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ribolla gialla


The Ribolla Gialla Seminar Year 4, 2013

As some of you know George Vare started what has become an annual tradition of tasting Ribolla Gialla from all of its regions with the focus of learning and improving quality of Ribolla made in California. Winemakers gather with devoted wine lover supporters to share in depth information about their picking and vinification choices. The group tastes the wine and discusses its successes and potentials for fine tuning.

Year 4 marks the first such celebration without George there to act as Master of Ceremonies for wine made from his 2 1/2 acre Ribolla Gialla planting. Though plantings of Ribolla in California are still under 7 total acres, the grape is slowly rooting in further locations. There are now 2 vineyards in Napa, 1 in Carneros, and another in Russian River.

Following are photos from the event held yesterday at the home of Steve and Jill Klein Matthiasson. with love to George. with thanks to Steve and Jill. for friends. such a community of friends are these.

looking into bottles

looking into bottles

Nathan Roberts and son

Nathan Roberts, Arnot-Roberts, and son

Ryan Glaab

Ryan Glaab, Ryme

Matthew Rorick

Matthew Rorick, Forlorn Hope

Steve Matthiasson and Robbie Meyers

Steve Matthiasson and Robbie Meyers open Friuli Fest 2013

Robbie Meyers and Nathan Roberts

Robbie Meyers, Grassi Wine, discusses the 2012 Grassi Vare Ribolla Gialla and making wine with George Vare


Dan Petroski

Dan Petroski, Massican Wines, discusses the 2012 Annia Ribolla Gialla blend, and working with both Vare Vineyard and Bowland Vineyard Ribolla Gialla.


Matthew Rorick

Duncan and Erin Meyers

Matthew Rorick

Matthew Rorick, Forlorn Hope Wines, discusses the 2011 Forlorn Hope Vare Vineyard Ribolla Gialla, 14-days on skins

Megan and Ryan Glaab

Jill and Steve Klein Matthiasson

Jill and Steve Klein Matthiasson, Matthiasson Wines, share their 2011 Vare Vineyard Ribolla Gialla, and 2010 Matthiasson Vineyard Ribolla Gialla

2 vineyards of Matthiasson Ribolla Gialla

Duncan Meyers and Nathan Roberts

Duncan Meyers and Nathan Roberts, Arnot-Roberts, share their 2012 4-hrs on press Vare Ribolla Gialla, and 2012 amphora Ribolla Gialla

Dan Petroski

Megan and Ryan Glaab

Megan and Ryan Glaab, Ryme Cellars, discuss their 2012 barrel sample, and 2010 bottling Vare Vineyard Ribolla Gialla

Johanna and Jack

California Ribolla Gialla

Grassi 2012 Vare, Massican 2012 Annia, Arnot-Roberts 2012 Press, 2012 Amphora, Matthiasson 2011 Vare, 2010 Matthiasson, Forlorn Hope 2011 Vare, Ryme 2010 Vare

Duncan Meyers

Thank you to Jill and Steve Klein Matthiasson for hosting.

Thank you to the winemakers for sharing.


For previous posts in this series:

Attending Ribolla Gialla University, Part 1: Meeting George Vare:

Attending Ribolla Gialla University, Part 2: (A Life in Wine) George Vare, Friuli and Slovenia:

Attending Ribolla Gialla University, Part 3: Friuli Fest 2012, Ribolla Gialla Tasting and Discussion:

Attending Ribolla Gialla University, Part 4: Harvest of the George Vare Vineyard with Steve Matthiasson:

Attending Ribolla Gialla University, Part 5: Russian River Valley Ribolla Gialla, The Bowland’s Tanya Vineyard:

Attending Ribolla Gialla University, Part 6: The Vare Vineyard Tasting, Arlequin Wine Merchant: Attending Ribolla Gialla University, Part 6: The Vare Vineyard Tasting, Arlequin Wine Merchant

Attending Ribolla Gialla University, Part 7: The Matthiasson Vineyard, Napa:

Copyright 2013 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to

The Matthiasson Ribolla Gialla Vineyard

Steve Matthiasson

Steve Matthiasson standing in the Vare Vineyard, harvest day 2012

In early 2002, Steve Matthiasson began doing vineyard consulting in Napa Valley with Premier Viticulture Services, connecting, as a result, almost immediately with George Vare, as well as Vare’s home vineyard of Ribolla Gialla and Cabernet Sauvignon. The 2.5 acres of Ribolla promised new insights for Matthiasson into the care of whites, as the grape’s vine needs differ from those of other varieties.

Vare had connected already with winegrower’s through Friuli and Slovenia that worked with Ribolla, having brought his suitcase clone from Italy at the start of the new century. Sharing their advice with Matthiasson, Vare and Matthiasson explored the European guidance, and some trial and error on what the grape needed in the vineyard. In the mid-2000s, the pair, along with winemaker Abe Schoener, and Vare’s wife, Elsa, traveled to Friuli, and met too with winemakers in Slovenia.

It was Alek Simcic, Matthiasson explains, that brought he and Vare out into the vines to show them directly how to thin the grape. Ribolla Gialla offers a unique blend of fussy in its early season vine care, but hearty there after. Unlike other varieties, the leaves of Ribolla must be pulled to expose the newly formed clusters to sunlight immediately. As Matthiasson explains, if leaf pull is done early, the clusters form their true yellow color without sunburn. Without sun exposure, the clusters can burn later, or stay green, never adequately ripening and never reaching their enjoyable flavor. The vine also regularly shows extra clusters, with two or three smaller ones on top that never fully ripen, and thus should be removed early to allow the larger, true-ripening formations to grow properly.

Ribolla Gialla's unusual cluster formation

Matthiasson showing me the unusual cluster formation of Ribolla Gialla. The two lower formations, near his hands at the base of the photo are properly ripening clusters. The two upper ones are dummies that detract from fruit quality, and never fully ripen.

With Vare’s support, and small winery space, Steve and Jill Klein Matthiasson began their own Matthiasson label, starting their wine business with only 120 cases in 2003. The Matthiasson’s red blend has relied on a truly classic approach to a Bordeaux blend, using the same vineyard too from its inception. Vare also encouraged Matthiasson to use the Vare Vineyard Ribolla Gialla. The suggestion led to the Matthiasson’s establishing their white blend, based always in a combination of four grapes–Sauvignon, Ribolla Gialla, Semillon, and Friulano–brought together in an utterly clean, straight-to-press style for the sake of freshness.

With the label’s foundation in such an uncommon grape as Ribolla Gialla, Matthiasson realized he needed to secure his label’s future by planting more. With Vare’s permission, then, Matthiasson took cuttings from Vare Vineyard and established about an acre of Ribolla Gialla on the family’s then newly purchased home property. The Matthiasson’s had just moved onto the land in 2007, and the first thing they did was establish the new Ribolla vines. The intention for the Matthiasson Ribolla plantings includes becoming the backbone of the Matthiasson white blend should the label ever need a new source for Ribolla Gialla.

Looking over the Matthiasson Ribolla Gialla

looking over the Matthiasson Ribolla Gialla

The Ribolla at Matthiasson Vineyard was grafted onto roots originally planted in 1997, allowing harvest to be taken as quickly as 2008. With the Vare Vineyard secured for the Matthiasson white blend at the time, Steve chose to keep his own home vineyard fruit for another purpose. That year, Matthiasson made his first single varietal Ribolla Gialla from the Matthiasson fruit. His method was to simply pick, and ferment the wine directly in the vineyard using whole clusters, then pressed at about dryness and aged in barrel in the family barn at vineyard side. The 2008 through 2011 vintages of Matthiasson Ribolla Gialla varietal were each made this way, though the family did not keep the results of the 2009 vintage.

In 2012, however, Matthiasson decided to change his approach. There he chose instead to ferment and age the fruit in winery, striving to make a truly non-reductive, non-oxidative wine of white grapes in a red wine style. For ’12, then, he fermented whole clusters in tank, then pressing it at dryness to age in continuously topped-up barrels. In Matthiasson’s view, the new approach allows for a better focus on site and variety, which he wants. The 2012 will age for at least 20 months in barrel.

