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Saturday, August 22, 2015

WOW - Wanna Own a Winery?

John Chiarito
As a wine writer, I rarely write about real estate - though I did write a piece for The Hollywood Reporter about the Santa Ynez Valley and spoke with Cheryl Ladd (Charlie’s Angels) about her listed property, but that’s pretty much it. Back in 2011 I first met John Chiarito at his vineyard near Ukiah in Mendocino County and was very impressed with what he was doing. Within a few years after that meeting John was getting out of the wine business much to my dismay as he made stunning wines including Nero D’Avola (see more below). His property and vineyards are now up for sale and they need a new caretaker who will respect what John has started. I decided to include an excerpt about him and Mendocino I originally wrote for the Santa Barbara News-Press. If you may know of someone who wants a winery and vineyard in Mendocino (I’m rather tempted myself) than pass along THIS INFO.

The Chiarito property
Mendo is best known for the highest percentage of organic and biodynamic vineyards anywhere in the entire state. Grapes were originally planted in the late 1800s but Prohibition effectively killed them off and the area turned to apples, walnuts and peach orchards, some of which still produce fruit. The same time that the Mondavi clan planted vineyards in Napa in the mid-1940s, Charlie Barra, the patriarch of the Mendocino wine scene, was busy planting grapes in Ukiah, the most populous city in Mendocino located along Highway 101. Yet what few recall is that along the Russian River from Redwood Valley to Healdsburg in Sonoma, hops were the dominate crop. Small towns like Hopland harvested the hops shipping them by rail to San Francisco where they were dispersed to all parts of the globe. Old hop kilns still exist like the one converted into Milano Winery at the entrance to Hopland. But a new history is being written. Solar panels are present in vineyards, on winery buildings, and by the side of the road. To facilitate biodynamic farming sheep graze the weeds between grapevine rows. Even the plastic green ties that most of us use in our gardens to tie tomato plants to stakes are not allowed. In its place is a natural tying method, used by both Bonterra and Chiarito wineries; pliable willow tree stalks are the new preferred ties as they will eventually return to the earth from whence they came. This doesn’t mean every winery has gone “green,” many still farm with traditional chemicals, but you will not find a greater concentration of farmers who trust the land to work as it has for thousands of years.

At Bonterra's Property
And everything is here, from the massive Bonterra Vineyards who churn out 300,000 cases of inexpensive though effective organic wine, to the majority of small family-run operations with less than 2,000 cases. Some of the best include Philo Ridge, Rivino, Terra Siva and Chiarito who produce wine to rival some of the best in the Golden State. Yes, wine is ubiquitous in California and just because wine is organic doesn’t mean it’s worth buying. But these Mendocino wineries are proving the doubters wrong. Philo Ridge produces terrific Pinot Gris; Rivino produces the less-than-appreciated Cabernet Franc, and the husband and wife team actually both grew up in the Vancouver area only to meet in Mendocino and discover a passion for wine and each other. Terra Siva not only makes wine, but olive oil and produces honey. And then there is John Chiarito whose small vineyard near the minuscule town of Talmadge is producing exceptional Zinfandel. The Italian born Chiarito also produces true Italian varieties like Negroamaro and Nero D’avola, both of which he petitioned TTB to include on their varietal list, thereby becoming the first U.S. winery to get them on a wine label. Then Charito became the first U.S. winery to actually Nero d'Avola on U.S. soil. John exemplifies the spirit of the region: immigrants who honor the land and their parents and grandparents. In the example of Chiarito, the old walnut orchard that was on the property prior to the grapes being planted was pulled up with the exception of a perimeter of trees, which still bear fruit. He is planting tomatoes and figs, not only to honor his grandfather but, as he suggests, a piece of land needs diversity to succeed.

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