Pettrone: A Family Brand
Wine Notes by Heidi Cusick Dickerson
The classy wine label includes design elements that understatedly allude to the people and stories behind Pettrone Family Cellar, one of Mendocino’s smallest wineries. Three birds, Tuscan terra cotta colored lines on cream paper, and a tiny block encapsulating “AP3” refer to the Pettrone family and Italian heritage. Pettrone winery is the result of a family narrative and the conjoining of a long time Mendocino winegrower and a French and English teacher, both of whom love Italy, France’s Rhone Valley and their rich lives in Mendocino County.
Kati Pettrone and Skip Bailey Lovin are partners with Pettrone’s East Coast brothers, Mark Pettrone and Frank Pettrone, in Pettrone Family Cellar. The winery, which is not open to the public, is nestled against the western hills of Ukiah Valley. The setting around a beautifully restored and decorated farmhouse that was moved from another location decades ago includes all the elements of an idyllic lifestyle. A custom built iron gate automatically swings open upon arrival. The driveway is bordered with five-year old Cypress trees and a hedgerow of lavender on one side. Three acres of Syrah and Grenache, varietals from Bailey Lovin’s much admired southern Rhone region of France, spread along terraces facing south and east to catch the early and midday sun.
Pettrone’s prolific vegetable garden is in and pushing lettuces, onions, chard, tomatoes, squash and peppers. Thirty olive trees, now eight years old are her passion “I love my olive trees,” she says. She especially loves the way the trees look which she notes won’t reach the maturity of those in Italy for 100 years. They pick the olive crop in late winter and combine it with the harvests of friends including John Chiarito, Lou Bock and Hubert and Carole Germain-Robin to press into olive oil.
Fit from playing tennis and with auburn curly hair, the erudite Pettrone is originally from New York. She is a semi-retired English and French teacher from Ukiah High School, where she still consults and counsels students on a weekly basis. She also works part time at Mendocino Book Company in Ukiah. Bailey Lovin, who has graying hair, a potent gaze and wry sense of humor, is a grower representative for Kendall Jackson wines.
Pettrone’s mother Pia, at six months old, emigrated with her family from Valle di Rendene and her father Angelo and his family emigrated from Sicily. The late Angelo Pettrone became an attorney in Manhattan, married and had three children. The Pettrones lived a couple of hours away in Fayetteville near Syracuse where Kati Pettrone went to college to study French and Italian receiving the first of many degrees which include a masters in French from Boston University and another masters and special education teaching credential from UC Berkeley.
In 1981, Pettrone followed some friends from Berkeley and built a geodesic dome in Potter Valley where she moved with her children, Chandra and Nate Gilmore. “We were part of the back to the land movement,” she explains. She taught school in Lake County and then got another degree in English before selling the dome and moving to the west side of Ukiah, where she began teaching at Ukiah High. Today Chandra is the emergency coordinator for Save the Children in Sri Lanka, where she manages refugee camps for the hundreds of thousands of displaced persons. Nate an attorney, works for a start-up company in San Francisco.
Bailey Lovin, born in San Francisco, grew up in his early years in Texas, where his medical doctor dad was in the Army Air Corps and then with the University of Texas in Galveston. He and his family moved to the Los Angeles area “one year before Disneyland opened and the Dodgers moved there,” he says, adding, “it couldn’t have been a better place for a kid to grow up.”
He went on to UC Davis where he started in the food processing program. “I liked science and organic chemistry,” he explains and got a degree in food science. Around the same time he finished college his father and brother bought a cattle ranch in Potter Valley in 1972. Soon afterward the cattle market fell as people changed from red meat to eating more chicken. “My dad thought since I’d taken courses in grape growing and winemaking we should plant a vineyard,” says Bailey Lovin. “I didn’t know what I was doing but quickly learned.”
