Piedmont is in Italy's northwest and borders Switzerland and France. True to the meaning of its name (foot of the mountain), Piedmont is a land of mountains. It is surrounded on three sides by the Alps, with the highest peaks and largest glaciers in Italy. Yet, the Mediterranean Ocean is less than 15 miles away. The temperature variation between the cold mountains and the warm ocean causes the region to fill with fog in the morning, slowly burning off over the course of the day. Because of this, land at higher altitudes on the hills receive more sunlight, making those the best sites for growing grapes.
Considered one of the world’s great winemaking regions, Piedmont is sometimes called the Burgundy of Italy. The region is most famous for its red wines, particularly Barolo, Nebbiolo and Dolcetto. However, it also is a strong producer of whites, most notably Moscato d’Asti, and it is the native home of the very rare Arneis.
During one of many trips to visit the Currado family of the historic 143-year-old Vietti Winery, the Ponzi Family was delighted by the flavors and balance of the Arneis, a white wine whose name means “Little Rascal”, and by the dry spicy flavors of Dolcetto, a red whose name means “Little Sweet One.” They surmised that the Chehalem Mountains of Oregon would provide the ideal growing conditions for these Italian varietals, as both areas sit right on the 45th parallel north latitudinally and experience similar weather conditions due to comparable distances from mountains and oceans. They planted five acres of Arneis and two acres of Dolcetto in the early 1990s, becoming one of only a handful of American producers of these unusual wines, a status that remains today.
Dolcetto is neither little nor sweet. In fact, it’s quite dry. The name refers to this wine’s naturally low acidity. Dolcetto grapes ripen early, producing bold wines with deep color. It is also sometimes called Nera Dolce and Ormeasco. In its native Piedmont, Dolcetto often takes a backseat to the more popular Barbera and Nebbiolo grapes, but Dolcetto is relatively hardy and will ripen on lesser vineyard sites where those other grapes would struggle. It happily ripens just about anywhere, and when planted in quality sites the character of this wine really shines. If you’ve tried Dolcetto and been underwhelmed by it, it may be you’ve sampled one from a less-than-ideal vineyard.
Upon discovering Dolcetto, the Ponzi Family planted two acres of it in 1992 in the Aurora vineyard, located in the Chehalem Mountains AVA. The Aurora vineyard has a consistent history of producing beautiful fruit and is a great site for this varietal. In such a vineyard, and under the care of master Winemaker Luisa Ponzi, the Ponzi Dolcetto is a delightful, flavorful wine.
Dolcetto is considered a light, easy-drinking red wine. It pairs well with pasta, pizza and strong-flavored cold cuts like salami.
Ponzi Vineyards makes very limited quantities of Dolcetto every year. It is only available online and in our Tasting Room.
Arneis earned the moniker “Little Rascal” due to its reputation for being rather difficult to grow. When you master it, as Winemaker Luisa Ponzi has, it produces a delightful dry wine. This rare varietal was once on the verge of extinction in its native Piedmont, with only two producers growing it in the 1970s, one of which was the Vietti Winery visited by the Ponzi Family. Plantings have since increased in Piedmont and in New World wine regions, but it remains lesser known. Ponzi Vineyards planted five acres of it in 1991 in the Aurora vineyard and remain one of the few producers growing it in the United States.
Arneis pairs beautifully with seafood, white meats (like turkey or chicken) and creamy cheeses.
Ponzi Vineyards makes very limited quantities of Arneis every year. It is only available online and in our Tasting Room.
The Laurelwood at Ponzi Vineyards is a wine country hospitality space like no other, and the attention to every detail has been meticulous. Local food and flavors will be served here to gatherings large and small, and the dinnerware had to be beautiful while reflecting the aesthetics and values of the Willamette Valley. Dedicated to supporting local makers, Anna Maria Ponzi found the perfect plates in the open-air studio of the talented ceramic artist, Sarah Wolf.
