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by Tom Hill

A self-admitted wine geek, Tom lives in Northern New Mexico and works as a computational physicist at Los Alamos National Laboratory doing numerical neutron transport & large scale code development. He has been tasting wines since 1971, participates locally with a couple of large tasting groups in his area, and is practically a fixture at most California wine festivals, such as the Hospice du Rhône, Rhône Rangers, and ZAP. Other interests: Tom is heavily into competitive sport fencing (foil & epee), biking, cooking, basketball, skiing, backpacking, mountain climbing.

Massican Wines - March, 2011

A Visit with Daniel Petroski, of Massican Wines:

JonBonne, back in January, named DanPetroski as one of his 5 top/up&coming winemakers we should keep our eye on. Dan makes Friulian-style wines up in the NapaVlly under the Massican label. Google led me directly to his WebSite (www.massican.com/). As a fan of Friulian wines, I liked what I saw on his Site.

Alas, Dan had no wines from last Spring's release for sale, but I signed up onto his mailing list.
Lo & behold, within a few hrs I got a personal e-mail from Dan thanking me for signing up to his
mailing list and apologizing for having no wines for sale. My immediate reaction was "Wow...here's a guy that understands what good customer relations is all about". After exchanging a few e-mails on the subject of Friulian wines and sending him my articles on Picolit and passito wines, I knew we had a lot in common in our interests. A visit was certainly in order. That happened last Monday morning; the first day of sunshine since I'd come to Calif for RhoneRangers 5 days afore.

Dan started out w/ a marketing job in the Time/SI magazine biz. He spent a year in Italy working
harvest at Valle dell'Acate in Sicily. (An interesting side comment from Dan: In the '80's/'90's, when wines from Sicily were starting to gain traction in the world market; the growers all jumped into planting "international" varieties (Cabernet/Merlot/Chard), rather than focus on the indigenous varieties they have done well for so many yrs. That move is now broadly regreted.) During that period, after the 3 months at Valle dell'Acate, he travelled broadly throughout Italy, trying their wines. He fell in love w/ the whites of Friuli.

Deciding he wanted to be in the wine biz in some way, he worked a crush at DuMol w/ Andy Smith. Impressed with his work, Andy subsequently ask Dan to stay on to work at LarkmeadWnry, where Andy is consulting winemaker. Dan is pretty much the only winery employee of this primarily Cabernet-based house.

Dan's family on his mother's side comes from the Campania region of Italy. The name Massican (pronounced ma-sock-en roughly, accent on 2'nd syllable) comes from the costal mountain range in Campania.

There actually was/is a fair amount of Tokai Friuliano planted in Calif where it was originally known as SauvignonVert. Because it was mostly used in pedestrian/jug wines and not very highly regarded; much of it has been pulled. Dan's Tocai comes from old vines from an old Nichilini vnyd up in the ChilesVlly. Interestingly, just down the road a bit from the Larkmead wnry on the Larkmead vnyd itself, is a tiny block of old-vine Tocai. This apparently used to go to StonyHill where they made tiny amounts of the wine. With the use of Tocai Friuliano now forbidden in Friuli (thanks to Hungarian vintners who asserted consumers whould confuse it with Tocaji wine...yeah...sure), so it's now simply known as Friuliano, it is not clear whether the TTB will follow suit. Hopefully, not.

The first RibollaGiallo in the US was planted by GeorgeVare; long time wine industry figure and one of the founding partners in Luna Wnry. George is a strong proponent of this variety and hopes to make in better known in this country. As part of that effort, he has been selling/sharing a small part of his 2.5 acres of Ribolla with other producers, including Massican, Wind-Gap and Arnot-Roberts. All good company.

His Annia wine comes from the name of Dan's Mom. The Gemina name comes from the ancient Roman grape variety Aminea Gemina. The Chard in these two blends comes out of Carneros. The Sauvignon Blanc comes from a vnyd up in the Pope Vlly.

The Passito, mostly SauvBlanc, is Dan's first attempt at a passito wine; a genre that I feel should be much more widely embraced in Calif for their dessert wines. To make this wine, he considered a number of options, including leaving the grapes to hang on the vine or girdling the stems to promote dehydration on the vine. In the end, he adopted the labor intensive technique of placing the bunches on old wooden prune-drying trays out back of the wnry. They were left there to dry for about a week, then Dan went along and turned every single bunch of grapes over; battling the bees and the wasps who also liked the grapes Dan had thoughtfully set out for them.

After another week, this (originally) one ton of grapes then went into the press. Bladder presses are not the press of choice for such dehydrated grapes. Virtually no juice was forthcoming with the initial press. Finally, after maxing out the pressure, he was able to squeeze out a scant 50 gallons of 40Brix Sauv Blanc juice. To fill the barrel he was going to ferment the wine in, he topped it off w/ some Ribolla Giallo; and off it went.

