Wanting to carry on his family’s tradition, Christian Vitone decided to start making a good zinfandel wine. There was only one problem: Zinfandel grapes are not hardy enough to grow in the Granite State.
Vitone, a negocient from Amherst, now uses his Vitone Family Wines label to make a California wine that is also recognized as a New Hampshire product.
“Negocient” is a French term for a wine merchant who uses grapes from other growers to make wine to sell and market under his own proprietary label.
“If you went to California, negocients are a dime a dozen,” Vitone said. “Nobody’s really doing it here.”
Prior to producing wine of his own, Vitone was a distributor for Southern Wine and Spirits and worked for winemaker (and movie director) Francis Coppola at his vineyard in Rutherford, Calif. He most recently worked for Fidelity Investments, until his unit at the company was dissolved in 2009. One year later he decided to create his own label.
His Rhone-style zinfandel, Verde Sole, is a blend of 80 percent zinfandel and 20 percent syrah. The syrah used in Verde Sole is blended with a small amount of viognier, an aromatic and floral white varietal.
“[Verde Sole] is definitely what I would call an approachable wine,” Vitone said. Vitone hopes to release a pinot grigio later in the year and to take part in New Hampshire Wine Week in 2013.
Unlike most negocients, Vitone has elected to use grapes from only one source. That source is Marco Cappelli, a winemaker at Mira Flores Winery in Placerville, Calif., in the Sierra Foothills. The Sierra Foothills, east of Sacramento, are an up and coming area for wine production, Vitone said, adding that zinfandel grows particularly well in the region.
“I wanted to utilize an area that had a great deal of expansion capabilities,” he said. “an area people would be looking at in the future.”
Vitone now travels to the Golden State six times a year, once for each step in the winemaking process. He is a part of testing the grapes, crushing them, kicking off the first stage of fermentation in stainless steel tanks, blending the varietals, moving the wine to French oak barrels for the oaking process and bottling the finished product.
“I can actually see and try the wine month to month and taste it changing and evolving,” Vitone said. “It’s kind of fun.”
While his family’s zinfandel-making roots and the harsh New Hampshire winters are the main reasons behind Vitone’s decision to work with a California winemaker, he also noted that he saved some capital by going that route.
“It takes a great deal of money for real estate acquisition, to buy fermentation equipment,” he said. “I buy what I need and utilize my winemaker’s facility … it gives me the flexibility to introduce other labels and other varietals without the process of planting and growing fruit.”
Vitone said in the future he may look into purchasing a small piece of property in California so he can produce some estate wines but “for now this is a great way to get back into the industry.”