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Wine niche for Penngrove pair

Wednesday, November 21st, 2012 | Posted by | no responses

Alena Ramaci paints a design on a bottle of Mora Estate Rosato on Nov. 18 at her home in Penngrove. (Beth Schlanker / PD)


It began with passion and a dream.

That’s how Fabiano and Alena Ramaci describe their 10-year venture to create and produce amarone-style Italian wine in Sonoma County.

Mora Estate Wines is a labor of love for the Penngrove couple, both of Italian descent. Both grew up in San Francisco before moving north almost 25 years ago.

“I’m a really strong believer that love is the strongest force,” said Alena. “If you have passion about something or love about something, that is going to emanate through by the time you get it to the table.”

For Fabiano, 49, and Alena, 48, food and wine have always been in the background of their lives. Alena’s family is from Italy’s northern Venetian region, a place she often spent time while visiting her grandmother.

Fabiano spent the first few months of his life in Sicily before moving with his parents to California. He grew up in his father’s popular restaurant, La Traviata, working as a busser and a kitchen hand until he eventually took over the restaurant’s wine list. When wine dealers came around, he immersed himself in the literature they brought.

“When I started drinking for the first time, my friends were drinking beer and I was drinking these wonderful vintage wines,” Fabiano said. “I fell in love with the style of wines from the northern regions.” One of them was amarone, a special blend of three to four different grape varieties that stuck with him over the years.

At 22, he opened his own restaurant with a friend. Alena, a floral designer by trade, came in to provide flowers and their romance blossomed.

After years in the restaurant business, Fabiano began to take an interest in winemaking. His hobby soon took over his garage, even causing him to spend a month in Italy visiting a close friend and mentor.

“Being in my own garage, I wasn’t under the gun and feeling like I needed to be on a schedule,” he said. “I was able to extend the process of aging and see what kind of profiles I was able to get.”

Hearkening back to his days at La Traviata, he began to experiment with some of his favorite Italian varieties, including amarone. “It’s not an easy wine to make,” he said. “I had friends who told me, ‘Fabiano, if you get into the business, try to find a niche.’ For me the niche was very easy.”

What began as a hobby gradually shifted, becoming the focus of the Ramacis’ lives. Alena has become the artist behind Mora Estate’s unique, hand-painted labels. Her artwork gave personal meaning to each bottle and was a way for her to get involved in the business.

“Once I started to draw the bottles and saw the way that people related to it, I was inspired even more,” she said.

Their journey took over a decade. Along the way, they grieved the loss of mentors and family members, met with those who didn’t fully appreciate their vision and experienced dozens of rejections before a vineyard in Alexander Valley agreed to graft their grapes. The grapes took, and in 2009 Mora Estate Wines was created.

“It can happen on a wish and a prayer because there’s power behind that,” said Alena. “People would make fun of us and say ‘where’s your estate?’” said Alena. “We’d say the estate is within.”

The name “Mora” is a combination of the first two letters of Alena’s maiden name and Ramaci. “We were sitting around one night and came up with that,” said Fabiano. “Mora also means ‘blackberry’ in Italian.”

Mora Estate’s first wine released was the amarone-style Valpo, named after the Valpolicella region of Venice. “My style of amarone is more of an old style, old world meeting new world,” said Fabiano.

It was quickly followed by the estate’s two other wines, a barbera and a rosato, both of which have been well received.

“It’s different from other businesses because it’s really coming from their heart,” said Dianna Sakai, a long time friend of the couple. “You can feel it, you can taste it, it’s just all around you.”

The Ramacis are selective about where they market Mora Estate. “It’s more of a boutique wine, and we also want to be sure (retailers) understand who we are,” said Alena.

Downtown Santa Rosa restaurant La Gare is the primary carrier of the Valpo, offering patrons the chance to sample and purchase bottles. The barbera is available at Santa Rosa’s Bottle Barn, and the rosato is at Shelton’s Market in Healdsburg.

“People come from all over the world looking for these little jewels from our county so they can go back home with a bottle,” said Fabiano.

The Ramacis consider the wine a vehicle for their expression of love.

“I think the message in this wine and our project is don’t give up on your passion,” said Alena. “Even if the road gets hard, your passion will become the road that is victorious.”

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Nick Walden is our Cotati and Penngrove correspondent.
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