Synopsis: Medium + weight, dense plum and pepper, medium tannin with a fine velvet feel, earthy in the Italian tradition but Refosco adds a mineral note and slight iodine touch that is true to the grape. Like Nebbiolo or Sagrantino, this one is not for amateurs...
Refosco’s history is shrouded in confusion and a bit of mystery, especially its strange story here in California. In Italy it is thought to be a Venetian native, mostly Friulian today, but then the family breaks into distinct and perhaps unrelated strains, spreading throughout Friuli and into Croatia and Slovenia where it is also (perhaps) related to Teran/Terrano. It is also possible that Refosco produced the famed Roman Puccinum wine praised by Pliny the Elder.
In California, Refosco was already highly respected by 1885, producing “Crabb’s Black Burgundy” in southern Napa Valley near Oakville to much acclaim. This was a fertile period of grape importation as vines from all over poured in and were planted in test plots around California, but some confusion was inevitable, and Refosco and French Mondeuse plantings in Amador County became intermixed. DNA testing found them to be unrelated, though I can taste the confusion potential. Darrell Corti assured me that Crabb’s vines were imported by a Friulian Count, insuring their Italian origin, which others dispute.
The wine: Historically Refosco can have a bit of that “iron fist in a velvet glove” thing. A slightly tart (yet mouth watering) core with purple fruits, pepper, and focused texture that is somewhat angular but with fine tannin, good acidity and subtle floral tones that evolve with time. It also shares a little bit of rotundone with Syrah - that spicy peppercorn character. This is a serious medium-weight-plus wine with spice and a great mix of high and low tones and good fruit to knit the whole package together.
This bottling is a blend of the 2017 and 2018 vintages. So why non-vintage for this particular bottling? Two reasons. The first is that 2017 and 2018 were two very different vintages. 2017 was very wet, relatively cool, and yielded a lighter Refosco, bright with acid and spice, and lower in alcohol, but also a little hollow and lacking the meat and bones of our 2016 vintage. 2018 was the opposite, darker, heavier, richer, but lacking the bright spice and tart core spinal column that is so essential. I was surprised at how well they dovetailed when test blending. Refosco is very fickle though, and with bottle age floral elements can appear, then later disappear while the wine moves in a more tobacco-ish direction, reminding us again that it is a living, evolving thing.
Label image: Taken from Elias Ashmole’s Theatrum Chemicum Britannicumfirst published in 1652, the label depicts the descending bird as the breath of God, and the dragon is the complex life force which the breath sets into motion. The alchemical scholars seek to learn its secrets including the spirit of life, both destroying, creating, and many other transmutational manifestations.
Vineyard: Planted in 2010 on bilateral cordon, north to south on California sprawl trellising. Lots of handwork to keep Refosco’s vigorous nature focused. Small bunches are plentiful and beautiful, but tons of canes and spindly secondary shoots are the norm. We will change to cane pruning soon. Refosco does well in our acidic volcanic soils surprisingly, though with only 20 acres in California, some of which is actually Mondeuse, it is hard to compare.Winemaking: Both vintages followed similar winemaking protocols with destemming, spontaneous fermentations, and fairly long fermentations of around 18 days in small bins, then wood basket pressed at dryness. No sulfur added for first 10 months of elevage, and then bottled at an average age of 24 months in barrel.
Review from the excellent Bigger Than Your Head:
Like the tocai friulano grape mentioned above, refosco is a grape of the Italian northeast. There are at least eight strains of the refosco grape. The Prima Materia Refosco 2016, Kelsey Bench, Lake County, is not made from the most widely-grown strain, Refosco dal peduncolo rosso, named for its red stem, but the more obscure Refosco nostrano. Nurtured at 1,450-feet elevation in red, obsidian-strewn soil, the grapes were wood-basket pressed and aged 22 months in three-to-12-year-old French and Hungarian oak barrels. The wine was bottled unfined and unfiltered. The color shades through black to purple to magenta; notes of spiced and macerated red currants, cherries and plums are married to darker hints of loam, graphite and briery forest qualities; this is sleek and lithe on the palate, but with the slight drag of mildly dusty tannins for texture; the oak regimen provides a subliminal shaping effect on the wine’s flow through the mouth, allowing for a structure that’s light, elegant, almost delicate. 14.2 percent alcohol. Production was 72 cases. Excellent. About $40.
(not peduncolo rosso)
Yield: 2-3 tons per acre
6 neutral 225l barrels used for aging, mostly 10-15 year French and Hungarian oak
No racking, leading to intentional reduction before bottling, so let it breathe
148 cases produced
Hand bottled on site
Visit our vineyard page for more info
top of page
bottom of page