april 2020 newsletter

a time for growth


Dear Friends,

After the Kincade Fire last autumn, we weren’t sure how much damage our vines had incurred. By the time the smoke had cleared, it was mid-November, leaves were falling to the ground, and the vineyard was entering its period of winter dormancy.

Spring arrived early this year. As the soil warmed in late February, we watched our Sonoma vineyard with trepidation as the roots of the vines awoke—or didn’t.

Fortunately, most of our woody vine canes sprouted tiny green florets, or buds, which soon sprouted shoots and leaves. Bud break marked the beginning of the growing season, and thankfully the majority of our vines were developing.

Half an acre, we found out, did not survive the fire. We have pulled those bud-less plants out and replaced the rootstock. We’ll wait another year to allow the new roots to establish themselves before grafting new vines onto them.

Now we watch as the tendrils grow, and the new leaves photosynthesize sunlight. We recently sprayed a natural mineral oil, called stylet oil, on the vines to deter mold; otherwise, our vineyard is healthy.

It feels to many of us like time is standing still right now. The vineyard, however, changes every day. While we’re stuck at home, our vines continue to do their work, marking the passing of time, growing and evolving with nothing but sunlight and morning dew to feed them. Not all of our vines survived the fire, but those that did are the stronger for it.


what’s on loretta’s sonoma table

The boys and I visited my 90-year-old nonna (that’s Italian for grandma) from a safe distance the week before Easter. A native of the southern Italian town of Baranello, she’s the most cheerful, funny, dynamic woman we know. But on this visit, my nonna was disappointed—not about being quarantined, but about the fact that she hadn’t been able to bake a pastiera for us to take home for Easter.

For as long as I can remember, I have looked forward to Easter dinner, and the annual presentation of the pastiera, a lightly sweet Italian rice pie with ricotta. As it bakes in the oven, the pastiera fills the house with intoxicating aromas of citrus and spice. It is the crowning achievement of a meal punctuated by ever-evolving family anecdotes and uproarious laughter.

There was no room for me in the kitchen growing up—too many strong personalities in there—so I never had the chance to learn the recipe properly from my nonna. Nonetheless, I did watch her preparing the pastiera as often as I could, and I was determined to recreate the family recipe from memory this year so that I could bring a slice to my grandma. I made a few substitutions and was pleased to find that the complementary flavors of almond milk, coconut oil, and rice-based flour integrated beautifully into this recipe.

As I worked, I thought of my grandmother, and all the family I am so fortunate to have around me. And as the oven filled our home with that wonderful scent, I realized that my nonna’s annual ritual of baking the pastiera was an expression of her nostalgia for her native country and the family she left behind.

For a print-friendly version of the following recipe, click here:  RECIPE

la pastiera

One cake yields 8 servings

Base Crust (optional):
1 cup gluten-free flour (I recommend Cup4Cup), or all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 cup coconut oil
1 egg
1/3 cup water

2 cups almond milk (I recommend Elmhurst), or whole milk
1 cup Arborio rice, rinsed well
pinch salt
3-4 strips lemon peel (cut into 1-to-1.5-inch chunks with a paring knife)

6 eggs (room temperature)
3/4 cup sugar
1 pound ricotta
2 tablespoons lemon zest
2 tablespoons orange zest
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
4 teaspoons lemon extract
1/3 cup candied citron, finely chopped (optional)
powdered sugar, to garnish

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and position rack to middle. Spray a 9 1/2-inch springform pan with nonstick spray and set aside.

Crust (optional): Combine flour, salt, and sugar with a fork. Smash and blend in coconut oil until crumbly. Add egg and mix until incorporated. Add water by stirring in 1 tablespoon at a time until dough holds together. Shape into a ball and place onto a sheet of floured parchment paper and cover with additional sheet of parchment paper. Roll out crust and lay it into the bottom of your pan, using your hand to flatten and stretch it to size, and trimming edges to just fit. Pre-cook crust for 6-8 minutes to set.

