I grew up in the Grape Belt on the shores of Lake Erie, in a world filled with grapes: grape cookie jars, grape jelly glasses, a brass doorknocker shaped like a cluster of grapes. When your father works for Welch’s, grapes are everywhere. During the fall, it seemed like all of Chautauqua County smelled like concord grapes.
I spent most of my career in higher education public relations and teaching high school English, but my passion for all things wine-related grew by the day. Now, my dream of a wine career has become a reality.
The seeds of my own interest in wine, which bear more fruit with each passing year, were planted when I was in college. In the late 1970s, early 1980s, my oldest brother and his wife started to import wines from the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region of northeastern Italy, where they had lived in the city of Udine several years earlier. Predominantly under the label Valle, Rosalia Vintners was, unfortunately, years ahead of the U.S. wine curve. Getting small and mid-size restaurants in northern California to find room for Italian merlot, tocai friulano, refosco, and pinot grigio, as well as picolit, ribolla giolla, and pinot bianco among other varieties, was a very hard sell. The business never really turned a profit and ended up padlocking its warehouse for good in the late 1980s. But during that time, drinking quality Italian varietals was epiphanic, a titanic change from the sugary fizz of Riunite and Giacobazzi my college pals and I had cut our teeth and bruised our livers on only a few years back. Once my brother introduced me to the crisp, fruity, balanced wines from Friuli there was no going back to the jug plonk too many of my friends were still, unwittingly, suffering through. In 1984, at my sister’s wedding in Tomales, several cases of 1977 Valle merlot were served, alongside a half-dozen lambs that my new brother-in-law, a Basque sheep rancher, had slaughtered that morning. Many members of my family, who have become relatively wine savvy since then, still talk about that merlot as one of the best wines they have ever tasted.
I’ve grown quite a bit since those early days, and now enjoy wines from all over the world. In recent years a few countries and regions have inched into the favorite zone – the Southern Rhone, northern Spain, and just about everything Italian — but I’m always on the lookout for something new, a great value or a previously unheard of grape. Anything that moves me deeper into the world of wine.
4 thoughts on “Where I Come From”
Friuli Italian Wines (@Friuli_Wines)
I love the wedding story, now THAT is truly Italian! My husband is originally from near Udine, one of my favorite cities in all of Italy. It is so refreshing to hear someone else so passionate about the wines from Friuli, and the region itself. This is exactly why we decided to follow much the same road of what your brother and his wife set out to do so many years ago – focus exclusively on Friuli’s winemaking families and products, and bringing this culture and old-world knowledge with a new twist of ideas to the US. Too much beauty, good food, good wine to imagine and it is just staggering that it has flown under the radar for so long in the US. We are so advanced here for so much, but miss out on some of Europe’s best kept secrets, just like Friuli 🙂 We so look forwarding to following your continuing journey!
Thanks for reading! So nice to finally meet some other lovers of Friuli. Looking forward to saying hello in person, sooner than later!
Love the blog and followed you on mine. Would enjoy being added to your blogroll, if deemed worthy…cheers!
Hello – First I want to say I love your site and your description of how your love of wine evolved. I spent many years in Rochester, NY and wandering around the Finger Lake wineries and so, as they say, I know where you are coming from. Now I am in Asheville, NC. You say in your description that you are always interested in learning about the next great place for wine. Well, I would like to introduce you to NC. It is the fastest growing wine region in the country, based on the percentage of wineries opening. There was a time when the world was learning about wines from WA, OR and most recently VA. Now it is NC’s turn. We have opened the first ever on line wine store exclusively for a single state, NC, and specifically for the small boutique wineries. Have you ever tried the Muscadine wines – considered the “healthiest grape in the world”? Please check out northcarolinawinegifts.com. I would welcome your thoughts or suggestions. And in the meantime, I will enjoy reading your work. Cheers.