California Wine Month is the perfect time to showcase boutique wineries that strive to do something different, setting the winery or the winemaker apart from others. One such winery is Prima Materia because owner/winemaker Pietro Buttitta shows us how to grow Italian grape varieties in Lake County.
Pietro is a self-taught winemaker, but his Italian roots instilled his love for winemaking. He grew up around grapes in his grandfather’s vineyard. Granted, they were not the grape varieties popular today, but his grandfather’s 40-acre Russian River ranch in Sonoma County was planted with 25 acres of red and white grapes. Petro’s relatives were farmers, and that farming instinct passed down intuitively.
Attempting to get a degree in philosophy from Portland State University, Pietro decided to change career paths and attend culinary school. His culinary exploits took him to a famed restaurant in Napa called Terre, where he learned the importance of pairing food and wine. While working in Napa, he lived in Lake County at his father’s property and vineyard.
Pietro became burnt out with cooking. He yearned to explore wine, and his family’s property was the perfect venue to lead him into his adventure with wine. Pietro’s first vintage was in 2008, and by 2009 he began revamping his vineyard practices. By 2013 Pietro had his first commercial release.
Around this time, Pietro discovered Nebbiolo, and this Italian wine wowed him. The result of this discovery convinced him to convert his 12-acre vineyard to Italian varieties because he wanted to succeed in making American Italian wines.
The Lake County Vineyard
Pietro’s Lake County vineyard is located at a 1500 foot elevation in the Kelsey Bench AVA. The terroir consists of red volcanic soils mixed with rock and fine sand. This vineyard sits between the Mayacamas mountains and the extinct Mt Konocti volcano and is planted with 13 varieties. The varieites include Chardonnay, Sagrantino, Negro Amaro, Primitivo, Dolcetto, Nebbiolo, Aglianico, Sangiovese, Refosco, Petite Sirah, Barbera, Grenache, Cabernet Franc and Zinfandel.
Growing the grapes, Pietro does not use the more common trellising systems but prefers the California Sprawl, which keeps the alcohol levels low and gives the wine more rustic flavors.
Grape Growing and Winemaking Practices in Lake County
In the vineyard, Pietro avoids the use of herbicides and pesticides. He does not fine or filter the wines in the winery, preferring to use methods that give his wines aging power and balance. The wines are unsulfured and mostly age in used oak. The quality of his wines represents the old world with chalky tannins, earthy profiles, and a lighter body that delivers spicy and floral notes. His goal is to let Lake County soils speak to the grapes.
Pietro’s culinary experiences reflect in the wine. In this case, having been a chef, Pietro is both literally and figuratively using his spice rack to create his wines. Pietro creates everything with a hands-on approach. When thinking of hands, think of them as those that steer the grapes to their final destination.
The Prima Materia Name and Labels
In alchemy and philosophy, Prima Materia means first matter. The name is befitting to Pietro’s original philosophical educational background and career path. The alchemical drawings from the 1600 and 1700s adorning each bottle are simple yet intricate, ultimately describing the wine within.
It also represents the transformation of the grape to wine. Like the alchemist who transforms lead into gold, Pietro sees a similarity in the process of creating wine.
This post is an excerpt from an article I wrote for Wander With Wonder