Looking over the Matthiasson garden, towards the family barn

looking across the Matthiasson garden, towards the barn

Comparison of the Vare to the Matthiasson fruit depends on examining both the flavoral differences, and the site contrasts. Where the Vare fruit consistently offers baking spice notes (it shows up regularly to me as fermented yellow raisins), the Matthiasson site instead gives a saline expression of celery–Ribolla’s version of herbalness. There is also a more intense concentration of flavors in Vare fruit compared to a more high tone element in the Matthiasson’s,

Differences in concentration are due partially to vineyard planting. Where Vare utilized a traditional Guyot style, 1 cane per vine approach, Matthiasson’s site relies on a Lyre arrangement. To put it simply, one vine at Matthiasson’s Vineyard is doing 4 times the work a vine at Vare’s has to do.

Steve and Koda examining the Ribolla at Matthiasson Vineyard

Steve and Koda examining the Ribolla vines at Matthiasson Vineyard

Site specifics also differ in soil and temperature. Vare Vineyard rests at the base of Mt Veeder, pooling with cool air and fog at night, while heating more during the day. Matthiasson’s, on the other hand, sits in more open valley floor, thus staying a touch cooler in day time, a touch warmer at night. Where Vare soils are truly rocky and volcanic challenging the vines through ample drainage, Matthiasson’s are a mixed loam.

Finally, Matthiasson explains he also manages the Vare Vineyard site differently than he does his own. The reason is simply because of Vare’s own style preferences. At the Vare site the fruit is more thoroughly thinned, a practice Matthiasson tends more to avoid at home.

Tasting the Matthiasson 2010 Ribolla at Friuli Fest 2012

tasting the Matthiasson Ribolla at Friuli Fest 2012

The current release of the Matthiasson Vineyard Ribolla is the 2010. It comes in at outrageously low alcohol of 10.9% with a bit of pleasing funk on the nose alongside fresh greenery and citrus salt. The palate is dance-y showing ground almond cake, with yeast bread elements and a bit of tang on the finish. The wine has viscosity but smooth slippery, ultra light tannin, and a long glow-bright finish.


George and Elsa had long intended to sell their Napa home and vineyard property. Though Matthiasson currently manages the care of the Vare vineyard, there is no lease agreement. As a result, when Elsa succeeds at selling their home, the new owners will determine the future of the Vare Vineyard fruit.


Thank you to Steve and Jill Klein Matthiasson.

Pets to Koda.

Thank you to George and Elsa Vare. Blessings to the Vare family.


For previous posts in this series:

Attending Ribolla Gialla University, Part 1: Meeting George Vare:

Attending Ribolla Gialla University, Part 2: (A Life in Wine) George Vare, Friuli and Slovenia:

Attending Ribolla Gialla University, Part 3: Friuli Fest 2012, Ribolla Gialla Tasting and Discussion:

Attending Ribolla Gialla University, Part 4: Harvest of the George Vare Vineyard with Steve Matthiasson:

Attending Ribolla Gialla University, Part 5: Russian River Valley Ribolla Gialla, The Bowland’s Tanya Vineyard:

Attending Ribolla Gialla University, Part 6: The Vare Vineyard Tasting, Arlequin Wine Merchant: Attending Ribolla Gialla University, Part 6: The Vare Vineyard Tasting, Arlequin Wine Merchant

Copyright 2013 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to

Attending Ribolla Gialla University, Part 6: The Vare Vineyard Tasting

George Vare in his Ribolla Gialla vineyard, July 2012

George Vare in his Ribolla Gialla Vineyard, July 2012

This post is part of an ongoing series titled “Attending Ribolla Gialla University” that I began last summer as a tracing of the grape in California. The title was originally, to be honest, a sort of joke–there is no such thing as R.G. Uni, I made it up–while simultaneously meant to take seriously the work started here in California by George Vare. He studied the potentials of the grape through on going conversations with winemakers in Slovenia and Friuli, tastings of their wines, and then experimentation with picking times, and winemaking techniques on his own fruit. The name is also a reflection of my own following Ribolla Gialla around, having fallen in love with it (and at least one of its winemakers) in Friuli, later also finding myself within it’s few acres in California.

George Vare examining his Ribolla clusters, July 2012

George Vare examining his Ribolla Gialla clusters, July 2012

I was lucky enough to spend time talking with George about how he fell in love with the grape, as well as what he hoped for it, and to taste multiple examples and vintages of the wine under his own label, Vare. I don’t want to overstate my connection to George, he is someone I was lucky enough to meet and spend time with several times, as well as to email with on occasion. I can only say that, even with this small connection, George was someone that meant a lot to me. His generosity of spirit, and his encouragement to follow one’s own enthusiasm are irreplaceable. Somehow in the midst of everything, George was an ongoing source of encouragement for me. I say this because I know he played such a role for very many people. It is truly a gift.

George Vare and Steve Matthiasson discussing the Vare Vineyard

George Vare and Steve Matthiasson discussing Vare Vineyard fruit, July 2012

The following post is a write-up of a recent tasting held at Arlequin Wine Merchants focused on the wines made from Ribolla Gialla of the Vare Vineyard. Besides a recent barrel sample brought by Forlorn Hope of his 2012 version, the wines I had tasted and enjoyed before. In gratefulness for George’s sense of community, and in recognition of the work these winemakers were able to do, I am happy to have attended. It is a gift to be with friends. Thank you to Arlequin for hosting.

Following are notes on each of the Vare Vineyard wines from the tasting (other wines were also poured. Those notes are not included here). One of the things I understood about George’s love for Ribolla was the range of possible styles it had to offer, its unique history, and its place as a bit of an underdog. With that in mind I have chosen to write up the wines of the Arlequin tasting within a frame considering the grape’s history and various styles. The tasting notes are shown in drawing, with any additional information about vinification in italics following. Each of the vinification comments is also summarized with a comment on when each particular style is most appropriate, or for what sort of palate.

The diversity of styles represented below is something George celebrated about the work done with his vineyard–the wines give example to the great range possible with this noble grape as well as expression of what’s possible with thirsty curiosity.


The Arlequin Tasting of Vare Vineyard

Arnot-Roberts 2010 and 2011 Ribolla Gialla

click on comic to enlarge; notes on Arnot-Roberts Ribolla Gialla: Nathan and Duncan have chosen to play with their approach to vinification of RIbolla each year, while maintaining earlier picking times, and thus also up acidity. In the 2010 vintage the wine was made going immediately to press, thus offering a linear ultra clean version of the fruit. The 2011, on the other hand, was kept intentionally on skins, after foot treading, for six hours, gaining a bit of the textural richness, and some slightly medicinal elements typical of the grape with skin contact. Both 2010 and 2011 were fermented in steel, and aged in neutral oak. In 2012 (not tasted at Arlequin), the pair have also chosen to age the Ribolla in tinajas, Spanish clay vessel (aka. anfora, in the Italian). If your interest is in a juicy, linear expression of Ribolla Gialla, both the 2010 and 2011 Arnot-Roberts offers that wine.

Arlequin Wine Merchants hosted a tasting of the wines made from fruit of Vare Vineyard Ribolla Gialla this last week, with six producers present, all in honor of George Vare himself, who died a little over a week ago.

A fellow attendee asked me which wine I thought had “the greatest varietal typicity of the tasting.” It’s a common view to take–that there must be some core of type to any particular grape, and, as such, one of the questions we can or should ask is which wine comes closest to that standard of measure. I believe in the case of Vare Ribolla Gialla, however, such a view is misleading. To put it simply, making a claim of a grape’s typicity based on wines made from only 2.5 acres in an area on the other side of the planet from the grape’s primary region seems out of place. But further, even in its homeland Ribolla Gialla has never been a grape with only one style.

