Domenica Amato: Love of wine, food and family.
Michael Scorsone makes great wines. In fact, he is the only winemaker that has been featured in Vinfluence TWICE. Way back in early 2017 Vinfluence featured Judge Palmer, a Cabernet Sauvignon focused brand that paid tribute to Michael's business partner Palmer Emmitt's family history. With Domenica Amato, it's Michael's turn to pay homage to family by crafting unique and distinctive wines with that are perfect to be enjoyed around the dinner table with your loved ones. Enjoy my interview with Michael, below.
When did you first become interested in wine and what was your path to becoming a winemaker?
I went to the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in Hyde Park and part of the coursework there was basic wine education. After that, I was lucky to do my post-grad culinary internship at the Caribou Club in Aspen, Colorado, where the wine director Oliver (aka Mr. Tremendous) took me under his wing and exposed me to amazing wines from all over the world. It was then that I decided wine would be a bigger part of my future than cooking—I eventually moved to Napa and took a harvest job at Neyers Vineyards and have been making wine ever since.
Who or what experience has had the greatest influence over your winemaking style?
It’s really been the sum of my experiences and relationships. Winemaking is a never ending learning process so I try to pick up little bits of knowledge from everyone I work with and constantly push the envelope with different varietals, styles, and vineyard sources. Certainly having the opportunity, at the beginning of my career, to both farm vineyards and make the wine from the grapes that I grew had a giant effect on my vineyard-centric winemaking philosophy. Also, working a harvest in Italy taught me a lot about patience and trust in traditional methods. In addition to learning positive lessons from some great people in the industry, I’ve also had some experiences that taught me what not to do – which can be just as valuable.
What made you want to launch your own brand? Do you have an overarching vision for Domenica Amato?
Winemaking is an expression of yourself in the way that any art form is, and I’ve learned the hard way that the freedom to fully express your vision just isn’t possible if you’re working for someone else. Launching your own brand is far from the easiest road but I wouldn’t have it any other way. It ceases to be a job and becomes a lifestyle, which is one of the things that drew me to winemaking in the first place. And that really is the overarching vision for Domenica Amato – it’s an expression of the path that I’ve taken in life, my love for food, wine, and family and my passion for sharing that with people.
What’s behind the name “Domenica Amato”?
It’s my paternal grandmother’s name. Literally translated, her name means “Sunday Love,” which I think perfectly encapsulates the experience of growing up in an Italian-American household with food and wine always at the center of everything and prepared straight from the heart. Also, she wanted us to remember her, and gave my brothers and I each a gold ring before she passed away with an “R” on it for “remember.” I think this wine brand is a great way to solidify her memory and the gold “R” on our label symbolizes that.
Given your brand’s name and inspiration, why did you decide to focus on Rhone varietals?
Rhône varietal wines were the first things that I was drawn to when I started to learn about all the wines of the world – unique, expressive, approachable, food-friendly, and more egalitarian than Bordeaux or Burgundy. Of course, some of them are grown in Italy too, especially in the islands, under different names like Cannonau for Grenache. Also, even though it is possible to grow high quality Italian grapes in California, the availability of quality vineyard sources for Rhône grapes is ahead of where it is for Italian grapes. We feel that our estate in Dry Creek Valley is an A+ site for Rhône varieties – so that has an impact on our decision making process too. We do have plans to add Italian varietals to the portfolio as we identify vineyard sources that meet our standards. This year we are making both Vermentino and Fiano. As we expand production and look to potentially plant some vineyards of our own in the future, we’re considering reds like Barbera, Nero d’Avola, and other rare Southern Italian varieties.
How do you select the vineyards you source fruit from?
We are constantly monitoring the grape market and mining our relationships for opportunities. After we’ve identified a variety being grown in a place that we think works, it then becomes more about the people – to make great wine you need growers who are committed to farming for quality and are willing to collaborate with you on how to farm the vineyard to make the wines you want to make. Luckily, if someone is growing Vermentino or Grenache Blanc, chances are they’re not strictly in it for the money, or else they’d been growing Chardonnay or Pinot or Cab, and usually they’re excited to work with someone like us who will do their hard work justice in the winery.
In the winery, do you follow any specific philosophy or are you trying a achieve a specific style?
We don’t adhere to any strict winemaking doctrines but in general our approach leans towards the natural, minimalist and traditional. All our wines are fermented spontaneously with wild yeast and we eschew chemical additives, other than the minimum necessary sulfur. We try to make wines that are expressive of their terroir – which is, of course, kind of a cliché – but more so that are alive and vibrant. The way we achieve that is by having the discipline to not interfere, rather than constantly chasing making a “textbook” wine with products purchased from a lab. As part of our constant exploration of both old and new methods to make unique and distinctive wines, we ferment and/or age some of our wines in clay amphorae and concrete egg, and make some of our white wines with skin-contact.
What excites you most about the future for Domenica Amato?
Introducing our estate Grenache! Releasing our first Italian varietal wines! Helping to foster a greater awareness in the market for wines that are a bit outside of the norm. Continuing to share our wines with people that come visit us at the winery and are passionate about food and wine.
What is your favorite thing about working in the wine industry?
Coming into the winery first thing in the morning during harvest and smelling the symphony of wonderful fermentation aromas.
When you aren’t drinking wine, what are you drinking?
Coffee…and lots of it.
Learn more and plan your visit to the winery at EmmittScorsone.com