February 2017 Issue of Wines & Vines

Roar Wines

Family behind famed Monterey County vineyards produces wine in urban San Francisco setting

by Andrew Adams

Just like many of their clients, the Franscioni family trucks grapes from their vineyards in the Santa Lucia Highlands AVA of Monterey County to a winery in the northern half of California.

It may not be the easiest and quickest way to turn estate grapes into wine, but it works for wineries such as Kosta Browne, Siduri Wines and others. Since 2001, the Franscionis have done the same.

Gary Franscioni planted his first vineyard in 1996 and partnered with Gary Pisoni to develop their Garys’ Vineyard a year later. The site is planted to Pinot Noir and Syrah and can usually be found on any short list of California’s best vineyards. The two growers have known each other for most of their lives and have been successful business partners for decades. Both also produce wines under their own labels; Lucia Vineyards & Winery is run by the Pisonis, and Roar Wines is the Franscioni brand.

The name “Roar” is partly an homage to the strong winds that regularly blow through the Santa Lucia Highlands from the Monterey Bay. While the region’s cool temperatures and soils make it an ideal location for growing Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, a lack of infrastructure there makes building and operating a winery difficult.

Making the move to S.F.
Roar wines were made in Santa Rosa, Calif., from 2001 until 2006, but when production outgrew that Sonoma County facility, the Franscionis moved to San Francisco with former consulting winemaker Ed Kurtzman, who is the winemaker and a partner in San Francisco-based August West wines.

In 2012, Roar moved to its current San Francisco facility, where winemaking is overseen by Gary’s son Adam Franscioni and Scott Shapley. The 20,000-square-foot winery is used to produce Roar Wines as well as wines from eight other clients including Shapley’s own brand, Flywheel. In 2016, the winery processed nearly 200 tons.

Built in the 1950s, the old warehouse needed new trench drains and a barrel-storage room. A section of the building was enclosed with two new walls to accommodate barrel storage at 57° F and hold up to 400 barrels.

The winery is connected to city sewer and water, which is filtered twice to ensure it’s free of chlorine, and heated as needed with an Eemax tankless water heater. The Franscionis also installed a new G&D Chiller cold glycol system for chilling its 20 open-top fermentation tanks.

Before joining the family company, Franscioni worked at wineries in South Africa and New Zealand and said the Roar operation is similar to what he experienced in South Africa. “We have the equipment to get what we need done, but you still need hand labor.”

The Franscioni vineyards supply 30 winery clients, and most of those are located in either Sonoma or Napa counties. All of the grapes are picked by hand between 10 p.m. and 8 a.m., collected in half-ton MacroBins and shipped north in 48-foot-long refrigerated trucks. The Franscionis handle shipping as part of the grape price, and they usually coordinate with clients to fill trucks. That way, two to three clients and Roar will split the shipping fee. “Those trucks are running up and down the state, but mostly to Sonoma and Napa, so we’re kind of on the way,” Franscioni said.

Grape sorting and processing
Depending on traffic, the grapes usually get to the winery just before noon. Once they arrive at the winery, the bins are unloaded with a forklift, and the grapes are processed depending on variety and condition. Red grapes that came off the vine particularly clean are dumped directly into an elevated hopper that channels them directly to a Puleo Vega 10 destemmer from Carlsen & Associates in Healdsburg, Calif. The destemmed berries are then collected in larger ProBins or “T-bins” for fermentation or smaller bins that are dumped into the open-top tanks. “If we look at the fruit and say, ‘Hey, this is super clean: no Botrytis, no raisin berries.’ We’ll use this because it’s less equipment to clean and less water and faster,” Franscioni said.

