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Saturday, November 10, 2007

Olives & Grapes at Pietra Santa

The Pietra Santa Winery dominates the Cienega Valley, which is about 25 miles inland from Monterey Bay. A Spanish mission-style winery building sits in the midst of a a 455-acre estate with grape vineyards and a grove of 5,000 imported Italian olive trees. The nearest towns are San Juan Bautista and Holister, Calif. Pietra Santa is one of only two wineries located in the Cienega Valley AVA.

We were invited to visit the winery as part of writers junket to see how olive oil is produced. We were the guests of the Blackburn family, which purchased the winery a couple of years ago. Winemaker Alessio Carni, who also is in charge of managing the estate olive oil business, hosted a tour of the vineyard, demonstrated the press and ran the group through an extensive tasting of the wines produced at Pietra Santa. The Blackburns, who have been farming almonds in California for many years, were gracious and friendly. It was interesting to pick the olives and see the manufacturing process, then go through a comparative tasting of various olive varietals.

The Pietra Santa Estate Extra Virgina Olive Oil is a blend of 59 percent Franoio, 11 percent Coratina, 24 percent Leccino and 5 percent Italian mix olives. The result is a fresh, somewhat fruity and creamy gourmet oil.

The vineyards at Pietra Santa were first planted ion the 1850s by Frenchman Theophile Vache. Carni, a native of Siena, Italy, has been in charge of the vineyard since 1998. “The limestone soil provides good drainage which helps our vines and we have the mountains and our valley that are perfect for grapes.” Carli says. “The key to great wine is letting the grapes show their true character.”

We sampled the complete Pietra Santa line during our visit, which included a lunch served inside the winery and a dinner at a 100-year-old home on the property. Here are some of the wine highlights from the visit:

Pietra Santa 2004 Sangiovese: Carli uses medium toast French oak barrels to produce a tannin-filled red that has Chianti-like characteristics.

Pietra Santa 2004 Dolcetto: Deep burgundy color, this dry red has ripe fruit and tobacco notes.

Pietra Santa 2005 Zinfandel: A rich deep wine. Medium-dry with cassis and leather notes.

Pietra Santa 2006 Gewurztraminer: Solid floral nose, good level of acidity and citrus flavor notes. Perhaps note as spicy as some gewurztraminers, but very refreshing.

Vache 2002 Pinot Noir: Deep purple from some whole berry fermentation, this wine was aged in French oak and has nice plum and pepper notes.

2003 Signature: A blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot and cabnet franc, this wine is spicy with a good amount of oak. Nice ripe blackberry notes. Will likely age well for several years.

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