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Fasi Estate Winery: Visionary Success

By Sarah Jackson
Special to Sierra News Online

COARSEGOLD – How does a serious car accident turn into the American Dream and end in a beautiful winery? The answer is found in Ralph Fasi’s ability to recognize opportunity.

Ralph Fasi

Longtime Madera County businessman and entrepreneur Fasi seems to have a history of seizing chance and staying ahead of trends. And a recent visit to his winery, which is situated in the golden hills visible from Highway 41 across from the 22 Mile House, sheds light on what may be his next innovative success. And, as usual, his timing appears to be impeccable.

Grapes have moved up to the number two spot in Madera County in terms of overall crop value this year, trailing only almonds and overtaking pistachios, according to the latest Madera County Crop and Livestock Report, which was released earlier this month.

Madera County is currently ranked 9th out of 58 California Counties for wine grape crop value. This follows an upward trend in recent years for wine grape production in the county.

This year, harvested wine grapes in Madera County were valued at $125.3 million, nearly twice the value of Madera County’s wine grape crop in 2000, the year when Ralph Fasi purchased the property that would become his winery.

To understand the Fasi story, rewind to 1986.

Cameron Post, Fasi winemaker Ken Post’s son, in the winery’s fermenting room

Ralph and Yvonne had just been married in their native Switzerland and came to Yosemite National Park on their honeymoon. But then a serious traffic collision on Tioga Pass resulted in major injuries to the couple, forcing the newlyweds to recover at a local hospital.

As they recuperated here, they fell in love with the agricultural landscape and decided to immigrate.

Fast forward through years of hard work and saving to when the couple purchased the River Ranch property in Madera County, which included a 42-acre vineyard.

Consulting with researchers at Fresno State University to determine which variety was best suited to their particular plot of land, Ralph planted Syrah grapes and implemented organic farming practices. Organic farming was not as common in 2000 as it is today, but Ralph says he saw it as an ethical practice and a trend worth setting.

Cameron Post checks the vineyward on an ATV

Today, Fasi’s vineyard in Madera is a California Certified Organic Farm, an accomplishment of application, inspection and compliance with high standards set by the CCOF Foundation covering principals such as carbon sequestration, ecosystem protection, genetically modified organisms, processing standards and social justice (“adequate and equitable compensation and treatment of farmers, ranchers, and laborers”).

Although the scope of the family business now also includes a partnership with a wine maker in Argentina, Fasi Winery grows as many of its grapes in Madera County as possible, keeping the local economy in mind. However, Ken Post, Fasi’s winemaker, said certain varieties like Chardonnay grow best in cooler climates.

Veteran winemaker Post is in the midst of completing his first harvest and vintage with Fasi. He said Fasi has consistently chosen sustainable farming practices, utilizing solar and drip irrigation rather than traditional electricity and flood irrigation. In the Foothills, drip irrigation is the most viable choice due to surface pooling and stagnation issues resulting from the slope of the land. Drip irrigation also uses much less electricity, conserving water and proving more sustainable over time.

To keep birds at bay, the vineyard employs a solar-powered speaker that plays a bird of prey call. This has proven effective and conserves both energy and the environment.

Surprisingly, the biggest threat to these vineyards is the coyote. Estate Manager Erica Magarian says they can consume approximately three vines per night. Fasi said he is currently exploring “cruelty-free” options to solve this issue.

Ralph’s visionary outlook has brought another innovation to the Foothill vineyard: As Magarian spoke about the Foothill vineyard, a particular variety catches the ear — Charbono.

Not a very well known varietal, Charbono is very rare in the United States. In fact, less than 100 acres of this wine grape is currently being grown in the contiguous US.

The origins of Charbono is the stuff of legends — and rumor. Is it related to the Bonarda grape of Argentina? Or the Dolcetto variety of Italy? In any case, it has proven to be a very popular boutique wine at Fasi Winery.

The first vintage of Charbono was released to wine club members only by Fasi in November of 2018. By Christmas, none was left.

According to Magarian, the intriguing varietal grows quite well in the Foothill region. Similar in flavor profile to Barbera with its inky red color and plummy influences, it favors the Foothills due to the reliable early afternoon breeze and the constancy of temperature produces ideal sugar levels (also known as ‘Brix levels’) for Tuscan varieties.

Charbono grapes

The newest Charbono harvest was just picked. Magarian said it will age anywhere from “8 to 24 months” before release and will be offered to wine club members first, then made available to the public in the winery’s tasting room.

Last year, the boutique winery produced 850 cases of wine overall. This year they plan on doubling that amount. The production increase not only bodes well for Fasi, but also for Madera County as a whole.

The 2018-19 season is shaping up as a banner wine year for California. The temperatures along with the abundant rain through the end of May has many winemakers looking forward to the fruits of this harvest, including Ralph Fasi, a man who knows how to seize an opportunity — and make great wine.

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Sierra News Online

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