One of the beautiful aspects of the wines made from Vare Vineyard Ribolla Gialla is that they represent a true expression of range for the grape, moving from ultra clear, vibrantly acidic examples on the one hand, all the way through to darkly colored, textural tannin-focused versions on the other, with a full arc of picking variation, and oak influence in between. This fan of expression–Arbe Garbe, and Vare himself previously as well–celebrates the variety’s true typicity–the ability to offer a wide band of possible structural expressions.

Considering History

Grassi 2011 Ribolla Gialla

click on comic to enlarge; notes on Grassi 2011 Ribolla Gialla: to keep the lightness of a white wine while gaining some of the aromatic and textural advantages of Ribolla Gialla, the Grassi is whole cluster pressed, then the juice is poured back over the skins. George Vare said that in blind trials he and Grassi winemaker, Robbie Meyer, agreed that such a practice gave a similar effect as leaving the juice to soak on skins for 48 hours before pressing. The juice is then put into neutral barrels for aging. Mark Grassi explained that they choose to pick when the fruit has reached a full yellow color, giving a richer weight and presentation of flavors in the final wine, without heaviness. Grassi’s 2011 offers richer flavor with a deft touch. This is the wine when you want a full palate presentation without heaviness.

Ribolla Gialla grows almost exclusively along the borderland of Friuli and Slovenia, with only very small plantings found outside this zone. Though its origins reach back to Greece, documentation of the grape in Friuli begins as early as the 13th century with it quickly found almost exclusively in Fruili-Slovenia’s intersection zone. History shows it as the definitive white of Friuli for centuries, with royal decree demanding payment through Ribolla during the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and laws established prohibiting the blending of Ribolla with wines from outside the region in the 15th century. The grape, then, has a long narrative of respect and adoration. With the timing of phylloxera, however, many growers chose to ignore Indigenous varieties in their replantings, turning instead to established International red grapes with the hope of economic boon. The noble grape of Friuli, then, suffered a massive decrease in attention, and acreage in the last hundred plus years.

The historical reality of white grapes through Northeast Italy, and the Balkans is rooted in a technique now thought of as fringe–skin contact fermentations. Technology until the last several decades simply did not allow for the cleaner straight-to-press style seen as typical for white wines today. Part of what this means, then, is that the Ribolla wine celebrated in historical texts would often be closer to the murky, textural style of what we now call orange wines, than it would be to the beautifully clear straight-to-press examples also made with the grape.

Considering Recent Origins

Forlorn Hope Sihaya, 2011 and 2012

click on comic to enlarge; notes on Forlorn Hope’s Sihaya Ribolla Gialla: Forlorn Hope’s Sihaya offers a balance of heightened aromatics and texture generated by skin contact, coupled with a lighter body achieved through shorter maceration duration (14 days). While the 2011 was filtered, giving a lighter, cleaner presentation compared to the 2012, both offer a pleasing touch of funk that comes alongside the nuttier aspects of the wine smoothly. The 2011 vintage is also a more focused linear year compared to the breadth of 2012. The tannin on both wines is still young and textural, and will continue smoothing out in bottle. Forlorn Hopes Sihaya brings prettiness and dance-y feet to the orange wine style, a choice for an introduction to skin contact wines, or when you simply want a lighter version.

In Friuli and Slovenia today, a current of interest in Indigenous varieties helps ground a wine industry still also focused on International grapes. The quality of land through the area, with its unique soil type, known there as ponca, along with the high acidity driving climate, gives even non-native grapes a form of expression unusual for their type.

In a recent interview with Master Sommelier Bobby Stuckey he explained his view of the terroir of the region. As he describes it, whether macerated ferments, or straight to press wines, “The wines of Friuli have their own vibe.” As he puts it, they have an edge to them that differs from wines in other parts of Italy. “You can taste the ponca. It has a little more bitterness, a little more edge to it.” The wines of Alto Adige, as a counter example, also give the linear focus of the region’s cooler climate, but do not show the slightly bitter-saline bite of the calcareous marl characteristic to Friuli. Stuckey also emphasizes Friuli’s climate, however, pointing out that thanks to the cool nights their wines can marry both ripeness of flavors, and still high acidity.

One of the unique gifts of Ribolla Gialla is what Talia Baiocchi describes as its ability “to transport the minerality of its ground.” The grape acts as a direct conduit between the flavors of the soil in which it’s grown and your palate, as though all the mineral ions of the earth are pouring over your tongue in the wine (whether that is ever literally true or not, as is so oft argued over these days).

In Friuli, then, Ribolla carries the edge Stuckey refers to, ushering in the seabed salinity and freshness of sedimentary rock. At Vare Vineyard, however, the plants rest at the base of Mt Veeder, in a cool zone of Napa Valley, giving vines root within gravelly loam full of volcanic soils. Where the fruit at harvest in Friuli tastes briny and bright off the vine, at Vare it gives a fresh slurry of wet rocks followed by hot wet concrete and steel. Aspects of these flavors follow from fruit through fermentation.

The Choice of Harvest Differences

Ryme 2010 Ribolla Gialla

click on comic to enlarge; notes on the Ryme 2010 Ribolla Gialla: Ryme offers a full quality example of Ribolla Gialla from a macerated ferment, leaving the fruit on skins a full month, thus extending skin contact beyond fermentation. Such a practice demands giving the wine time for the tannin to resolve. Ribolla is a highly tannic white, but is also known to offer smooth polished tannin when given time to barrel and bottle age. The 2010 Ryme wine has arrived at these polished tannin and well integrated flavors. It also shows the positive aspect of a medicinal note that Ribolla carries from skin contact, with it integrated into the overall presentation as a refreshing light spearmint lift. The tannin, acid balance here is also well struck, making this a wine to pair with food (I want brown rice and salmon here). For the full orange wine presentation, Ryme is the wine.

Winemakers of Vare Ribolla also represent a wide span of picking decisions, with two weeks to a month separating harvest dates between the earliest and latest of picks depending on vintage.

Vare preferred to judge his pick based on the grape color, as in his view the grape’s best arrived when the fruit was a full round yellow (as reflected by its name “Gialla” meaning “yellow”). Mark Grassi, of Grassi wine chooses his picking times in a way that resembles George’s practice. George claimed to have learned this from his friends in Italy and Slovenia. Stuckey too explains that Stanko Radikon, a friend of Vare’s and someone he relied on for insights into the grape, also gives the fruit longer hang time, allowing it to fully ripen before picking. In Stuckey’s view, the longer hang time is partially possible thanks to the cooler nights of the region (which keep acidity up even with sugar gains), and are also more desirable for the macerated ferments Radikon is now known for. The location of Vare Vineyard rests in a cooler zone of Napa Valley, supporting the fruit with cooler nights as well. To play with the advantages of the developed skin, Vare explained that once harvested he preferred at least 48 hours of skin contact on his Ribolla, even as he also played with making the grape in a wealth of other styles.

Dan Petroski, winemaker of Massican, on the other hand, selects his picking time for Ribolla based on aromatics, wanting to find a balance point on the earlier side of the ripeness window when aromatics are perfumed and lifted and acidity is higher, while still reaching physiological readiness for harvest. Along with Petroski, Steve Matthaisson, manager of the Vare Vineyard, and winemaker of Matthiasson Wines, as well as Nathan Roberts, and Duncan Arnot Meyers of Arnot-Roberts, have traditionally picked earliest of the winemakers drawing from Vare Ribolla. The result in their wines is a focus on acidity drive that brings freshness and verve to a wine.

The Election of Vinification

Massican Annia 2012 and 2011

click on comic to enlarge; notes from the Massican Annia white blend: Inspired by the textural, aromatic white blends of Friuli and Campania, Massican plays with the ideal blend of Friulano, Ribolla Gialla, and Chardonnay from each vintage. The 2012 brings 46% Ribolla Gialla with fruit from both the Vare Vineyard, and the Bowland Vineyard. Bowland Vineyard is a younger, virus free planting of Ribolla that gives ultra clean juice, and a lighter wash of flavors. The 2011 Annia relies on only Vare Ribolla, though a smaller portion, also showing a bit more texture when compared to the 2012. 2012 is also simply a rounder palate vintage than 2011, giving more open flavors, and a slightly softer structure in general. The Massican Annia is the wine to choose for textural focus, and perfumed aromatics, with refreshing acidity.

