Terra Savia

Terra Savia: Symbiosis of Wine and Olives

Wine Notes by Heidi Cusick Dickerson

“I’m the wine guy, she is the olive gal,” begins Jim Milone. He and Yvonne Hall are sitting at the handmade redwood slab picnic table inside the vast wine tasting/olive oil pressing warehouse on the south end of Hopland that is home to Terra Savia wine and extra virgin olive oil and Olivino olive processing.

Their partnership along with Hall’s husband Jurg Fischer and Swiss based Paolo Buonvicini is based on a mutual philosophy of life and business. “We believe in an organic way of living and growing a sustainable business,” says Hall. The international group includes Domincan, Swiss, Italian, American and Mexican heritages.

Terra Savia is a new brand for Milone who just finished his 32nd vintage making wine. He and his wife Vicky live in the family home adjacent to the vineyard that surrounds the warehouse/tasting room/olive press. Milone, tall with a shock of graying wavy hair, talks in his deep resounding voice about his family heritage in Mendocino County. His great-grandfather Achille Rosetti had a winery across the Sanel Valley before it was shut down during Prohibition.

Milone’s father raised hops for a while and then went to pears, grapes and cattle. He grew up working in the family vineyards along side his father and grandfather. “I heard about grapes and wine from my family every day,” he remembers. His upbringing in the country where you raised your food and made your own wine in the same vicinity for generations and where his family started out farming and where he and his cousins are also still growing grapes “is not so common these days in America,” says Milone. “I was brought up like families have been forever in France and Italy.” His brother, Hoss also a winemaker, just moved from working 18 years at Ferrari Carano in Sonoma County to nearby Brutocao in Hopland, where he also lives.

When Milone finished school at Ukiah High (yes) he headed to Humboldt State University and studied environmental science. One day someone gave him a bottle of Chardonnay. “I got to thinking I should make wine,” he says. His first wine was Chenin Blanc and then he ran into Greg Graziano. They started Milano Winery in 1975. “It was the first winery in Hopland after Prohibition,” says Milone, adding that at the time there were only eight wineries in Mendocino County (now there are more than 70).

. Jim’s parents Frank and Polly Milone still live in the family bungalow above Milano Winery. His grandmother, Mary Milone, who will be 101 in December, also lives nearby.

Milone is known for making wines that fit the location and growing what the vineyard does best on each site. His zest for winemaking is intensified in his new venture at Terra Savia. “its second nature to me that great wines are made in the vineyard,” he says. He manages the surrounding 40 acre vineyard and wears all the other hats that come with being partners in a winery and making and selling wine.

“We are olive people who became wine people and rely on Jims wine expertise,” says Hall. “Our parallel philosophy is that we are thoughtful, organic by default, and we gauge every decision by how it will affect others—a precautionary principle in practice,” adds Milone.

Both the vineyards and the nearby olive orchard with 2500 Tuscan varietal trees subscribe to Fish Friendly Farming practices and are California Certified Organic Farms. Even the name of the wine, Terra Savia, was carefully chosen. It means “wise earth.” The label sports a “wise” owl with wings widespread about to land on something for dinner, an inspiration they hope for a potential customer to pick up a bottle of Terra Sava for their own dinner. The owl is also symbolic for another reason. One percent of the sales of Terra Savia wines support Wildlife Rescue. The majority of rescued wild animals are raptors according to Milone.

The partnership is indeed working. Terra Savia won a double gold at the California State Fair for their 2005(yes) Petite Verdot, which is priced at $15 a bottle. “We are not making trophy wines,” says Milone, whose goal is to make good wines affordable. Petite Verdot is most often used in the classic Bordeaux blend along with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Malbec. Terra Savia’s 2006 Meritage includes Bordeaux varietals and is a smooth easy mouthful with layers of flavors. Other Terra Savia wines include a refreshing nonoaked Chardonnay, purple and vibrant Petite Verdot luscious Cabernet Sauvignon and a small amount of a single block vineyard Pinot Noir.

At the recent Hopland Passport event last month, he released Terra Savia’s first sparkling wine, 2006 Terra Savia Blanc de Blanc. The blanc de blanc is yeasty in the style of French champagne and has fine light bubbles and a crisp refreshing flavor.

Every year in winemaking is different, no vintage is the same and the challenge stimulates Milone. Winemaking is like wearing an old sweater, he says, “You get into it and pay attention to the details and don’t sweat the small stuff.” He likes where he is making wine from this vineyard he knows well and he has no artistic restriction. His wife Vicky says his wines have more finesse and he agrees. When explaining his basic wine tasting philosophy he states only two criteria: wine should not hurt to drink and it should taste good. After that it depends on how much you want to educate yourself about wine, but it can really be that simple.

In addition to the harmony of philosophy of the partners at Terra Savia and Olivino, the two products are produced on site in a naturally timed symbiosis. When the wine is settling and relatively dormant in the winter months, the olive oil takes center stage. Two stainless steel olive presses line the south wall, where in November and December their gentle crushing and squeezing of their own and other local olive growers’ crops is the highlight of the tasting room.

In the cavernous tasting room, sitting areas and handcrafted chairs, benches and picnic tables, some by local craftsman Ben Frey, and a Persian rug and Victorian chairs create cozy tasting salon-like areas. Large paintings that are ten feet square cover one wall making the space resemble a New York loft. A 1962 Porsche parked in the room is a favorite photo op for tasters. The slab tables gracefully incorporate black walnut, redwood and other woods. It is at the tables and sitting areas that visitors taste Terra Savia Wine and olive oil, including include Classic Tuscan, Pure Moraiolo and Pure Leccino.

Outside, there’s a greenhouse and olive trees in pots everywhere. You can buy an olive tree and then come back in a few years and have your olives pressed into oil. All the while there is something going on at Terra Savia. A charming little redwood building, which has served as a storage shed and worker housing is a favorite place for photos. It is also where Terra Savia’s wine club called Wild Things gathers for special events.

TASTING NOTES: After my first taste of the Terra Savia Petite Verdot I was smitten. It would be perfect with duck (next time). I thought its deep ripe cherry aroma and integration of fruit and a little spice with a green olive finish was absolutely lovely with grilled Porterhouse steak, baked potatoes, and garlicky kale.

For more information on Terra Savia contact the Mendocino County Winegrape and Wine Commission at www.truemendocinowine.com or www.terrasavia.com

Heidi Cusick Dickerson writes Wine Notes on behalf of the Mendocino County Winegrape and Wine Commission.

NEXT WEEK: Scharffenberger Cellars

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