My first trip to Lake County came from my interest in finding an area that had wine and casinos. The year was 1994. I had just moved from Chicago to San Francisco and auditioned at Stars and Joyce Goldstein’s Square One and was offered positions at both restaurants. Then my audition at the Kimpton Group came and I felt with more locations came more opportunity. I was right about that. Huge (my partner in crime) and I were hired to open Abiquiu. He had a brother who worked at Kuleto’s on Powell Street–that’s the one at the Villa Florence Hotel where the cable car goes up the hill from Market Street and over to places where you can see the water, like North Beach where there is no beach but a lot of good Italian restaurants.
Huge and I worked together at the oh so shortly lived Abiquiu at 123 Ellis where the successful and well liked Corona Bar and Grill existed under the same owners for five years pulling in almost that many millions each year. Obviously, this was not a great year to open a restaurant where the concept was gastronomically hard to define. Elka Gilmore’s restaurant closed during the same period. The Kimpton Group had two heavily invested remodels with questionable concepts failing within a few months after opening.
John Sedlar was a talented chef and did well in Los Angeles. His cookbook Modern Southwestern Cuisine published by Ten Speed Press sold pretty well, but his career as a San Francisco chef did not work out too well. Huge was my protagonist at the time. First, he referred to Lake County as a desolate place and having traveled most of this wonderful county I was elated and confused why he would think such a beautiful place could or should be called desolate. I know everyone thinks their neighborhood is the best but for a boy from Ohio to call Lake County desolate was a bit misinformed. I still love that bastard anyway. Huge influenced my cooking style probably more than anyone did.
Rosa D’Oro located in the town of Kelseyville in Lake County seems to be able to use the phrase from Al Pacino’s famous line, “Just when I thought I was out they pulled me back in”. From Godfather Three as their moniker, Nick Buttira’s family story began as grape growers operating the family ranch in Sonoma County and selling wine grapes to quality vintners such as Sebastiani, Chateau Souverain, Korbel, and Seghesio. It was while delivering grapes to Simi Winery that Zelma Long suggested he make his own wine. After growing grapes for most of his life he was ready to retire and decided to take Zelma’s advice. He sold his property in Sonoma and a few years later in 1991 found a location and decided to build a facility where he could produce his own wines. To hear Nick say it was a hobby at first is interesting as his wine is no hobby—this is serious wine.
Nick’s son Pietro has a large role in the winery but to be honest I don’t care who does what—the wines are awesome. I have had some great 05’s and the 07’s are really good too, but the last two, the 2009 Sangiovese and the 2009 Primitivo are off the chart slammin good. You might think you know what good Sangiovese in America tastes like. So I look at American Sangiovese going back a few decades. I thought in1994 no one would ever top the Atlas Peak Sangiovese quality to value ratio and a perfect by the glass choice for restaurants as something you might want to put on your wine list. Roso D’Oro goes beyond my expectations on American Sangiovese and is in a class by itself.
The 2009 Primitivo from Rosa D’ Oro is a jewel, it will amaze you with its deft balance even though it tips the scales at 16.1% ABV with the right food you would never know. By the right food, I mean anything that does not have a citrus core of flavors or delicate white fish because it will go with just about anything you can possibly throw at it.
I almost felt guilty drinking wines this young. Give them a couple of years and you will see these wines receiving accolades from all the major publications—but remember where you read it first.
Eat well, Drink well, Live well!
Photo credit: Eric Schlange