Ribolla Gialla is known as one of the most tannic of white grape varieties, offering unique opportunities for shifts in mouthfeel, and food pairing as a result. By playing with skin contact techniques, the tannin influence shifts in the wine. Robbie Meyer, winemaker of Grassi, and George both utilized a technique of pressing the fruit, then pouring the juice back through the skins to draw more tannin into the wine without having to let it sit directly on skins. Matthew Rorick of Forlorn Hope Wines brings up the tannin elements of the grape by giving it some extended skin contact time–two weeks in both 2011 and 2012 (about the duration of his Sihaya’s (the name of his Ribolla bottling) fermentation). Megan and Ryan Glaab, of Ryme Cellars, on the other hand commit to not only macerated fermentation, but also extended maceration keeping their Ribolla on skins for a month followed by two years in barrel to allow the tannins to resolve.

Other attentions brought to the grape through vessel selection show through previous and not yet released vintages, not presented at the Arlequin tasting. In the two harvests that Enrico Bertoz of Arbe Garbe worked with Vare Ribolla (2009 and 2010), he brought some small oak influence, a practice known in Friuli and that those wines plus Bertoz’s has shown the fruit can readily carry by offering greater breadth of body and some spiced flavor. Incorporating an entirely new direction for California, Arnot-Roberts vinified their Ribolla Gialla in tinjas, a Spanish clay vessel for the 2012 vintage, not yet released.

George had tasted me too on a macerated ferment project of his in which he’d left the Ribolla for an entire year on skins, a design he’d taken from some early experiments by Josko Gravner the winemaker showed George during a visit in Italy. On George’s version, the tannin when we tasted it was both wonderfully present and utterly smooth–giving the wine a polished textural weight. He also played with a less discussed approach of making sparkling wine with the grape. In Friuli, it is more common to blend Ribolla with Chardonnay, while in Slovenia winemakers do a straight Ribolla sparkling, so George bottled it both ways.

Ribolla Gialla is more commonly seen as a blending grape through its home region. It gives a sense of body to a wine without overly impacting the blend’s flavor. Such examples from Friuli celebrate white wine with a sense of freshness and lift. From Vare fruit both Massican and Matthaisson offer the fresh white blend expression. In 2011, Petroski offered his white blend with 33% Vare Ribolla, shifting in 2012 to a higher portion of Ribolla also including juice from the newer Ribolla planting at Chris Bowland’s Tanya Vineyard in Russian River Valley.

Re-Considering Typicity

Matthiasson White Blend, 2010 and 2011

click on comic to enlarge; notes on the Matthiasson white blend: Inspired by the fresh juiciness of white blends from Friuli, Matthiasson focuses on making clean, light, almost delicate ferments consistently bringing together Sauvignon Blanc, Ribolla Gialla, Semillon, and Friulano for the white blend. Both vintages offer light aromatics, pleasing lightly-viscous palate presence, with juicy flavors, and a long finish. The 2010 shows lightly deepened character with a slightly more open presentation to the 2011, which also gives a very light tang in the finish. Matthiasson white blend is the wine to choose for freshness and refreshing-ness.

What is common through the wines of Vare Ribolla is a kind of flavoral family resemblence, and liveliness. They each show themselves as RIbolla Gialla but the range of styles present expresses what I believe to be the grape’s true type–it is not a vine that reduces to one single best expression, but instead gives itself in generosity to the curiosity of the winemaker.


George Vare in his Ribolla Gialla Vineyard

With thanks, most especially, to George.

Thank you to Steve Matthiasson, Matthew Rorick, Duncan Meyers and Nathan Roberts, Mark Grassi, Robbie Meyers, Dan Petroski, Ryan and Megan Glaab.

Thank you to the good folks of Arlequin Wine Merchants.


For previous posts in this series:

Attending Ribolla Gialla University, Part 1: Meeting George Vare:

Attending Ribolla Gialla University, Part 2: (A Life in Wine) George Vare, Friuli and Slovenia:

Attending Ribolla Gialla University, Part 3: Friuli Fest 2012, Ribolla Gialla Tasting and Discussion:

Attending Ribolla Gialla University, Part 4: Harvest of the George Vare Vineyard with Steve Matthiasson:

Attending Ribolla Gialla University, Part 5: Russian River Valley Ribolla Gialla, The Bowland’s Tanya Vineyard:

Attending Ribolla Gialla University, Part 7: The Matthiasson Vineyard, Napa:

Copyright 2013 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to

To read the first post in this series: The Butterfly Effect: How the death of a fad gave birth to beautiful color in wine, Part 1: Considering Recent History


A Visit to the Egg with Hardy Wallace

Hardy Wallace

We’re standing in front of a concrete egg filled with fermented straight-to-press Semillon harvested alongside the Napa River during the 2012 harvest. It’s fruit grown in a rocky vineyard directly beside the water. The egg holds the answer to a question we’re there to consider–how does its wine compare to the same fruit fermented during skin contact? Wallace processed the white grape both ways.

In discussions of macerated fermentations, claims are often made that such techniques obscure terroir. Side by side lots offer some insight into the validity of such an assertion. Going deep enough points out another consideration. In conjunction with the idea of terroir, the variety of the fruit also has to be considered.

Considering Wallace’s Mentor, Kevin Kelley

Wallace started his label, Dirty and Rowdy, with a close friend only three vintages ago, their work in white wine beginning in their second vintage. But Wallace stepped into the project thanks to the encouragement of winemakers Kevin Kelley, of Salinia and NPA, and Angela Osborne, of A Tribute to Grace and Farmer Jane.

The Venture reaches back to a chance flight in 2009 to San Francisco when Wallace decided to take a quick trip to the Bay Area to visit with friends he’d made online in wine, thanks to his popular wine blog, Dirty South Wines. Having gotten to know Jon Bonné of the San Francisco Chronicle, the two decided to meet at Terroir SF, a popular wine bar in the city. There Bonné suggested they purchase a bottle of Kevin Kelley’s 2008 skin-contact Chardonnay. As Wallace explains, he’d had skin contact wines before but none “necessarily as heart warming.” Kelley’s Chardonnay “wasn’t just a funky glass of wine, not just a puzzle or intellectual stimulation.” He pauses, “what a core of joy it had. Other examples I’d had at that point were beautiful but didn’t move me like that.”

Kelley’s Chardonnay changed Wallace’s perspective on domestic wines and he returned again to spend a week touring Sonoma and Napa wine specifically hoping to meet with Kelley.

When asking Wallace to think through what it was about that particular wine that so affected his view, he considers the grape itself. He responds, “It’s an example that changes the way you feel about wine, and what it can express. Kevin’s wine…” He thinks on the question again, then continues, “it was chardonnay, a grape that has so much baggage that comes with it, and here is this experience that redefines the grape.”

That wine by Kelley was made with Heintz Chardonnay, a well-known, quality vineyard, but it was a distinctly different expression of the the site–fruit fully fermented on skins and sold in a stainless steel thermos.

By Spring of 2010, Wallace had moved to Sonoma and was working with Kelley helping to market the NPA project, and create the weekly blends ordered for local delivery.

While working with Kelley, and Osborne as his assistant, Wallace realized he wanted to step into making his own skin contact white wine. But, after securing a vineyard source, an incredible heat spike hit. It was Labor Day 2010, right before harvest, and the fruit was entirely lost to sunburn. Having to find a new grape source, with a lot of vineyards lost from the weather, that year Dirty & Rowdy started by shifting to red fruit and making Mourvedre. In 2011, they were able to locate a white grape again, and return to their original interest in making skin contact Semillon alongside the red wine project.

