Sonoma County region
“We looked around and everything we loved was involved with wine and the wine country”
It has all the elements of a Hollywood romance film with an ending that would play out over the silver screen and bring great satisfaction to anyone watching. It is the real life story of this month’s Platinum Wine Club selection, Montemaggiore (mohn te ma JOHR ay), an incredible new winery from Sonoma that actually had its origins in Italy, or Sicily to be exact.
It is the story of Vincent Ciolino, now 47, whose father Angelo emigrated from Sicily in 1957 to find a better life for his family. He moved to Chicago and, three years later, Vincent Ciolino was born along with his twin sister Nancy. The Ciolino family was a typical Italian family, and wine was allowed for the children at special events and times. Sometimes peaches were added to the red wine to make it even sweeter for the children’s palates.
Vincent grew up and attended the University of Illinois. He ventured into computer sales upon graduation and worked for companies as large as Oracle. In 1996, Vincent was transferred by Oracle to Europe where he really gained an appreciation for fine wines to accompany the varied Italian and European cuisines he encountered.
“It all reminded me of my family and its origins, and of the manner in which we used to enjoy our meals and time together,” Ciolino remarked.
Then Ciolino changed jobs and in 1998 went to work for another computer company. On the first day of work, he met a fellow employee named Lise Pfau.
The two found a number of mutual interests and fell in love. Lise was born in Denmark to American parents, and whose father was a university professor who she described as “a real wine fanatic.” Lise’s family enjoyed wine with each family meal and “really grew up in a wine rich environment.”
She had settled in California and began working in the mid-peninsula area where a number of significant wineries were within easy driving distance. She admits to catching the wine bug when her friends and acquaintances started visiting these wineries on a regular basis.
Since mid-1997, Lise had begun making wine at the suggestion of a close friend, and the two had actually set up a winemaking operation in a Palo Alto garage. Lise busied herself with a number of extension courses from UC Davis whenever she could find time and her wines began making friends and gaining praise from those who drank them.
When Lise and Vincent decided to marry in 2000, they naturally chose a Sonoma County setting amidst the vineyards for the ceremony. It was there that the couple decided to pursue a venture in the wine business.
“We looked around and everything we loved was involved with wine and the wine country,” Lise Ciolino recalled. To us the idea of getting into the wine business was the most natural thing we could ever think of doing with our lives.”
They finally settled on a beautiful, hilly 55-acre spot in historic the Dry Creek Valley of Sonoma County that Vincent found for sale on the Internet. As a tribute to his family’s historical legacy, the new winery was named Montemaggiore in honor of the Sicilian town where generations of Vincent’s family had been born.
By this time, Lise had enough practical experience to serve as the winemaker for Montemaggiore, whose accompanying vineyards were equally planted in Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah.
The first release of around 750 cases of Montemaggiore came in 2004, and was immediately followed by a story in the Wall Street Journal. The accompanying national exposure made Montemaggiore an instant hit in the highly competitive wine industry.
In the ensuing years, Montemaggiore had grown to its present level of 1,500 cases, and will probably grow no larger than 2,000 in the foreseeable future.
“We are basically a wife and husband team,” explained Vincent Ciolino. “At this level of production, it is all quite simple. We have a full time employee to help us, and also a distributor to work with, and then just ourselves to worry about. If we get any larger we will have to add people and then it becomes less fun.”
Lise completely agrees with Vincent and wants to remain small. Both of them are remarkably happy, and totally fulfilled in their new roles. They are after all, the storybook heroes of this modern day film epic.