At one time in the 20th century, Asti in northern Sonoma County was more famous for its wine than many of California’s now legendary wine making regions.
Asti was the base of Italian Swiss Colony wines, established in 1881 as an agricultural colony focused on growing grapes and making wine to serve the large community of Italian immigrants in San Francisco (think North Beach and the names DiMaggio, Alioto, Ghirardelli, Ferlinghetti, Coppola, Giannini and Pelosi). By 1905, its wines had won international awards and acclaim and was producing huge amounts of wine from its 500,000 gallon cistern.
Under Louis Petri, the brand Italian Swiss Colony (ISC) was mass marketed across the U.S. following prohibition, but starting in the 1980s acquisitions and changing wine tastes led consumers toward preferring boutique wines compared to mass-produced ones, reducing the value of the brand. Eventually, Chateau Souverain, one of those boutique wines, moved its production to ISC’s Asti Winery.
Today, America’s sixth-largest wine production facility at Asti and the Souverain brand are owned by E & J Gallo Winery. The acquisition provides a lesson in how fortunes shift in the wine industry. In the 1960s, ISC was bigger than Gallo.
So, when North Coast color spotter Walt Gabler took these pictures, scoring a First Report, he struggled to identify the winery calling it the Asti Winery which it is. The image he captured is classic California wine country: rolling hills scored with rows of healthy vines leading up to oak-speckled, golden mountains. It’s all at peak this week in Asti.
Walt reports that vines throughout Sonoma County are at peak and trees along the Russian River are also at full peak, “Better than I have seen in previous years.” Though, disappointingly, vineyards in Mendocino County were hit by a freeze and their leaves are brown husks hanging dismally from vines.