Pietra Santa Winery: Where Italy and California Meet

Few wineries in California grow Zinfandel and Merlot, Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio at the same location, and do it well. Fewer still have five acres of imported Italian olive trees that they harvest to produce olive oil. And only one has California's famed San Andres Fault running through the property. But Pietra Santa Winery in Hollister, California, a mere 25 miles inland from Monterey, is a unique and unusual location.

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I recently sat down with winemaker Alessio Carli at the Waterfront Restaurant in San Francisco to discuss grapes, oil and earthquakes. Carli, originally from Sienna, Italy, came to Pietra Santa sixteen years ago after abdicating what might have been a promising career as a winemaker and olive oil producer in his homeland. “American has been very good to me,” he said with a captivating accent. “In Europe, it’s more traditional, there’s not as much opportunity.” What he means is that in many wineries, tasks are passed down from generation to generation, regardless of the inherent talent with the new winemaker.

For more than 25 years, The California Wine Club founders Bruce and Pam Boring have explored all corners of California’s wine country to find award-winning, handcrafted wine to share with the world. Each month, the club features a different small family winery and hand selects two of their best wines for members.

But with his arrival in the U.S., Carli has found something approximating home. “I love Italian varieties,” he says, as he dips bread into one of his own olive oils. “Sangiovese, dolchetto, pinot grigio. In California, you get much riper fruit than the leaner Italian styles.” But isn't it advantageous to have lower alcohol levels like the Europeans than a 15% wine from California, I ask? “If the fruit is ripe, even though the alcohol is higher, as long as it’s a balanced wine, it doesn’t really matter.”

Because the San Andreas Fault runs through the property, it has created a unique topography, a geographically diverse orientation where the subterranean shifts have filled the soils with granite and limestone. It’s here, amid these rocky, desolate soils, that Pietra Santa’s vines are stressed and where the microclimates allow for the growth of diverse wines. “All of our wines have a unique fingerprint because of the soils,” Carli says. He uses French oak and is becoming more of a fan of American barrels. "I like American oak, it's gotten much better and so have the coopers." He doesn't do field blends and, if he blends at all, will only do it right before bottling.