Walla Walla winery honors its Italian roots

More than 100 years ago, Joseph Locati came to the New World from Italy and settled in Washington’s Walla Walla Valley.

There he met a Frenchman named Peter Pieri, who had brought with him from Corsica some sweet onion seeds. Together, Pieri and Locati planted the first sweet onion field in the valley, which now is world famous for those onions.

A century ago, Walla Walla was well known as a destination for European emigrants, and a large Italian community formed. In 1909, Locati bought land and began to farm it. And like many of his fellow Italians, Locati made a bit of wine for the enjoyment of his family and friends. He passed the tradition on to his son, Ambrose, who in turn taught his son, Michael.

In 2005, 100 years after Joseph’s arrival, Michael and his wife, Penne, launched Locati Cellars, a Walla Walla winery that not only honors Michael’s Italian ancestors, but focuses on such Italian varieties as barbera, sangiovese and pinot grigio.

The Locatis use grapes from vineyards throughout Washington wine country, including the Wahluke Slope, the Columbia Valley and, of course, the Walla Walla Valley, including fruit from their estate vines.

Locati Cellars now has a tasting room at the historic Marcus Whitman Hotel. It’s a great opportunity for the young winery because it’s in the heart of downtown Walla Walla, not far from a dozen other tasting rooms. Additionally, many hotel guests stop by to try Locati’s delicious wines and buy cigars from the winery, as well.

The Locatis enjoy a long and illustrious tradition of agriculture in the Walla Walla Valley, and their latest venture undoubtedly would make Joseph proud.

We have tasted through Locati’s latest releases in recent months. Ask for them from your favorite wine merchant or order directly from the winery.

Locati Cellars 2008 Barbera, Columbia Valley, $25: The Locatis chose Lonesome Spring Ranch Vineyard in the Yakima Valley as the source for their barbera, and the wine is well done all the way through. Syrupy aromas of purplish marionberry, blueberry and blackberry include hints of tea and mint. The drink is akin to a bag of ripe berries as fine-grained sandy tannins make for a pleasing mouth feel. Its finish lingers with chocolate and black cherries as good acidity carries it forward. Enjoy with lasagna or osso buco.

Locati Cellars 2007 Innovation, Columbia Valley, $20: Michael Locati’s Super Tuscan-style blend has a heritage of barbera (54 percent) from Lonesome Spring Vineyard, cabernet sauvignon (33 percent) from Goose Ridge and sangiovese off Candy Mountain. A bit of aeration allows for a nose that opens to strawberry, ripe watermelon, black currant, crushed walnut and Red Vines licorice. The Italian varieties bring more of the high-toned red fruit of red currant, pie cherry, pomegranate and a tartness of rhubarb as acidity more than balances out the tannin. Enjoy with tomato-based dishes.

Locati Cellars 2010 Estate Rosé, Walla Walla Valley, $16: The Locati family’s Mission Hills Vineyard, near the Whitman Mission, produces this pink wine using sangiovese that whispers of strawberry taffy, cranberry, apricot and tutti frutti. Its approach is easy to get into, yet bone dry, with tastes of more strawberry, apricot and tangerine. It’s capped with a big rush of pie cherry acidity at the end.

Locati Cellars 2008 Sangiovese, Columbia Valley, $25: A load of estate fruit from Walla Walla’s Mission Hills Vineyards fills in behind sangiovese from the Wahluke Slope for this assertive red. Aromas open with pomegrante, dark cranberry and chocolate-covered blueberries, accented by sage, silky leather, cedar and a whiff of sea spray. Juicy blueberries lead the flavors, which are joined in the midpalate by red currant and cranberry. The powers comes in the finish of black currant, chocolate and black tea.

Andy Perdue and Eric Degerman are the editors of Wine Press Northwest magazine. For more information, go to www.winepressnw.com.

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