Maria Ponzi is coming so Janet has pulled out all the stops!
Bethany’s Table declared 2017 as our “Year of Walla Walla.” We should have declared it as our “Year of Superstars and Visionaries.” For we are so pleased and honored to take a break from Walla Walla to host Maria Ponzi, President of Ponzi Vineyards, for a memorable night of eating, drinking and storytelling.
Ponzi Vineyards was founded in 1970 when Dick and Nancy Ponzi planted the first Pinot Noir cuttings on a 20-acre farm they had purchased just southwest of Portland. After several “research trips” to Burgundy they had come to believe that the Northern Willamette Valley was an ideal location for the cool climate varietals that pulled their heartstrings. Having decided to create a new life for their family, they packed up their van and children and headed north. At the time, it was generally believed that the Pacific Northwest was not suitable for growing Pinot Noir grapes. It turns out Dick and Nancy were right… In 1974, the first barrels of Ponzi wine were produced and in 1976, 96 cases of premier Pinot Noir were introduced to the Portland market. Just for giggles, cash flow, and to cement their reputation as visionaries, the family also founded Bridgeport Brewing.
In the 1980’s, Ponzi built on its success, adding premium vineyards and increasing production. Nancy Ponzi became a founding director of the International Pinot Noir Celebration, a 3-day event that draws guests from around the world. Oregon claimed its place in the wine world and Ponzi was ranked in Wine Spectator’s Top 100 for the first time in 1987. In 1989, Robert Parker declared “Ponzi continues to make Oregon’s most complex Pinot Noir,” and associated them with the great wines of Burgundy.
In the 1990’s, Maria Ponzi joined the family business to direct sales and marketing, Luisa wrapped up her post-graduate enological studies in Beaune, France, where she received the Brevet Professionnel D’Oenologie et Viticulture, the first American woman to earn such a distinction. In 1993, Luisa took the reins of winemaking and completed her first vintage. Meanwhile, Ponzi Dry Riesling was transformed into Vino Gelato, an innovative ice wine, and Ponzi released its first vintages of Arneis and Dolcetto. Bridgeport Brewing was sold and the family opened the Ponzi Wine Bar and Dundee Bistro.
Ponzi’s more recent history is relatively well known. Accolades and awards poured in, the vineyards were LIVE certified in accordance with international sustainable viticulture standards, their 30,000-square foot, state-of-the-art, gravity flow winery (designed by Dick Ponzi) was completed and Nancy wrote a cookbook. In the last few years Luisa and Maria took the reins as owners and operators, the beautiful tasting room was completed at the new winery location, a festive sparkling Pinot Noir Brut Brut Rosé was introduced and Ponzi’s single-vintage Chardonnay was recognized as “Best of the Year” and an “Editor’s Choice” with a top score of 96 points from Wine Enthusiast. Read the entire Ponzi story by clicking here.
Earlier this year we closed the restaurant, rented a big van and took the staff on an Oregon wine adventure. The finale of the day was a tour and tasting at Ponzi. The entire staff are now “customers for life.” We highly recommend a trip to Ponzi! The rosé is delightful, the Chardonnay is top-drawer and the Pinot Noir… well, it’s Ponzi’s Pinot Noir. Recently we had a visit from Brenna Patterson from Ponzi to taste through all the wines again so Janet could make the final selections and design the paired courses. This, as a legitimate business practice, is akin to Dick and Nancy’s early “numerous trips to Burgundy” to “research” wine. David loves to watch Janet design pairings and write recipes on the fly while drinking six to eight glasses of wine. Janet has fully imagined the meal and made her notes by the end of the session… and then it’s time for a good nap. (The whole event is a great lifestyle play. Who needs money?) Here’s what she came up with.
2016 Pinot Noir Rosé ($23) As you arrive you will be greeted with Ponzi’s delightful rosé. Arrive any time between 6:00 and 6:30 PM to chat with Maria Ponzi and your fellow food and wine enthusiasts. You will find that Ponzi’s rosé has achieved a near-perfect balance with a structure that delicately frames the flavor of the Pinot Noir fruit.
“Floral aromas of honeysuckle, gardenia, cotton candy and lemon chiffon lead to complex notes of honeycomb, fresh cut herbs and anise. The textured palate shows honeydew melon, white peach and meringue with bright fresh acidity balanced by a touch of sweetness.” –Winemaker Luisa Ponzi
Janet is pairing braised octopus complimented with arugula greens, paprika oil and shaved radish to show off this nimble but sturdy Pinot Blanc.
2013 Chardonnay Reserve ($38) Dick and Nancy’s “research trips to Burgundy and Luisa’s French enology training are on display in this world class Chardonnay. This thoughtful wine is made from grapes that are pressed as whole clusters, fermented on the lees in French oak barrels and benefitting from spontaneous 100% malolactic fermentation. After 12 months, the wine is racked and after 20 months of barrel aging the wine is blended and bottled.
“This expressive nose gives notes of persimmon, vanilla bean, caramelized banana, nectarine and hints of rainwater. The mouth is lightly textured, but full of cinnamon, cardamom, lime zest and lemon meringue flavors. The finish is long with a burst of acidity to maintain bright fruit throughout.” –Winemaker Luisa Ponzi
To pair with this elegant Chardonnay, Janet will a warm poached lobster potato salad.
2014 Classico Pinot Noir ($43) The 2014 vintage benefitted from a very un-Oregon-like growing season. It was the warmest season on record in the Willamette Valley, not because it got so hot but because it never got that cool. The result was a bountiful, clean ripe vintage that produces here a particularly luscious Pinot Noir. Fermentation began with a five-day cold soak intended to enhance aroma and color. Fermenters were tended twice daily by aerating or manually punched down for 12-20 days before the wine was moved into French barrels (35% new) for 11 months. The juice was neither filtered nor fined when it was bottled in March of 2016.
“Notes of hickory, white pepper and blackberry bramble erupt from the fragrant nose. Lavender, dark chocolate and sarsaparilla follow, leading to a lush mouth of dark cherry and velvety soft tannins balanced with juicy acidity. The finish lingers tinged with red fruit.” –Winemaker Luisa Ponzi
In order to cement the tax deductibility of Janet’s month-long trip to Italy last summer where she took pasta-making classes from a master in Bologna, she is pairing the Classico with a traditional Tortellini di Bologna.
2013 Pinot Noir Reserve ($65) It is with the Reserve Pinot Noir that Luisa gets to show off. While the harvest, fermentation and aging descriptions are very similar to the Classico (a seven-day post-fermentation maceration is added to increase structure and length) it is the practiced eye, experienced palate and attention to subtle details that result in the designation “Reserve”
“This wine balances power and grace perfectly with a nose of bay leaf, chicory, currants, black licorice and roasted hazelnut leading to a sweet fruit palate of amaretto and minerality. The persistent finish is defined by long tannins.” –Winemaker Luisa Ponzi
One is inspired to rise up to meet this wine so Janet will serve duck breast with truffle-salted pommes Anna, a fresh cherry sauce and local spiced greens.