With a background in geochemistry, Wolf decided to return to school and earned a Post Baccalaureate Certificate in Ceramics at the Oregon College of Art and Craft. Working from her studio in Northwest Portland, she is quickly earning a loyal following with her unique ceramic dinnerware and vases. Her designs are minimalist and modern, with a slight folk-art feel that is very contemporary.
Ponzi Vineyards is very pleased to have partnered with Wolf Ceramics on such a special custom dinnerware set for use in our new hospitality space, The Laurelwood. The design of The Laurelwood pays tribute to founders Dick and Nancy Ponzi while moving forward into the future under the leadership of sisters Anna Maria and Luisa Ponzi. Wolf’s work resonates that concept in a marriage of rustic feel and modern lines. Gatherings held in The Laurelwood will not only be hosted in one of the finest hospitality spaces in the Willamette Valley, they will also dine in style on dinnerware crafted by this gifted artist.
Ceramics and winemaking both are equal parts art and science. As a native Oregonian, Wolf is a perfect choice for this space built by a family so deeply rooted in the region. In selecting other artists and craftspeople, Ponzi Vineyards looked for not just skill, but also for people who have an intrinsic understanding of the area and its culture, and who contribute to the elevation of the region’s prominence through their work. Joining Wolf in The Laurelwood are a gifted woodworker, metalworker and architect (stay tuned for their stories soon). The synergy of their creations is unique, yet reflective of the past, making The Laurelwood truly one of a kind.
To inquire about The Laurelwood, contact email@example.com or call (503) 628-1227.
Happy Earth Day! We are delighted that this annual event supporting environmental protection coincides with our announcement of bud break at Ponzi Vineyards.
On April 20th, we had reports from our Vineyard Manager Miguel Ortiz of bud break of Chardonnay Clone 96 in the Avellana vineyard (pictured right). We also had bud break of Arneis in our Aurora vineyard (pictured above). These sweet buds signal another year of life and growth for Ponzi Vineyards.
With nearly 50 years experience farming in the Willamette Valley, the Ponzi Family intimately understands the importance of protecting the natural environment. Climate change is a reality that can affect how grapes grow and ripen. To ensure that these historic vineyards thrive in an increasingly unpredictable climate, the experienced vineyard team pays constant attention to the vines. Winemaker Luisa Ponzi believes that natural farming practices are an essential element of Oregon’s unique terroir. For Ponzi Vineyards, this unwavering commitment to environmental stewardship includes using earth-friendly practices in all areas of its business:
“When I come to work in the morning and see these little sweeties, I blow them a kiss and thank them for returning another year,” says Winery President and second-generation vintner Anna Maria Ponzi.
These environmentally friendly practices help ensure we have bud break next year, and every year after that. For a detailed list of our sustainable practices, click here.
The arrival of the buds means it’s time for the vineyard crew to begin the meticulous process of shoot thinning. Shoot thinning is the first step to balancing yield. The canes--previously pruned and tied--must now be carefully examined and every bud counted. The crew will pluck off the new buds, leaving just five per cane. With two canes per plant, each will have ten buds. These buds will grow into shoots that develop two or three clusters each. When these clusters form, the crew will again work through the vineyard, thinning down to one cluster per shoot, for a total of ten clusters per plant.
The thinning process ensures that every plant focuses on developing ten amazing clusters, rather than trying to grow twenty or thirty clusters of lesser quality. The plant’s resources are not spread thin, and the resulting crop is one of quality, not quantity.
This is thoughtful work and the crew moves slowly, counting and carefully choosing which buds to keep and which to remove. Every single vine is touched by human hands, a reminder of our direct connection to the earth. If we are gentle and thoughtful, it will continue to sustain us.