When the grapes do require a bit of hand sorting, the bins are dumped into a different hopper from Healdsburg, Calif.-based Criveller Group that empties onto a Milani sorting table, also from Criveller. A couple of interns stand on both sides of the table pulling out problematic clusters and MOG to separate channels that lead to waste buckets. The clean fruit lands on an elevated conveyor that drops clusters in the destemmer.

ranscioni said the Milani shaker table did a particularly good job with undersized berries and raisins. “The thing we realized we really loved about it was we had quite a few shot berries this year (2016) and just undersized berries, and so the grates back there are great because the clusters are hitting it so hard and there’s other grapes coming on it that will push any of those berries we don’t like underneath,” Franscioni said.

Almost all of the grapes for the Roar program are destemmed aside from an occasional small lot of Syrah. “There’s no must pump, so everything is done with gravity and a forklift,” Franscioni said. “I like it that way. It actually seems a little gentler.”

Most of the reds will sit through a five-day cold soak before getting inoculated. Shapley adds yeast to almost all of the must or juice at the winery unless a lot’s pH and YAN are good from the start and fermentation appears to be starting on its own.

The winery’s glycol system is used just to chill the tanks, and each is fitted with a digital thermometer. Without hot glycol, Shapley and Franscioni improvised a method to warm the tanks from the bottom. They wrap the legs of the tanks with pallet wrap plastic and then put an electric space heater underneath the tank. The plastic acts as an insulator keeping the warm air directly below the tank. “It works really well actually,” Franscioni said.

Manual fermentation management
Everything fermenting in T-Bins, half-ton bins or the tanks (most of which hold about 5 tons) is managed with punch downs. All of the large, stainless steel open tops were supplied by JVNW Inc., in Canby, Ore. “What we’ll do is have the interns grab a ladder, and then there’s some steel planks that we just throw up over the tanks and then they’ll climb on,” Franscioni said.

The steel planks lay across the diameter of the tanks so workers can reach all portions of the cap with a manual punch-down tool. When doing punch downs, workers wear safety harnesses connected to wires attached to the metal girders anchored in the ceiling. The tanks also have variable-capacity lids with inflatable seals so they can be used as storage tanks as well.

Once fermentation is complete, the reds are pressed in a Puleo SF-36, which is also from Carlsen, and the same press is used for whites too.

Shapley said the membrane press is a good fit for the winery because it can handle all the small-lot fermentations as well as the largest tanks. “It’s a relatively small press as we have some relatively small lot sizes, but it’s perfect for our tank sizes,” he said. “It’s small enough that you can do one bin but big enough so that we’re not here all day trying to do 6 tons of Chardonnay, and it’s not going to take us four loads to make it happen.”

The reds are pressed when dry, and Shapley will typically taste through the press run to see if it starts to taste astringent and decide whether he needs to make a press cut that will either be blended back in or kept separate. The membrane press also gives him the option to roll the must and coax out a little more wine if he wants to. “I do like the ability to roll because you can get some better yields that way,” he said. “Sometimes you’re not looking for the yields, you’re looking for the very best high-quality fruit, and the yields and the quality don’t work at odds necessarily.”

Finished Roar wines head to either new or neutral French oak barrels. Franscioni said he buys enough new barrels every year for about 65% of that vintage’s total volume. His preferred coopers are Tonnellerie Francois Freres, Tonnellerie Remond and Louis Latour.

Inside, the winery has the look and feel of a cellar at any premium Pinot winery in the Russian River Valley or on the Sonoma County coast. Outside, however, the facility is almost in the shadow of a highway overpass and on a rather non-descript city street.

But with estate vineyards such as Garys’ and the Franscionis’ other properties in the Santa Lucia Highlands, it doesn’t matter too much where those grapes are vinified—that’s been proven many times over by other wineries using the same fruit.

And for Gary Franscioni, a devout San Francisco Giants fan, the winery being within walking distance of the Giant’s home at AT&T Park probably is another perk that didn’t go unnoticed when the family was looking at buildings in the city. One may even have been able to hear the roar of the crowd in the stadium as the Giants went on to win one of several recent World Series championships.

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