I don’t get to the Del Dotto winery in St. Helena with guests very often. Usually I go to the old caves on Atlas Peak Road across from the Silverado Resort where I’ve spent plenty of time waiting outside. The new facility on their home ranch is quite beautiful, built underground, a tapestry of ornate Italian marble in the festive Venetian style. The cave tour and tasting is $50 which is not cheap, and by appointment, but well worth the unique experience. But this is old news and not what inspired me to write about the winery.
It’s the urns! As you enter their driveway off of Highway 29 there are two huge urns straddling the entranceway, distinctive. Then when you get to the winery you take the steps down into what looks like a grotto complete with flowing fountain. But, if instead of walking downstairs you look around the property you see two huge urns half buried in the ground with plywood across the top.
When I first saw this I couldn’t believe it, so I went downstairs to verify my suspicions. I was right, these are fermenting clay urns from Germany used for a wine making method so ancient that no one knows how far back it goes. In the winery they say that it is like the system that the Egyptians used, but I’m inclined to think a bit more recently, especially since the Egyptians were more known for their beer than their wine. The ancient Greeks, the Romans and most Europeans used this system until modern times and it is still popular in Georgia, formerly of the Soviet Union.
In Germany and northern Italy there has been a resurgence of this method prized for its natural approach and the healthful qualities that it maintains in the wine. The urn depends on the coolness of the earth to protect the flavors during the heating that comes with fermentation. The method also depends on the yeast on the vines which produces a slower, but more complex fermentation that is less inclined to produce ballistic heat. The modern use of aggressive cultivated yeast that will complete the fermentation in a fraction of the time is one of the reasons cooling tanks have become a necessity in wineries.
I am really looking forward to tasting Del Dotto’s Zinfandel sold in a bottle with the double arms of an amphora at the neck. The manager of the tasting room offered to open a bottle for me but I was there with six clients and part of being a professional wine tour driver is not drinking wine while I’m working. But I’m going back and maybe I can talk with the wine maker next time.
Ralph & Lahni de Amicis are authors of the Amicis Winery Guides (Find them on Amazon), and owners of Amicis Tours which does both group and private excursions. They are authors of over twenty books on health, design, business and travel. Their iPhone Apps, The Napa Valley Wine Tour, and The Sonoma Winery Tour are a tour guides approach to these beautiful area, complete with 1000’s of photos and insights. Their articles and products can be found on the sites http://www.amicistours.com and http://www.spaceandtime.com. Their Apps can be found at http://www.sutromedia.com/apps.html
Very excited about the wine making urns at the Del Dotto winery in St. Helena in todays bloghttp://wp.me/putiI-8a
Call 707-235-2648 for Tours, Books & Seminars Copyright Ralph & Lahni de Amicis 2013 All tasting fees, hours, wine lists, etc are subject to change.