Sonoma County region
Viansa Winery leads Cal-Ital Charge with Santerra Cellars Wines
The inspiration for the name of Santerra Cellars is literally “holy earth” in Italian, and the phrase speaks worlds for the true meaning behind the southern Sonoma County winery. Santerra Cellars was created almost ten years ago by the highly successful Viansa Winery as a vehicle to extend and help educate its customers as to the heritage and traditions of the founding Sebastiani Family whose origins are traced back directly to wine-rich Tuscany of Chianti and Sangiovese fame.
Santerra’s first release came in 1995 and was oddly enough, a first class cabernet sauvignon from the 1985 vintage that had gracefully aged at the winery. That year, a total of only 5,000 cases of all varietals were eventually released, wines that were chosen for specific flavors and for each wine’s equally specific interaction with regard to ethnic Italian food.
The winery readily admits to the fact that there are no certain criteria with regard the wines selected to be included in the Santerra portfolio. The varietals must be Italian in origin, and must specifically reflect the flavors and subtleties that are included in fine Italian cuisine.
To that end, the wines are made in a classical style that embodies centuries of winemaking patience and experience. Grapes are selected from around twenty various vineyards both in Sonoma and other selected Northern California and Central Coast microclimates. The grapes are then segregated into specific lots and the best are placed into individual barrels to age for varied times until they reach fruition.
At that time, the wines are reevaluated and directed to specific points to be blended together in the same manner that Italian wines have been vinified for centuries.
“It’s been like that for many, many years in Italy,” stated winery spokesman Paolo Mancini. “The secret to the wine’s success is in the blending. The blending creates the subtle flavors that are so important in Italian cuisine. When a wine is made correctly, it will compliment the food in a manner that is unequalled for the palate.”
To that end, the uniquely successful Cucina Viansa Restaurant, run and owned by the winery, that is located in the Sonoma Plaza offers Santerra Cellars customers an opportunity to pair its highly-rated cuisine with a number of wines in a full service restaurant setting.
And by mid-June, a San Francisco tasting room will be operational that the winery describes as “experiential,” or a place that offers wine buffs a rare opportunity to compare intricacies in both food and wine in a near didactic setting.
Since its inception, Santerra Cellars has grown to around 10,000 case production, but is reluctant to predict whether it will continue to grow.
“It is certainly our ultimate intention to grow Santerra,” admitted Mancini, “but where and how is another question. When the most important aspect of our operation is quality, it’s hard to say when we will get bigger.”
The seven children of Viansa founders, Sam and Vickie Sebastiani own Santerra. Jon, 33, serves as president, Lisa, 39, is director of public relations and Joe, 35, heads the company’s olive oil production that fits in neatly with the Santerra operation. While the remaining four brothers and sisters own a similar piece of the company, none are involved in the day-to-day operation of the business.
When you consider Santerra and Viansa’s production together, the two produce a total of thirty-five different wines, a large number for the relatively small wineries.
Even with such a large selection of potential wines to draw from, Santerra Cellars line of wines remains unbowed in its attempt to combine its family’s rich Tuscan historical and cultural backgrounds to the newer climes of wine-crazy Sonoma County.
“The place we chose to build our winery is perfect for our needs,” Mancini added. “It reminds everyone of Tuscany and its people are warm and open to learning. Our mission is to teach the wonderful lesson of food and wine and their incredible relationship to each other. We are truly blessed by our surroundings.”
While a great distance separates Tuscany from Sonoma, it is apparent that Santerra is certainly doing something right. Santerra’s clear focus on its stated mission and its continuing progress in both selection and quality make it a real comer in the Cal-Ital segment of the wine business.
We hope you will enjoy this month’s taste adventure from Viansa Winery.
Ron Goss winemaker at Viansa Winery
Ron Goss was appointed winemaker at Viansa Winery and Marketplace in August of 2006 and brought with him a unique sense of creativity, talent, and leadership that helped form Viansa into the entity it is today. Prior to joining Viansa, Goss had served as premium winemaker at Foster's Wine Estates, and as an associate winemaker at Beringer's. During his distinguished career, Goss has been responsible for all aspects of the winemaking process, from the coordination of cellar, bottling and vineyard activities, and supervision of wine made at outside plants, through new product development, and promotion of wine brands. Goss has since relocated and Viansa is currently working with a number of highly sought after consulting winemakers in the Sonoma region.
Viansa Winery and marketplace Co-owner and President Lloyd Davis expected to be part of the financial world for his entire professional career. The Manhattan-born 50-year-old graduated from Adelphi University with a degree in finance and immediately joined the prestigious banking firm known as Irving Trust in 1980. Davis worked his way through the financial world and finally landed with Laurus Master Funds as its chief credit officer in 2005.
‘My job at Laurus was to travel extensively throughout the United States and Canada to check on the 145 investments and 26 industries that we had our money invested in,” Davis recalled recently. I was on the go all the time and really put in some miles. One of the companies I worked with turned out to be 360 Global Wine Company who bought Viansa from the Sebastianis.” Davis admitted to having more than a passing fondness for wine and the wine business.
‘I guess it all started with my family and the fact that we always had wine at our table when I was growing up,” he continued. ‘During my college years I became more and more interested in wine. My mother’s next door neighbor even made wine on a small scale at the beginning of the Long Island wine industry explosion.” About ten years ago, Davis took his interest in wine to another level. He became involved in the wine/food pairing aspect of the business, and has translated that interest into his marketing effort at Viansa. He began attending wine seminars and then wine and food dinners that paired unique wines and specific foods to produce specific taste sensations.
‘I found it very fascinating,” Davis added. ‘Even before Viansa, I found myself becoming a serious wine person. When you consider what is available to your palate and how easily you can improve and accent even your simplest dinners, well, to me it seemed the world opened itself up.” When the chance to run Viansa and have an ownership position in the new entity evolved, Davis jumped at the opportunity. For him, running Viansa was almost a dream come true.
‘I thought I worked a lot at Laurus,” he again added, ‘but the winery is a 24/7 job. So far I have worked in the vineyards in my own coveralls, learned how to correctly cut a vine and grapes, and hand select the grapes that will be used. I have even run a tractor to the amazement of my staff. Where else could I get the chance to do all that and still have the time of my life’”
Lloyd Davis’ business expertise has also come into play in a major way. He has firmly reshaped Viansa and has slowly increased its production over the past two years. Viansa now produces some 31 different wines, an attempt by the winery to please the taste buds of practically very consumer.
‘No two palates are alike,” Davis ended. ‘I have kept that in mind as we reshaped our winery.” From the judging results and laudatory ratings so far, Davis’ plan has worked well beyond expectations.