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Petite Sirah,Vineyards,Viticulture,Wine,Wine Making,Winery

A Fabulous Robert Biale Opportunity ~ Black Chicken et al

My friend Dave Pramuk, one of the partners at the Robert Biale Vineyards and a charter member of PS I Love You, contacted me.

We’re putting together a “Taste Every Biale” sommelier/media event to be held Tuesday, April 5, from 11 a.m.to 2 p.m. at Wellington’s Wine Bar in Sausalito. Lunch will be provided and there is no cost.

This is the opportunity to taste every wine we are releasing this year in a sit down flights format – 24 in all.

Bob Biale, Winemaker Steve Hall, Maggie Pramuk and I are hosting and we plan to have a few growers in attendance as well including our new rock star – Bill Moore of Moore Vineyard.

Attendance is limited. RSVP so that we can save a seat for you.

Opportunities like this don’t come along everyday. How could Jose and I miss it?

The wines, of course, were amazing; however, something else came out of this that was even more delightful. Behind all great wine there are equally exceptional people. In this case it was Aldo Biale’s wife, Clementina Biale. Just as the event was drawing to a close, I saw her sitting on a couch, and asked if I could take her picture. She said, “Sure,” and then we began to talk. When her husband Aldo Biale was alive (Aldo passed away in December of 2009), he would come to PS I Love You events, like the Symposium and Dark & Delicious. I told her that I always made sure that he had something to eat and drink. It was simply honest respect for the man who saw his way to respect what I’m doing for Petite Sirah. Talking about our lives, her family and mine, was like girl friends just catching up. It was very sweet to finally meet the matriarch of the Biale family.

Family History

The Biale family immigrated from Northern Italy, and began growing grapes in Napa in the 1930’s. At that time, it was only Zinfandel, which was widely planted by immigrants throughout California, because it was/is so well-suited to our climate. When Clementina first arrived, she didn’t know English and she couldn’t fathom Prohibition, having just come from Italy… Imagine how insane that must have been for her… Leaving her Mediterranean climate with its bounty and with wine just being part of one’s everyday culture, to be placed in a new land where wine is now regarded as the enemy. It just made no sense.

And… she didn’t know Pietro’s “code” for his illegal wine… “Black Chicken.” At first, when the phone would ring ~ in those days it was a party line, so  you never knew who else was listening ~ someone on the other end of the phone would ask for a dozen eggs and a Black Chicken. Not knowing what that meant, and not having any black chickens, Clementina would answer, “We don’t have any black chickens, but we have plenty of white ones.” Today, Biale produces a White Chicken wine. Right now it’s a Sauvignon Blanc, in memory of those moments, just as they also produce a Black Chicken Zinfandel in memory of Pietro.

From their own story

Each harvest, the Biale’s fruit was routinely sold for bulk wine. For decades before the global demand for Napa Valley wine, one winery, the Napa Valley Co-Op winery, processed almost half of Napa’s grapes. Before big companies moved in, most of Napa’s fruit was grown by local farmers like the Biales. In fact, prunes and walnuts were as valuable as grapes in those days, and the Biale farm produced its share along with eggs and vegetables.

Committed to the tradition of farming grapes, the Biales decided in 1991 to form a partnership with the goal of producing a world-class wine from the oldest Zinfandel vines on the ranch. The team: Al Perry, winemaking; Dave Pramuk, Marketing; Aldo and Bob Biale farming. The wine, named after longtime farmer Aldo Biale, was called “Aldo’s Vineyard”.

The inaugural wine was a quantity of 400 cases produced from about 8 acres of 60-year-old vines. Now, twelve years later, Biale is recognized internationally as being among California’s very finest producers of Zinfandel.

And so… the tasting

It began before we went into the restaurant, with a barrel sample from the back of a Biale flatbed truck… The 2009 vintage from Carver Sutro’s Palisades Vineyard… Black, inky Petite Sirah. I’m so happy I am who I am.. Thanks, Bacchus!

Flight 1: St. Helena Zinfandels

  1. 2009 Old Crane Ranch
  2. 2009 Founding Farmers
  3. 2009 Old Kraft Vineyard
  4. 2009 Varozza Vineyard

Flight 2: Oak Knoll & South Napa Zinfandels

  1. 2009 R.W. Moore Vineyard
  2. 2009 Black Chicken
  3. 2009 Aldo’s Vineyard
  4. 2009 Grande Vineyard

Flight 3: Mountains, Sonoma, and Carneros Zinfandels

  1. 2009 Stagecoach
  2. 2009 Valsecchi
  3. 2009 Monte Rosso
  4. Rocky Ridge

Flight 4: Petite Sirah

  1. 2009 Royal Punishers
  2. 2008 Basic Black
  3. 2008 Thomann Station
  4. 2009 Biale Winery Vineyard

Flight 5: Syrah and Blends

  1. 2008 Kiger Vineyard ~ Syrah
  2. 2008 The Hill Climber ~ Rhone blend
  3. 2008 Monte Rosso Syrah
  4. 2008 Like Father Like Son ~ 50% Syrah, 50% Petite Sirah

Other New wines, like Barbera, Sangiovese, and their White Chicken were served with lunch at the Wellington.

I’m not going to go into copious notes about each wine, but I could. AS I tasted each one, I took copious notes. What I am going to say is this… They were each unique… Same winemaker, so that wasn’t unique; but, what was about the winemaking was this…

Give someone as talented, fun loving, and gently spirited as winemaker Steve Hall all these amazing vineyard wines were each uniquely crafted. In fact, during each wine’s presentation… all 20 of them… each time Steve gave us the wine’s introduction, he DIDN’T talk about his winemaking practices. He talked about the vineyard, it’s soils, the growing practices, the climate… the terroir. It WASN’T about what he did with the grape juice that came to him. It was about what was done first before he received the grapes.

That is the mark of not only a true gentleman, but it is also the mark of a winemaking genius. Take the man out of it, which of course we truly cannot, and you have the terroir come forward with the winemaker being the silent partner. It’s sheer genius and that’s what the wines said to me… Each has really expressive fruit, each with its own personality… coming from only one producer.

Seamless beauty… and a day well worth writing home about.

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3 Responses to “A Fabulous Robert Biale Opportunity ~ Black Chicken et al”

  1. Adolfo says:

    I’ve had the pleasure of working as a supplier with Steve Hall, and your assessment is dead on. The guy is a class act, and all the wines of his I’ve tasted have been truly excellent.

    I enjoyed the article.

  2. Jo Diaz says:

    Thanks for the backup on what I’ve found with Steve Hall; and thanks for reading, Adolfo.

  3. Cliff says:

    Thank you for your lovely article: The photo IS of Clementina Biale who was Aldo’s wife until he passed in 2009. Aldo’s mother was named Cristina, and she passed several years back at around age 100. She lived with Aldo and Clementina on the family ranch until then.

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