“Grandma was a bootlegger.”
Not something you hear every day, but this is what Jane Portalupi told Karen and me when we visited.
The tag hanging on the one-liter milk bottles of their Vaso di Marina red and white wines tells the story like this:
“This wine is inspired by my grandmother, Marina Portalupi, who immigrated to Northern California from Piemonte, Italy. She believed wine was a staple, like milk and bread, and kept a barrel of her vino di tavola in her small grocery store. Every day, customers would fill their empty milk bottles to take home and pass around the dinner table. Vaso di Marina is a rustic yet refined wine in that same tradition and we hope you’ll enjoy it the same way.”
The above was how this article was supposed to begin after our visit in 2019. For various reasons, it got delayed. My apologies to the Portalupis for that. Then, 2020 came and the pandemic happened, the world changed, and I think it would be more important for you to know what is going on now with the winery.
But first, a little backstory…
I first tasted Portalupi’s wines at WineLA’s 2019 Elevating Zinfandel event. Of course, I only got to taste their Zins that day, but they were excellent versions from the Russian River Valley Dolinsek Ranch. I knew we needed to taste the rest of their offerings the next time we visited Sonoma County, which we ended up doing later in the year.
The winery was founded in 2002 by Jane Portalupi and Tim Borges to showcase their Italian heritage and its connection to California wine in a true Cal-Italia celebration. Jane and Tim knew each other as children and when they reconnected as adults, they married and combined Tim’s winemaking experience with Jane’s fashion marketing background into Portalupi Winery.
Founded in 2002, Jane and Tim wanted Portalupi to honor their own Italian heritage along with the deep roots that Italian immigrants have in California’s wine industry.
Karen and I met up with Jane at the winery’s charming tasting room in downtown Healdsburg. Starting out, we were surprised to find they had a sparkling Barbera. What a delicious and fun wine to get our palates ready to taste some serious stuff.
We then tried a couple of whites, the 2016 Vermentino and the 2018 Arneis, both classic Italian varietals that were couldn’t wait to bring home and enjoy.
Enough playing around though, we were ready for the big boys.
Portalupi makes two Barberas, one from Shake Ridge Ranch in Amador County and one from Pauli Ranch in Mendocino. We tried the 2016 versions. I was very slightly partial to the Shake Ridge bottling, but I might have been a little prejudiced since I love Amador Barberas.
We also tasted through a selection of Charbono, two Zinfandels and a Petite Sirah. It’s hard to find much Charbono these days. Portalupi gets their Charbono grapes from the Venturi Vineyard in Ukiah, certified organic and vines over 100 years old, which is also where they get their Petite Sirah. I mentioned above that the Zin comes from Dolinsek in the RRV. As I said, these are “big boy wines”, delicious and able to stand up to whatever food you might throw at them.
I did check in with Jane on how things are going and this is what she told me:
“It has been a crazy year for sure. In Sonoma County we have been only able to serve outside. So our beautiful interior space is not being used although we have found out that our temporary outdoor seating has worked very well, especially on weekends. We are still not getting many tourists except from the bay area. People are loving the outdoors and everyone hopes this will go beyond Covid.
We are approved by the city to go through December 2021 and I hope beyond, especially since we plan to build a beautiful outdoor space soon…Just wonder what our new normal will be – I have learned to be light on my feet and can make a change on a dime. So, as hard as it has been, we all have grown. We are fortunate to have a loyal following and are grateful every day for the people who support us.”
Jane said that Portalupi is all about food and wine with friends and family and celebrating the moment. We appreciate her letting us in to share that.
107 North St, Healdsburg, CA 95448
Michael Perlis has been pursuing his passion for wine for more than 30 years. He has had the good fortune of having numerous mentors to show him the way, as well as a wonderful wife who encourages him and shares his interest. After a couple of decades of learning about wine, attending events, visiting wineries and vineyards, and tasting as much wine as he possibly could, he had the amazing luck to meet Eve Bushman. Now, as Contributing Editor for Eve’s Wine 101, he does his best to bring as much information as possible about wine to Eve’s Wine 101 faithful readers. Michael is also President of MCP Financial, which provides outsourced controller services. Michael can be contacted at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.