Winemakers face off in Barbera Throwdown

3 Vigne vintners made wine from same vineyard
By: Krissi Khokhobashvili, Journal features editor
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Only one winemaker will emerge from the ring Saturday night with the right to call himself “Barbera King.”

Winemakers Mike Duarte of Popie Wines, David Brockman of Cristaldi Vineyards and Joe Ciotti of Ciotti Cellars have entered a competition three years in the making. In 2009, Brockman and Ciotti purchased barbera grapes from Duarte, and the idea for turning the winemaking into a friendly competition was born.

“We’re all unique styles, three totally different styles of winemakers,” Duarte said. “Wouldn’t it be cool if we could someday have an event that takes grapes from my vineyard, picked on the same day, picked at the same time, made by three different winemakers?”

That’s exactly what happened. Saturday night will see the “Barbera Throwdown” at 3 Vigne, where the wines will go through two rounds of blind taste-testing, first by the public and then by guest wine critics. Included in the price of admission are tastings of the three wines and a glass of the one each guest decides is his or her favorite. For $95, attendees get the same taster package and can take home a wooden gift box with one bottle of each barbera. 

The emcee for the evening is three-time Emmy winner Mark S. Allen of “Good Day Sacramento,” and the judges are “Pooch” Pucilowski of the California State Fair Wine Competition, wine writer Rick Kushman and Chiam Gur-Arieh, owner of C.G. di Arie Winery in Plymouth and a barbera grower himself. At the end of the evening, people’s choice and critic’s choice awards will be bestowed.

 “You won’t find many winemakers who are going to be willing to do a complete blind tasting head to head from the same vineyard,” Duarte said. “We’ve already tasted all three and we know they’re three really good wines. It’s going to be all a matter of the palate of who’s drinking it.”

Brockman views his throwdown entry as being in the classic Italian style.

“I tend to make a true Italian-style barbera, with a little bit higher acidity, softer oak flavors,” he said. “Not as bold, perhaps, as some of the bigger barberas, but trying to keep it true to what I call the ‘paisano style.’”

Brockman’s barbera was in French barrels for about 18 months, and because the barrels have been used before, the oak is softer and results in a barbera with “a nice, soft mouth feel, not heavy on the oak, so you really feel a nice burst of fruit up front.”

I think it’s just going to be a lot of fun,” said Lisa Duarte, of Duarte Vineyards. “The guys are just very fun-loving, yet passionate, yet serious about what they do.”

Due to the limited amount of the barberas available, tickets must be purchased in advance. The evening will have a 1950s “fight night” theme and will include hors d’oeuvres from Conservatory at High Hand that pair nicely with barbera.

“The three of us wineries are very good friends,” Brockman said, “so harvesting the grapes and giving it a go, putting our egos on the line, is a fun way to do it. I think it grows a lot of interest in that grape varietal, which does a great job in this region.”

Reach Krissi Khokhobashvili at Follow her on Twitter, @AuburnJournalAE.



Barbera Throwdown

When: 7-10 p.m. Saturday, June 16

Where: 3 Vigne tasting room in the High Hand Fruit Shed, 3750 Taylor Road, Loomis

Cost: $40

Tickets: Advance purchase only at

Info: (916) 538-9150