Nancy Ponzi said, "We grow Arneis, Dolcetto and a bit of Nebbiolo. Why? Because we so admire the wines of Piedmont. And our friend Alfredo Currado (of Vietti in Barolo) recognized the beauty of Arneis as a stand-alone variety and is credited with saving it from extinction. It was worth the experiment (an effort to plant in the Willamette Valley) to see if early ripening Piedmont varieties would grow here, and they do, beautifully.
Not Nebbiolo however, that's just for amusement. Our Aurora site is perfect: 350 ft., approximate, an East-facing slope with East/South-East exposure, on Laurelwood soil, on its own rootstock. Irrigation is available if we need it."
And growing it? She continued, "The Arneis is just the happiest vine. It grows well, twisting and twining with a bright almost chartreuse color. We just treat it normally, keep the yields down to three tons per acre. It ripens just the tiniest bit later than Pinot Noir. The workers love harvesting Arneis as the clusters are tight, neatly arranged and relatively large. No mold. Arneis displays its rascally character in the cellar."
Ponzi said that selling it isn't easy. "The Arneis is primarily a hand-sell in retail and restaurants; people who know the variety love the Willamette Valley expression; others assume it's some sort of proprietary blend," Ponzi stated. She continued, "At our own retail venues, it sells very well. Dolcetto is better known; ours is very high quality with limited production, so it sells easily. On the other hand, we wouldn't produce large (as in several thousand cases) amounts of either variety. The Willamette Valley remains solidly Pinot Noir land. Having a vowel at the end of our name helps too."
Ponzi also produces Dolcetto. Growing it, Ponzi said, produces "big gorgeous luscious clusters. Again, crop thinning is required. Dolcetto makes birds even more insane than Pinot Noir. Young vines need to be netted to have any clusters left to harvest. Dolcetto is the last grape to be harvested--definitely at its limit in the Willamette Valley, but the resulting wine is lovely."
Cuneo Cellars has Italian Focus
Gino Cuneo of Cuneo Cellars in Carlton, Oregon said, "While we produce a number of other Northwest red wines including Pinot Noir, we believe the Italian varieties are the future for Cuneo Cellars and as such we have committed a great deal of our resources to them."
Cuneo does not own all the vineyards where he gets his fruit, but he typically has long-term per acre contracts, "Which allows us to control all aspects of management of the vineyard, i.e., timing and pruning management, crop load, shoot and leaf removal, sprays, cover crop, trellising techniques, water management, harvesting parameters, etc."
He added, "All of the physical work is done by the vineyard owners' crews. After rather extensive research here and in Italy we were able to encourage the growers to put in the clones that I thought would have the greatest chance to produce great Sangiovese. We continue to work on Nebbiolo clones. Getting certified Nebbiolo clones that are capable of producing first rate Nebbiolo is somewhat more elusive."
Cuneo chose Del Rio Vineyard in Gold Hill, Oregon (Rogue Valley) and Ciel du Cheval, Red Mountain, Washington, he said, "because of their proven ability to grow great fruit, their excellent vineyard sites and their willingness to do the extra work needed to bring along a new variety.
Sangiovese is a robust grower with large leaves and needs to be held back with means such as water deficit management, cover crops, vigorous leaf pulling and crop reduction. The Redono clone at Del Rio is cordon pruned using VSP [vertical shoot positioning]. The unknown production clone at Ciel du Cheval is fan trained. The new Brunello planting at Ciel du Cheval is spaced, as is more typical in Italy, at 3 feet by 7 feet, giving us a dense spacing of over 2,000 vines per acre. The object is to put a very light load of fruit on each vine, roughly one kilogram per vine. It is VSP trained.
"Nebbiolo, on the other hand, has long wispy growth with small leaves. It is cane pruned and is very subject to sun burn and wind damage. At Del Rio Vineyard we have adapted it to a modified VSP. It has a second cane wire running nine inches parallel to the first on the east side of the trellis. The cane is then trained onto this parallel wire and the shoots, and after they are a foot or so long, are positioned back into the original catch wire system. This then creates enough leaf cover for the fruit on the west side of the vine during the peak hours of heat and solar exposure to keep it from sunburn. We also employ more catch wires and have raised the trellis to allow for more leaves and to protect the canes from breaking. So far it seems to have worked. Both sites have warm enough climates and a long enough ripening season to ripen the fruit properly. Red Mountain is a hotter site with a shorter season from bud break to harvest whereas Gold Hill is a longer season with a slightly cooler climate."