Castelli Vineyards – Going Their Own Way in Green Valley

Emilio Castelli of Castelli Vineyards

Emilio Castelli grows Nebbiolo in Sonoma’s Green Valley

Hiding in Plain Sight in Green Valley
When I rolled into the driveway at Castelli Vineyards, I saw Emilio in his rubber boots, hose in hand. After greeting me, he asked how in the world I found Castelli Vineyards. Tiny production, no advertising, no media coverage. I explained I’m a Nebbiolo fan and I found him in the NEB (Nebbiolo Enthusiasts and Believers) group on facebook. NEB are an informal group of American winemakers who grow and vinify Nebbiolo. As a grape, Nebbiolo is particularly well suited to northern Italy, but has not flourished in other parts of the world. This could be equal parts difficulty in growing, and limited interest in Nebbiolo based wines.

In addition to Nebbiolo, Castelli Vineyards is a perfect match with my winery interests:

  • Small family production
  • Estate grown vines (not exclusive, but plenty of estate fruit)
  • Low intervention in the vineyard and cellar
  • Emphasize elegance over ripeness and power
  • Affordable!

Castelli Vineyards Story
I knew Emilio grew up in the Como region of Northern Italy, and I was curious to find out how he made his way to Sonoma. His thoughtfulness in every aspect of the operation became clear as we toured and tasted. I was doing some quick mental math: under 500 case production, wines sell for <$35. I asked Emilio how he runs a winery, does he have a job and wine is just a side passion? Emilio explained he had done well enough in his previous career in Italy have a small farm in Sonoma, doing what he loves. (click on photos below for slide show, hit “escape” to return)

In the genre of minimal intervention viticulture, you occasionally hear of the “do nothing” approach of Masanobu Fukuoka. Emilio Castelli practices this approach with his 5 acres of vines (explained more fully here). Vines were planted in 1997, and have seen no spray of any sort since 2011. The vines are dry farmed, not tilled or cultivated, and the only amendments to the soil are clippings and prunings plus the organic by-products of winemaking including the spent stems, seeds and skins from harvest.

Winemaking and Cellar
The Castelli Vineyards winery sits next to Emilio’s home. Built in 2008, the winery is of straw bale construction (5000 bales). With electricity generating panels on the roof, the winery requires no outside inputs.  The straw bale construction provides excellent insulation, so that heating and cooling are not required. Carrying on the “don’t mess with mother nature” approach, the wines are fermented in open fermenters using only ambient yeasts. The wines spend at least 3 years(!) in old neutral oak barrels before being bottled without fining or filtering. Minimal sulfur is used at bottling to ensure long term stability in shipping and storage.

As we started tasting, Emilio’s wife, Laura, brought some bruschetta featuring bread from a local bakery and the last tomatoes from their garden. Chatting with the winegrower, snacking on something delicious, is there a better way to taste?

Pinot Noir – ($24-30) Emilio offers both estate grown and non-estate wine made from grapes grown by neighbors and friends. I noted his Pinots as having a savory character with hints of olives.

Sangiovese – ($22) I asked Emilio how he could grow Sangiovese and Nebbiolo in the same area as Pinot Noir. I thought both Sangiovese and Nebbiolo needed much more heat than Pinot? He told me that Sangiovese needs heat; Nebbiolo needs time.  He only has a 1/2 acre plot which is warm enough to ripen Sangiovese most years. He has a neighbor who also has a 1/2 acre plot. Between the two of them, they manage to make 50 cases of Sangiovese wine. Note the Sangiovese is aged 4 years in barrel before bottling! I was very impressed with the Sangiovese. Old world character and drinking beautifully.

Nebbiolo – ($26-34) As Emilio said, one of the challenges with Nebbiolo is growing season. The vines bud early and the grapes ripen late. Spring frosts, hail, and fall rains are all risks. Even with these risks, there are winegrowers in California having some success. However, I’m not aware of anyone else maturing the wine for a time similar to wineries in Barolo and Barbaresco. Emilio does.  His Nebbiolo wines age 4 years in neutral oak before bottling, long even by Piemontese standards!

Find Castelli Vineyards Wines
Want to give the Castelli Wines a try? You can do as I did: order from their website! You’ll note I wasn’t kidding about those aging times. Current releases are 2012 and 2013. Here’s the order page: Castelli Wines

Castelli Vineyards Estate Pinot Noir



5 Responses to “Castelli Vineyards – Going Their Own Way in Green Valley”
  1. This is amazing, thanks for sharing!

  2. Lynn says:

    What a great experience Jeff! Nice to hear about the smaller producers, I’m a fan of them too 😉

Check out what others are saying...
  1. […] Wine Click profiles Castelli Vineyards, who grow Nebbiolo in Green Valley, […]

  2. […] or growers have had much success. I’ve enjoyed a few American producers and recently found Emilio Castelli in Sonoma. Emilio grows and crafts a 100% authentic Nebbiolo, true to its’ northern Italian […]

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