Buona Notte: A Taste of Italy in the Pacific Northwest

Buona Notte: A Taste of Italy in the Pacific Northwest

Graham Markel's outstanding take on American-grown Italian Grapes


There is something magical about the Columbia Gorge. Nestled on the banks of the Columbia River, riding the border of Oregon and Washington and just 80 miles east from Portland, it's a growing region unlike any other in America. Some of the highest elevation vineyards in the US are found here, along with a bountiful diversity of climates and soil types — it truly feels like you are not in the United States when you are there. It's no wonder that Eric Asimov wrote a piece in the Times last September raving about what the Columbia Gorge has to offer. For winemakers, it's a dream. 

Graham Markel is one of the many winemakers that heard the siren song of region. He came to Hood River to work with one of our favorite winemakers, Nate Ready, the mastermind behind Hiyu Wine Farm. Before that he spent 7 years working for another Pacific Northwest wine legend, Maggie Harrison of Antica Terra.

Needless to say, Graham knew what he was doing by the time he launched his own label, Buona Notte ('good night' in Italian). What drew him to the Columbia Gorge was the seemingly endless possibilities the abundant miroclimates and breadth of varieties planted there, a versatility unmatched in the Pacific Northwest.

His Italian heritage and deep love for traditional Tuscan cooking compelled him to focus on the grapes and winemaking traditions of Italy, an inspiration that many sight, but very few can actually execute expertly. We have a thirst-quenching skin contact Chardonnay, a lush rose, perfect for ushering in the beginning of spring, and what I believe to be the best American Sangiovese I've ever tasted. Graham is one of the only American winemakers I have ever met that can do these historic Italian grapes and styles justice, and we have three excellent examples of his deft winemaking, showcasing the magic of the Gorge. These wines are not to be missed.

Graham sources grapes from both Oregon and Washington vineyards in the Gorge. These sights range from the high deserts of the Dalles to the snow capped peaks of Underwood Mountain, an extinct volcano overlooking Hood River. The vineyards are all farmed without the use of synthetic herbicides or fungicides, and some have taken to working regeneratively.

The Buona Notte winery, located in the beautiful town of Cascade Locks, just a stones throw away from the Columbia River, has a very old-school feel. The winemaking here is never rushed, and thoughtfully done by hand. Grapes are carefully sorted, often destemmed manually. Like his mentor Nate Ready at Hiyu, Graham presses all of the wines with an old basket press. Aging is mostly done in neutral oak, sulfur is used judiciously, and the wines are bottled unfiltered. Always made with dinner table in mind, these wines are gastronomic wonders. To me, both the precision of Antica Terra and the experimental flair of Hiyu comes through in Graham's wines. They are creative and thought-provoking, showcasing not only the Columbia Gorge but a winemaker that you should keep a close eye on.

Kirk Sutherland

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Buona Notte "Panna Cotta" Columbia Gorge White 2020


Chardonnay from Hillside Vineyard in the Dalles. Grapes were destemmed by hand and given a gentle 2 week maceration, imbuing the juice with a gorgeous golden hue. The wine is creamy and silky (just like the dessert it's named after), wonderfully high-toned and has the perfect balance of fruitiness and savoriness. An orange wine everyone can enjoy.

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Buona Notte "Rosa" Columbia Gorge Rose 2020


Dolcetto and a touch of Moscato from Allegre Vineyard, blended with sangneé Sangiovese from the Cento Per Cento. Some of the Dolcetto sees a 4 day maceration, some is direct pressed to avoid the smoke damage the vintage is known for. A rose for cooler temperatures, perfect to accompany the first blooms of spring. Textured, bright and juicy, with cranberry, wild strawberry and a touch of fresh herbs.

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Buona Notte "Cento Per Cento" Columbia Gorge Sangiovese 2018


“A Hundred for a Hundred.” Pure Sangiovese that finally does the grape some justice here in the states. 75% whole cluster, it's brambly, floral and perfectly earthy. A good bump of spice and cherry fruit from the whole cluster melds seamlessly with the sage and mint herbal tones the grape is known for. I've never wanted to eat pizza and drink American Sangiovese more in my life.

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