Ryme Cellars Mind Scrambles

Ryme Cellars Ribolla Gialla

Ryan and Megan Glaab of Ryme Cellars began making two of their white wines with skin fermentation after an experience analogous to Wallace’s first contact with Kelley’s Chardonnay. 2006, Ryan explains, was the first time he had an orange wine, tasting Ribolla Gialla from both Radikon and Gravner in one night. The experience, he explains, “was mind scrambling. I’d never tasted anything like it.” He continues, “I like to be really surprised by wines. That experience sparked a fascination.”

Within a couple years, Megan and Ryan were able to visit Stanko Radikon in Fruili, and see first hand how he made his wines, fermenting on skins in open top wood containers, then storing for extended periods often still on skins. During the visit, the Glaabs were told by Radikon that a friend of his, George Vare, was growing Ribolla in Napa, and making wines with macerated fermentations too. In 2009, the Glaabs heard from their friend Dan Petroski that Vare might have fruit they could purchase. That year, inspired by their visit with Radikon, they started making Ribolla Gialla with incredibly extended macerations. The next year, they followed suit with a skin contact Vermentino, keeping the contact time shorter there out of consideration for the differing characters of the grapes.

The Role of Tannin, Flavor, and Mouthfeel

The differing fermentation choices between Ribolla Gialla and Vermentino made by the Glaab’s highlight an obvious but oft overlooked point–when it comes to orange wines, it depends on the grape.

Tannin structure of grapes resides primarily in the skin, rather than the pulp of the fruit. As Wallace likes to illustrate, the skin of the grape acts as the tea bag, with the pulp giving water for the tea. The longer you steep tea, the stronger the beverage. Similarly with grapes–the longer the skins are in contact with the juice, the greater the effect. However, different white grape types have differing levels of tannin in their skins. The amount of tannin available helps determine whether its worth leaving the juice in longer contact or not. As Ryan explains, other varietal factors such as smell, flavor, and weight also come into consideration.

Ryan offers insight by contrasting their Ryme his Vermentino (they also have a hers presentation of the grape that is made straight-to-press) versus their Ribolla Gialla. “The grapes have different things to give. With Vermentino it isn’t beneficial to use long maceration. The grape is more sensitive to oxidation, and volatility, but I like the richness it gets from skins.” The grape also has comparatively little tannin, offering less structural alteration in the wine from extending maceration. So, to protect the wine, while balancing structural benefits, the Glaabs press off their his Vermentino after two weeks maceration, then allow it to finish ferment to dryness.

Ryan then discusses the Ribolla, “Ribolla requires a lot of patience. It has a very tannic structure.” Ribolla Gialla is considered one of the most tannic white grapes, in fact. He continues, “I like the evolution of tannin you get from long maceration with Ribolla.” In working with the Ryme Ribolla Gialla, the Glaab’s patience isn’t just kept through extended maceration (their 2012 is still on skins after harvesting the fruit in September), but after bottling as well. Their 2010 Ribolla Gialla will be released later this Spring.

The Glaab’s experience with macerated fermentations is extended too by Ryan’s work with Pax Mahle at Wind Gap Wines, where Ryan is Assistant Winemaker. There the team has experimented with Roussanne, Marsanne, Viognier, and Chardonnay on skins, thus witnessing the effect of using the technique on differing grape types over a number of years.

Glaab explains that when it comes to skin contact “variety is a key piece.” With some types, extended macerations can make the wines too heavy. Scientific studies have shown that extended skin contact increases the potassium levels of the wine (Ramey et al 1986), effectively raising the pH, thus making the wine heavier on the palate. This is true with as little as twenty-four hours of contact (Darias-Martin et all 2000). Skin contact also increases the aromatic and flavoral elements of a wine (Singleton et al 1983). But as Glaab explains, this has to be considered in relation to the characteristics of the particular variety. For some varieties, he points out, “the aroma and flavor are too singular, very strong and direct, almost thick” thus working against the potential advantages of time on skins. This isn’t to say you can’t successfully make an orange wine with those varieties. It is to say you may have to think about different factors in their treatment. As a result, in considering what will be heightened by fermenting on skins, the use of the technique has to be judged in balance with the overall characteristics of the particular grape type–structure and flavor, aroma and mouthfeel.

Tasting Rocky: Dirty and Rowdy’s Semillon

Hardy Wallace pours Semillon

Wallace has pulled samples from three lots of Semillon. The first comes directly from the concrete egg we’re standing beside–fruit harvested then put straight to press and into concrete for fermentation followed by aging. The second two lots were fermented on skins in a large stainless steel fermenter. After fermentation, the fruit was pressed with half going into old oak barrels, and the rest being kept in steel.

We taste the straight-to-press wine first. It is pretty while also light. As Wallace describes, “more pretty than wild.” It carries at this stage very light sleeping fruit, dried grasses, and white sage with a long tang finish. We move to the wine from barrel. It has a stimulating, vivacious nose, with refreshing lifted elements. The palate is rocky and stimulating. The flavors of the press lot are present, but richer, with more charisma. This rendition is pretty with substance. The third lot, also skin fermented, is tasted. It has the wildest edge to it, but with a more focused texture than the barrel aged wine. Finally, we quickly mix the three together in rough proportions. The blend immediately offers a river bed nose. It is multi-layered, grassy, herbal, and hits in stages. The palate too is multi-dimensional, and multi-staged, rocky. This wine opens to gorgeous.


To read Part 3 in this series: The Butterfly Effect: How the death of a fad gave birth to beautiful color in wine, Part 3: The Craft of Wine Tasting, and the Question of Responsibility, Conversation with Two Sommeliers

To read last year’s series explaining Orange Wines beginning with how they’re made, then their presence in Georgia, Italy, and California, begin here: Understanding Orange Wines Part 1: A Quick and Dirty Look at How They’re Made and What Their Tannins Do To Our Saliva


As this series continues specific grape varieties and other examples of both Oregon and California wines will also be explored. The question of terroir will also be more centrally addressed in a future post in this series.

Copyright 2013 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to


Ribolla Gialla in Russian River Valley: Visiting the Bowland’s Tanya Vineyard

Chris Bowland, of Bowland Vineyard Management, fell in love with old vine, head trained zinfandel and in 2006, along with his wife, Tanya, decided to start a zinfandel vineyard in Russian River Valley. The Bowland’s Vineyard sits, then, at the Eastern end of the Valley on 6 acres of land, with 5 vine planted.

The challenge, as Bowland describes it, with striving for an old vine zinfandel vineyard rests in having to begin first with young vines. Old vines only develop from having at some point been planted new. Currently, in California, it can be hard to afford cultivating the younger plants because of the difficulty associated with selling their fruit year to year. As Bowland explains, everyone wants old vine zin, and so few purchase the fruit from younger vines. In order to enrich the economic viability of their family vineyard, the Bowlands decided to move from their Zinfandel-only property, to cultivating other varieties as well.

Bowland wanted to incorporate white grapes, and so turned to UC Davis to find cuttings for plants less known in the area. As a result, in 2010, he budded over a half acre total of both Fiano, and Greco, and also purchased all of the cuttings the university had of Ribolla Gialla–enough for two rows. In 2011, Bowland was then able to bud over three more rows of Ribolla, taken from his own young plants, leading to 3/4 of an acre now total–the second largest planting of the variety in North America (to the Vare Vineyards 2 1/2 acres).

The Ribolla Gialla of Russian River Valley stands in important contrast to that found at the Vare Vineyard in Napa Valley. In terms of site specifics, Bowland Vineyard offers heavy clay loam for the plants to root in, while the Vare vineyard rests in more rocky soils. While Vare vineyard is in the much warmer Napa Valley, it still sits in a cold air drainage at the start of Napa’s Dry Creek Canyon. Tanya vineyard, on the other hand, is found in the cool climate Russian River Valley, at the more open Eastern end, with its Ribolla harvest already several weeks behind that of Vare’s.

