New tasting room features four local vintners

By: Gloria Young Journal Staff Writer
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Four local winegrowers are blending their talents at a new tasting room in Auburn. Villa Fiorente, located in a recently completed Italian-style building off Mt. Vernon Road, is the weekend home to Popie Wines, Ciotti Cellars, Cristaldi Vineyards and Fortezza Winery. The tasting room is on the Fortezza site, which is owned by Lisa Mann. “It has 12-foot ceilings, faux painting and a chimney,” she said. “There’s also a dining room.” Mann purchased the 20-acre property in 2003 and planted the first grapes in 2006, after taking viticulture classes at UC Davis. The Granite Bay resident and Realtor visited the Napa Valley not long after she moved to California from Florida in 1985 and “just fell in love with it,” she said. That was her inspiration to someday produce her own wine. Her vineyard is a former pear farm. “It’s good for grapes because it is a hillside,” she said. She’s growing sangiovese, viognier, primitivo and petit verdot (a blending grape) and she’s bottling sangiovese, viognier and primitivo. “This is the first year (we’re bottling),” she said. “We’re brand new. I’m so happy. I’ve had so many people raving about the wine. I’ve been so pleasantly surprised.” So far, the wine business has more than met her expectations. “I didn’t realize how much work it would be, but it is good work,” she said. “It is very rewarding.” It has taken two years to complete the wine tasting room and Mann is looking forward to sharing it with the other three friends and business associates. Mike Duarte, owner of Popie Wines, is happy to be part of the endeavor. Winemaking is part of his heritage, he said. “I’m a fourth-generation grower,” he said. “My great-grandfather and grandfather came from the Azores and immigrated through the Hawaiian Islands and then to the U.S. They came in through the port of Oakland, made their way to the Napa Valley in the 1930s and got jobs in the fields as vineyard workers.” A generation later, Duarte’s father worked his way up to buying his employer’s vineyard when the owner retired. Duarte calls himself a grower at heart and a winemaker by accident. He grows mainly b arbera grapes on his two acres of land and produces barbera and zinfandel wines. One of his recent releases is called Basin Red. “It’s a blend of barbera and syrah,” he said. He also makes a charbono, which is fairly rare. “I purchased the grapes from the Napa Valley,” he said. “There are only 80 acres of (charbono grapes) planted in California. I wanted to make it because I tasted it at a winery in Calistoga and liked the flavors. I blended a little of it into my barbera and just became kind of interested in actually making it into its own varietal. It’s very similar to cabernet.” Another partner, Ciotti Cellars, has its production facility in Rocklin. “We purchase all our grapes from Placer and other counties,” owner Joe Ciotti said. Ciotti opened the business two years ago but has been making wine a lot longer than that. “My grandfather and father made wine,” he said. “Being Italian, wine has been in my heritage forever.” He began 10 years ago making wine for family and friends. “I won some awards and everyone who drank the wine kept prodding me to go into it professionally,” he said. “So I took the leap.” Ciotti’s zinfandel recently won a silver medal in Lodi. He also offers a cabernet, barbera, sangiovese and a malbec. He, his wife and family members handle every part of production from processing the grapes, to designing the labels, to bottling and corking. But ask him to name a favorite, and that’s much more difficult. “It’s like picking a favorite child,” he said. “I love all my wines.” The Ciottis sell wine on a website, but being part of the tasting room team allows them to get the wine out to the public, he said. “It’s kind of funny. You meet some people and it’ just kind of feels like family,” he said. “That’s how it’s been with David, Michael and Lisa. “So we talked about creating a joint tasting room and it’s been wonderful ever since.” Cristaldi Vineyards owner David Brockman grows 15 grape varietals. The Loomis property also includes olive groves that produce four varietals. “Well known varietals such as cabernet sauvignon, merlot and syrah grow alongside popular Italian varietals such as sangiovese and barbera and the more obscure aglianico, montepulciano and nebbiolo,” he said in a press release. At Villa Fiorente, each of the four winemakers has a separate spot. The four vintners share friendship and a love of wine, but stress they are each unique. “We’re likeminded and we all help out each other,” Duarte said. “We help each other with the exception of winemaking. That’s our own technique and our own skills.” ---------- Villa fiorente Where: 10555 Harris Road, Auburn (off Mt. Vernon Road) When: Noon to 6 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays Cost: $5 tasting fee Partners Popie Wines, Ciotti Cellars, Cristaldi Vineyards and Fortezza Winery On the web: Upcoming events include the Field2Fork Dinner Sept. 18 At Sinclair Family Farm in Ophir and the Placer Farm and Barn Tour on Oct. 10.