Our approach to growing grapes and making wines is to create lively and complex varietal wines that are different beasts from the overstuffed fruit bombs or the tedious glou-glou wines of the moment. We love working with interesting grape varieties that maybe you haven't tried before, ranging from the light and bright Sangiovese and Dolcetto, to more structured, ageable reds like Nebbiolo, Sagrantino, and Aglianico. Through over 15 years of working with these varieties we are able to showcase their unique personalities without hiding or short-changing their natural character or innate exuberance.
Prima Materia has always fallen within the world of minimal intervention winemaking, but we prefer to focus on making wines that bridge the past and the present. Just like the wineries of old, Prima Materia is a DIY, bottom-up adventure that began with cutting down old walnut trees and digging holes, pounding stakes, and spending constant time in the vineyard first, and then the winery as an extension of farming. These two things are equally important for us, and while the vineyard sets all of the winery clockwork in motion, we also take what we learn in the winery back to the vineyard to refine how we grow the vines and the important choices that we make there. We leave the marketing ideology to others.
Our wines are crafted in criminally small batches of two to ten barrels each, producing about one thousand cases in total per year. The winemaking and grape growing are intensively hands-on, using stems and time, gravity and buckets, rather than fancy, impersonal machinery or mechanized processes. I personally touch each vine several times before harvest, from pruning to shoot thinning to making sure we aren't over-exposed to sunlight, and even picking myself at times. Our wines are unfined, unfiltered, also hand harvested, and they are also clean, stable and ready for long aging, or drinking young and enjoying the California fruit in fine fresh form as you might choose. Our Sangiovese is a case in point, with fresh cherry and strawberry fruit dominating when young, then yielding to black cherry, leather, pine, and savory notes with just a couple years of age. These movements of a living product through time are what we truly love.
Prima Materia is the product of over two decades spent working in vineyards, wineries, and cooking in restaurant kitchens that ranged from Michelin-starred to hamburger (and fried chicken) consulting. Part of my childhood was spent on the land with grapevines, prunes, and the rhythms of agriculture, not knowing that cooking and then wine would later become my deepest connection. This culinary background is the foundation of my winemaking approach with a focus on texture, balance, and trying capture a distinctive, Italian-inflected voice in harmony with California's vast wine history and location signatures. My time spent with chefs who had cooked with culinary luminaries like Gray Kunz and David Bouley, with their focus on flavor-layering and technique laid the foundation for a return to the vineyard. Wine, just like the best cooking, shows history and cultural narrative combined with personal conviction and belief.
Our vineyard is only 10 acres in size, about 9,000 grapevines, which is the perfectly manageable size to provide the grapes that we need while assuring that we personally micro-manage everything, and physically touch each vine at least three times before harvest. New grow the grapes at 1,500' of elevation in Lake County's red volcanic soils between the MayacamasMountain Range and the Mt. Konocti volcano.
All of our vines are farmed sustainably without herbicides or pesticides, and they grow on roots suited to a no-water, dry-farming future. Some blocks, such as the Sagrantino, Negroamaro, Primitivo and Dolcetto are planted to a single clonal type, while other cultivars like Sangiovese are planted to four different types using different row orientations and canopy techniques. The Nebbiolo block has three types on two rootstocks and all interplanted with a very different stylistic paradigm in mind. Aglianico is planted in the same way with a range of ripeness and rusticity desired at harvest rather than uniformity.
The goal is to highlight the aspects that Lake County excels at, such as high structure, good ripeness through warm summers, evolving minerality with vine age and forward fruit while keeping all in check and referencing what each cultivar's history has shown us in the old country. We want balanced vines with a proper crop load that does not loose acidity or become overripe easily, and retains Old World characteristics of earth and mineral. We do not use any vertical shoot positioning (VSP) which leads to raisiny grapes in our sunny climate, nor do we hedge or dramatically alter the vines in any way mid journey. We also defer to the classic wisdom in many cases, cane pruning Nebbiolo to 8 buds per vine with one bunch per shoot in the Piemontese tradition, while Negroamaro is treated very differently, as are the Barbera selections and Sangiovese.
Our red volcanic Forbesville soil lies above a pyroclastic lava flow and is very diverse with large amounts of obsidian, yellow and red clays, and rock washes from Mt. Konocti and the Mayacamas mountain range upheaval. It is high in iron, drains extremely well, and the proximity to ancient Clear Lake and the Mayacamas mountain range means frequent cooling winds balance the summer heat.