It’s raining cats and dogs, and we’re driving around in the mud, trying to find Dusi Vineyards. As it happens, J Dusi Wines is tucked away in the family home in the middle of a vineyard just outside of Paso Robles, and is hidden in the 80 year vines of the vineyard. This is like stepping back in time, to an era when there were more cows in Paso Robles than wine; to an era of farming, of family, and of community.
As we enter the house, Janell and her mom greet us with coffee, which was welcome at 9:30 on a chilly wet day. Mom was in the kitchen cooking up a storm for the wine club party that night, and Janell sat down with us at the table to tell us the story of her wine, and the family tradition. Janell Dusi is turning her family business on its head, becoming the first Dusi to make wine and not just grow it. Her great grandparents, Sylvester and Caterina Dusi began farming this land in the early 1920s, and started business after business, including vineyards, farms, restaurants, and the now defunct Dusi Winery. She was born on this vineyard, and raised among the vines that her grandfather Dante planted with his two brothers, the sons of Sylvester. In 1945, vineyards were few and far between in Paso, since it was a large rural farming community. With the farm, came the Italians, and the rich tradition of Zinfandel and field blends. Th brothers planted a classic field blend, and head trained the vines, with no irrigation. 65 years later, the traditions remain the same.
This fourth generation winemaker hand picks during harvest, and enlists the entire family to help – including her nieces and nephews, who are young sprouts in the field. This family tradition is dying in California, and it’s refreshing to see a tried and true farm family, albeit farmign wine. Growing up int he vines, Janell learned all she could about grape farming, but she always wanted her Grandfather Dante to teach her how to make wine. When she was 16, she made her first wine, and continued making an Italian style zinfandel every year after that. Each vintage asked and answered a different question in winemaking, and Janell learned by doing, under the careful gaze of Grandpa..
Now, she’s in her 3rd vintage of J Dusi wines. The two original vineyards are about 1/4 mile away from the family house; the first is 40 acres, that was planted in 1943 with an Italian field blend of Carignane, Alicante Bouchet, Petite Sirah, and who knows what else. in 1945 a second parcel was purchased nearby. In the beginning, the family sold their grapes to surrounding wineries, but as the grape market fell in the 1950s, the Dusis ventured in to winemaking to make their way through the grape glut. Their first foray in to finished wine was about 8-9 years under the label Dusi Winery, and when the grape prices came back up, they stopped making wine and started selling grapes again.
One of the unique properties of this area is the large diurnal temperature swing during the course of day. This vineyard in particular can go from 99+ degrees on a hot summer day, to below at night on that same day. This gives the fruit some unique character. That, combined with dry farming, give the vines some vigor as they are forced to struggle a bit – classically, this makes a lovely wine. First up, the 2008 Dante Dusi Ranch Zinfandel. This was bright raspberry with white pepper, bold blackberry juice and hints of other spice box flavors. I found it to be viscous and lingering (in a good way). Only 850 cases were made, and since 90% of the home ranch fruit is sold to other wineries, this is a rare gem. Janelle really wants to showcase the whole ranch in one bottle and not segment the wine out. These wines are Representative of the terroir of the property as a whole, and this zin in particular showed a lot of juicy red fruit, with just a hint of oak, followed by a lot of cherry cola.
The 900 cases of the 2009 Zinfandel was just released. This was a totally different wine – and rather unexpected in the zone of big, jammy, raisiny Paso zins. The herbaceousness really struck me, and while it might have been a bit closed, it was herbal with bay leaf , dusty black pepper, a hint of red raspberry coming out under tobacco and leather. There were chewy bark lots of spice.
Finally, the 2009 Fiorento which was recently bottled. This blend of 50% Zin, 25% Carignane, and 25% Syrah showed dusty blue fruit, and was lean and racy but refined, with dusty blue fruit, and strong chewy notes from the Syrah. With only 50-60 Carignane vines on the property, they are hand picked to ripeness to make sure that the perfect fruit is selected.
We could have stayed and talked to the Dusi family for hours – about dry farming, about old vine zin, about restrained California Zinfandels, about Paso Robles’ best changes at Rhone. But alas, another appointment was calling. I did however not leave empty handed! I brought home some Zinfandel to share with my friends, and am looking forward to trying the 09 again after it settles down a bit.
Thanks for such a great visit Janell!