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
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.