I am the fifth generation of my family in California but, reflecting parochial Italian customs, the first to be born in America. Although Italian in heritage, I grow Pinot Noir, a French Burgundian grape, on the California coast in Santa Barbara County. This juxtaposition of cultures and traditions helps me to focus on what I perceive is real in viticulture and winemaking, rather than being bound by what is traditional.
The two vineyards I farm are in northwestern Santa Barbara County, in cool-climate areas with calcareous soils, well-suited for Pinot Noir.
The first, Cargasacchi Vineyard, in the maritime Sta. Rita Hills, is a slightly sloping south face of decomposing calcareous shale fragments derived from the erosion of uplifted sea-floor sediments. The site is poorly suited to traditional coastal agriculture because of cold sea winds, low water-holding capacity, minimal nutrients and alkaline soils. However, with plantings of Pinot Noir selected from Burgundy’s Morey-St.-Denis, the site’s inhospitable soils and nature are expressed in a unique and interesting manner.
The second site, Cargasacchi-Jalama Vineyard, is located further southwest and outside of the Sta. Rita Hills but shares similar soil materials and characteristics. Although nearer to the coast, the Cargasacchi-Jalama Vineyard is physically sheltered by the Santa Ynez mountain range, which is divided into two ranges by the Jalama Creek, before plunging into the Pacific Ocean north of Point Conception. However, the site is strongly influenced by the coast south of Point Conception and the air patterns over the mountains of Santa Barbara. Cool marine air comes spinning up the coast from ocean waters near the Channel Islands and spirals around a low-pressure zone, which results in dense fog that can last into the late morning at Jalama.
The culture of winemaking in my family began many generations ago and is rooted in simple traditions that include making bread and hospitality. Here in California, my great-great-grandfather sought his fortune, but disappeared from San Francisco during the 1880s. My great-grandfather founded a restaurant and hotel in San Francisco called the St. Gotthard that was destroyed in the earthquake and fire of 1906. The hotel was named after the famous pass on the trade route between Zurich and Milan, which, after the Dark Ages, helped bring prosperity to our region of the Italian Lake Country.
According to family tales, the first bridge at the St. Gotthard pass was wished for by an ancestor and built by the devil in exchange for the soul of the first person to cross it. However, after the bridge was completed, the ancestor reconsidered the exchange and drove a goat onto the bridge instead, thereby earning the devil’s eternal animosity—as demonstrated in 1906. The pass was named after Saint Gotthard, a Benedictine monk and later a bishop, who in artistic depictions is shown hanging his cloak on a sunbeam.
My part in this saga is simply to convert sunbeams into wine and to stay out of trouble.
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