|Alejandro Bulgheroni, right, with Renwood president Brent Cohen|
But he isn't there. When he decided to get involved in the U.S. wine business he scouted several possible sites, finally settling on Amador County in the Mother Lode east of Sacramento. Timing had something to do with his decision. Amador County's Renwood Winery was financially distressed, shedding its holdings at prices that attracted Bulgheroni. So far, he's spent a conservatively estimated $16 million to acquire Renwood, enhance its grape growing and winemaking, and turn it from a large if slumbering presence along Steiner Road in Shenandoah Valley into a large and lively wine-culture complex bound to introduce the area to a whole new wave of wine enthusiasts. Wine and Monday Night Football? At Renwood, that's just the start of the week. (Coming up: Thursday tapas nights starting Oct. 18, Saturday family-style meals starting Oct. 20 and Sunday brunch starting Oct. 21.)
I chatted only briefly and casually with Bulgheroni the other evening during a reception to inaugurate the restyled Renwood. Like a lot of other wealthy men, he's been bitten by the wine bug, but he's a largely hands-off vintner, delegating the running of Renwood to a slew of other people, including Carlos Pulenta, his winemaking partner at Bodega Vistalba of Mendoza, the Argentine wine region celebrated for malbec. Pulenta is inexperienced at making zinfandel, the grape and wine upon which Amador County historically has staked its standing in the wine trade, and the grape and wine that most intrigues Bulgheroni. Pulenta, however, is working with several seasoned zinfandel specialists, including Dave Crippen, now overseeing his 10th harvest as the resident winemaker at Renwood, and Kent Rosenblum, retained as a consultant. (At the grand opening, Rosenblum hinted that Renwood's commitment to zinfandel is being expanded well beyond Amador County. Renwood already has released zinfandel from Dry Creek Valley in Sonoma County and will make zinfandel from Paso Robles, perhaps starting with this vintage.)
Bulgheroni, whose other agricultural holdings include Bodegas Garzon in Uruguay, where he also produces olive oil sold by Dean and Deluca in the United States, indicated that he was drawn to Renwood and Amador County in large part because of its standing for zinfandel, which he is eager to further enhance with an extensive portfolio of appellations and styles. When I asked him to name his favorite Renwood wine at this early stage in the winery's revitalization, he said he rather liked the 2010 Amador County Clarion, a bright and beefy yet supple blend of nearly 75 percent zinfandel and slightly more than 25 percent syrah. The Clarion also was my favorite wine when I tasted through 15 zinfandels and zinfandel-based wines at Renwood this summer. It also is to be the subject of my wine column in The Sacramento Bee this Wednesday. During my earlier Renwood visit another new zinfandel wasn't yet ready to show, but it was the other night. It's the Renwood 2010 Amador County Gold Crest Zinfandel, a husky but nonetheless brilliant and refreshing zinfandel, it's fruit all boysenberry jam, its spice a liberal sprinkling of black pepper; this is one delicious zinfandel, but brace yourself for sticker shock. Under Renwood's marketing program it is to be sold only in restaurants, where it is expected to be priced $75. Bulgheroni may be in Shenandoah Valley, but he isn't shy about adopting Napa Valley wine prices. How else will he be able to afford land over there?