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Marietta Cellars, North Coast (California) Estate Grown “Christo” 2018 ($20)
 A Rhône blend (60% Syrah, 24% Grenache, 12% Petite Sirah, and 4% Viognier), this is a powerful, full bodied red.  “Christo” refers to the family nickname for Chris Bilbro, veteran Sonoma winemaker.  Aged for 18 months in neutral oak, this blend is ultra ripe with tons of black fruit and compact flavors.  It opens to reveal background notes of spice, ripe plums and tobacco.  Some floral and pepper pokes through in the intense berry flavors.  The lengthy finish has a pleasant touch of juicy berry fruit and light tannin.   It is a lot of wine for the money and should age well.  But be warned, you might rip a tendon or tear a muscle lifting this extremely heavy bottle.      
91 Norm Roby


Posted by Miranda Franco on September 22, 2021 at 5:51 PM

Pathbreaker: Dan Petroski, The Massican Winemaker Pushing Whites to California’s Forefront

The Napa Valley wine industry is rich with winemakers producing premium Cabernet Sauvignon as economics continue to drive the prominence of the variety.  So, it was a thrill to sit down (via Google Meet) with winemaker Dan Petroski as he pushes the pendulum of Napa Valley wines toward white wines that combine the sunny Mediterranean with an intellectual appeal.

Petroski is the founder and owner of Massican, which serves as an ode to Mediterranean wines.  Massican's name comes from the coastal mountain range in Southern Italy.  His entire production is white wines (and vermouth), producing several distinctive Italian varietals like Ribolla Gialla and Tocai Friulano that don't often get the attention they deserve and are seldom seen in Napa.  His focus on white wines makes Massican the only all-white wine project in the Napa Valley.

Petroski came to wine somewhat unconventionally after a successful career in publishing.  In 2005, he traded in New York publishing expense accounts and power lunches to serve as an intern with the Valle dell' Acate winery in Sicily — a move driven by his Italian heritage and affinity for Italian wines.  Petroski explained that his time in Italy was, in essence, his second act in life (following the first of business and marketing) focused entirely on creativity and the art of learning a craft.  He returned to the States to work in the wine industry, serving as a harvest intern and eventually landing the coveted spot as winemaker for Larkmead Vineyards in Calistoga. 

While at Larkmead, he began his personal label, inspired by his time in Sicily and the beautiful, local white wines he would enjoy while overlooking the Mediterranean Sea.  Petroski is now in his self-described third act, having left Larkmead recently and focusing solely on Massican.

The 2020 Massican portfolio consists of “Annia,” named for Petroski’s mother, a blend of 61% Tocai Friulano, 27% Ribolla Gialla and 12% Chardonnay and “Gemina,” a blend of 75% Pinot Bianco and 25% Greco.  Petroski also makes a 100% Sauvignon Blanc, a 100% Chardonnay, and dry and sweet vermouth, inspired by a love of Italy’s aperitivio drinks.  All of the Massican wines are piercingly pure, refreshingly crisp, and easy-drinking.   

Sadly, the wines from Massican are not so easy to obtain, as currently only 3,000 cases are produced.  The wines are primarily distributed directly to consumers via the Massican mailing list, and they are also distributed to select retail shops across 14 markets.  However, the shortage is slowly easing as Petroski seeks to increase production.  As a first step, he will soon release a Whole Foods exclusive white blend named Emilia Bianca after his grandmother.  It will ring up for $22, making it slightly more accessible than his other $30 bottlings.  

Petroski doesn’t shy away from political discourse, which with him is as refreshing as his wines.  His Instagram magazine tackles topical issues like fighting voter suppression.  He’s also long been at the forefront of the climate crisis discussion in Napa.  In response to my question asking if Napa has focused too much on Cabernet production and not on what the ground can best yield, he noted that the Cabernet phenomenon is relatively new, a direction Napa went in part after Robert Parker advanced the scoring system.  Accordingly, he remarked that Napa vintners could pivot again to confront climate change by planting different grape varieties akin to Bordeaux, which has now expanded its list of permitted varieties.  However, he emphasized that many in Napa remain short-sighted in their Cabernet reliance, given it is what fetches the highest price.  Petroski noted it wouldn't be until a Napa Touriga Nacional garners 100 points that the tide will turn.  So, for now, Napa continues to plant more and make more Cabernet.