In between each row is a riot of growth: blades of grass, pops of purple flowers, yellow flowers. With the buds on the grapevines, these wildflower-looking plants also burst into life. This is our cover crop, also sometimes called “green manure”. Among them are legumes--sweetpea, fava beans, vetch--as well as grasses, red clover and mustard. Once they fully bloom, they will be tilled into the soil, providing the grapevines with a rich source of nitrogen. A natural fertilizer, it’s right in line with the Ponzi Vineyard’s commitment to sustainability and gentle stewardship of the land.
And they’re really pretty, too.
We hope you will celebrate this Earth Day and bud break at Ponzi Vineyards with us. Have a glass of LIVE-certified, Salmon-Safe, gravity-flow wine and give thanks and respect to this beautiful world we inhabit. Cheers!
A table spread with good food and good wine has always been a significant part of the Ponzi Family’s Italian heritage. Wine is nearly inseparable from food, so much so that pairing it properly with a meal is almost an art in itself. When Dick and Nancy Ponzi brought their young family to Oregon in the 1960s and founded one of the first vineyards in the region, they understood that the bounty of the area had much to contribute to their wine and to their family traditions. They embraced what local farms had to offer and helped developed a distinct Willamette Valley Cuisine, opening a bistro in Dundee that focused on dishes sourced with regional ingredients, and Nancy Ponzi authored a cookbook of Italian-inspired recipes interwoven with a Pacific Northwest influence.
Moving ever forward, Ponzi Vineyards is further elevating Willamette Valley cuisine by creating a modern hospitality space that offers locally-sourced dishes paired perfectly with our portfolio of award-winning wines. To achieve this, we have invited Chef David Sapp to join us as Culinary Director. An exciting addition to our team, Chef Sapp brings not only an impressive history in some of Portland’s most renowned restaurants, he brings an understanding of the Willamette Valley and its bounty, and a philosophy grounded in his own traditions of family and hospitality.
Read more about Chef Sapp, and try a favorite recipe--his grandfather’s Pimento Cheese!
"We're thrilled to be working with a chef of this caliber,” comments Anna Maria Ponzi, President and Director of Sales and Marketing at Ponzi Vineyards. “Being able to offer the vibrancy of the Portland food scene in the beautiful setting of our vineyard property is exciting. Collaborating with Chef Sapp will enable us to create local and exclusive culinary experiences for our guests. He also shares our company values of sustainability, hospitality and innovative quality. It's a great fit!"
Chef Sapp most recently served as Chef de Cuisine at Park Kitchen in Portland, Oregon. He will be overseeing the culinary program at Ponzi Vineyards, a founding Oregon winery deeply rooted in the Willamette Valley and its cuisine.
“Nothing pairs better with wine produced in the Willamette Valley than the crops and animals raised in the same region,” Sapp stated. This philosophy of terroir will be the foundation of the experience he plans to provide at Ponzi Vineyards.
Born in Atlanta, Georgia, Sapp grew up in his grandfather’s kitchen, absorbing cooking skills along with a love for Southern cuisine. In 2008, he moved to Portland, Oregon, and and went on to intern under Dolan Lane and Kyo Koo of Clarklewis, work as a chef instructor at Sur la Table and curate the breakfast room at Ace Hotel before joining the Park Kitchen team in 2013. The following year he assumed the role of Chef de Cuisine, combining a tradition of careful attention to the flavors of the Pacific Northwest with the warmth and hospitality of his Southern roots.
We asked Chef Sapp to share a favorite recipe with us and, true to his Southern roots, he delivered his grandfather’s Pimento Cheese recipe. Give it a try, and let us know how it turned out!
Suggested wine pairing: The 2014 Ponzi Classico Pinot Noir. The white pepper notes play well with the pimentos, the fruit flavors play well with cheese, and the nice acidity keeps the pairing balanced.
While sipping a glass of Oregon Pinot noir, it’s not often we think about things like vineyard maintenance. Tableside, the waiter never talks about vine pruning when describing a vintage. Yet, it’s the hard work of vineyard crews and the thoughtful implementation of vine training systems that result in the wine we enjoy so much. Some of our crew members have been with us for over 20 years, and we owe them so much for their dedication and hard work. Our Vineyard Manager, Miguel Ortiz (pictured above), oversees this skilled group of workers.
