A Letter from Suzy & Jim Gullett: Celebrating Vino Noceto's 30th Anniversary Vintage of Sangiovese
Hello from Sunny (but Cold!) Amador County!
It’s hard to believe we’ve been selling Sangiovese for thirty years now. That’s right. The 2019 is Vino Noceto’s 30th vintage of Sangiovese!
Back in 1984, we had no intention of starting a winery. We had our hands full. Jim was working full-time as a Banking Software Consultant, traveling all over the world, and our sons were one and three years old. All we were looking for was a simple country property where we could plant a small vineyard.
We visited properties in Napa. We visited Sonoma. We visited Mendocino’s nearby Anderson Valley. And we visited Amador County. We fell in love with Amador’s golden rolling hills and its small-town charm, and Jim knew of its long history as one of the great grape-growing regions in California.
At first, we were set on a piece of land at the very end of Dickson Road – down a mile of curves and hills, perched high above the Shenandoah Valley. To the East, you could see the tips of the snow capped Sierras, and to the West, the peak of the San Francisco Bay Area's Mount Diablo.
The view was stunning.
We brought Suzy’s father, David, a businessman and contractor, to see the property. He shook his head and said, “No.” He pointed at the property where our Tasting Room now sits, and said, “If you have any commercial aspirations, that’s the one you want – the one on the main road.”
We talked night after night, over many bottles of wine. We asked ourselves: Did we have commercial aspirations? And finally, we concluded that perhaps we did! We followed David’s advice and bought the parcel at 11011 Shenandoah Road in September 1984, and Vino Noceto was born.
We spent a year deciding what to plant on our property. We wanted to be different. No Cabernet, Zinfandel, or Chardonnay for us! By September 1985, we settled on Sangiovese, Italy’s leading grape variety, and a grape that, at that time, was virtually unheard of in California. Everyone thought we were crazy to pick Sangiovese. That is, everyone except for Darrell Corti of Sacramento's Corti Brothers. He believed in Sangiovese too, and he helped us set up a three-week tour of some of Tuscany's most respected Chianti and Brunello vineyards. We visited mainstays like Castello dei Rampolla, Argiano, and Isole e Olena.
After experiencing Tuscany's terroir firsthand, we were convinced that Sangiovese was the right choice for our Amador property.
In the Spring of 1987, with the help of friends and family, we slowly planted row after row of Sangiovese vines, using cuttings originally sourced from the Il Poggione vineyard in Tuscany’s Montalcino. It took three years for those vines to mature enough for us to produce our first vintage.
That first vintage, 1990, was only 110 cases. Of those 110 cases, 45 went to Corti Brothers grocery store in Sacramento, and 15 went to the Walnut Creek Wine and Cheese Shop, a small wine shop in Suzy’s childhood hometown. We sold the remaining 50 cases via mail order to family and friends. They disappeared in the blink of an eye.
Photos: Us in our Hillside vineyard, holding a bottle of our first vintage of Sangiovese. It's hard to believe we ever looked so young!
For our second vintage, the 1991, we produced 800 cases of wine – it seemed an intimidatingly large number. Our custom crush winemaker, Scott Harvey – then of Santino Winery – gladly volunteered to take 150 of those 800 cases off our hands, selling them under the Santino Winery label. Unlike us, Scott knew the 1991 vintage was good. He knew our Sangiovese could stand up against the best of the Italian Chiantis and Brunellos and would be simple to sell. But we found that hard to believe.
In fact, we didn’t really believe in our Sangiovese’s salability until Suzy set up a card table at Santino Winery during one of Amador County’s signature, valley-wide wine events, The Big Crush.
To our surprise, standing at her small folding table, she successfully sold case after case of Vino Noceto Sangiovese to complete strangers. The first stranger to buy Noceto wine from Suzy was Richard Neuharth, a longtime Santino customer from Lodi. Like many customers we met at Santino, Richard graduated from tasting Vino Noceto Sangiovese at the Santino card table to joining us for a sip on the back porch at our Shenandoah Valley farmhouse.
For the first nine vintages, it took us less than six weeks to sell out of wine. We didn’t have a Tasting Room or Winery facility. We didn’t have a staff. It was just Suzy (and sometimes our kids!) manning the phone and making connections wherever she could. Customers would send us orders and checks via snail mail, and sometimes we’d ship (or hand-deliver) the wine before the check even arrived!
Left Photo: Vino Noceto's long-time winemaker, Rusty Folena, back when he was a Cellar Hand at Santino Vineyards. Right Photo: Us holding one of our early vintages of Sangiovese.
Times have truly changed. Today, we produce almost 10,000 cases of wine a year, including a dozen different Sangioveses – from the United States’ first White Sangiovese to our Dos Oakies Sangiovese, produced from vines in that first block planted in 1987. And our production isn't limited to wine. We also make Grappa and olive oil!
And just as our vineyards and production and facilities have grown, our Club has grown too.
Vino Noceto now has over 2,000 Club Members. We have Club Members who are the children of the children of our original Club Members. We have Club Members who’ve been with us for over twenty years. We have Club Members who have left and returned.
Yes, we’ve certainly grown over the years, and Noceto’s Nutty staff is now big enough to field an entire baseball team. But we still strive to remember each and every one of you by name, just like we remember Richard Neuharth, the very first stranger to buy Vino Noceto Sangiovese at Suzy’s card table. (If you saw the way Suzy sits at her computer, reviewing the name of every club member and customer, you’d know how true this is! She really does remember every single name.)
We are so proud to share our 2019 vintage, the 30th anniversary vintage of our flagship Sangiovese, with you, our Noceto family. It is one of our best yet, with Noceto’s signature bright and light cherry-berry flavors that match with almost any meal. We hope you enjoy it as much as we do.
Thank you for an amazing thirty years. We are so thankful for each and every one of you, from those of you who started drinking Noceto at a card table with Suzy to those who are trying Noceto Sangiovese for the very first time.
Don’t be a stranger. Join Jim for a tour of the estate. Call Suzy for a midnight chat. We’re here, in the Tasting Room, behind computer screens, and just on the other side of the phone.