The SOMM Journal

June / July 2015

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Page 18 of 100

18 { THE SOMM JOURNAL } JUNE/JULY 2015 { the punch-down } interviews and ruminations with beverage industry pros by Jonathan Cristaldi EARLIER THIS YEAR, I VISITED WITH Lee Sr. and Lee Jr. Martinelli up on the family's Jackass Hill Vineyard in Forestville, California, situated in both the Russian River and Green Valley AVAs. Jackass Hill is the steepest non- terraced vineyard in Sonoma County, and its 60-degree slope faces east, so the sun comes up and hits it first thing in the morn- ing and in the hot afternoon the trees keep the vines shaded, helping to maintain acid in the fruit. Jackass Hill has been maintained by four generations of Martinellis: Giuseppe, Leno and today Lee Senior and Lee Junior (no relation to the eponymous producers of non-alcoholic sparkling cider). Jonathan Cristaldi: How did the vineyard earn its infamous name? Lee Sr.: Our family has had a saying: "Only a jackass would farm a hill this steep," and so, you get the idea. What is most challenging about farming a vineyard on a 60-degree slope? Lee Jr.: When I was growing up, I disced Jackass Hill quite a bit. You have to disc down, because it's too steep to disc up, and as the tractor is coming across the rows you can't stop, because if you do the tractor slides down a bit and you can take out a vine. You have to keep going, and when you get to the end of a row and make a turn, you don't know if you'll end up in the third or sixth row down, before the tractor will fully turn and get you into a new row. Lee Sr.: Every year it gets harder. You have to keep focused because if you have to jump off, you can't jump off above, you have to jump below and be ready to run away from the tractor and the discer. Are the vines planted on any rootstock? Lee Sr.: Close as we can tell, these vines are around 115 years old planted on Saint George rootstock. They give us maybe a ton and half to the acre and we have two clus- ters per cane, but we bring it down to one cluster, and it helps that vine get through the season. We tasted your Jackass Hill 2012 Zinfandel—talk us through the production. Lee Jr.: We de-stem and the whole berries undergo a long, cool fermentation process. We finish [native yeast] fermentation in oak barrels, then the wine ages ten months on its lees in partial new French oak. No cold stabilization and it's unfined and unfiltered. (for Lee Sr.) Big news: After 42 years as CEO, you've stepped down this past February, having named David W. Hejl, formerly of Kosta Browne, as the new CEO and General Manager. What does the next chapter hold? Lee Sr.: David shares our family's vision for Martinelli Winery's evolution. He has the experience, leadership and values to carry on the Martinelli family legacy and ensure the winery's longevity and success. My heart has always been in farming, so I will con- tinue farming with my two sons, Lee Jr. and George. My daughters, Regina and Julianna, will also maintain their leadership roles. Martinelli Family Winemaking Highlights: 1887: Giuseppe Martinelli plants a three- acre vineyard to Zinfandel and Muscat of Alexandria, later named "Jackass Hill." 1980-1990s: Lee Martinelli Sr. begins converting the family's apple orchards to Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes, not- ing a decline in sales due to competition from Washington State. 1992: Helen Turley is hired as winemaker and stayed on as consultant until 2010. Present: The Martinellis own 20 vineyards and 400 acres of prime vineyard land in the Russian River Valley. Bryan Kvamme cur- rently makes the wines. SINCE THE 1800S, FOUR GENERATIONS OF MARTINELLIS HAVE HELD TOGETHER, PRODUCING AN ARRAY OF WINES FROM THEIR SINGLE- VINEYARD ESTATE HOLDINGS IN SONOMA COUNTY Q: Q: Q: Q: Q: On Jackass Hill with the Martinellis Visit to learn more. PHOTO: JONATHAN CRISTALDI Lee Martinelli Sr. among the nearly 130-year-old Zinfandel vines growing up on Jackass Hill.

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