Petroski is also passionate about changing the perception of white wine in the U.S. and exposing those interested in something new to his wines.  To do so, he is dipping his toes into myriad modern marketing approaches, including the Instagram magazine mentioned earlier and the introduction of a non-fungible token (NFT) – digital certificates of ownership and authenticity that can be applied to wine among other things.  He has also recently launched an app with a white-wine emoji.

It's the rare winemaker who modernizes white winemaking, tackles vital social issues, and introduces an endless array of innovative marketing approaches.  Thus, it's no surprise that he and his wines have a loyal following.  I hope after reading this, you will seek out a bottle and join the growing legion of Massican enthusiasts.  

Dr. Michael
This Issue's Reviews
Voices in the Wine Community: The LatinX State of the Wine Industry Summit
Jessica Dupuy

In the past couple of years, the USA has seen a flourish of social justice initiatives to address the shortfalls of ethnic and racial inequalities in many areas of society. The wine industry is no exception. With everything from Black Wine Professionals, The Roots Fund, Wine Unify, and Lift Collective, people within the wine community have taken to organizing ways to spotlight voices and leadership, all in the name of greater diversity and inclusiveness within the wine industry. A prime example of this initiative will happen today with the LatinX State of the Wine Industry Summit. This virtual event serves as an educational vehicle to share the impact of the Hispanic and LatinX contributions to the wine industry. Just in time for Hispanic Heritage Month, the project is a collaboration between Uncorked & Cultured, Hispanics in Wine, and Gabriela Fernandez, host of The Big Sip on Napa Valley's KVON AM Radio.
What's in a Year? The Difference a Vintage Makes
Wayne Belding

Those in the business of selling wine are often asked if a wine is from a "good" vintage. It would be nice if a simple yes or no answer could easily be applied but, most often, more than a nod of the head is required to assess the quality of a given harvest. Those seeking simplicity can turn to any number of vintage charts that will give a broad overall rating of vintages from particular regions. The degree of accuracy, however, in such broad-based assessments is inherently limited. Consider the famous French region of Bordeaux -- the region most closely watched by wine fanciers around the world. The Bordeaux vineyard area covers perhaps four thousand square miles of southwestern France and produces some 50-55 million cases of wine annually from its wide-ranging vineyards. Arriving at a single numeric grade for all the wines of this area in a particular year is, by its very nature, an exercise in imprecision. There is much more information one needs to consider when deciding whether a specific vintage is "good." It may very well be superb for one maker's wine while only average or poor for others.
Wine With
WINE WITH…Pork Chops Stuffed with Fresh Peaches

Apples are surely what one thinks of as the best fruit partner for pork, but fresh peaches might be just as popular if they weren't so dependent on seasonality. Decent apples are available almost year-round, but peaches tend to be mealy, dry and flavorless except in late summer. In the northern hemisphere, July, August and September are generally when you will find deliciously juicy peaches bursting with flavor. So, now is the time to make the most of them-which entails a partnership with pork and pairing with a delicious wine. Pork's relatively mild flavor makes it a good companion to a reasonably wide range of wines (at a wide range of prices), but this does not mean that the wine, whether white, pink, or red, should be one-dimensional. Of the handful of wines I selected to try with this dish, the best ones had a particular distinctive fruitiness-not to be confused with sweetness-that married well with the pork and peach duet.
On My Table
Exceeding Expectations for Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet
Mary Ewing-Mulligan

Sometimes before tasting a wine, assuming that I am not tasting it blind, I glance at the technical sheet for that wine and imagine how the wine will taste. For a mid- to high-end Sauvignon Blanc from California, these days I expect to read about various clones that produce the wine, and maybe some portion of Semillon. I expect to read about stainless steel fermentation at a range of temperatures, possibly oak aging and perhaps a mix of vineyards from different altitudes. These comments will support findings of aroma complexity, fruitiness, freshness and crispness in differing degrees. But the tech sheet for the 2020 Turnbull 'Josephine' Sauvignon Blanc from the Oakville district of Napa Valley told me that the wine is entirely Sauvignon Blanc (nothing about clones) and that it is aged in concrete (52 percent) with French oak for 38 percent and Italian terracotta amphorae for 10 percent (not stainless steel). Likewise, the tech sheet for the 2018 Turnbull Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve reveals no blending of Merlot or Petit Verdot, but simply 100 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and 100 percent French oak aging. And yet both wines express nuance and complexity, seemingly born that way. The good genes behind these wines, the press material explains, is the richness of the estate's vineyard holdings, 110 acres in Oakville divided among three vineyards, one of which carries vines from the pre-Prohibition era.