Massican, a California Wine with Italy on the Palate
Check out this great NY Times article where Dan Petroski's Massican is listed, among others, as one of the new and exciting California wine producers that are breaking away from everything they told you or you thought they would be. Ever had a California Chardonnay that tasted like creme brûlée? Well, thank you Dan for not making that. Even more surprising is that not only does his wine not taste like typical California white wine (he only makes white with a focus on indigenous Italian varietals) . . . but I swear, there was Friuli in that glass -- specifically in his Annia, a blend of Ribolla Gialla, Tocai Friulano, and Chardonnay . . . had he blind tasted me on it I probably would have even chosen not only Italy as country of origin, but even more pointedly Friuli. I'm very excited about this.
For those of you who know me, there was a bit of skepticism moving from NYC to Napa wine country just because of the change of my wine drinking habits. So Dan I personally thank you, for putting in the passion, care, and attention to detail . . . and what must be god like hands to reproduce an homage to Italy from Napa Valley terroir.
Dan Petroski, as the NY Times article writes so clearly is "by day . . the winemaker at Larkmead, a historic property that makes fine if conventional Napa Valley wines. At Massican, Mr. Petroski shows a fascinating alternative side of Napa."
The name Massican comes from the Massican hills of Monte Massico in Campania, Italy where Dan's great grandfather was born. However, the wine inside the Massican label, are inspired by Friulian white wines. The design of the wine label? Well that comes from an accumulation of different Italian label influences -- from Paolo Bea's Santa Chiara (a classic Umbrian white wine), from Quintarelli (a historic Amarone producer from the Veneto), and Passopisciaro (one of Sicily's leading Etna producers).
working at the Valle dell'Acate winery in Sicily. His dream is actually to make Italian varietals on Italian soil, but right now we are grateful that he is located here in the Napa Valley. "I'm not trying to sell a vineyard," Dan says, "but a Massican style." He wants to capture "freshness and acidity. . to enjoy the grapes being alive. The wines are not fruity, they're floral -- there's salinity. In Italy you're drinking the Mediterranean. I think about where the acidity is when I pick. At a pH of 3 I think about harvest. I pick the grapes really early."
I was curious as to why Dan didn't make any red wines under his Massican label. In a summed up answer he felt that he would lose their "sense of place, character and context" -- that we don't have the "cultural significance" to produce Italian red wines in California. "Napa Valley," Dan said, "is an amazing place. It draws a lot of people, is a tourist destination with good food/wine/experience. We're the closest thing to give someone to that European experience. We've taken it to a Disneyland like level and people are happy. You don't see sad people in Napa."
Some facts about Massican: most of the vines are grown alberello style -- shrub-like -- which gives what Dan prefers: "an umbrella effect -- suck the acid from the ground."
Annia -- Ribolla Gialla, Tocai Friulano and Chardonnay, varietal percentages change by vintage. Ribolla Gialla is sourced from George Vare's vineyard in Oak Knoll and Chris Bowland's Russian River Valley. The old-vine Tocai is sourced from Nichelini ranch in Chiles Valley and the Chardonnay is from Larry Hyde's vineyards in Carneros.
10% new oak, 50% neutral oak, 40% stainless steel. As mentioned previously, the wine captures the minerality and salinity of the Mediterranean. It's crisp with vibrant acidity, subtle floral notes and hints of fruit. The wine is definitely not fruity.
Gemina -- 100% Chardonnay from Hyde vineyards in Carneros. 50% new oak, 50% neutral. This was the opposite of "creme brûlée," which some describe California Chardonnay. It really tasted like a chardonnay from Friuli -- again, I don't know how he does this. All of his wines have that vibrancy, acidity and minerality that I love in Italian whites.
Sauvignon Blanc -- 100% Sauvignon Blanc. Sourced from Pope Valley (on the other side of Howell Mountain) -- "one of the hottest places in Napa." 60% stainless steel, 40% used french oak. "Herbal characteristic, spice, citrus, floral, pith, lemongrass. I didn't say melon or fruit," Dan says. "In Napa Valley you get honey dew melon, big luscious flavors . . this wine has secondary characters. The acid on this wine is so glorious. A huge minerality and a dustiness on the finish."
Massican production is quite small. In 2012 Dan produced around 1,200 cases.