Photogallery rendered here.
My grandfather, Samuele, departed Farneta, Italy in 1895 to pursue his dream of making wine in America. Much as he discovered Sonoma, I was compelled to understand and rediscover Farneta, the small 14th century village near Lucca, Italy. It was here that the idea for our family winery was formed and it was this place that shaped and defined a style of winemaking that would become uniquely ours.
My first visit to Samuele’s birthplace was in 1981. The visit was brief, but it inspired me to capture the flavor of my heritage. My first and most striking impression of Farneta was its topographical similarity to the Sonoma Valley and Northern California. The surrounding hills look very much the same as the Sonoma and Mayacamas Mountain ranges of the Sonoma Valley. In Farneta, the Pizzorne Mountains range across the eastern side of the valley and Monte Pisano stands to the west between Farneta and the Ligurian Sea. Both regions are influenced by morning fog and afternoon winds that cool the vineyards. In this kind of environment, the growing season is extended allowing the grapes to hang on the vines longer, developing full, ripe character.
The similarity of the soils is even more dramatic. The soil of Farneta is very much like the Red Hill Series soil found in Sonoma County; and the Sierra and Ahwahnee Series soils in Amador County. These four soils are red in color and rich in iron-oxide. Calcium, phosphorus and pH content are very similar and all four soils have a similar sandy, clay-loam texture that is ideal for growing wine grapes. The soils of Farneta, the Sonoma Valley and Amador County are very distinctive. It seems remarkable that a 21 year old immigrant would find his way to the Sonoma Valley, a place so like his native village of Farneta. But I understand now how Samuele must have known at once that the Sonoma Valley was the place where he would make California wine.
In Farneta, vinicultural and winemaking techniques have changed little over the centuries. The vineyard land is owned by La Chertosa di Farneta, a 14th century monastery that dominates the landscape of the region. The families of Farneta tended the vineyards in exchange for half the wine, which is produced at the monastery’s winery. My Sebastiani ancestors were part of these families of Farneta.
As my grandfather was a citizen of Farneta, he was also Lucchese. The ancient walled city of Lucca is just a few miles from Farneta, and its history and culture influences the entire province. In both Farneta and Lucca, there was very little talk of the technical components of wine. The traditional pairing of local foods with local wines is a source of great regional and family pride and one is simply invited to enjoy.
As a native Californian, I am fiercely proud of California wines, particularly those of the Sonoma Valley. For over a century, our wines have evolved with changing times and changing tastes. But as they are surely California wines, the heart and soul of the wine is somehow rooted in Farneta and Lucca. The essential history of the areas is preserved and there is a continuity of the human experience to be much admired.
When I returned to my family’s origin in Farneta, Italy; there at the birthplace of my grandfather, Samuele, I explored the lifestyle and traditions to understand the “soul” which has shaped and defined my style of winemaking.
Over the past seventy five years, I have developed and defined a style of winemaking that is uniquely mine. Each winemaker leaves an indelible mark on the industry and brings some of his own personality to this historical process.
Throughout three generations my family has produced wines in a style that complements food. This is part of our European heritage, and I don’t suppose that is ever occurred to my grandfather or my father to make wine any other way. Wine and food and family and friends are the classical ingredients of a gracious dinner table, and it is my respect for this tradition that directs my style of winemaking.
As a third generation family winemaker, my roots are deep in the history of Sonoma Valley and Northern California viticulture. Mine is a tradition of excellence, and this is the foundation upon which I will build the La Chertosa Old World Wines of the future.