A Chat with The Orsi Family: Italian Roots Planted in Sonoma County Soil

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Our Orsi Family Wine Tasting Line-Up

It all started with a story of family and heritage for the Orsi Family when it came to their approach to wine. The website says, “Italian culture is the embodiment of all that nourishes the heart and soul… wine and food, friends and family, and experiences that capture beauty, passion and love.  Our wines are an expression of Italy, a connection born from the roots of our heritage, planted in Sonoma County soil, and bottled for your enjoyment so that you might experience a bit of Italy all your own.”

Recently, I had the chance to chat with Bernie, the father, and Mark, the son, on a Twitter chat about why this Italian family choose an area known for its Pinots, Chardonnays and Zinfandels to plant lesser known Italian varieties.

“If you look at Dry Creek, it is very similar to Tuscany,” Bernie said. “It has the same cool climate.  If you took out the redwood trees and put in cypress trees, you wouldn’t know the difference.”

Orsi practices sustainable winegrowing methods, water conservation like deficit farming irrigation and is dedicated to protecting the wildlife that surrounds it.  The family relies on cover crops and natural grasses to attract native insects and use animals to help controls weeds and insects.

The family’s winemaking history goes back another generation as Bernie’s dad made wine in the alley in San Pedro in the 1950s.  Bernie was responsible for cleaning the press back in those days.  So, it wasn’t much of a stretch when Bernie and Winemaker Dick Schultz started the winery in 2012.

The 11 varietals offered are what usually would be found in Italy and are chosen for the connection to the family, who come from different cities in Italy, and the fact that Dry Creek has a similar climate and elevation.  The production is small, and the vibe is experimental.

We tried four wines during the Twitter tasting and two of the varietals (the Biancolella and Sagrantino) were completely new to me.

2018 Fiano Orsi Home Ranch, $26

Fiano, is a white-wine variety native to Campania in Southern Italy.  It was a perfect crisp Summer wine.  It was aromatic with notes of flowers, grilled grapefruit, nutmeg, hazelnut, honey, spice and tropical fruit.

2018 Biancolella D’Ischia Orsi Home Ranch, $26

Biancolella is an Italian grape variety used in the production of blended and varietal white wines in Campania.  It is native to the island of Ischia, which is the birthplace of Filomena, the matriarch of the Orsi family and dedicated to her.  This was such an interesting wine.  I tasted notes of honey, stone fruit, banana, stone fruit and citrus.

This is the only known planting of this grape in California and the wine is a nod to the family’s persistence in bringing their heritage to Dry Creek.  UC Davies was in the process of studying three vines of this variety and the family convinced them to let them plant the cuttings.

2014 Sagrantino Orsi Home Ranch, $34

Sagrantino comes from the region of Umbria and the town of Montefalco.  It’s known for being a tannic wine, but Sonoma soil makes it magical. I tasted blueberries, espresso, cherries, blackberries, pepper and oak.

2015 Sangiovese Orsi Home Ranch, $28

Sangiovese is the most widely planted varietal in Italy and this was a great expression.  I tasted notes of cranberry, red cherry, leather, herbs and tobacco.

When we asked Bernie and Mark what varieties they were looking at bringing next to Sonoma, they answered, “we’re looking at Nerello, Piedirosso and Mascalese, but we can’t yet get them in California.”  I personally can’t wait to try the magic when Italian and Sonoma meet when it happens.

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