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Papapietro Berry Winery - Healdsburg, Sonoma Count

One of the best red wines released in 2002 - The Affairs of the Vine review panel

When Ben Papapietro, 56, first encountered Bruce Perry in the late 1970’s, both men were members of the Teamsters Union working for the San Francisco Newspaper Agency delivering newspapers in the San Francisco area. The two men were products of close Italian and Portuguese families that were reared around a full wine table. They soon found that they shared a common interest in wine and a lifetime friendship was quickly forged. Their mutual interest in the grape soon led them to another newspaper employee named Bert Williams who worked as a typographer at the newspaper and who was in the process of releasing his first wines under the Hacienda del Rio label. Several years later, Williams’ wines gained great critical acclaim under the name of the prestigious Williams Selyem Winery.

During this period both Papapietro and Perry were able to spend some significant time in Sonoma with Williams, mainly during crush. Like their tutor in the business, both became enamored with the Pinot Noir grape and Ben started making wine in the basement of his San Francisco home in 1980. He gradually expanded his efforts and in 1985, Bruce Perry indicated that wanted to become a part of Papapietro’s winemaking operation. Beginning in 1990, their mutual efforts resulted in the annual processing of from 4 to 6 tons of grapes that turned into nine or ten barrels of wine in Ben Papapietro’s basement.

The Papapietro Perry Winery moved to Sonoma County in 1998, sharing winemaking facilities with two other wineries located in Windsor. The first release in 1998 was a mere 75 cases, but production was gradually increased until it reached its present 3,000 case level in 2002.

Throughout the embryonic stages of their operation, both owners dedicated themselves to the production of the finest quality wines they could afford to make.

“We treat all our wines as non intravenous,” Ben Papapietro stated flatly. “We make our wine in tiny batches in small open fermenters. We constantly break the caps and that process is very labor and cost intensive. We use only the highest quality barrels and try and match the yeasts to the grapes we buy.”

Even though they produced a number of different varietals, both Papapietro and Perry remained fascinated with the Pinot Noir grape as their winery’s primary vehicle.

Since 2001, Pinot Noir is the only varietal Papapietro Berry Winery produces and will remain so in the future.

“Pinot Noir is totally seductive as grape varietals go,” Papapietro explained. With its array of flavors and tastes, a really well made Pinot Noir will truly draw you into its web. It is marvelous with food and a perfect sipping wine. The word I always use to describe Pinot Noir is ‘heavenly’, and that says it all.”

During the past decade, Papapietro Perry Winery has also developed a number of critical relationships with top-level Sonoma winegrowers. Particular interest has been paid to the Russian River Valley and Sonoma Coast appellations, prime growing areas for the rarely cooperative Pinot Noir.

“It was imperative for our winery’s growth to find growers who were really willing to work with us,” Papapietro added. “If you don’t have the right type of fruit to start with, producing a significant Pinot Noir can be quite difficult. We have been really selective with our growers and we now have the luxury of some of the finest vineyards in Sonoma to draw from. Ripeness is the key to both the grape and the eventual wine, and our growers make sure we have the former so that we can produce the latter.”

The process of having Papapietro Perry Winery bonded is now underway and should be completed sometime in mid-2003. Once bonding is completed, a tasting room for the operation will be soon forthcoming.

Ben Papapietro would like to locate the tasting room in nearby Healdsburg, the upscale city that has become Sonoma’s centerpiece.

And according to Papapietro, Papapietro Perry Winery has already reached it maximum production.

“I don’t want us to fall into the trap that catches other wineries,” he informed. “Too many wineries try to do too much and make too many different wines. We want to be known for making only one wine, a Pinot Noir, and making it the best wine possible.”

If determination and focus are the deciding factors, Papapietro Berry Winery is well on its way to making Ben Papapietro’s wish come true.