Rice: Combine almond milk, rice, salt, and lemon peel in a saucepan over medium-high heat. When milk begins to boil, reduce heat to low, cover slightly, and stir occasionally until mixture begins to thicken, approximately 6-10 minutes. Remove lid and stir constantly, approximately 5 minutes longer, to prevent milk from sticking to bottom of pan. Remove from heat when rice is cooked al dente; it will continue to cook in the oven. Remove lemon peel. Set aside and allow to cool.

Filling: In a large stand or hand-held mixer, beat the eggs until light and frothy. Gradually whisk in sugar and beat for 1-2 minutes more. Add ricotta, zests, lemon extract, cinnamon, and citron (optional). Whisk until incorporated. With a mixing spoon, gently add cooked rice, breaking up any clumps.

Add mixture to baking pan over par-baked crust and place on a sheet pan. Bake for 10 minutes at 350 degrees. Reduce temperature to 325 degrees and bake approximately 50 minutes longer. When edges of cake are firm and center jiggles slightly in the middle, remove pan from oven and set aside to cool. Sprinkle powdered sugar over top to garnish. This dish can be served warm or chilled.



notes from the cellar

As Champagne aficionados, we should have known better.

We knew that a blanc de noirs is a white Champagne made by pressing purple-skinned Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier so gently that no pigment from the skins colors the juice.

So why did we press our Grenache grapes so very gently in 2016, when we were aiming to make a southern French-style rosé? The juice came out white, not pink. Hmmm.

Still, we knew we had something good. Many American rosés are made as afterthoughts, either from juice bled off during red winemaking, or the drippings that fall off the sorting line and destemming machine.

We don’t see the point of using secondary red-wine juice to make rosé, which should ideally be high in acid and bone dry. We harvest our rosé-destined grapes earlier than the rest to capture that refreshing acidity—in fact, as you can see in the photo, we pick it at 4am, when the vineyard is chilly, the fruit is firm, and acid levels are at their peak.

That first vintage, we allowed the juice to ferment spontaneously and sit on the lees for a few months prior to bottling, to soften the texture. It was a delicious white wine, but it lacked the oomph we associate with our favorite French rosés. So we plumped it up with the addition of 4% Carignan, a dry, high-acid red that had mellowed for a year in neutral French oak barrels.

Now we had the rich color, the tannins, and red-fruit aromas we wanted—a wine so satisfying and complete that we have been making our rosé this way ever since. (The 2019 is our best rosé vintage yet, drier and crisper than the 2018.)

And by adding that whisper of Carignan, we’ve done exactly what the Champenoise do: Most of their rosés are merely blancs de noirs with a bit of red wine added for aromatics, tannic structure, and color.

We meant to do that.


learn our language

There are so many literary references to “blood-red wine” that it should come as no surprise that bleeding is a commonly used winemaking term. Above, we referred to the practice of bleeding off red-wine tanks to make rosé. The French term for this is saignée, which translates as “blood-letting.” The winemaker crushes red grapes, then siphons some juice out. The grape skins in the original tank continue to macerate, imparting more color, tannin, and flavor to the reduced quantity of liquid, ultimately making a more concentrated red wine. The bled-off juice that only spent a short period of time in contact with the skins is pink, and thus becomes rosé. The saignée method is looked down upon in Provence, where rosé is made for its own sake and not as a byproduct of red winemaking, and we are of the same mindset.


in the news

Just prior to the quarantine, we attended La Festa Del Barolo, a gathering of the nation’s top sommeliers, winemakers, media, and collectors, organized by critic Antonio Galloni’s Vinous media group. The tastings and discussions were informative, and it was a delight to try some very old and rare Barolos. We were also struck by how family-oriented the winemakers were. We most enjoyed hearing from Gianluca Grasso, Mariacristina Oddero, Barbara Sandrone, and Silvia Altare. Loretta was in her element, hearing and speaking Italian with the producers. We only wish we could have brought them each a pastiera.



Note: Our spring events have been canceled due to the Coronavirus outbreak. 
Summer: Book a private tasting at our Sonoma winery.
(Contact Shelley at 440-915-5748 to arrange your appointment.)
August 21: Winemaker Dinner, Firestone Country Club, Akron, OH