Eat, Drink, Savor: Siletto Family Vineyards is a Wonderland for Visiting Winemakers

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The nearly three dozen grape varieties range from old favorites to rare and unusual.

For the winegrowers of From Napa to Paso Robles, the name “Siletto” is one that ignites the imagination. While the family vineyard grows Cabernets, Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays which are the standard dishes of Californian vineyards, the magic of this vineyard comes from its diverse assortment of 35 grape varieties from France, Spain, Portugal, Austria and Austria. ‘Italy.

Spread over 125 acres in the American wine areas of San Benito, Paicines and Cienega Valley, the Vineyards of the Siletto family offers grapes that were the base of the winemakers of the county of San Benito 170 years ago such as the trousseau, the nigrette, the gray trousseau and the pfeffer cabernet as well as the greco di tufo, aligoté, mencía, vermentino, the Montepulciano, the nebbiolo and many others which are mostly impossible to find in this area.

The history of Siletto’s carefully selected grape varieties has its origins in a much larger corporate winemaking operation. Founder Ron Siletto was president of Almaden Wines, which was one of the world’s largest winemakers until its sale to Heublein in 1986. When Almaden’s local properties were sold, Siletto bought 25 acres from Paicines and began to mine them himself.

“He kept adding little places,” said his son John Siltetto. “In 1992, he had six that he was cultivating. He has just retired to the vineyard. He was Italian – he spoke only Italian until the age of six – and he wanted to grow Italian grape varieties. So he began to graft the most eclectic grapes.

At one point, wine conglomerate Constellation was Siletto’s biggest customer, taking 80% of the harvest. But Constellation’s voracious need for grapes led them to sign contracts with huge vineyards and cut down small producers.

“We were too small for them to take care of it,” John said. “That’s when I started to get involved. I told my father that we should go organic and take advantage of the diversity of the grapes we grow by marketing to small natural winegrowers. With that we can get the kind of price we want and they can get the kind of care and quality that they need. We mapped out what we had in the vineyards and started to tackle that market. “

John had considerable experience in agriculture, having worked at Driscoll’s for 25 years, where he headed part of the supply and nursery division. After Ron’s death in July 2020, John took over the management of the vines, just before the harvest.

“It has been a difficult year, with dad passing away and the need to work around the pandemic,” John said. “But this year we sold every grape. “

With the large mix of clients and grape varieties, managing the vineyard is both field work and lab work, all tracked on spreadsheets.

“We have 35 varietals, 35 clients and 120 different harvest events,” John said. “I email or call everyone every week to tell them what sugars are for their blocks. I think that between my father’s work and our sincere dedication to our clients, it really pays off. We’re not that tall, we don’t have big stone doors at our entrance or a posh mansion here. We just have good value for money grapes and our interest in providing it to our customers.

John keeps all of his customers and their orders on a spreadsheet with up-to-date grape information, such as Brix or sugar level, which is essential in determining harvest dates. The customer indicates the Brix he is looking for and John lets him know as the grapes approach that level.

This kind of customer orientation created a small community around the vineyard. Siletto does not produce any wine itself, relying on clients like Ian Brand, Kenneth Volk, Comanche Cellars, Jolie-Laide Wines, Seabold Cellars and Stirm Wine Company to purchase its inventory.

“We’ll always have a few people here at the same time to check out the grapes,” John said. “The good thing is that they all know each other. They will exchange notes on the grapes they want and the sugar levels they are looking for, monitor each other’s harvest dates. “

With so many wineries in California and so many wineries creating a strong demand for quality grapes, Siletto has found its niche and thriving.

“I think our varieties are what make us special,” John said. “Especially with vineyards like Eden Rift, no one will come to San Benito County to buy us Pinot Noir. There is too much good Pinot Noir around here. That’s why we switched to more Grenache and more Cabernet Pfeffer. Add to that organic farming and I think that makes all the difference.

I had the opportunity to try two wines made with Siletto grapes during my visit to the vineyard and I tried two more at Comanche Cellars in Monterey, the subject of a future article.

The wines of Siletto Family Vineyards

Jolie-Laide Wines 2020 Trousseau Noir, Cabernet Pfeffer, Gamay ($ 32-36) Pretty ugly is a one-man operation led by Scott Schultz based in Sevastopol. This is an adventurous and very young ruby ​​red wine with a full fruit aroma with a slight acidity. The predominant scent of black cherry translates beautifully into the taste of the wine, which is bright and surprisingly light. There is some of this cherry present, with blackberries and balanced acidity. The pfeffer brings a little spiciness at the end of the palate and the finish is dry and smooth. It might be slightly cool to serve on an afternoon sipping wine, but it will pair well at room temperature with a charcuterie board or grilled meats.

Kenneth Volk Vineyards 2011 San Benito County Tempranillo (2014 vintage available for $ 30) Kenneth volk is based in Santa Maria and currently produces a Pinot Noir, a Barbera and this Tempranillo from Siletto grapes. This full-bodied wine has flavors of black fruit, some fig and berry, with an underlying tannin giving way in the middle to more crisp fruit and crisper acidity. We feel the French oak competing with the minerality in a finish that melts, leaving a little warmth at the back of the throat. It’s a serious but delicious wine, best served with food.

Comanche Cellars 2018 San Benito County Negrette Dog and Pony ($ 35) La Negrette is one of the oldest French grape varieties in the county, with vines dating back to 1855 still in production for DeRose Winery. The county of San Benito cultivates around 5% of the world production, the rest being cultivated in the south of France. It is a wine full of fruit with an inviting aroma and a wonderfully bright body ending with some spice and a touch of tannin. Overall, the acidity and tannins are low, revealing depth and Old World style. It is a remarkable wine all around. Comanche is hosting a special vertical tasting of Negrettes on October 4 in their tasting room in Monterey.

Comanche Cellars 2018 San Benito County Grenache Dog & Pony ($ 32) Grenache is one of my favorites and this one doesn’t disappoint. This has some of the same characteristics as the Negrette but it has a bit more spice and a bit more sweetness. The aroma is very subtle and understated with a touch of caramel or caramel. Very smooth and full of fruit, it is not as majestic or refined as pinots and cabernets, but it has such an appealing lightness and an engaging flavor that I would drink it simply because it is a fun wine to drink and that could be served with anything. This was my selection of all the Comanche Cellars wines I have tried and I think this is my favorite among those from Siletto.


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