After leaving the directions back at the B&B and missing the turn-off twice, we made our way up the windy hillside road to MonteMaggiore. We parked at the winery, which is on a hilltop perched above the town of Healdsburg, and has a magnificent view of the Dry Creek Valley and surrounding mountains.
We walked through the giant steel doors which were custom-made for the winery, and were greeted by winemaker and owner Lise Ciolini, who was gracious enough to give us a personal tasting and tour of the winery and vineyard. Immediately our glasses were filled with the 2005 Paolo’s Vineyard Syrah and we made our way up to the top of the vineyard at an elevation of 750 feet. Lise explained the history of the vineyard which she and her husband purchased in 2001 as a 55 acre estate with 10 acres of planted vines—5 of Cabernet Sauvignon and 5 of Syrah. In 2002 they replanted about 2000 vines of Syrah, naming it Paolo’s Vineyard, the first vintage of which was bottled in 2004. Currently the vineyard is primarily Syrah, with a small amount (I think around 1 acre) of Cabernet Sauvignon, which is primarily used for blending.
Standing in the unseasonably warm weather atop the vineyard was a beautiful experience. Drinking wine in the vineyard where it was born is something magical that even non wine geeks should experience sometime in their life. Paolo’s vineyard, named for Lise’s 6 year old son is managed by her husband Vincent. The vineyards at MonteMaggiore are completely organic, right down to their lawnmowers, which are 12 sheep that roam the property. MonteMaggiore (great mountain) a truly fitting name for this hilltop oasis is named for the small hilltop village in Italy where Vincent’s family farmed the land.
Heading back down into the winery, we gathered around the small tasting table which was back dropped by a Hercules basket press, the Roles Royce of basket presses. Surrounded by barrels, we were poured glasses of the 2004 Superiore (70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Syrah). The glass was filled with aromas of chocolate, blackberry and green bean, and flavors of blueberry, eucalyptus and chalky spicy finish.
As we imbibed the wonderfully dark elixir, Lise filled us in on her early experiences with wine and her initial romance with the wines of Hermitage after a family trip to France. This love of the Syrah-based wines from the Rhone valley led to the focus of MonteMaggiore on the varietal. Family, quality and a minimalist approach to winemaking are what lead to the great small lot bottlings of Lise and her husband Vincent at MonteMaggiore.
The 2004 Paolo’s Vineyard Syrah was even better than the 2005, which surprised me as it was from younger vines. The 2004 had more dark fruit and meaty flavors on the nose versus the 2005, with red currant, black pepper and mentholyptus on the palate, followed by great spice, a good acidic grip and mellow tannins at the finish.
Before we left, we tasted the wine that brought me to MonteMaggiore in the first place. After having the 2005 Nobile (60% Cabernet Sauvignon and 40% Syrah) at the Wine Bloggers Conference, I knew I had to visit the site where these grapes were grown. The nose was filled with predominately bright raspberry and cinnamon, followed by rich mocha, blackberry, eucalyptus, and pine on the palate. The mouthfeel was smooth and round with well integrated tannins, and a long chocolaty finish.
It is impressive what Lise and Vincent have done at their winery in such a short period of time. Their commitment to quality is evident, and Lise’s passion bleeds through the dark juice that fills the bottles bearing the winery’s label.
Thanks to Lise for taking the time to give us a tour and tasting of their wines—Megan and I had a great time.
2355 West Dry Creek Road
Healdsburg, CA 95448