Terra Sávia – An Organic Tradition in Action

Pecos Davis and Jim Milone of Terra Sávia

It almost seems as though Jim Milone, winemaker at Terra Sávia, makes organic wines because it’s never occurred to him to do otherwise.

“We hate to shower,” he joked when asked why organic. But then he got down to business.

“Really, it’s just the way that I’ve been making wine for the past 34 years,” he said.

Terra Sávia winery, where Milone makes his wines, is a small outfit out of Hopland, California, in Mendocino County. The winery not only offers a full range of wines, it sells olive oil and honey, as well.

Milone is a firm believer in growing the best grapes and intervening as little as possible in the winemaking process. Now, he will add tiny bits of sulphur to help keep his wines stable (organic wines can go bad more easily than traditionally made wines) and he does use very specific yeast strains because he wants to know what’s going on with his wines.

“So, I’m not renegade organic,” he said. “I believe in making wine. But I believe in doing as little as possible.”

Milone has been making wine since he was 18 years old. He went to California State University, Humboldt, where he studied eco-systems and natural resources.

“When I came back from school, I just wanted to live off the land, as a naturalist and that just kind of fit my style of making wine,” he said.

But making organic wine from organic grapes poses several challenges. His crops are smaller because they can fall prey to pests and other issues that most commercial growers treat with chemicals, which means he has less wine to sell. Also, marketing organic wines isn’t as easy as you might think in these green days.

“Sometimes it’s been a hindrance,” he said about being organic in terms of the market. “Sometimes we’re penalized by the fact that we’re organic. Our wines, even though they should be more expensive because we get lower yields, and they’re not, really. And the consumer still has not quite embraced the true value of organic products.”

But interest in organic wine production has been growing of late, and Mendocino County is a major center for sustainable and organic growing and wine making. Next up – do Milone’s wines pass the taste test? Check out OddBallGrape.com later this week to see.

Nelson Family 2007 Orange Muscat

The Nelson Family Vineyards 2007 Orange Muscat is a surprising reminder of what a muscat can become when treated well.  And let’s face it, too many winemakers have made a mess of this grape, making wine that is sweet, cloying, thick and generally overdone with no subtle flavors.

Muscat is easy to recognize most of the time. The orange scent wafting from the glass is unmistakable. It’s been said that adding one or two percent muscat to a chardonnay to increase the florals gives you all muscat and no chardonnay.

But this wine is all about the muscat. For starters, it’s been fermented dry, with no residual sugar.  The flavor is full and rich in the mouth but not cloying like a cough syrup. If you have been turned off by one of those other “muscats”, the Nelson is worth investigating. One sip may be enough to change your mind. We speak from personal experience.

Nelson Family Vineyards 2007 Riesling

Mendocino County is famous for three specific grapes: pinot noir, more pinot noir and something other than pinot noir.  Okay, it’s more than pinot. Chardonnay and riesling are especially at home there as well. And many more good grapes abound in this region, but that’s another post or twenty down the road.

This is about the riesling from Nelson Family Vineyards. Riesling is another grape that has been given a bad reputation by growing in too many bad neighborhoods and hanging with the wrong crowd – winemakers without the right skill set for good Riesling production. The fact that the Nelsons grow their own doesn’t guarantee that a good wine could result. But this time it’s true.

The 2007 Nelson Family Riesling has a honey and flowery nose – think honeysuckle not gardenias. There is also a quality peculiar to riesling that smells slightly of petroleum or kerosene. That is a fusal compound in the grape and only the best fruit and proper care can tame or mute it. If your last Rielsing smelled like a gasoline can and tasted weird, don’t judge all Rieslings this way.

The Nelson has a lush mouthfeel and the spiciness known in the best rieslings. The overall quality of the Nelson makes it perfect for either sweet or spicy dinners.  Or both, such as spicy orange chicken (a fave around here) or maybe spicy tortilla soup with lots of corn.

The Nelson Family Vineyards

Missy and Greg Nelson
Missy and Greg Nelson

Talk about letting your wines speak for you!  We met Greg and Missy Nelson at the Mendocino Grape Growers event in Santa Rosa last spring, which we attended on a press pass.  We enjoyed chatting with Missy, but Greg kind of hung back and didn’t talk too much.

It’s apparently Greg’s style.  When Anne emailed him, since that’s whose card we had, his responses were terse, at best.  So is the website.  That’s fine.  The wines are a lot of fun and we’ve got a couple sweeter ones to feature this week.

The Nelsons have been farming in Mendocino County, California, since Greg’s parents moved there in the early 1950s, and Greg has been growing grapes all of his life.  According to the website, in addition to grapes, the family grows bartlett pears and Christmas trees.  But with 200 acres planted out in 11 different varieties, grapes are a major part of their business, with the line-up including zinfandel, carignane, pinot grigio, cabernet sauvignon, viognier, petite verdot, petite sirah, orange muscat, riesling, and merlot.

Only five percent of their crop ends up in bottles with their family name on it.  Greg’s son Chris is the winemaker and according to Greg, it was Chris’s idea to start the winery.  This is truly a family business, with Tyler Nelson listed as the vineyard manager.