Developing Aeris’ Centennial Mountain vineyard has been an arduous labor of love for more than a decade now. Identifying the perfect site to grow Nebbiolo involved intense research and consultation with some of Italy’s leading viticulturalists. This quest lead us to a remote mountaintop located west of Lake Sonoma and about 12 miles from the Pacific Ocean. This location offered an unusual microclimate that arose from a rare combination of marine influence and high-altitude climatic characteristics. Together these two influences create a climate that very closely matches Italy’s Piedmont region. For the several years that it took for our weather stations to confirm this climatic match, we began the slow task of importing grapevines through California’s UC Davis Foundation Plant Services. After approval, we were allowed to plant the first Carricante and Nerello Mascalese ever grown in California.
For the actual development of the vineyard, we chose to plant and train the grapevines using the best practices and accumulated knowledge from the ancestral homes of these grapes. This meant that Piemontese varieties, Nebbiolo and Barbera, were planted on a 6’x3’ spacing with a high trellis just as they are found in Barolo and Barbaresco today. Meanwhile, the Sicilian varieties, Carricante and Nerello Mascalese were planted on dense “Alberello”, or little tree, stake trained method that has been employed on Mount Etna since Roman times. California’s drought and the shallow rocky soils of our vineyard slowed the development of these newly planted immigrant vines and it took many years before we had our first grapes.
Our full commitment extended from the vineyard all the way through the winery. In order to be able to make the wines in the traditional Italian styles that we love, we began purchasing the necessary equipment including large oak casks and wooden fermentation vats. The large 2500 liter oak casks, which hold as much wine as eleven of the typical smaller French barrels, are a vital tool for aging the wine from these varieties gently and without imparting any masking oak character. Each wine is produced using winemaking techniques that are specific to the grape variety. For example, Nerello Mascalese receives short 9-day fermentations while the Nebbiolo is made using a technique called “submerged cap” that allows the wine to remain in contact with the skins for over 30 days. Meanwhile, the Carricante ferments directly in the large 25hL oak casks just as it has been made in Sicily for generations.
After so much work and planning it is extremely exciting to finally have some wines to offer!!
From Centennial Mountain:
2017 Aeris Centennial Mountain Bricco Rosso – We are really excited about this unique blend and it will be benchmark wine for Aeris each year. The 2017 is made from 50% Nebbiolo and 20% Nerello Mascalese with 5-10% each of Carignan, Primitivo, and Barbera. This will be a signature bottling of Aeris going forward as we love the combination of spicy red fruit, moderate structure, and accessibility. With the great 2018 vintage, we will offer Aeris first varietal reds (Nebbiolo and Nerello Mascalese) but blending the Bricco Rosso will also be a major focus each year.
2017 Aeris Centennial Mountain Bianco – After experiencing the heights that Sicilian Carricante is capable of, we began to dream of growing the grape in CA. The investment required to import and plant a new variety is exciting and terrifying, but right away it is clear that Carricante is a great fit in its new Californian home. This 2017 Bianco is a delicious, complex, accessible example of this great white grape. In 2018, we have produced both a Bianco and a Carricante designated bottling from Centennial Mountain.
2016 Aeris Etna Bianco Superiore – Our work with Salvo Foti on Sicily’s Mount Etna has been a challenging and rewarding project and we couldn’t be more proud of the 2016 Etna Bianco Superiore. We think it shows exactly why Carricante should be considered one of the great white grapes of the world. Ian D’Agata, writing for Antonio Galloni’s Vinous.com agreed, saying, “A very impressive, standout complex white that is still very young; easily one of the best Italian white wines of the 2016 vintage.” While this already shows the precision, complex layering, beeswax, and lemon peel character that is a hallmark of Carricante, we think there is a long life of continued development ahead.
Coming soon –
In 2021 we will finally be releasing the varietal bottlings of Carricante, Nerello Mascalese, and Nebbiolo from Centennial Mountain vineyard. The 2018 vintage has produced wines of stunning quality and we can’t think of better vintage to launch these very first California examples. Another first next year will be a small bottling of Aeris Barbera. We will also be releasing the 2018 Bricco Rosso and Bianco, both aimed for earlier drinking. As in 2017, the Bianco will be 100% Carricante while the Rosso is about 50% Nebbiolo with the remainder made up of Nerello Mascalese, Primitivo, Carignan, and Barbera.