Chronicles of Violante Gardini (Cinelli Colombini Jr) – our introduction into the world of wine
A week of visits to the wineries of Sonoma and Napa valley for the students of the Master OIV – the International Organisation for Vineyards and Wine.
We visited various wineries which were situated in the areas of Lodi, Sonoma and Napa, interestingly all of them differed from each other quite considerably. Some of the wineries had huge vats, one of which had a filter which was as big as our entire wine cellar. Interestingly the wine which they produced, in my opinion, was not very good. Other wineries were much smaller, and of these, in my opinion, the most interesting and distinctive ones were those created by Robert Mondavi. He is one of the most successful Californian wine producers in the world. It is a pity that in the end, after having financed the creation of the Department of wine in Davis University, and after having built impressive cellars such as Opus One, Mondavi has had to sell everything to one of the large multinational wine companies, Constellation.
In a visit to the Opus One we were accompanied by experienced winemaker Michael Silacci, an individual who has worked in this wine cellar for more than10 years. He is a person who has a great passion for his wine which he enthusiastically shared with all of his audience. He told us how the concept of this project came about and explained the collaboration between Robert Mondavi and Philippe de Rothschild who wanted to create something unique together, almost like the composers of old must have felt about composing the ‘First Opera’. They considered everything, the architecture, the vineyards, the technology – I was also very impressed by the fact that Mr.Silacci is very careful to listen to the advice and tips given to him by his workers and assistants, a very surprising and pleasing method of management practise to find, especially in a cellar as well known as Opus One.
Violante in Opus One vineyards
Harvesting by night. In this part of America it is really cold at night, it is only after 11am in the morning that the sun rises sufficiently to let the heat from the sun to begin to warm us all.
Silacci told us that during one of the first years that he worked in this area he decided to implement one of the ideas which had come to him during a particularly restless and sleepless night . A few days before the beginning of the harvest he gathered together all of his pickers and gave them the following instructions “I’ll see you tomorrow at 2” , everyone thought at first that he was referring to 2 pm in the afternoon so then had to explain that instead of 2 o’clock in the afternoon he meant 2am in the middle of the night. In the first few hours of the harvest he went to check that the pickers were all ok but he felt so cold that he decided they must all feel the same as him, half frozen to death. So he ran to get them all some coffee and warm croissants and distributed them all amongst his workers, it was only after he had given out all the warming food and drinks that he realized that pickers hadn’t been cold at all because they were not standing still like him, but by working hard picking the grapes they were kept nice and warm!!! However a precedent had been set and from that day on the harvesting for the Opus One winery continues to take place at night and always, at the end of the first day of harvesting, they continue the tradition of drinking hot coffee and eating warm croissants in the vineyards in the middle of the night!
Opus One 2005, is definitely my absolute favourite amongst all Californian wines which I have tasted during my time in this area (88% Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc 3%, 5% Merlot, Malbec 1% and 3% Petit Verdot). Not only is it delicious, but for me, it symbolises courage, geniality, good business sense and a desire to win. The entire production has only one label and all the bottles are sold at extremely high prices even in the cellar itself.
The Mondavi Winery’s wines have not left me speechless with their quality and taste, but they will always continue to be one of the most famous cellars in the world…
In the Sonoma Valley, my favourite wine was “Tribute” 2007 which is almost entirely biodynamic (organic crops) and which is produced by a winery called the “Benziger Family Winery“.
We visited the vineyards on an electric train, but what initially we assumed would be a very ‘touristy visit’ then proved to be a wonderful experience, thanks to the lady who accompanied us. Joe Benziger put so much passion into what she said that we all too became enthusiastic through her energetic delivery. According to her, the energy comes from the Sonoma land, which was originally volcanic, an area which has been famous for its wine for a considerable time. In any case, for whatever the reason, the final result was that we were left with a very strong positive impression, definitely we could feel the metaphoric heat from that extinct volcano!!!