Saturday, July 7, 2012

True Wine Lover 13.

Recently, the owners of TWWIAGE decided to do a bit of wine-library spring cleaning, which resulted in all of the staff receiving six-packs of miscellaneous wines.  In the Marketing Queen's (MQ) six-pack was the above pictured bottle of a 1979 Louis M. Martini, Monte Rosso, Sonoma Cabernet sauvignon.  The MQ brought the empty bottle into work to show me as she thought I would like the label, and I did.  The colourful pastoral scene on the front label is delightful in it's simplicity and the verbiage on the back label is pretty much the same marketing spiel that wineries still use to this day.  And just look at the alcohol - 12 1/2%, written as a fraction, not as a decimal.  But how did this 1979 wine taste?  "Delicious" was the MQ's answer: almost 33 years later this wine apparently still had a lot to offer.
Louis M. Martini, born in 1887 in Pietra Ligure, Italy, was just 12 years old when he traveled alone to join his father in the USA. Agostino Martini was a fisherman in San Francisco and the young Louis began working alongside his father selling seafood from a cart.  Louis first made wine with his father in a small shed behind the family home in 1906.  Agostino sent his son back to Italy where Louis studied oenology at the University d'Alba.  He returned from Italy in 1911 determined to pursue his passion and make a living as a winemaker.  
In 1922, Louis founded the Louis M. Martini Grape Products Company in Kingsburg, California.  During the Prohibition era, the company thrived by producing medicinal and sacramental wine, and by also selling boxes of  'Forbidden Fruit' - with the express instructions:  "Do not add water, yeast and sugar or fermentation will result."  Martini emerged from Prohibition as one of the best winemakers in California and resolved to concentrate all of his efforts on the production of premium table wines.  Anticipating the repeal of the Volstead Act, early in 1933 Louis purchased 10 acres south of St. Helena and rushed to get his newly planned winery into operation for the coming  vintage. 
Convinced of the superiority of mountain grown-grapes, in 1938 Martini purchased the Mt. Pisgah vineyard high on the Sonoma side of the Mayacamas Mountains. He renamed it Monte Rosso for it's bright red volcanic soil.  It is from this vineyard that the MQ's elderly bottle of wine originated.
Described by André Tchelistcheff as an "apostle of the California wine industry," Martini was extremely instrumental in fashioning the Napa wine industry as one would recognise it today, in fact he was a true pioneer in a number of ways.  It is said that Martini was amongst the first, if not the first, in 1968 to varietally label Merlot and he later championed Zinfandel as a fine wine varietal.  In 1944, as a vintner with "arm-twisting powers," he was able to convince 7 other vintners to join him in the founding of the Napa Valley Vintners Association - a cooperative effort to facilitate the exchange of practical wine-related information common to all wineries.  Martini was the first to practice temperature controlled fermentation and he is also credited with the invention of the wind machine to combat frost damage.  The list goes on...
Gallo purchased the Louis M. Martini winery in 2002, but to this day the business remains the oldest, continuously family operated winery in the Napa Valley.
Louis M. Martini died in 1974.

14 comments:

Do Bianchi said...

awesome... no AWESOME post and man, I would have loved to taste that wine! Darrell Corti once poured 1972 Martini Zinfandel for me... it was fantastic... very very cool... thanks for this Vinogirl!

Thomas said...

Not only were they fabulous wines, they sold between $3 and $4/bottle.

Weaned on'em...

NHwineman said...

Vinogirl, another very interesting post, one that got me a-wonderin about the cellaring ability of Louis M. Martini Sonoma Cabernet. I had read not long ago, some wine critic which I don't remember, said drink now only to the 2009 vintage. So after reading about this 1972 Martini Zinfandel I went investigating; the winery had no cellar time suggestions, but another reviewer said there was a 10 year potential for that cabernet.
Given that Zin generally fades sooner than Cab., do you have any thoughts on this?

Thomas said...

NHwineman,

The Martini wines of today bear no relationship to the Martini wines of the 70s.

NHwineman said...

Thomas, thanks for the reflection, but when you say "no reflection" did you mean zero?
I've tried their 2006 Napa and Sonoma Cabs, and at the price points (No Cult Wine There)I found them to be very good table wines!
The only time I heard of a Zin being good at that age was a Ridge.

Thomas said...

NH,

So much has changed in the way all old-style, family-owned wineries operate now that they are part of larger companies.

I'm not saying the wines today can't age. I'm just saying that you can't relate the ways of the past with today's production methods.

If you look carefully on some of the lower priced wine labels you'll often see words like "Vinted and Bottled By..." That means the wines may be crafted under the winemaker's direction, but they are not exactly produced by the winemaker, nor are they from the estate's vineyards.

In fact, unless the words are "Estate Bottled" or "Produced and Bottled By..." you shouldn't relate those wines to the past history of any old family operation.

Vinogirl said...

2B: Thanks. Came across a really interesting story, whilst reading up on Mr. Martini, about Italian immigrants in San Francisco at the time of the 1906 earthquake. Apparently, to save their homes (in Little Italy) from the fire that ravaged San Francisco after the quake, they wrapped mattresses - soaked in wine from their cellars - around their houses and saved them from destruction. Cool eh?

Thomas: What a wonderful way to wean :)


NHW: I think Thomas has answered for me. But there is a follow - on post...stay tuned.

Thud said...

After the quake they wer shaken not stirred?

Thomas said...

Thud,

They saved the houses but the heat of the fire ruined the wine in the mattresses.

Vinogirl said...

Thud: Yes, Mr. Bond, all martinis (small m) were shaken (by the 1906 temblor), not stirred!

Thomas: I'm sure they mulled over their predicament of ending up with warm wine!

NHwineman said...

Thomas,
my interpretation of what's going on is a less individualistic (Rustic if you will) wine in preference to the "International" style of wine. Can the two coexist? Can a wine, i.e. Banfi, continue to make wines of distinction and yet use their new technologies to fashion a more homogeneous international style, or are they exclusive?
I'm sure these thoughts have different answers by different wine makers/writers, but are a curiosity to me.
Thanks for taking the time to assist my trek into the world of wine.

Thomas said...

NH,

if you are relatively new to wine, I suggest that you forgo trying to classify things and set yourself to exploring your own tastes. if you find that you appreciate, maybe even come to love wines on which others cast aspersion, so what?

Most wine consumers have no clue what terms like "international style" mean. In any case, such things are often constructed by people who are certain that they have all the answers, whether or no they have the credentials.

There may or may not be something of an "international style" of wine, and if that's what someone drinks and prefers, so be it.

In my opinion, since the American wine industry has collectively accepted using promotion rather than standards to guide its direction, no winemaking process is valid and no process is in-valid. Winemaking processes simply become preferred or not preferred.

...but you still cannot compare personally infused winemaking with industrial-like winemaking. The two are canyons apart.

Incidentally, the homogeneous international style vs. rustic has been an ongoing discussion since ancient times. Wine has always simultaneously stirred soulful and economic interests.

Momof4 said...

I just found a bottle of this in my wine cellar. Only difference is that the label sais North Coast, instead of Sonoma. What is this bottle of wine worth today in 2013? I wonder if it is still good?

Momof4 said...

I just found a bottle of this in my wine cellar. Only difference is that the label sais North Coast, instead of Sonoma. What is this bottle of wine worth today in 2013? I wonder if it is still good?