Food & Drink

Feast Q&A: Darrell Corti talks farm-to-fork and ‘Legends of Wine’ event

The Sacramento region is in the midst of celebrating its self-designation as “America’s Farm-to-Fork Capital” with a variety of food-related festivities running through Sept. 28.

But this agriculturally minded party wouldn’t be complete without some fermented grape juice, and the “Legends of Wine” event Thursday on the west steps of the state Capitol raises a glass to area vintners, who are increasingly receiving national acclaim.

The $50 wine-and-cheese event is hosted by two of the area’s wine figureheads: Darrell Corti of Corti Brothers and David Berkley, the local wine merchant who once selected bottles for the White House.

Corti and Berkley are acting as consultants to help select the three dozen participating wineries, a list that includes Clarksburg Wine Co., Michael David Winery and Revolution Wines. The Bee recently caught up with Corti to chat about what’s new and noteworthy when it comes to local wine:

Which areas of the region do you find especially exciting right now for wine?

A lot of writers and producers are talking about Clarksburg chenin blanc, and it’s a really good wine. Remember, this is a grape variety that was enormously popular in California. In the late 1950s through the 1970s, the hottest wine in Napa was Charles Krug chenin blanc that was made in stainless steel tanks and left slightly sweet. Now, the style coming out of Clarksburg is not particularly sweet. It may have a slight bit of residual sugar for balance, but it’s a dry wine. The other good thing is it’s not tricked up with wood. It tastes like what it’s supposed to be.

How about a red grape varietal that signifies the Sacramento area?

Petite sirah. How could this have happened? Petite sirah sells incredibly better than syrah and it wasn’t supposed to be like that. Petite sirah almost became extinct in California. It can be dense, inky and thick and unappealing. Curiously, in areas where people have (success) with it, like Clarksburg, the wine is not like that. There’s a certain lightness to the wine. I think the producers started looking at this wine, which was used primarily for blending, and it was terrific for giving color, and realized it needs a lighter hand in making it.

How would you describe the state of the region’s wine over the past few years? It seems like the area’s increasingly getting press for its wine.

Remember, historically, the Sacramento area was populated by vineyards and wineries. In the end of the 19th century, the largest vineyard in the world was Natomas Vineyard on Folsom Boulevard, just past Rancho Cordova. There were 2,000 acres of vines and all in one piece, not parcels. …

Right now, we’re finding if you take grapes from areas of the world that are warm and transplant them here, sometimes you’re pleasantly surprised. Look at a lot of southern Italian and Rhone varieties. At one time in California, people only wanted classic European varieties. You can’t grow cabernet sauvignon well in Sacramento, but you can grow mourvedre, carignane.

And what does the phrase “farm-to-fork” mean to you?

What it should mean is that what you’re eating comes from a farm and it’s on a plate. But most of the time, I don’t think everyone really understands the true meaning of all this because in Sacramento, for example, you can’t grow head lettuce. So, a part of modern living is that we can have whatever we want, whenever we want it. Maybe we shouldn’t want that. Maybe we should say, “This is what we have now, so let’s it enjoy it now.” The idea that people recognize that food has to be grown somewhere is very important.