Interview with Keith Rolle Winemaker at Gianni Buonomo Vintners
Is there anything new coming into your winery this harvest?
Yes, all kinds of cool stuff. I’m super stoked about the Old Vine Zinfandel we’re getting. The vines are 47 years old. Vines that old just don’t yield as much fruit as when they were younger. They should be rich and packed with juicy Zin flavors. I haven’t worked with fruit from vines that old before so it’ll be a lot of fun.
I’m also trying to get my hands on a couple of rare Italian varietals Refosco and Legrien.
Where are you sourcing your grapes?
Both from Sierra Foothills east of Sacramento and from Washington State
The Zin and Barbera come from a vineyard in Amador County and my Petite Sirah comes from El Dorado County. Both vineyards are in the Sierra Foothills AVA. (American Viticultural Area) I love this area because it gets cool at night. The grapes love that. The people are chill too.
However, the majority of the fruit I bring in is from the shadows of Mount Rainier and Mount Adams just south of Yakima, Washington. It really gets cool at night there. It can be 98 in the afternoon and 55 at night. It’s really an ideal grape growing region.
California grows more premium wine grapes than any place in North America. Why do you go all the way up to Washington to get grapes?
That’s a fair question. I know that on the surface it seems kind of silly.
I went to Enology and Viticulture school up there. I also interned at a really great winery in Walla Walla so I know what to expect from premium Washington fruit. I know how great it can be. And, Washington is where I launched the Gianni Buonomo label.
After school, I moved back to San Diego and quickly learned how hard it was going to be to source enough local grapes to meet my demand. I knew and trusted several vineyard owners in the Yakima Valley and knew how they cared for their grapes. So, in 2012 I brought my first truckload of Washington grapes to San Diego.
What’s the main difference between Washington grapes and California grapes?
Like California, Washington has some very distinctly different regions. Napa is very different from the Ramona Valley. Sonoma is very different from Paso. The same goes for Washington. Red Mountain is distinctly different from Lake Chelan and Horse Heaven Hills is very different from the Rocks.
Having said that, there are some very big differences between California and Washington wine growing. In Washington they get up to 17 hours per day of sunlight. During the growing season the average is two hours per day more sunlight than in California.
Another big difference is that most Washington grape vines are ungrafted. Unlike in California where everything must be grafted to a phylloxera resistant rootstock, in Washington most vines grow on their own rootstock. Another important difference is that the cold winters in Washington allows the vines to shut-down and go dormant. They get a good rest so they can conserve energy for the new growth cycle.
Are there any events planned at the winery during crush?
Yes. We’ll be having a grape stomp where you can wade into grapes with your bare feet. That always seems to bring out the Lucy in everyone. We’ll also be inviting guests to come in and see the whole wine making process.
I’m guessing the California grapes will be ready the last week of September and the Washington grapes about a month after that. But you just never know. Nobody does at this point. The problem with all this is that you can’t schedule events in advance because only Mother Nature knows when the grapes will be ready for harvest.
Keith Rolle is an award-winning winemaker at the San Diego urban winery Gianni Buonomo Vintners. Already this year they have collected Gold and Double Gold Medals at international competitions from New York to San Francisco. The winery is just steps from the Pacific in the San Diego coastal community of Ocean Beach.