What we’re drinking: Wines from Patrick Cappiello, former Food & Wine “Sommelier of the Year” turned California winemaker
Where they’re from: Lodi, a little city in central California that once served as the hub for old-school Cali wines
Why we’re drinking these: Simply put, Cappiello’s wines are easy-drinking, earnest and supremely affordable, and he’s someone who really knows wine. His stacked resume includes “best sommelier” accolades from Eater and Food & Wine, features in Playboy and Bloomberg, and partnership stakes in notable New York restaurants.
“My winemaking all began as a result of my restaurants in New York closing in 2018,” Cappiello says. “I was kind of lost and depressed. Thankfully, my best friend [winemaker] Pax Mahle gave me an opportunity to make a little wine with him.”
“A little wine” has turned into three wineries: Monte Rio Cellars (a focus on single-variety, single-appellation, single-vintage wines), Skull Wines (Mahle and Cappiello’s collaborative project that highlights blended wines from around the region) and The Piquette Project (low-alcohol, high-fizz “pool wine”). The duo makes a piquette for every season: pink in the spring, white in the summer, orange in the fall and a cozy sparkling red come snowfall.
Why Lodi Is California’s Hidden Wine GemThe region historically serviced the corporate wine world. But a local sustainable winemaking community has changed perceptions.
Cappiello’s wines evoke California days past. Think of a focus on heritage varieties over an abundance of over-oaked cabernet. “Our philosophy is, handcrafted wines in the spirit of old California,” Cappiello says. “Which means low-intervention and organically-farmed, savory, high-acid, lower-alcohol wines. I thought I could do that by producing something that had the soul of the old world and over-delivered with value.” Which is true — most bottles max out at $20 and change. Overall, they’re nice value wines for people who like nice wine.
How they taste:
- Monte Rio Cellars Mission: “Mission is the most important heritage variety in California,” Cappiello says. It goes by país in Chile and lístan prieto in Spain. It’s often tart, chillable and lush with savory-spicy notes — in essence, a workhorse red wine for whatever situation. Chill it a bit before opening.
- Skull Wines Red: Skull Wines started as a solution to a problem. In 2019, Cappiello harvested a lot of petite sirah, then faced a dilemma: what the heck to do with it? He blended it with a little bit of zinfandel and a dash of mission, bottled it and “300 cases sold instantaneously.” Expect a juicy, speed-to-the-bottom-of-the-bottle red made with zinfandel, petite sirah and mission — lively and bursting with brambly red fruit. Again, serve it chilled!
- The Piquette Project Bubbly Pinkette: At 7% ABV, this is more of a wine spritzer-ish bottle for sessionable circumstances — juicy, light, low in sugar and crushable. Each bottle is made by fermenting the pomace leftover from the winemaking process and re-fermenting it into a low-alcohol, wine-adjacent beverage. (If your Dry January ambitions derail, this is a nice substitute for regular-octane wines.)
Fun fact: The mission grape landed in California from South America, where it’s known as país. As the Spanish landed in North America in the 18th century, Franciscan missionaries planted the grape to use for communion wine. So came the name mission. It’s believed that mission was the first-ever grape planted in the state.
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