This is the second chapter of our ongoing Vineyard Series. Follow along from bud break to harvest to learn about the art and science of viticulture and how it impacts the wines and vintages you love.
Previous Vineyard Story: Pruning. Upcoming Story: Bud Break!
Just as people must train long and hard in order to achieve success, the vines must be trained to have a successful harvest year after year. The process is long and requires patience--it takes years before a vine is ready to produce fruit--yet the end result is well worth the effort. But what does it mean to train a grapevine?
Grapes are among the world’s oldest cultivated crops. Viticulturists have been developing vine training systems for several millennia. Cultures as far back as the ancient Egyptians and Phoenicians learned that effective vine training promoted abundant fruit.
For much of viticulture’s history, vine training from region to region varied based on tradition. In the early 20th century, many of these traditional methods were codified into wine laws and regulations, such as the French Appellation d’Origin Contrôlée (AOC) system. However, it wasn’t until the 1960s that the study and implementation of various training systems really began, right around when many New World wine regions (such as Oregon, Washington and Australia) were building up their wine industry. These young vineyards didn’t have the pressure of centuries of regional tradition, such as existed in the Old World (France, Italy, Spain, etc.). Therefore, vine growers in the New World were able to experiment and research on a large scale. They studied how particular vine training systems, pruning, and canopy management techniques impacted wine quality and developed new methods that could be adapted to the desired wine as well as to the specific labor needs and mesoclimate of a vineyard.
At Ponzi Vineyards
Back at Ponzi Vineyards, Ortiz oversees the careful bending and tying of the canes: one to the right, one to the left. After 21 seasons with us, he’s an expert. He’s watched these vines grow from little more than shoots to abundant producers of beautiful fruit.
The optimum spacing between vines has been determined after nearly fifty years of experimentation and study, and the canes are pruned to maximize fruit yield and quality within that space. While the vines themselves may be quite old, new canes grow every year. We prune the older canes and leave two of last year’s canes. These remaining canes are then trimmed and carefully bent along the fruiting wire and secured. The methods used depend on the site; our Avellana vineyard is trained using a double Guyot system to increase sunlight and ripening, and at the Historic Estate vineyard we train in what’s known as the Scott Henry Trellis to promote growth at this more vigorous site.
This process has to be done prior to bud break, which Ortiz expects in mid-April. The Ponzi Family have been refining their vineyard management over two generations. Everything is designed to encourage the best quality fruit. Attentive, sustainable vineyard management combined with gentle winemaking practices results in the beautiful benchmark wines we produce season after season.
The next time you pour a glass of wine, raise a toast to the vineyard crews that make it possible!
Post 58 has been selected as our Charity of the Month. This organization is comprised of Portland-area students aged 14-18 who engage in outdoor adventures under the guidance of experienced adults. These outdoor adventures include rock climbing, backpacking, hiking, mountaineering and more in locales around the Northwest.
Their mission is to provide an arena for personal growth and positive social interaction to a diverse group of high school students by creating experiences that foster responsibility, respect and a passion for the outdoors.
Post 58 is a personal passion project of Mia Hamacher. Mia is the daughter of winemaker Luisa Ponzi as well as member and Student President of Post 58.
"The Post ... has been such a hugely influential and important part of my adolescent life and the lives of many other teens in the Portland area. With nearly 140 current members, and outreach programs through Oregon Foster Services and Janus Youth Programming, the Post provides a uniquely safe and welcoming space, through monthly meetings, with singing, poetry and story sharing, and affordable trips that get teens into the outdoors and encourage independence and accountability."
– Mia Hamacher, member and Student President of Post 58
We invite you to visit Ponzi Vineyards this month and join us in support of this valuable organization. A portion of every tasting fee will be donated to Post 58.