Meet the ‘new guard’ of natural winemakers in Sonoma Valley
Natural wine encapsulates wine made from organically and biodynamically grown grapes – by winemakers working with naturally occurring native yeast – adding and taking away little throughout the winemaking process.
All natural wine begins in the vineyard with sustainably farmed fruit. Some winemakers dogmatically believe in an all-or-nothing approach when it comes to producing wine “naturally,” taking what is known as a zero/zero approach, meaning absolutely nothing is added nor subtracted throughout the winemaking process. Other winemakers are more loosely inspired by the natural wine movement, choosing to cherry pick practices like biodynamic and regenerative farming, spontaneous fermentation instead of inoculation, and very few additions in the cellar besides sulfur.
Over the past decade or so, natural wine has begun to catch on in a big way, with a growing portion of the wine drinking world falling for the liveliness and unique characteristics of natural bottles and new and exciting wine projects popping up throughout California and the rest of the world. Despite a relative dearth of winemakers working in a natural style in Sonoma Valley, this region happens to be home to some of the most renowned and longest-operating natural winemakers in the country.
You can’t talk about natural wine and Sonoma Valley without talking about the Coturri family. Long before natural wine fever hit, the Coturris were quietly making traditional, organic, low-fi wines by hand with natural yeast and zero additions in the hills of Sonoma Mountain. Tony Coturri, widely considered the godfather of natural wine in California and his brother, Phil, an organic viticulturist, got their start making wine with their father in the early 1960s, with grapes they grew organically on their property in Glen Ellen.
Tony and Phil’s father, Harry “Red” Coturri, learned how to make wine from his own father, an Italian immigrant from the village of Farneta in Emilia-Romagna. As Tony recounts, throughout the ‘60s, “all we did was crush, press and put it in bottles.” A set of the wine drinking public have finally caught up with the Coturris and their unadulterated winemaking style. The Coturris’ defiant approach has inspired a new generation of winemakers in the area to farm sustainably and experiment, innovate and honor their pure winemaking style.
In addition to a group of talented winemakers who collaborated with the Coturris before setting off on their own projects out of Coturri Winery, Magnolia Wine Services, a newly opened custom crush facility on Sonoma’s Eighth Street, is a natural wine collective where local winemakers can collaborate and experiment.
Owned and operated by Jack Sporer, Magnolia Wine Services is on a mission to foster a growing community of sustainable farmers and natural winemakers. Sporer, Dan Marioni and a handful of other young winemakers are busy making wine with no inoculation and low intervention and they are hopeful that more winemakers will join them. For all involved with Magnolia, sustainable and regenerative farming is a must, while their winemaking practices run the gamut from zero intervention to the use of some sulfur before bottling. If you’re interested in learning more about Magnolia Wine Services and how to get involved, reach out to Sporer at 415-202-3984.
Fres.co Wines, 21481 Eighth St. E., Suite 1
Jack Sporer’s wine label, Fres.co, or Fresh Wines, which he makes out of his custom crush facility, Magnolia Wine Services, is focused on supporting regenerative viticulture in Sonoma Valley and producing wines with minimal input. Sporer refers to Fres.co as “wines for the people” that aim to highlight the Sonoma Valley. He uses grapes sourced from dry-farmed vineyards managed by farmers Ross Cannard and David Rothschild, who both take a hands-off approach to farming and work diligently to transition vineyards around Sonoma from Roundup to regenerative. Sporer is also inspired by his uncle, Will Bucklin. Bucklin is a longtime dry-farming advocate who owns and farms Old Hill Ranch in Sonoma, one of California's oldest continuously operating vineyards.
Dan Marioni & Sonoma Mtn. Winery, 21481 Eighth St. E., Suite 1
Nic Coturri, son of Tony Coturri, grew up on the family vineyard learning how to make wine. In 2009, Nic launched Sonoma Mtn. Winery, a project out of Coturri Winery where he was able to express his own winemake ethos and style. Like father, like son, Nic worked with natural yeast, no intervention, no additives, no water and no sulfites in his winemaking. His wines showcase the inherent acidity and freshness of grapes grown sustainably, with the belief that more in the vineyard leads to less in the cellar. In 2016, Sonoma-native Dan Marioni, working at Tesla at the time, helped out for a harvest at Coturri Winery and essentially never left. In 2019, he took over winemaking responsibilities from Nic and continues to prioritize the simple philosophy of “farming first — just grapes.” Marioni still manages everything related to Sonoma Mtn. Winery and now makes wine out of Magnolia Wine Services under the label D. Marioni.