Sonoma County region
Small lot wines with character, distinction, and a sense of place
Its owner is its sole employee and its location is in an industrial park just south of Napa Valley. Cloisonné Wines began its life almost ten years ago with a minute offering of Anderson Valley Pinot Noir. The fact that there were only 100 cases bottled and that it sold out immediately made a definitive impact on its owner David Rossi. “I had wanted to get into the wine business for some time and felt my timing was fairly good,” the New Jersey native recently commented.
“I had been making homemade wine for a number of years and a large number of people urged me to get into the business on the commercial level.” From that humble beginning, Cloisonné Wines (and its sister operation Fulcrum Wines) has grown to an annual production of around 6,000 cases. Looking ahead, Rossi says that he will be elated if he can double his production during the next five years. Looking further down the road, the energetic vintner hopes to double that total another five years hence.
“We are definitely a niche operation,” Rossi again explained. “We thrive on large volume vintages and growers who overproduce their vineyards. When this happens, we have the contacts to buy some absolutely great fruit at reasonable prices.” Rossi feels that these connections have grown through the near decade of his operation’s existence. “We now know growers on a first name basis as well as large scale vineyard managers. They keep an eye out for top quality fruit and we are the beneficiaries.”
Rossi doesn’t mind being called a negotiant, in fact he relishes the title. Negotiants have been incredibly successful in Burgundy for hundreds of years,” he stated. “These firms rarely own any vineyards and buy their entire production from growers. Most of the world’s great burgundies are to be found under a negotiant’s label.”
Cloisonné Wines’ owner points out that the fruit he selects “is always indicative of the area in which the grapes originate,” another version of the much used word that describes terroir. He also alluded to the fact that his negotiant status gives him a huge advantage over other wineries.
“I’m not stuck to any particular growing area for my fruit. I’m open to anything as long as the fruit is top caliber. I am an opportunistic buyer and that’s one of the secrets to Cloisonné Wines’ success.” Rossi counts his wife Christinna as his biggest fan and part time helper. She acts as a customer service representative for the winery and even delivers wine when the need arises.
The Cloisonné Wines label is a true work of art by heralded New York artist Stephen Hall. The artwork is Hall’s interpretation of centuries old cloisonné art with a blending of modern themes.
Above all, David Rossi is committed to producing quality products that rival or exceed similar products. “Not everyone can afford $50 -$60 dollar bottles of wine,” he concluded.
“Cloisonné Wines was formed with the idea that we could craft wines made from exceptional fruit and still be fairly prices. I am willing to compare our price/value relationship to any wines being made in California. Our successes with the drinking public prove that point.”
Only time will tell if Rossi’s projections and aspirations will reach fruition. What we do know is that Cloisonné Wines offers some rare opportunities to experience well-made, high quality wines at more than reasonable prices. Enjoy!
David Rossi - Winemaker
Since Cloisonné Wines is truly a one-man operation, it necessarily follows that owner David Rossi is also the winemaker of record. Self-taught, Rossi is a throwback to winemakers of decades ago that learned the trade by hook or crook or had the fortunate experience to have a veteran winemaker around to teach them the finer aspects of winemaking.
David Rossi began making wines in his basement in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and began sharing his wines with family and friends. He also began entering his wines in amateur winemaking contests and found his wines to be quite successful. Through the first ten years, Rossi managed to build a full lab in which to process the wines. He also managed to plant vineyards in Navesink Township, New Jersey (yes, New Jersey) that are still producing fruit for their owners.
David Rossi does all the work at the winery, therefore all the winemaking. He picks the fruit, crushes, ferments, punches, barrel ages and bottles all the products that make up Cloisonné Wines.
The aspect that David Rossi enjoys most is the winemaking. He feels it is the single aspect that separates his wines from competitors.
About the Vineyard
Since Cloisonné Wines is a true negotiant winery, its grapes can be sourced from anywhere that great fruit is grown. This allows the ultimate in flexibility for the winery that can literally pick and choose whatever fruit it wants to produce into wines. “While we have bought a great deal of fruit from growers in Napa Valley and Sonoma County, we have also found great success with fruit from other regions,” inserted owner/winemaker David Rossi.
“Take Mendocino County for instance. There are areas in Mendocino where Bordeaux varietals grow to near perfection. The entire area is capable of producing world class grapes and we want to make use of at least some of that greatness,” he added. A true negotiant artfully recognizes specific regions for specific grapes and attempts to locate the very best varietals available in that location. In the case of Cloisonné Wines, over production of grapes or unusually large vintages provide excellent opportunities for buying grapes that could be made into exceptional wines.
“I am always on the lookout for great grapes,” Rossi recently confessed. “I don’t care where they come from. If they are really of top quality, I am happy to be able to make an offer. The rest is up to me as the winemaker.”
David Rossi - Owner, Winemaker & Negotiant
Let’s start by saying there should be more guys in the wine industry like David Rossi. At 48, Rossi is a self-styled negotiant that is a credit to the profession that had its roots in France’s Burgundy Wine Region.
Rossi credits his Italian (Calabria & Campania Wine Regions, both in Italy’s southern boot) heritage with his interest in wine. “When I was seven or eight, my family served the children wine mixed with some water,” he recalled.
“By the time I was fourteen or fifteen, I was able to appreciate wine and its value to food.” Rossi’s family was in and around the restaurant business and Rossi himself worked practically every possible restaurant job, from cook to waiter to general manager. In Pittsburgh, Rossi was managing a restaurant when he met his wife Christinna. It was around that time that he was bitten by the wine ‘bug’.
“Some guys get into golf and they buy everything associated with it,” Rossi explained. “With me, it was wine. I turned our basement into a wine laboratory and started experimenting. At first I bought the ingredients from a local winemaking store, but soon I was air freighting in grapes from Argentina, Washington State and California. Friends and acquaintances started drinking the resultant wines and seemed quite pleased with what I was producing. After about ten years, I decided it was time to try something commercially and the rest is history.”
Before going any further, David Rossi of Cloisonné Wines is also a one man show. “People would be shocked that one person can do all that I do with our wines,” he continued. “I pick the grapes and do everything else by hand. I admit that by the end of harvest I am one tired person, but our overhead is extremely low and that permits me to be competitive with many other wineries. That’s a huge advantage in a marketplace that is incredibly competitive.”
When he graduated from Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Mellon University with a MBA in Marketing and Entrepreneurship, Rossi went to work for food industry giants Tyson Foods and H.J. Heinz Company. After a time, he became an executive dealing with corporate matters. When he found himself becoming uncomfortable around his office, he realized a change was necessary for him to fulfill his career promise.
“My wife and I discussed the situation and we always kept coming back to wine,” he added. “I am a believer that if you are going to do something do it full bore and not the other way. I also realized that if one is to be successful in the wine business, he should be located right where the action was---in our case that was definitely Napa Valley.”
Today David Rossi is a very happy man. “The first time someone tried our first release almost ten years ago, and said they really liked the wine, I said ‘Thank you’ and I had a feeling of ‘wow’. It was incredible and it gave me the motivation to continue all this hard work,” he finalized. “After all, it isn’t hard to see that I’m not in this for the money.”