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Stories in Every Sip: The Artisanal Magic of Rosa d’Oro’s Italian Wines

It’s a damp day in Lake County. The clouds hang low in the sky, hiding the top of Mt. Konocti in the distance. The rain is squalling, slanting sideways in the wind. But that hasn’t slowed down anything at Rosa d’Oro Winery in Kelseyville. Owner Nick Buttitta winds his way among the olive trees, turning his forklift into a garage as he sees our car park in the graveled driveway. “It’s bottling day,” he tells us as he slides off the seat, pulls his gloves off, and walks our way. “Let me make a quick phone call.” Phone cradled between his shoulder and ear, he walks to the tasting room/bottling shed, unlocks the door, and lets us in. It’s already clear that this experience is far different than tasting in Napa, where people elbow their way to the tasting bar to receive pours from people who don’t know anything about wine. No, the experience here is personal, intimate, and uniquely refreshing. 

The tasting room doubles as an office. To the left of the door, a large hutch holds multiple bottles, an Italian flag, and dozens upon dozens of ribbons, medals, and awards. It’s a historical shrine to the incredible quality of Rosa d’Oro’s wines. They specialize in Italian varietals and grow in their twelve-acre vineyard Barbera, Primitivo, Dolcetto, Aglianico, Sangiovese, Nebbiolo, Negroamaro, Sagrantino, and Refosco. While you may not be familiar with all the names of these grapes, you will certainly appreciate the thoughtfulness the Buttitta family puts into all of their wines. 

Nick gestures for us to sit, then leans himself against the counter and pops open a bottle of Nebbiolo Nouveau, created from grapes picked just a few months ago. “One thing winemakers love to do is a one-off,” he states, smiling. “It makes it fun.” Nick used carbonic maceration to draw out completely different flavors in the Nebbiolo. It’s a delicate wine high in tannins, and something you won’t find anywhere else. 

That’s what makes tasting at Rosa d’Oro so special. Each wine comes with a story, and Nick’s a masterful storyteller. He shares about the uniqueness of Nebbiolo grapes, known for being difficult. But not for Nick; he has found the best way to grow them in his unique soil and environment. “I planted them facing east-west, not north-south, like they say to do,” he explains. It’s because he discovered that Nebbiolo doesn’t like full sun–it withers the fruit. And because of that, he consistently produces excellent Nebbiolos. 

“But my favorite grape to grow is Primitivo,” he adds, “because it is a good, sturdy vine that came into balance, and pruning stayed the same every year.” He pauses a moment to think, rubbing his hands on his flannel shirt. “It’s rewarding for the labor.”

As we proceed with the tasting, Nick opens a bottle of Chardonnay and shares more. “I always tell people to treat Chardonnay like red wine,” he says. “After all, Chardonnay is a direct descendent of Pinot grapes.” And, while Chardonnay has gotten a bad rap over the years, it’s definitely not because of Rosa d’Oro’s version. It’s gentle and smooth, not heavily oaked like some Chardonnays. It sits golden in the glass and rests nicely in the mouth, with a gentle citrus overtone. 

We’re several great stories into the tasting, and we’ve got more ahead of us. Nick pours us a taste of his Refosco. “Originally, Reofosco was done in a sweet style,” he shares, “and it fell out of favor. But in the early 2000s, it experienced a renaissance.” It’s a beautiful wine, tannic with high cherry notes, mellow to rich with wet plum, and lingers in your mouth. There’s a lot going on in this wine, but the fruit flows all the way through and begs you to take another sip.

Nick’s a fan of lower-oak wines. “My ideal barrel is somebody that makes high oak pinot noir but only uses it once,” he says. “I prefer neutral barrels–that’s when I like it best. We haven’t  purchased new barrels for 18 to 19 years. We use barrels for aging, not flavor.”

Of course, there are so many other wines to try. But time was passing quickly, and all too soon, we had to leave. We didn’t even make it to Rosa d’Oro’s Barbera, Primitivo, Dolcetto, Aglianico, Sangiovese, Negroamaro, or Sagrantino. Rest assured, they are all spectacular, rich in flavor and perfect with any Italian meal. 

It’s easy to pop in expecting a quick tasting and leave a few hours later here. That, along with their incredibly thoughtful wines, makes Rosa d’Oro a uniquely special place to go wine tasting. Skip the Napa crowds and sip on uniquely volcanic, thoughtfully crafted wines. 

You can purchase Rosa d’Oro’s wines at Bruno’s in Lakeport, Wine in the Willows, and at all three Hardester’s Markets, but it’s definitely more fun to visit the tasting room. 

Rosa d’Oro Vineyards Winery

3155 Merritt Rd, Kelseyville, CA 95451

(707) 279-0483

Open 12-6 Friday through Sunday

Jonah Wakefield

Jonah Wakefield is a writer for The Bloom.

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