowing career is not judged by a single vintage—so I always have an opportunity to write another chapter and make the story end well.

“Work? I never worked a day in my life. I always loved what I was doing, had a passion for it.” Ernie Banks

Living amongst the vineyards, growing grapes for wine that people enjoy all across America, I have a pretty good life. I’ve always felt an affinity for the soil and growing things, despite being raised in an urban environment. Perhaps this comes from my father or is somehow in my Sicilian DNA. Neither my first career in technology nor my second in the wine business, has felt like “work.” Of course, there are days... I believe in only doing what you are passionate about, because life is just too precious and too short!

“When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” Yogi Berra

I’ve always been very confident in my instincts (almost as confident as Lise is in her logic), but when it comes to grape growing, following your instinct is invaluable. I believe in facing a difficult decision, following your gut, and making it work—don’t second guess yourself. When Lise and I first got married, we were at a crossroads in our life and I convinced her we should start our own wine business (despite our limited experience). We dove right in and never regretted it.

After we bought our vineyard, which was conventionally farmed using chemical herbicides and fertilizers, we knew we wanted to be organic instead. But should we go the extra step to biodynamics? Many more experienced winegrowers scoffed at the idea—but to this day, I believe the decision to take that extra step is the source of the vitality, uniqueness, and distinctiveness in our wines. Life constantly thrusts tough decisions on your lap: embrace them, trust your instincts, and don’t look back.

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Final Note to Wine Club members: You should receive an email regarding our Fall Club Selection in the next few weeks, and we hope local members will be able to join us on October 22nd for Vendemmia.  Based on your voting, paella will be the main dish at our harvest party and we're looking forward to seeing you soon!

Maintain your hope for the future, and have a great Thanksgiving!  And how about them Cubs?  Go Cubs go, go Cubs go, hey Chicago whaddaya say, Cubs are gonna win today...