Another interesting factor plays out in the differences between Bowland and Vare fruit. While the cuttings of Ribolla Gialla found at Vare Vineyard made their way into the U.S. through rather direct routes between Italy and California, the Bowland cuttings arrived certified clean from UC Davis. Vare Ribolla is known to be loaded with multiple viruses, that would seem to both limit the vigor of the vines, and bring character to the fruit. Depending on ones view, the clean cuttings may improve the overall quality of the variety, while others worry clean cuttings will lead to less interesting overall flavor. The Bowland’s vineyard, however, is entirely new, as are certified clean Ribolla Gialla vines in North America. At this point, the resulting differences from lack of virus are not yet apparent.

What can be seen just from looking at the current crop at Bowland’s vineyard is at least two fold–the Ribolla fruit is large and consistently sized, and the overall crop is considerable. Bowland admits he is learning the fruit, and its preferred farming methods over time. While he’s pleased with this year’s abundance he believes next year he is likely to drop fruit earlier in the season to channel the vines vigor into fruit character.

2012 will be the first year Bowland’s Ribolla is sold for commercial harvest. Three winemakers are purchasing the fruit for production–Jim Cowan of Cowan Cellars, Dan Petroski of Massican Wines, and Thomas Brown of Schrader Cellars. In 2011 Bowland kept the fruit from his two rows of Ribolla Gialla for a home wine project he describes as made in more of an ultra clean “chablis style.”

Thank you to Chris Bowland for taking time to meet with me!
Thank you to Dan Petroski.

Attending Ribolla Gialla University, Part 1: Meeting George Vare:

Attending Ribolla Gialla University, Part 2: (A Life in Wine) George Vare, Friuli and Slovenia:

Attending Ribolla Gialla University, Part 3: Friuli Fest 2012, Ribolla Gialla Tasting and Discussion:

Attending Ribolla Gialla University, Part 4: Harvest of the George Vare Vineyard with Steve Matthiasson:

Attending Ribollat Gialla University, Part 6: The Vare Vineyard Tasting, Arlequin Wine Merchant:

Attending Ribolla Gialla University, Part 7: The Matthiasson Vineyard, Napa:


Post-edit: The Bowland’s vineyard is named “Tanya’s Vineyard.” Previously this post referred to the vineyard simply as “Bowland Vineyard.”

Copyright 2012 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to

Harvesting Ribolla Gialla

Steve Matthiasson manages the George Vare Vineyard in Napa, which includes 2 1/2 acres of Ribolla Gialla, the first plantings of the variety in California. This morning was the initial harvest of the fruit for the 2012 vintage, selecting Ribolla for the Massican label, Arnot-Roberts, and Matthiasson’s own label of the same name. Early next week others that source Ribolla from the Vare Vineyard will pursue their picking. Steve was kind enough to invite me along for today’s morning harvest.

This morning’s Ribolla will be used by both Massican and Matthaisson for their white blends. In each case, the labels pick early to take advantage of the higher acidity of the fruit at this stage. As Dan Petroski of Massican explains, he picks early, selecting fruit for varietal typicity, thereby drawing out more of the grape’s unique aromatics. Ribolla is also known for offering pleasing texture and weight in a white blend.

Tasting fresh Ribolla fruit with Steve Matthiasson, he describes the flavors. What he is impressed by with Ribolla Gialla is the way that the fruit itself tastes of mineral qualities. As he explains it, wines that show so-called minerality often do so because of choices made in the wine making process, without the original fruit necessarily offering those same flavoral components. Ribolla, on the other hand, shows the mineral flavors right off the vine. Matthaisson describes what he tastes from the fruit of the Vare Vineyard–a taste of wet stone, followed by a long finishing smell of rain on hot concrete. Minutes later I can still taste the steam and a slight tang from the pop of the grapes.

The last three years Arnot-Roberts have sourced Ribolla from the Vare vineyard making small bottlings of a full varietal with the fruit. In 2009 and 2010 they brought the fruit straight to press, making an ultra clean version of the wine. 2011 they chose to foot tred the grapes, leaving six hours of skin contact for a little more texture and phenolic presence. This morning’s pick will bring something new for the winemakers. They have recently purchased a new Spanish-made Amphora, in which they intend to make Ribolla Gialla for the 2012 vintage. The Spanish Amphorae are made with denser sides than traditional to Georgian-style Kveri. The difference is that wine makers using the Spanish Amphora, such as Alto Adige based Elisabetta Foradori, often choose both not to bury the clay vessel, and also not to line it. Georgian-style Amphora, on the other hand, are both buried in the ground, and lined with beeswax before being filed with fruit for wine. Nathan Roberts and Duncan Arnot intend to follow the practice particular to the Spanish style vessels. post edit: Spanish made clay wine vessels are called there Tinajas. Georgian style vessels, kveri, or qveri. In Italy, anfora. In English these are all generally called Amphora.

Harvesting Ribolla Gialla, George Vare Vineyard, Sept 14 a.m. 2012

The 2012 vintage shows the greatest consistency of fruit for the life of the Ribolla Gialla plantings in this vineyard. In past vintages, there has been a higher proportion of chicks, smaller grapes, caused by a virus present in the Ribolla vines. In Chardonnay, hens and chicks (large and small size fruit) are prized for the textural addition offered by the size variation. The smaller fruit in Chardonnay add a waxier quality to the body of the wine because of the higher skin-to-juice ratio that many wine makers and drinkers appreciate. Steve Matthiasson explains that he likes finding hens and chicks in Ribolla too both for the textural benefit it offers, but also for the flavor complexity generated by the size differences. Others that prefer a riper style to their Ribolla, on the other hand, sometimes seek more consistency in the fruit size as a way of decreasing the potential for heaviness they believe could come with the extra phenolic content of the skins.

Harvesting Ribolla Gialla, George Vare Vineyard, Sept 14 a.m. 2012

Ribolla Gialla picked and ready to be weighed, and delivered

Sharpening the Hook Knife used for harvesting the grape clusters

Gathering the picked fruit into bins for delivery

Ribolla Gialla picked and gathered into bins


For previous installments in this series, visit the following links:

Attending Ribolla Gialla University, Part 1: Meeting George Vare:

Attending Ribolla Gialla University, Part 2: (A Life in Wine) George Vare, Friuli and Slovenia:

Attending Ribolla Gialla University, Part 3: Friuli Fest 2012, Ribolla Gialla Tasting and Discussion:

Attending Ribolla Gialla University, Part 5: Russian River Valley Ribolla Gialla, The Bowland’s Tanya Vineyard:

Attending Ribollat Gialla University, Part 6: The Vare Vineyard Tasting, Arlequin Wine Merchant:

Attending Ribolla Gialla University, Part 7: The Matthiasson Vineyard, Napa:


Thank you to Steve Matthiasson for including me in the harvest this morning.

Thank you to George Vare and Matthew Rorick for keeping me informed on harvest dates.

Thank you to Dan Petroski and Nathan Roberts.

Copyright 2012 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to


A Response to Steve Heimoff: Considering his Original Question

Steve Heimoff asks, what are the implications for wineries as social media shifts away from words, more towards images?

I want to take up Heimoff’s ideas on this topic in order to consider briefly how wineries can leverage the power of images for their own marketing goals. To do so, I’ll first consider aspects of Heimoff’s account, then show where I think his analysis points to ways we can go further in recognizing the power of images.

click on comic to enlarge

In his post from September 5, Steve Heimoff considers what he sees as the shift in social media from primarily word based communication towards more visual based sharing. As Heimoff describes it, social media forms such as Facebook (and I assume also blogs) had initially been more text driven, but recently have changed to become much more about image sharing. This shifting phenomenon Heimoff sees repeated too via sites like Pinterest and Instagram.

In describing the movement from words to images, Heimoff wants to ask whether the change will impact wineries marketing plans, and whether visual based forms of social media can really help wineries’ wine sales at all.

