Monday, April 9, 2007:
Members of PS I Love You answered the call, when asked to extend their hospitality to returning American soldier Sergeant First Class Cheryl Dupris. When she wrote to me, she told me that she only wanted to eat, sleep, and drink herself back to normalcy with Petite Sirah in California. For Cheryl’s simple needs, we could have just hooked her up intravenously. In wine country, that’s just not possible. This is one that has to “take the long way home,” as the song goes.
Monday morning began for Cheryl at the Spa at Hotel Healdsburg . She then went to Trentadue Winery in Alexander Valley to have lunch with this down-to-earth, old Italian family. After lunch, her next winery visit was with the Foppiano’s in Russian river Valley. Foppiano Vineyards was the first to varietally label Petite Sirah in Sonoma County in 1967, only three short years after the first Petite Sirah hit wine shops as a varietal.
When Cheryl arrived at Foppiano, it was a revelation to her that each winery in California had its own character. All bottles on the shelf seem somewhat the same; each winery, on the other hand, establishes each brand as truly unique. Once you’ve begun to visit them, this revelation becomes crystal clear.
And, once you’re in the wine business for a long time (like any other industry), a lot of subtleties that professionals come to take for granted (and forget) are the things that newbies pick up on. It was an amazing process to accompany a wine-visitor ‘virgin,” because I re-saw a lot that I’d forgotten through Cheryl’s eyes. It was a great refresher course. Cheryl had to remind me a few times that she was just an “average” visitor, and my communications with others was like listening to a foreign language. I didn’t realize I had become so disconnected from the day-to-day joie de vive of tourists. (Jaded?! Oh… I never wanted that to happen!)
The Foppiano family is another entity with layer upon layer of character and lovable “characters.” We were greeted by Susan Foppiano Valera, who’s the winery’s director of hospitality. Susan is an extremely kind person, and takes great pride in sharing what the family has with her guests. Going from a “new fan-dangled tasting room,” to one of the oldest and most rustic in Sonoma County, with their antique 19th century bar for tasting their wines, Cheryl was given a full-spectrum range of possible Petite Sirah experiences in how its presented, in one short afternoon. There are plans on the near horizon for updating the Foppiano veneer, but for now, Cheryl stepped back in time, like so many before her.
From our meeting with Cheryl, Louis Foppiano appeared for the meet n’greet, but quickly returned to work in preparation of our dinner in Healdsburg at Charcuterie’s restaurant. We didn’t taste Petite at the winery, because this was a “how grapes are grown” time. Wine would come with dinner. Paul Foppiano, Louis’s nephew and the vineyard manager arrived to take Cheryl into their vineyards.
There’s no better way to connect to a wine than to go right to the originating source. The Foppiano vineyards are steeped in Petite history. Here, Cheryl was given a great Vit 101 primer with Paul Foppiano. From conversations I’ve had with other California growers, Paul’s considered by his peer group to be one of the industry’s brightest up-and-coming farmers. He pays close attention to every vine, considering which root stock to use, where it belongs on their estate acreage, how it needs to be planted, trellising and irrigation issues, how close it should (or shouldn’t be) to the adjacent Russian River, and even how it should face the sun.
Paul’s a very thoughtful grower, which one has to be today, given all the variables that will equal success among a global market of over 6,000 brands. This proliferation of wine brands means that the consumer will ultimately have superior wines available, because everyone must do his or her best, or perish in the process. Paul knows that, and his youth is driving him to excellence. Cheryl couldn’t have had a better vineyard experience.