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At dinner at Gourmet Italia the other night, owner Alex suggested we try a bottle of La Serenissima Cabernet Sauvignon. I wasn’t familiar with John Tiso Vineyard and the four of us were pleasantly surprised by how good this wine was. I did a bit of research, found their website and decided to pay them a visit. It turns out that was easier said than done.

Warner Springs is about a 45 minute drive from home. When I reached the address, there was a grocery store and gas station but no sign of a winery. I decided to head a bit further and found Shadow Mountain Winery. It turns out that Alex, who owns Shadow Mountain is the wine-maker for John Tiso Vineyard. He told they are open by appointment only and gave me Tony Tiso’s contact information. Shadow Mountain is full of charm. Look for a post about their winery soon.

I called Tony the next morning and told him I wanted to visit his winery. We made plans for a 2:00 visit. Laura and I found the vineyards and winery down a dirt road, with no signs posted whatsoever. Tony’s dad John started the winery in 1999. When John first told Tony of his plans, he thought dad was having a senior moment and should see a doctor. John wound up building a magnificent home on the property and planted about ten acres of grapes – Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Syrah.

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The first vintage was released in 2001 and the wine continues to improve. Their production runs 1200-1500 cases annually with three wines so far – Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and a Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot blend. There’s no tasting room, so Tony grabbed a bottle of each and we went through the home to the bar. He explained his wines really need to breathe, so he suggested we try a bit of each and then come back after a tour of the property and see how the wines changed after being open for a while.

Tony uses no pesticides on the property. He believes in producing a “natural” product; unfiltered and with an emphasis on freshness. His philosophy is that there should be no delay from harvest to crush to barrel. The juice changes rapidly, and the sooner you can get it into a barrel, the fresher it will taste. He wants to “capture every bit of freshness, bounty and personality of the fruit”.

John Tiso likes big, European style reds, as does Tony, but Tony has now planted Arneis and will be planting Vermentino. He has also planted some Tempranillo.

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After touring the vineyards, we went into the barrel room, and then down into the cellar. Tony has got a very small quantity of Syrah (three barrels) that he will be releasing, and he gave us a barrel sample. It impressed me enough that I pre-ordered a case.

The dedication to quality is clearly evident at La Serenissima. Tony uses bottles that cost about twice what normal bottles do because light and oxygen are wine’s biggest enemies. His corks are from Sardinia and are far denser than most others. They’re 2″ long and also cost at least twice as much as a regular cork.

When went went back to see how the wines had changed while we were out, we were amazed by how much smoother they were. The Cabernet Sauvignon spends three years on oak. It’s a big wine.

Tony and John Tiso hail from Venice. La Serenissima was the original name for Venice. it means the most serene. I sincerely hope you get the opportunity to visit.

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