To consider the question, Heimoff first asks whether or not any particular product being sold is in itself a visual product. As I read Heimoff’s post, the idea here is that if a product is primarily visual (like fashion, or art, as examples), then it should be easier to sell that product via visual imagery (I don’t think this is at all an obvious claim, but I’m going to ignore that here to focus instead on a different argument). To clarify, claiming a product is primarily visual does not foreclose the possibility it is also delivering other ideas, it is just asking what the driving aspects of a product are. So, as a different example, while a novel might need smart design on the book cover (a visual element), the value of the novel itself is more primarily found in the ideas and story within the novel (the text). His point in exploring this idea is to state that wineries’ apparent product (that is, wine) is not something that is primarily visual. So, in other words, the label of the wine may be relevant to how a consumer responds initially to a wine, like the cover design of a book. But wine is not primarily about the label on the bottle, it is more importantly about the wine inside the bottle. As the argument goes, since wine is, apparently, not a visual product it will not readily sell via visual-dominated marketing or visual-dominated social media presentation.

If wine is not a product with an importantly visual element, what is it? According to Heimoff, wine is not a product with image-driven sales (like Lanvin’s hard to walk in but still really gorgeous high heels might be), but is instead an item dependent on data for sales. In Heimoff’s view, to readily purchase wine consumers need data on the wine not just a picture of a bottle. Here Heimoff considers the effect of something like the image of a cute dog on a consumer. The dog may trigger an “Awww” response, as he puts it, but in his view triggering that feeling isn’t doing the work of building a relationship with the person that happens to think the dog is cute. When considering what kind of images a winery might post online he doesn’t go far beyond the possibility of an image of their wine bottle, or perhaps of their winery. At that level of sophistication, it seems easy to agree with Heimoff that a picture of a bottle of wine isn’t doing a lot to deliver data to a consumer. The bottle of wine photo doesn’t do a lot to give consumers data they may want.

What data does Heimoff see as relevant? The relevant data, according to his account, includes information like, a wines’ grape types, its flavor profile, the cost of the wine, and perhaps the origin of the grapes, but as he describes it what that data offers is a kind of consumer assurance of the role the wine will play in the consumers’ life–that is, whether they’ll like it. The point Heimoff wants to make, however, is that what wineries are trying to do through this data and assurance combo is build a relationship with consumers, a relationship that over time will help sales.

Heimoff has more to say on the subject than just these points, and I certainly recommend reading his post directly. You can find it here:

However, what I’d like to respond to is Heimoff’s analysis of the word versus image dichotomy and his implicit assumption that the imagery operating in social media is not effectively enough delivering the data consumers want and/or need. In doing this I want to assume that Heimoff is right about the point that consumers need or want data as a way to understand what they are buying, though I think what we mean by data could be further considered. I also want to agree with him in the idea that wineries need or want to build relationships with consumers as a way of supporting sales. I’m going to assume that effective marketing is partially about building such relationships (though I think it’s also about triggering a spontaneous purchase from a consumer). Where I’m going to try and push Heimoff’s account further is in considering how the visual can actually work to build this relationship and share the data Heimoff is looking for.

A Response to Steve Heimoff: The Power of Images, and the Role of Marketing

Let’s go ahead and assume Heimoff is right that social media has become far more visually driven, and from that perspective reconsider his question. What is the implication for wineries?

click on comic to enlarge

Heimoff is right. Images operate differently than text does in making contact with a consumer. Where Heimoff’s account can push further, however, is in his consideration of what imagery has the power to do.

People involved in marketing, as wineries certainly are, can never under estimate the importance or power of the visual in selling their product, whatever that product happens to be. To put it another way, marketing is generally dependent on visual elements, and has been since before the introduction of social media, or even print media. Signs and billboards are a simple example of our dependence on the visual for quickly delivering a consumer response. With print media, the introduction of print advertising and associated simple imagery can be seen. In social media the potential marketing for the visual expands to include moveable icons, or even videos. Behind each of these forms is the presentation of a kind of brand through which a company, person, or product builds their longer term relationship (or not) with consumers. In each case, the visual elements act to give consumers at least two things, which I’ll name in a moment.

The challenge to Heimoff’s account rests in his implicit assumption of text and imagery being a simple dichotomy. In this view, words operate to deliver information as text, on the one hand, and images act like the image of the dog I quickly think is cute, or of the ever-enticing Lanvin shoe I can’t stop thinking about (god, I love the combination of leather, a stiletto, and a smart ankle cuff), on the other. That is, from this perspective, images are not assumed to deliver information in the same way that text does.

click on comic to enlarge

Here’s the point: the sort of data communication that Heimoff is looking for, and assumes will build a relationship with consumers for wineries is possible through visual forms. The visual turn in social media has profound implications for wineries. That is, visual marketing can be effective when it accomplishes either of the following two goals (and I’m sure there are other potential goals to seek here too. I’m choosing to focus on these two simply to make the point that the visual is thoroughly relevant for wineries).

First of all, it is possible for images to either implicitly or explicitly deliver information that lets consumers know if they want the product or not. In the case of wine, one example occurs by sharing tasting notes through visual elements rather than only textual ones. The visual can also be blended with text. The comics I have been imbedding in this post are an example of a way to do this. The feedback I’ve received from readers, both general consumers, and consumers from within the wine industry, is that these wine comics make the flavor profile of the wine, and therefore the experience of drinking it, more accessible than a simple listing of taste components. Even if in a bare sense the information presented through the comic is remarkably similar when listed out as mere descriptors to the information given in a textual tasting note, the shift from textual to visual presentation turns out to be important. That is, the form of presentation of information has a significant impact on the reader, and information can be delivered in visual form. The reality of such impact I believe reaches to the second possible way to harness the power of visual imagery.

The feeling response Heimoff points to through his example of the cute dog picture is, I believe, important. Marketing has the power to trigger spontaneous purchases, or sudden interest, as well as develop longer term buying relationships with consumers. Understanding that imagery doesn’t just deliver information but also triggers feelings that matter, with those feelings leading to choices people make, including choices of what to buy, is foundational to marketing and has been since long before the advent of social media.

click on comic to enlarge: this comic drawn for Talia “I’ll Swirl Anything” Baiocchi

In this way, the apparent shift in social media to focusing on the visual is something that has profound implications for wineries, but also too for all of us, as we strive to re-imagine the ways we communicate with each other, visually or otherwise.


Hawk Wakawaka Wine Reviews began in mid-2011 as a primarily comics based wine blog, and has expanded to include more writing, and also photography. The comics shown throughout this post are just a few examples of images that have previously appeared as a wine review feature throughout this blog, and are all hand drawn by Ms Wakawaka herself.

Thank you to Steve Heimoff for his post.

Thank you to Julie Ann Kodmur.

Copyright 2012 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to


Fruili-inspired Whites in California: Enrico Bertoz, and Arbe Garbe

Starting in the Central Valley of California, Enrico Bertoz kept moving North looking for the perfect place to make his wines. He found the sandy loam of the Russian River Valley, and stuck, beginning his label, Arbe Garbe. The focus is on a name sake white blend, with single grape varietals that showcase the best of the vintage.

the new 2011 labels–this photo is the first public viewing of them, designed by Enrico Bertoz

the tasting line up–2009 Ribolla Gialla, four vintages of Arbe Garbe (2009–2011), and 2011 Malvasia

four vintages of Arbe Garbe–2008, 2009, 2010, 2011. 2007 was the first, but it is no longer available for tasting. The Arbe Garbe blend is modeled after a Bianco style wine in Friuli–blending of white grapes changing depending on the vintage.The 2008, 40% Pinot Bianco, 50% Malvasia Bianca, 10% Viognier with flavors and bouquet of light beeswax, hints of dark nuts, toasted bread, and a zippy salinity. 14.5% alcohol.

the grapes that go into the Arbe Garbe blend are primarily from the Russian River Valley, though 2009 also included Ribolla Gialla from Vare’s Napa vineyard. The 2009 carried 85% Pinot Grigio, and equal portions Ribolla Gialla and Friulano. (the Malvasia Bianca was fried that year do to high heat late in the season.) The 2009 presentation carries a pickled lemon palate (pleasing salt with citrus), with a slightly smokey nose showing almost mackerel fishy notes–that is fatty sea fresh elements (again, this is pleasing)–and light beeswax plus incense, alongside citrus blossom and nut. This is a rich rendition of the blend. I love this vintage. 14.5% alcohol.

the 2010 vintage presents 50% Pinot Grigio, 40% Malvasia Bianca, and 10% Ribolla Gialla–the Ribolla Gialla with 36 hours of skin contact. The wine showcases the textural elements of the phenolic Ribolla Gialla, with the fragrant nose of the Malvasia Bianca. There is a pleasing salinity in the palate alongside the richness of nut skins, freshness of citrus blossom, and good acidity with a tickle-y mouthfeel. 14.3% alcohol.

