SONOMA MOUNTAIN WINERY / Niccolo Arturo Coturri
Glen Ellen, Sonoma, CA
The Coturris have always been pioneers. They arrived in California from Farneto, Italy in 1901, already winemakers in the old European model. But it wasn’t until 1979 that Harry ‘Red’ Coturri and sons Tony and Paul went on to found the winery that would become the seat of natural winemaking in California. Today the Coturri estate up on Sonoma Mountain might be one of the region’s most venerable, but it also remains one of its most progressive.
In 2009, Niccolo Arturo Coturri set out on his own and launched the Small Vineyard Project under his Sonoma Mtn Winery label. In essence, this is a cluster of small vineyards that Nic had grown up tending organically, and in 2009, he finally had the chance to start using the fruit. Today, Sonoma Mountain Winery is Nic, and his fellow winemaker/business partner Dan Marioni.
Nic’s philosophy, like his father Tony’s, is zerozero. Add nothing and take nothing away. The project’s vineyards are spread wide throughout the higher elevation parts of Sonoma Valley, a clutch of different aspects, micro-climates and grape varietals planted largely on gravelly loam, clay and granite. Everything here is dry farmed, worked by hand, with minimal intervention. In the winery, Nic works with ancient open-top fermenters from the local redwood, indigenous yeasts and no sulphites to make wines guided by, but not ruled by, pre-Prohibition, old California styles and techniques.
Almost a decade in, and SMW is already somewhere very different than where it began. The more classic ‘old Coturri’ library bottles of 2009 are shapeshifting and finding an identity which is old-school and avante-garde both together. That means co-ferments and field-blends that speak to the essential tradition that arrived with Italian immigrants in 1800s California, but also a return to 1960s California-style single-varietal Cabernets, Merlots, Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays that were all but obliterated by Napa oak-bombs of the 90s and 00s. Yet they know how to wear their nostalgia.
Seeing his wines in the UK and Europe is something that Nic feels strongly about. This is his great-grandfather’s heritage and, when Enrico Coturri first passed down the Italian tradition of winemaking to his son Red, he instilled in him a Central Italian farmer’s palate. So any Coturri wine makes sense in Europe. In particular, we’d look to the Testa Field Blend — an honest, old Italian jug-style wine made with the Testa family’s immaculate grapes from dry-farmed old vines that date back over 100 years.
Unless otherwise noted, all SMW wine is native yeast, open top fermenters, hand punch downs and aged on french neutral oak with minimal racking. Nic and Dan use a small crusher and destemmer. While the grapes are destemmed, not all berries are popped, resulting in about 10-20% whole berries in fermentation.