In between clearing land and planting 100 acres of grapes, he joined the Army reserves and served six months active duty in Fort Polk, Louisiana. From the beginning he made his own wine. Most of the Riesling and Pinot Noir grapes went to the old Cresta Blanca winery. His father passed away two years after the vineyard was begun. And the partnership dissolved in the 1980s. Subsequently finding a new business partner allowed Lovin to continue to manage the vineyard until phylloxera began to spread and they sold it. He then managed Perry Creek Vineyards in El Dorado County for three years before moving back to Mendocino County and going to work for Parducci. He helped replant the old Parducci vineyards and also planted the vines at Gabrielli winery in Redwood Valley in the 1990s. Eight years ago he moved on to Kendall Jackson.
Pettrone and Bailey Lovin met at the dinner table of Carole and Hubert Germain-Robin when both were living in Potter Valley in 1987. Bailey Lovin had begun collecting wine two years earlier and the two traveled to France and Italy visiting wineries. In 1998 he and Pettrone purchased and moved to their property south of Ukiah, where they built a cellar adjacent to their bonded winery. He has about 2000 bottles of wine in his cellar, three quarters of them from Europe and a third from southern France’s Rhone region. “I used to buy new releases every year from a half dozen wineries in France,” he says. He doesn’t buy as much anymore because his favorite wines are really expensive and the aged wines in his collection have appreciated. “Now I pull things out for dinner when friends come over,” he says.
When Bailey Lovin and Pettrone and her brothers decided to make wine they wanted to honor their heritage and their wine label does just that. AP3 stands for Angelo Pettrone and his three offspring, who are also represented as the three birds in the crest. They decided on Sangiovese because it is the main grape made into Italy’s renowned Chianti and tastes most like the wine of the Pettrones’ childhood. “It was customary to have wine at the table when my brothers and I were growing up,” says Pettrone.
Pettrone and Bailey Lovin had already sourced the Sangiovese grapes from Giannecchini vineyard south of Ukiah vineyard when they planted their own vineyard, which is now under contract to other wineries. The first vintage of Pettrone was 1999. It was released in 2003 and their production sells out early each year. The release of Pettrone 2006 Mendocino County Sangiovese will be in the fall of this year. In the meantime there may still be some of the 2005 vintage at Patrona and Tierra in Ukiah, Sip! Mendocino in Hopland, and Scopa in Healdsburg.
Fortunate to count them as good friends, my spouse and I have the fun of joining Kati Pettrone and Skip Bailey Lovin when it’s time to bottle the wine they make for home use. Their personal wine, which is Syrah or a Syrah and Grenache blend, is labeled Front Porch Red and their Grenache rose is called Little Pink Slip.
Last month we joined Pettrone and Bailey Lovin, along with Nate Gilmore, Kate Pettrone (Mark’s daughter) and her friend Will Parker to bottle Grenache rose and Grenache Syrah blend. Among much laughter and persnickety cleanliness we formed an assembly line. Bailey Lovin siphoned wine from the barrel into a glass demijohn and placed it on shelves where it gravity fed down a line into the wine bottle. One person monitors the fill, one adjusts the fill level with a small siphon, and one manages the corker. Three people glue and paste the labels and box and seal the wine cases. Loud music, a taste of wine now and then, some pizza Pettrone made for us and a multi course dinner contributed to the afternoon bottling session. It was a scene in which we could have been in a small hands-on artisanal winery in Italy as well as Mendocino.
TASTING NOTES: We had Pettrone Sangiovese with its classically Italian fruit forward flavor which segued perfectly with roasted garlicky lamb shanks and wild mushroom risotto.
For more information on Pettrone Family Cellar contact the Mendocino County Winegrape and Wine Commission at www.truemendocinowine.com or the Mendocino County Promotional Alliance at www.truemendocinowine.com.
Heidi Cusick Dickerson writes Wine Notes on behalf of the Mendocino County Winegrape and Wine Commission.
Next Week: Phillips Hill Winery« Column Index