Thursday, June 10, 2010
Tony Coturri, of Coturri Winery, is one of the founding visionaries of natural winemaking in California. I went to visit the winery a few months ago on a beautiful spring day. I met with Tony's son, Nic Coturri, who has now also taken an active role in the winemaking.
On the way, I passed another winery who had workers in the field, in what appeared to be Hazmat suits, spraying the vines with chemicals. I was so happy that was not winery I was visiting that day.
I tasted several of the wines that day and afterward. Here are some suggestions for Coturri wines to check out:
Coturri Carignane Testa Vineyard 2008 - great acids, juicy purple fruit, touch of earth and animal
Coturri Grenache Testa Vineyard 2008 - bright red fruits, refreshing acids
Coturri Syrah Camphor Field Vineyard 2007 - dense, dark fruit. ripe California terroir style
Where did you grow up and what is your first memory of wine?
I was born in San Francisco. My grandparents lived in the Marina district of San Francisco. My Grandfather made wine his whole life there. By the time I came around he was in his late 70’s and had cut back on the amount of wine he made. At one time he was using a 2 ton fermentator by the time I came around he was fermenting in an open top 60 gallon barrel. I must have been around five years old. I remember opening the top of this small fermentator and being struck by the smell of fermenting grapes, deep yeasty, alcoholic and sweet. I can still remember the look of the dark skinned grapes floating on the top of the must and the twinkling of the bubbles caused by the yeasts.
What got you into the wine business in the first place?
My parents bought the property the winery is on in 1961. I started making wine with my Dad on the property in 1963. My brother and I were involved in the grape-planting boom of the late ‘60’s. So between the winemaking and grape planting I was thoroughly emerged in the industry at a young age. We continued to make wine and became a bonded winery in 1979. This year will be our 31st anniversary and 32nd Harvest.
How has your winemaking changed over the years and why?
The basic principles and procedures of my winemaking haven’t changed over the years. I have remained a believer in natural, and traditional and additive free winemaking. If anything, refining the natural process has been the change. As my understanding of the development of all aspects the vineyards through the use of organic and biodynamic practices deepens I realize that I’m not so much a “winemaker’ but a custodian of grapes. The wine is made in the vineyard. My job is to take care of it. The magic is in the vineyard not the winery.
What sets your wines apart from other California wines?
From the very beginning we were completely dedicated to properly grown organic fruit and producing wine using natural yeasts, no chemicals or preservatives including SO2 added. In California this is a very different way of making wines. It seems that in California even the young winemakers are very involved in the technology and science of winemaking and not the art of it. I consider wine as part of a diet and treat wine as a food product.
There’s a responsibility of the winemaker to the consumer that they be given a pure and natural wine. The technology of winemaking allows many additions to wine that I consider poisonous SO2 being the prime example. The Technology of Wine Making has 6 pages of “legal” additives for wine with SO2 being the only one listed on the label. If there was truth in labeling our’s would simply say: “just grape”.
What do you think has been the biggest shift in the wine business during the past 5 years?
The old fossil gatekeepers are slowly leaving the wine buying positions in the wine shops and restaurants. They are being replaced by young and open-minded wine buyers who have open palates and have for a largely extent grown up in households that have embraced organic and natural food products. These young people have a better understanding of what I am doing. And don’t have the provincial attitudes of the old. Also they tend to by more adventurous and have tasted more wines from all over the world. The young have open palates that go beyond the normal and conventional wines of the older wine buyers.
What wines are exciting to you right now and why?
My perennial favorite is our Carignane from Testa Vineyards. Our 2008 is a wonderful wine chronicling a very difficult harvest. The rains stopped early in 2008 and we experienced frost damage through June. The frost reduced the crop in some vineyards by 60%. Then there were wild fires caused by lightening strikes through out northern California especially in Mendocino where we source our Carignane. This wine has a smoky nose and a tiny bit of sootiness on the palate. The concentration is amazing. Once again it shows the beauty of vintage dating wine. This 2008 will be the diary of a tough year.
Our 2009 Rose’ is a wonderful expression of the vintage. Great acidity makes this wine so refreshing on warm evenings. A ball of fruit is in the mid palate that one can almost chew and a yeasty fruity nose that reminds one of sparkling wine. We bailed out 10 gallons out of every ton as soon as it was crushed that came into the winery in 2009. The juice was put into re-conditioned French barrels, natural yeasts did their transformation of the sugar and the Rose’ was bottled from the barrel.
Posted by Amy Atwood at 8:14 AM