I've been California Dreaming ever since I met real estate developers Michael Oravecz and Loretta DiChiro of Richfield nearly seven years ago. We became friends and bonded over our love of wine.
Since then, they have graciously allowed me to tag along on their incredible journey of starting an elite winery, Mila Family Vineyards, in California's Alexander Valley in Sonoma County.
"This started as a real estate deal and went to us pursuing our passion in wine," Oravecz said. "Alexander Valley land doesn't change hands very often. We were blessed to find a special property that's hillside."
After purchasing a 55-acre ranch in 2003, they traveled to Italy, France, Spain, South Africa and all over California to learn about wine.
A bottle of L'Ermita grenache from Spain's Priorat region was their inspiration for planting four acres of grenache. In addition, they have four acres of cabernet and one acre each of carignan and syrah.
"We certainly took a risk planting head-pruned grenache on the hills of Alexander Valley when everyone else was planting cabernet and chardonnay," Oravecz said. "More people are drinking grenache now, so I look at it like we are ahead of the curve."
Their first wines were made available to mailing-list subscribers on May 10. The couple have been working hard to build their brand, sampling with sommeliers and fine restaurateurs around the country.
"I love that they chose an unusual grape varietal to focus on," said Larry O'Brien, Ohio's only Master Sommelier. "The fun thing about Michael and Loretta is that they are happily dancing down this path that is otherwise pretty intimidating. I'm very impressed at first blush. Their wines are pretty damn good!"
One day in June, the couple invited eight guests to their home for a blind tasting that featured two of their grenache wines, a 2016 Block II Grenache $55, and a 2016 Grenache $80, against much higher priced mailing list/cult wines from around the world.
It's not my style to publish negative commentary on a wine that I taste, so all I will say is that Mila wines outshined the competition. One, I will say, was a $600 cult wine from Central California.
Great wines and family are the common threads running throughout. Their first bottling in 2015, only 100 cases, was in honor of Victor DiChiro, Loretta's father, an Italian immigrant from Baranello, Italy.
Two of their current wines, are named after their sons, Luca, 11, and Roco, 10, and they were crafted in the likeness of their personalities. Luca's Blend '17 is "a little more delicato," DiChiro said. It is a blend of 80% grenache and 20% syrah.
Roco's Blend '17 is a bigger wine, a little more wild. It is a blend of 50% grenache, 20% syrah, 20% carignan and 10% cabernet sauvignon and will be released in the spring of 2020.
I have visited the California property five times since 2013. The view of the Alexander Valley is breathtaking. I've enjoyed watching the vines mature and tasting the wine in many of its finished stages. I am certain that a higher plateau will be championed. Certainly, it's one that I can't imagine, given the pedigree they have reached in such a short time.
"When we meet people and talk about our wine we emphasize that this has been a 16-year journey," Oravecz said. "It took us 16 years to have a bottle of wine to sell."
For now, the couple plan to stay in Richfield for the next 10 years to raise their two sons. "We're happy to bring Sonoma back to Ohio," Oravecz said.
Five wines — a rosé of grenache, a cabernet, two grenaches, and a blend — are available to mailing-list subscribers.
See www.milafamilyvineyards.com to sign up for the mailing list, or call Jen at 440-388-4218 to place an order.
Read more Phil Your Glass wine stories at www.ohio.com/akron/writers/phil-masturzo. Contact him at email@example.com.