So, Dan opened up:

  1. Massican Annia (44% TocaiFriuliano/29% RibollaGiallo/29% Chard) 2009: Light yellow color; somewhat fragrant/floral/pear rather stoney/minerally/almondy quite old-world style nose; very tart/lean light floral/almondy/pear quite minerally/stoney very slight muscatty flavor; long quite stoney/minerally light floral/pear finish; very much a food wine; lots of mineral character rare in a Calif white; clean/refreshing/vibrant/austere.
  2. Massican Annia (12.1%; 40% TokaiFriuliano/33% RibollaGiallo/28% Chard) 2010: Much more floral/fragrant/perfumed light pear/apple blossom quite stoney/minerally/steely rather austere nose; very tart/austere quite minerally/stoney/steely/tangy light floral/apple blossom/pear rather fragrant flavor; long tart/lean/acid quite stoney/minerally/steely light perfumed/floral/pear/apple blossom finish; much like the '09 but a bit more flora;/perfume character.
  3. Massican Gemina (14%; 80% Chard/20% RibollaGialla) 2010: Pale yellow color; stronger bit richer/spicier rather fresh-cut apple/floral/pear/apple blossom rather minerally/stoney less perfumed nose; very tart/acid lemony/quince/apple/grapefruity some minerally/stoney/steely/tangy flavor; long stoney/minerally/steely some quince/apple/lemony/grapefruity finish; reminds me of a very mineral-driven Chard from the AltoAdige or the Savoie; quite minerally for a 14% Chard; very old-world and non-Caalif rendition of Chard.
  4. Massican Sauvignon (13.9%; 100% SauvignonBlanc) 2010: Light yellow color; light herbal/ grassy/goseberry rather chalky/minerally/steely somewhat PouillyFume/Loire some Friuli Sauvignon/ earthy nose; very tart/lean/acid quite stoney/minerally light grassy/herbal/gooseberry/chalky flavor; long very tart/acid rather stoney/minerally/ tangy some herbal/grassy/gooseberry fragrant/ perfumed finish; needs age; Friuli Sauvignon?? Yeah, I can see that of some of the more austere examples. Though the grapes for this wine came in at fairly high sugars, they also had a very low pH; making it one of the most acid SauvBlancs from Calif I've tasted.
  5. Massican Passito (85% SauvBlanc/15% RibollaGialla; 13%; RS: 13%) 2010: Light gold color; rather fragrant/honeyed light floral/herbal bright/spicy quite perfumed nose w/ no overripeness; bright/fresh/zippy tart light herbal fairly clean/honeyed slightly sweet flavor; very long/lingering rather clean/honeyed slight herbal/SauvBlanc bit earthy slightly sweet rather tart very perfumed finish; avoids the raisened/overripe of many Italian passitos; lots of fresh/bright character and doesn't seem 13% r.s; very clean & honeyed; some like the Caluso di Passitos/ Erbaluce that I used to get from Darrell; very well-made passito that should go for many yrs.

A wee BloodyPulpit:

1. These wines are very difficult wines to taste on their own. The high acidity levels and the strong streak of minerality is not what you usually find in the NapaVlly; wines that will appeal to the AFWE, but not Monktown attourneys. These are wines that scream to be accompanied with food. Interestingly, Dan claims that he's found they pair rather well w/ venison. Who'd have thunk.

That said, that I didn't have them under ideal circumstances; I liked the wines a lot; quite a lot. I'm an acid slut and these appealed to me for that reason. They have a mineral character that is quite rare in Calif. Definitely wines made in an old-world style. Friuli in character?? I guess I can see some of that in them. I very much like the fragrance of RibollaGiallo and Friuliano; frangrances that are not typically very assertive, but that can be somewhat ethereal and subtle. Sometimes they can be on the gentle side on the palate; but many of the better ones from Friuli/Slovenia have that mineral streak I find in Dan's. They also remind me some of the whites from the AltoAdige and the Savoie; a bit, maybe, from the Loire.

At only 500 cs/yr (2010), these are wines that don't get much distribution outside his mailing list. Because of his NYC connection in his previous life, there is a small distribution back there.

Dan also expresses an interest in making Friuli-style reds. Alas, there is precious little Refosco, Schiopettino, and Pignolo planted in Calif. Would love to see what he could do w/ Tazzalenghe; his acid levels would add a new meaning to that "tongue-ripper" name, probably. However, if he comes out w/ a Merlot....I'm outta here!! There's plenty of PinotGris in Calif and I expect he'd make a terrific PinotGrigio, not the usual bland stuff you get in Calif. And maybe even Picolit or Verduzzo. The possibilities are endless. And he also finds the orange wines of Gravner/Radikon rather interesting. However, he makes his wines on the side at the Larkmead winery, which will ultimately be a limitation to his plans.

Anyway, JonBonne was (as usual) right; Dan's a guy to keep your eyes on.


[Additional Wine Reviews from Tom Hill]


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