2009 was a good vintage for Ribolla Gialla in Napa Valley. Getting excited about the quality of the fruit, Enrico Bertoz chose to do a single varietal bottling of the grape. This is a wonderful white with a nose of light wax, saline, and light citrus, showcasing a very active mouth and nice palate of warm wax, fresh citrus, and aged nut, plus the wonderful structure of Ribolla. 14.5% alcohol.

Enrico explains that he is able to make his wines thanks to the help of many others, including his meticulous and open minded vineyard owner and manager.

More on Enrico’s work to follow.

Thank you to Enrico Bertoz. I very much enjoyed tasting your wines, and meeting you.

Thank you to Dan Petroski.

Copyright 2012 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to



Friuli Fest 2012, Hosted by Steve and Jill Klein Matthiasson

Steve and Jill Klein Matthiasson

Ryan Glaab, and his 7-month old son

Abe Schoener

Johanna Jensen

George Vare and Steve Matthiasson

Robbie Meyer

Matthew Rorick

me, baby Glaab, Randall Grahm, George Vare, Abe Schoener

Erin Meyers

Dan Petroski

Megan and Ryan Glaab

George Vare’s sparkling Ribolla Gialla

Enrico Bertoz and George Vare

Thank you to Steve and Jill Mathiasson for hosting, and presenting!

Thank you to Robbie Meyer, Dan Petroski, Matthew Rorick, Ryan and Megan Glaab for presenting, and sharing your wines. Thank you too to Arnot-Roberts, and your lovely wife, Erin, for sharing your wines.

Thank you to George Vare.

More from Ribolla Gialla University on the way–information on California Ribolla Gialla producers. In the meantime, enjoy these other entries from RGU:

Attending Ribolla Gialla University, Part 1:

Attending Ribolla Gialla University, Part 2:

Attending Ribolla Gialla University, Part 4: Harvest of the George Vare Vineyard with Steve Matthiasson:

Attending Ribolla Gialla University, Part 5: Russian River Valley Ribolla Gialla, The Bowland’s Tanya Vineyard:

Attending Ribollat Gialla University, Part 6: The Vare Vineyard Tasting, Arlequin Wine Merchant:

Attending Ribolla Gialla University, Part 7: The Matthiasson Vineyard, Napa:

Copyright 2012 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to

Bringing Ribolla Gialla to California

“I had started Luna with John Kongsgaard as the first wine maker, and John said to me, ‘Let’s go to Europe and find the holy grail of Pinot Grigio.’ Our first crush of Pinot Grigio was in 1997. So, we went to Alsace, and loved the wines. But it was not for Napa–not like our soils, or our environment. So, then we went to Alto Adige, in the North of Italy, but there it was too cold. We ended up in Friuli. The area is different, but more akin to Napa. Then our very last appointment before we were leaving we met Stanislao Radikion. It was 7:30 at night and we stayed till after 1:30 in the morning, leaving Italy the next day.

“John and Stanislao hit it off in terms of wine making–whole cluster press, barrel fermentation, natural yeast. So, in 1997 we started going to Friuli. We’d bottle our wine, then bring it to our friends in Friuli. It afforded us expanding our friendships there, and deepening them. We’d share our wine and say, ‘okay, give us our grades.’

“After a few years, we were tasting different wines there and I fell in love with Ribolla Gialla. We were close with Josko Gravner. So, I came back to the states and looked, but then you couldn’t find any Ribolla Gialla. We had planted some Pinot Grigio for Luna here around the house. But it didn’t take. So, in 1999 we put in Ribolla Gialla. Then in 2000 we grafted another acre. So, now we have two and a half acres of Ribolla Gialla.

“I took the Ribolla Gialla back to Luna. But by then it had started getting more mainstream, and I thought this is ridiculous. So I started making Ribolla Gialla myself, and bottled it under my own label–Vare.

“We expanded our friend base from Friuli, and started having friends in Slovenia too. Ribolla Gialla is a very tannic white, one of the most tannic, I believe. It is a fabulous blending grape. It has a lot of body. You can blend it up to 50% with another varietal, and it will retain the flavor of the other varietal while adding the body of Ribolla Gialla. Then the wine has interesting character.

“Here in California now there are eight different wineries that use Ribolla Gialla either as a varietal or blend. On one of our trips to Friuli we were with Gravner and in the corner there was a barrel with a clear side. You could see into the barrel. He brought me over and said it was full of Ribolla Gialla that had been in there on skins for over a year. I thought, this is going to be a god awful mess but it was phenomenal. So, we came back and we made it.

“One year we had too much Ribolla Gialla so we decided to try a dessert wine. We hung it out in the vineyard and it became a moldy mess. It didn’t work. Another year we decided to try a bubbly Ribolla Gialla. Friuli doesn’t make it sparkling. But I asked a friend and he told me in Slovenia they do. There they make it 50% Chardonnay, 50% Ribolla Gialla. So, I spoke with Bobby from Langevin. He makes the best chardonnay in California, in my opinion. He wanted to try sparkling chardonnay but didn’t have the equipment. So I told him I could make it here and traded him for chardonnay. I made it both ways, one all Ribolla Gialla, and one 50/50 with Chardonnay. It is completely dry because it is not disgorged. We had fun with it.

“Now, Aleks Simcic, my mentor in Slovenia. When we first met he told me that the grape requires skin contact. I said, how much? And he said, it depends on the year. Oh, that’s helpful. So, we made eight different lots, each with a different amount of skin contact. One whole cluster. One 24 hours soaking. One 48 hours soaking. Then another we just put the crush right into the press. We tasted all of them, and the 48 hours was our fav. and the crush on the press was almost the same. It seems to work beautifully for skin contact. So, from then on we used the crush on the press. Robbie up in Calistoga though has no crusher. So, he pressed the fruit. The skins were still in the press and he just poured the juice back in. Enrico Bertoz did it that was too for two years. It worked.

“I don’t really sell commercially anymore. I used to particularly in New York City. But I didn’t want to travel it around to sell anymore. So, now I really only sell to the French Laundry. Their Sommelier came over to help with blends one time and he said, ‘George, if you can make these in 500 ml I’ll buy all of it.’ I said, done! That’s how I got into 500 ml.

“I wanted to plant more Ribolla Gialla but vineyard land here hasn’t come down so it’s not economically viable to expand it.

“Somehow Randall Grahm got interested in Ribolla Gialla so he tracked me down and we talked on the phone. Then he came up here and we had lunch. He told me he has a big experimental vineyard spot so I gave him cuttings enough for 10 acres. I figured, Randall is the best marketer of wine anywhere, so wouldn’t it be great if he made a name for it? Then there is always room for a high end version from up here.

“As you know, wine in Friuli is part of every meal. It is the most wonderful food wine I know. Probably partly because of the tannin.

“I personally believe some producers in California are doing really unique things. Now that the bloom is off big overripe California wines, these people are starting to get attention. That is the future of the wine industry, and I love supporting that.”


Thank you to George Vare.

Attending Ribolla Gialla University, Part 1: Meeting George Vare:

Attending Ribolla Gialla University, Part 3:

Attending Ribolla Gialla University, Part 4: Harvest of the George Vare Vineyard with Steve Matthiasson:

Attending Ribolla Gialla University, Part 5: Russian River Valley Ribolla Gialla, The Bowland’s Tanya Vineyard:

Attending Ribollat Gialla University, Part 6: The Vare Vineyard Tasting, Arlequin Wine Merchant:

Attending Ribolla Gialla University, Part 7: The Matthiasson Vineyard, Napa:

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