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What's in a Name? : Image-Making as an Ally in Wine-Making: From Apricots to Grapes at Bargetto


In any business--including the business of wine making--what we come to believe is not necessarily the truth but rather the result of what we are led to believe is true. Consider the case of Gallo wines.

A few months after the Gallo 1978 Cabernet Sauvignon won a double-gold award at the San Francisco Exposition, I found the wine on the list of a fashionable Nob Hill restaurant and ordered it. It was even better than it seemed at an earlier tasting, time having rounded out its undeniable finesse and complexity, and it was similar in style to a fine French claret.

"Do you sell much of this wine?" I asked the sommelier.

"No," he said, "As a matter of fact, you're the first person who's ever ordered it."

So much for truth versus public image. The wine was easily the best buy in the house, but because of the Gallo reputation for producing "cheap but good" wines, it did not receive the acclaim it deserved, just as Ernest and Julio Gallo have not received deserved recognition for their leadership in state-of-the-art wine making and grape growing.

The foregoing may seem an irrelevant preface to a story about the Bargetto Winery, but it was my own incorrect image of that winery as a producer of fruit wines that prompted me to fly up to the Santa Cruz area to update my information. (Bargetto is pronounced with a soft "g" as in gin .) The winery was established in 1933, in Soquel, by brothers Philip and John Bargetto, who had emigrated from Northern Italy. What started out as a modest winery along the wooded banks of Soquel Creek has since been enlarged considerably and wholly modernized, but the Bargettos' wines are still made there.

The Bargettos do not own any vineyards, and at first it was the pioneering of natural fruit wines, such as apricot, raspberry and olallieberry wines, that brought the winery its first significant publicity. They still win medals for those wines, but over the years, their Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Late Harvest Johannisberg Rieslings have changed the winery's image, and these wines deserve the spotlight today. It was the late Lawrence J. Bargetto--he died in 1982--who, after having trained at University of California at Davis, introduced the varietal wine program.

I was present a few weeks ago when a truck-and-trailer load of Chardonnay grapes from the fabulous Tepusquet Vineyards of Santa Maria arrived. They'd been picked only hours before, by dawn's early light, put into small lugs, placed on palettes and trucked to Soquel, with nary a drop of juice anywhere to be seen on the truck bed. The grapes were destined for the Bargetto 1986 Chardonnay, and they went into the imported Wilmes press under the watchful eye of wine maker Paul Wofford, who had previously been with Martin Ray Vineyards, Zaca Mesa and Clos du Val.

Third-generation Bargettos now operate the winery. Martin Bargetto, 29, was born in Santa Cruz, attended local schools and moved on to UC Davis for courses in viticulture and enology, gaining practical experience in the Tepusquet Vineyards in 1979. He worked in a Sacramento wine shop to gain marketing knowledge and then returned to Soquel to work the 1982 crush. His younger brother, John, 26, who has a similar educational background, worked an internship crush at the Jordan Winery in the Alexander Valley. Back at the winery, he instituted the barrel-fermentation program for Chardonnay. His wonderful 1985 Chardonnay is a testimony to his talents. At the moment, he's in Europe for further study.

With Wofford, Martin Bargetto and Beverly Bargetto (Lawrence's widow), I had vertical tastings of their three most recent Chardonnays, three Cabernet Sauvignons and four Late Harvest Rieslings--the 1985 edition with a label change from "Johannisberg Riesling" to "White Riesling." This brings Bargetto right up to the minute in correct nomenclature for these golden elixirs. The 1984 has won four gold medals among its seven awards and is a steal at $10 per bottle, $5.25 per half-bottle. It's worth buying now to serve as a luscious treat at the end of a holiday dinner.

The 1986 Bargetto Carneros Pinot Noir from the Madonna Vineyard was bubbling beneath its pomace cap in 1,000-gallon oak fermenters, being punched down manually in the best Burgundian tradition. I tasted the 1985 edition of this controversial California varietal, which had 10 months in French oak cooperage. Only 600 cases were made but they are bound to be among the winners as the wine progresses toward maturity.

I also sampled, from the wood, the 1985 Santa Cruz Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon, which is made from grapes grown at the meticulously tended Bates ranch, 1,000 feet above sea level. As the maturing wine lies in the mouth, there emerges an intense berry taste--a flavor that may lead Martin Bargetto to invest in his first vineyard in his home region.

Taste the Bargetto wines now, especially the Chardonnays, and I know you'll agree that here's another name for your roster of favorites. If you find any of the Bargetto 1981 Cabernet Sauvignon anywhere, buy it. It was the winningest wine of 1984 for gold medals, and it is dedicated to Lawrence J. Bargetto, a fitting tribute to the founder of the firm's varietal wine program, which only now is gaining its proper recognition.

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