Central Valley region
Italian-inspired Cardella Winery creates wine and gourmet food for the world to enjoy.
Its roots are deep within the Tuscan hills of Italy and span a period of more than a century.
When Carlo Cardella emigrated to California, he chose to open a small market to sell the type of foods he knew best in his native Tuscany - meat, cheese, produce and wine. That foresight has blossomed into the Cardella Ranch, a family-owned business whose high-quality products are sold worldwide.
Located just fifteen miles from the original market in the Panoche Circle, Cardella Ranch grows tomatoes, onions, almonds and wine grapes of extremely high quality.
Since 2004, it has also been the home of Cardella Winery, this month’s Gold Wine Club selection.
Nathan Cardella is the family’s third generation owner and founder of Cardella Winery. Along with his father Rod Cardella, Nathan began the Cardella Winery saga with a tiny release of only 500 cases back in 2004. He had become interested in wine at an early age and decided to pursue that interest by enrolling in nearby Fresno State’s developing Enology and Viticulture program.
Like everyone else in the wine business, it was Nathan’s aim to produce the best possible wines for his new entity. “We were farming more than 600 acres at the time and selling most of the fruit to a number of major wineries around the state,” he recounted. “My father pushed me along and helped with the financing we needed to become competitive. His wisdom on how to handle difficult situations was the reason we eventually made it all happen.”
Cardella Winery has grown slowly and today produces around 3,000 cases, all of which is sold in the state of California. But, Nathan Cardella has some big plans in store for his pet project.
“We hope to increase our production to around 5,000 cases in the next three years and to 10,000 cases two years later. If the scores we are getting keep improving, there’s no telling how much we can grow.”
Cardella Winery is a tribute to the Cardella Family’s Tuscan heritage. “Our label is actually a rendition of a house on our property,” he further explained. “It gives us a rustic, Italian feel. Cobblestones, surrounding hills and Cypress trees - all the ingredients we have on our farm.
Nathan Cardella is joined by his older sister, Angela, who handles the marketing and club aspects of the business.
Cardella Family Winery?
“Not really,” Nathan remarked. “Family is everything to us and everyone who knows us is aware of just how close we are. Adding the word ‘family’ wouldn’t change anything. Our name is on each bottle we produce and we intend to make that name symbolic of quality and history.”
It is our pleasure to welcome our Gold Wine Club members to the remarkable wines of Cardella Winery. Salute!
Map of the area
Joseph Maldonado - Winemaker
For the first decade plus, owner Nathan Cardella handled all the winemaking chores for Cardella Winery. Some three years ago, that situation changed with the addition of young winemaker Joseph Maldonado to the Cardella Winery staff.
“It is quite interesting,” Nathan Cardella related, “because Joseph literally grew up around the winery. As a youth, he worked in and around the winery and during the summertime he helped in many different ways. He became really interested in the wine business and eventually enrolled in Fresno State’s Enology Department where he managed to become a top student. When he graduated three years ago, we scooped him up right after his graduation.”
Joseph Maldonado has quickly become one of the mainstays at Cardella Winery and has assumed all the winemaking duties. He consults with Nathan and Rod Cardella on important matters but the main decisions on winemaking and blending are all his.
“It was probably unusual to hire someone right out of college, but we felt Joseph was already familiar with the fruit we used and the style of wine we wanted to continue to produce,” added Nathan Cardella. “His addition rounded out our management team and we couldn’t be happier.”
Nathan Cardella - Winery Owner
Nathan Cardella has always been focused on ways of achieving excellence for his family’s project, the Cardella Winery. The Fresno State graduate in Enology and Vinification realized from the beginning he had a huge job in front of him.
“When we began the company, I knew what I wanted to accomplish and I hoped I had the expertise to get it there,” he confided. “Our first vineyards were planted in the 1970’s and our fruit was sold to a number of high-profile wineries in other parts of the states. When I told my friends at Fresno State that I wanted to grow first-class grapes on the western side of the San Joaquin Valley, some people thought I was crazy.”
The mitigating factor was the non-forgiving sun, a grape-grower’s friend, but also its worst enemy.
“Sure, the sun’s always there, so you have to take measures to insure it doesn’t over-effect your fruit,” Cardella went on. “You can say we go to extremes. Our crews go through the vineyards three times during the growing season and sort out each bunch to ensure the fruit inside the canopy gets the correct amount of light. This is an expensive process and we probably leave 50% of the fruit behind.”
Nathan Cardella further explained that the only fruit that makes it to the final picking is that exposed to the early morning and midday sun and generally faces east. Any fruit that is exposed to the afternoon and late day sun (facing south and west) is dropped from the harvest.
“We are after the best-looking fruit, Cardella added. “It’s the same when someone makes a salad. You choose the most attractive looking produce, large healthy lettuce, ripe tomatoes, and so on. What looks best, generally tastes better.”
Cardella also feels that selecting the correct varietals that can handle the sun factor is of paramount importance. “Our Italian varietals, such as Sangiovese, have proven that they can exist in hot environments and still produce outstanding grapes. A number of the other Italian varietals have the same abilities. After fifteen years of trying, I am convinced we are on the right track. Even though our process of growing and dropping fruit is probably the most expensive farming method imaginable, the quality levels we have achieved speak for themselves.”
At this point in the evolution of Cardella Winery, only a small part of fruit grown goes into Cardella Winery wines. Nathan Cardella said that he expects this to change in the future. “The key factor is AVA status that allows the winery to use the phrase, ‘Estate Bottled,’ on the label. We are actively pursuing AVA status for our growing area and once that is achieved, we will expand our portfolio accordingly.”
Cardella conceded that AVA status has become somewhat diluted since its inception, but points out that public perception of the AVA ideal is a leading factor in today’s modern wine business.
“You must sell what you produce,” he finalized. “And, the consuming public is fascinated by terroir and a wine’s history. That’s what AVA’s are all about and it’s an insight that isn’t going away. The great growth in California wine is due in part to the implementation of AVA’s and their subsequent development. Our vineyards produce high quality grapes under the most difficult conditions imaginable and our customers should be able to learn about them. Our own AVA will most surely help.”
San Joaquin Valley
The large area that encompasses the San Joaquin Valley is among the hardest to define of all the wine regions of California. It is enormous in scope and stretches more than 300 miles, starting east of San Francisco Bay in the Central Valley and extending south through the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valleys all the way to Bakersfield.
Its seven counties include four American Viticultural Areas (AVA’s) out of California’s current total of 139, with more being added each year. Some AVA’s are very large and others are quite small. The best-known San Joaquin Valley AVA’s are the Sierra Foothills AVA and the Lodi AVA, both of which have produced numerous award-winning varietals.
The factor that influences fruit grown in the San Joaquin Valley is the almighty sun - and its sometimes undue effect on grapes grown there. Too much sun and the grapes tend to cook, spoiling their varietal character and personality. The ability of growers to control the sun’s deadly effects often mean the difference between quality and inferiority, not to mention profitability for those involved.
For many years, grapes grown in the San Joaquin Valley were sold to a variety of wineries, even ones located in the hallowed confines of Napa Valley and Sonoma County. Some two or three decades ago, a number of San Joaquin Valley wineries began producing more superior wines with accompanying higher scores along with a host of medals won in national competitions. The prevailing viewpoints on San Joaquin Valley fruit rose steadily and the entire area benefited from renewed interest in the area’s grapes.
This quality aspect has continued for the past decade and a number of San Joaquin Valley-grown and produced wines have reached major status. Sales of fruit and juice to major wineries in other parts of the state have risen and the entire San Joaquin Valley has benefited from this newfound glamour.