Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Montebruno: the bright hidden gem of Oregon from sustainable culture

Joseph Pedicini - Montebruno - Willamette Oregon

Yesterday, an Oregon winemaker phoned us at the store and asked if he could come to taste us on some of his wines. I didn't think anything of it at first, then I say to myself "why not?" after all, as I often say, every wine deserve to be tasted, even if not every wine should be drunk!

This afternoon, while I was working behind the counter of the store, a small, smiley figure with slightly curly, salt & pepper hair entered and walked toward me. At first, I just asked him if he needed some help to choose something in the store or if I could suggest him something.

Gently and calmly, with a hardly noticeable Italian accent, he introduced himself: "My name is Joseph Pedicini, I'm the winemaker from Oregon." We started talking about him, his 3 months old baby daughter and how he ended up being a winemaker. He said that he learned about winemaking from his father and grandfather, and continued to speak a bit about family's history.

Joseph Pedicini has Napolitan roots. Pedicini's father's family immigrated to the US from Foglianese, next to Benevento (a town located about 50kms northwest of Naples, in Campania region, southwest Italy), where they possessed vineyards (planted with the usual Campania grapes: Aglianico, Greco di Tufo, and Falanghina) and harvested grapes partly for their personal family consumption, selling the rest of the grapes to a local cooperative.

His mother’s side of the family originated from the city of Bari, in Puglia (the heel of the boot, southeastern Italy, facing the Adriatic sea and bordering Campania to the northeast). Joe's grandmother maiden name (on his mother side) was "Montebruno". She was an extraordinary accommodating person, a great cook and a real inspiration for Joe, always pleasing her family with their favorite dishes. Moreover, she helped him develop his love for food and wine. He named his wine after her as a tribute.

After moving to the US, the Pedicini family, like many European immigrants, searched a place to start a new life, establish their new home and continue to make wine. Stepping in the family tradition, Joseph started helping his father and grandfather operate a small press (in New Jersey) to make their yearly wine production for the family consumption, using refrigerated grapes shipped from California.

Stung by the winemaking bug, Joseph studied Oenology, worked for about 15 years from retail to production in the beverage industry and finally began crafting wine in the old traditional family way. As he told me, he had a few rebellious years among his winemaking years, during when he briefly worked and acquired even more blending experiences as a brewer for a little while, in the 90’s. After his brewing period Joe had an interest to go back to the wine business and enrolled in the WSET program to pass his Diploma. During that time, he worked in 2 different auction company (Morrell and Auldin/Sotheby's) and finally realized that he was more attracted by the production rather than the selling, although he enjoyed tasting some of those old vintages red Burgundy (like 60's and 70's La Tache and Romanee Conti). However, he kept his passion for winemaking and never really stopped making wine. Pushed by the desire to have his own project and label, Joe started prospecting around for grapes and a place to “brew” his own wines: Montebruno (named after his grandmother maiden name).

Joe is a gentle, passionate guy who loves winemaking and making traditional, earthy, fresh and pure wine (you can surely taste it in his wines). Joe doesn't own a winery, his production is so small that for the moment he is leasing a friend's cellar, until he can afford his own production facility. He sources grapes from selected, small sustainable Willamette Valley vineyards: "Deer Haven", "Rainbows End" and "Irish Bend". The vineyards are certified sustainable by LIVE (Low Input Viticulture and Enology, Inc) and also certified "Salmon Safe" (another organization that insures sustainability of vineyards).

Regarding the vineyard management and vinification of his wines, Joe like to keep the yields low and harvest only at full maturity and ideal ripeness in order to produce wines with complex aromas and flavors, balanced and refreshing acidity, and integrated tannins. The terroir and cooler climate of Willamette valley helps to craft juicy, balanced, earthy wines with ripe fruit yet vivid acidity, nice minerality and excellent structure without being heavy or high in alcohol. At the winery, the grapes are carefully sorted and gently separated from its stems, without breaking the berries, this whole cluster fermentation allows for a fuller fruit expression.

Joe is a nature oriented winemaker, who doesn't like to interfere too much in the vineyard and during the vinification process, preferring minimal intervention with less (or not at all) use of machinery, and no addition of sulfite, and pretty much growing his wines the organic way. Even the grapes' yeasts are indigenous and natural, Joe doesn't use any synthetically or commercially (in laboratory) generated yeasts, as many winemakers too often do. The fermentation takes place in small, open tanks, and the caps are punched down by hand daily. His reds are unfiltered and unfined to keep and maximize concentration, texture, aromas and flavors. He also ages his red wines in new oak barrels to add dimension and texture.

Overall, it is often say that the wine resembles the character and attitude of its winemaker, and it is very true for Joseph Pedicini's wines: soft, gentle and pleasing, refreshing and cleansing, with a up-beat, agreeable earthy attitude, depth, structure and length, in a light, convenient and enjoyable way. He is a very sympathetic guy I must say (from what I could see and discussed with him tasting his wines and on the phone).

Discreet, minimal interventionist by nature yet he likes to keep a careful and attentive eye in every step of the production from the harvest and selection of the grapes to the final product in the bottle. He produces 3 wines in tiny-small quantity and insures their promotion himself, in order to choose who will have the suited attitude and aptitude to comprehend and sell his wines.

His Montebruno production, for the current release, includes about 60 cases of 2008 Pinot Blanc (already sold out), roughly 160 cases of 2008 Gewurztraminer and 250 cases of 2006 Pinot Noir.

2008 Montebruno Gewurztraminer Willamette valley Oregon USA
Suggested retail price $15-$17
Distributed by American Wine Distributor in NYC

Only 167 cases of this really well crafted 2008 Montebruno Gewurztraminer. Behind its clear pale yellow color, the nose is clean, fresh, mineral, floral and zesty with white peach, citrus aromas at first developing nicely, becoming fruitier and more complex after a few minutes in the glass. The attack and mid-palate are surprisingly crisp, very mineral, with excellent balance and vivid acidity with a touch of spice. The finish is refreshing, cleansing and call for another glass.
It is definitely different from most Gewurztraminer I have tasted before, from Oregon or else, because it doesn't have the usual (slightly overwhelming sometime) fatness and waxiness that coat the palate. On the contrary, it is lighter on its feet, superbly balanced, elegant, almost delicate, long and clean. It makes you want more of it. This enjoyable, intriguing, racy white will be perfect with sea food and grilled white fish.

2006 Montebruno Pinot Noir Willamette valley Oregon USA
Suggested retail price $30-$35
Distributed by American Wine Distributor in NYC

Here again, small production, only 250 cases made for this 2006 Montebruno Pinot Noir. It exposes a nice bright red, ruby color. The nose is clean, inviting, floral and fresh, a touch ripe, with dark berry and cherry aromas and slight hints of mocha. The palate offers bright red and dark cherry flavors with hints of spice, and earthy notes of mocha again and present yet integrated fruit and oak tannins. Quite rich and structured with a bright, easy on its feet attitude and profile, this juicy Willamette Pinot Noir should please the amateurs and the connoisseurs.The earthy mocha, bitter chocolate notes in the back palate add even more interest to this food friendly Pinot Noir. Have it with grilled lamb.

In conclusion, two very good wines from a careful, humble and skilled winemaker to keep an eye on. Keep up the good work, Joe.


LeDom du Vin

Info taken during the tasting at the store and over the phone, talking with Joseph Pedicini the owner/winemaker of Montebruno. You can also check his nearly finished (under construction I should say) website at:

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