Anna Maria, Dick and Luisa Ponzi and me
At the Wine Writers’ Educational Tours, during my time in the Willamette Valley, I had the chance to sit down with Dick and Nancy Ponzi. They were participating in a panel about what it took to plant vines, harvest grapes and work with other farmers and wine growers in the early 70’s Ponzi Vineyards is now celebrating a half century of winemaking (50 years of Original Oregon) and the next generation, one of the only sister-run wineries, has taken over leadership. (How appropriate to honor them on International Women’s Day today).
During their recent visit to Dallas, I had a chance to talk with both Anna Maria Ponzi, President, Director of Sales and Marketing, and Luisa Ponzi, the winemaker, who took over in 2012.
The winery was founded in the 1970’s with the goal of making Pinot Noir after many research trips to Burgundy. Dick and Nancy moved their young family to Willamette and purchased 20 acres. It became a family business and expanded into more than 140 certified-sustainable vineyards. Luisa’s passion for Burgundian wine continued as she graduated from Portland State University and moved to Beaune, France to continue her education in viticulture and enology.
As part of the required curriculum, Luisa apprenticed with Burgundian producer, M. Christophe Roumier of Domaine Roumier of Chambolle Musigny, France as well as with Italian producer Luca Currado of Vietti in Piedmont, Italy.
We had the chance to taste some library wines and taste the differences in the styles of Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs made by father and then by daughter.
Luisa was very candid as she talked about her wine journey as a winemaker. “My dad allowed me to repeat some of the same mistakes he made in the past just so I could learn.”
We talked about the differences in weather, age of vines, geology and picking times as we tasted through the different wines. We also were joined at the end by Dick and the pride that you could see as he watched Luisa was evident.
There definitely was a sense of style that both winemakers had as you tasted through the offerings. And there were so many parallels. When I first interviewed Dick and the panel, they talked about coming together to figure out how to grow the best wine possible. Luisa talked about coming back from Burgundy and wanted to grow great Chardonnay at a time that Oregon was known for Pinot Gris.
She banded with five other producers and had the same type of meetings to figure out how to be successful; this time with Domain Drouhin, Argyle, Chelahelm, Adelsheim and Hamacher. It was about collaboration, improvement and innovation.
We tasted some delicious wines (late 70s to 2016):
At the end of our discussion, Anna Maria told me about her passion project for the winery. The Clonal Massale project is a new viticulture innovation. In the vineyard, a single block can be planted with up to 25 pinot noir clones. This block is picked together, fermented and aged together as a single lot and then bottled. The clones now adapt together at a certain site. It’s probably back to the way that Dick and Nancy planted in the 70s.
You can see the Ponzi legacy continues to bring Old and New World thinking to craft some fantastic wines with a sense of heritage, culture and innovation.