Throughout the world Italians are known as a fierce people with a passion for living life to its fullest, especially when it comes to food, wine, and family. It comes as no surprise that Jane Portalupi, founder of Portalupi Wines, is no exception.
She and her husband, winemaker Tim Borges, set out to start a winery that truly embodied the “Cal-Ital” state of mind. For most people, Cal-Ital is a simple term to describe California made Italian wines, but for them it’s a way of life. It’s a way to honor where they’re from, and where they’re going. “It’s embracing what you have, and being happy and proud of who you are.”
Jane points out that “Cal-Ital was a term that was used more in the early 80s to bring attention to the Italian Wines that were being produced in California. As French varietals became more and more popular it kind of got lost, so I decided to use it within Portalupi to express a lifestyle. To us,” she says, “Cal-Ital is all about bringing friends and family together through food and wine.”
Growing up in an Italian family, wine was woven into Jane’s lifestyle. Her grandmother Marina, was a winemaker in Piedemonte, Montiglio, before moving to California to become a bootlegger in San Jose. “I can remember my Noni would go to the cellar and pick a bottle of wine,” she says, “ and then decide what meal to prepare.” There is no denying that wine is simply in Jane’s blood.
Their family has settled in a coastal town in Northern California. Jane met her husband Tim while they were still in preschool, and they crushed on one another throughout their youth. Jane ended up moving to Seattle for many years to attend college and pursue a career in Retail Fashion Marketing, while Tim stayed in California and began working in the wine industry at 18 years old. Years later, fate intervened and they reconnected through a family member. It wasn’t long before they were married, and turned their attention to creating Portalupi wines.
Jane’s grandmother Marina Portalupi became their inspiration for the launch of the brand. They wanted to create wines that were true to their rich Italian ancestry. Enamored by winemakers currently in Sonoma, such as Graziano, Raffanelli, and Rochioli, Tim has been fortunate to learn winemaking in both Italy and in Napa when the community was still small. With 35 years of experience now under his belt, he knew exactly what he wanted to make when they started Portalupi in 2002. “We love everything Italian.”
Their wines embody that beautifully authentic Italian style with a California twist that just is Cal-Ital, with gorgeously bold and aromatic Italian varietals such as Arneis and Barbera, coupled with some of the most incredible Pinot Noirs and Zinfandels California has to offer. Every wine is made with love and the intent on bringing people together. Each one a huge success.
Their tasting room in Healdsburg is just as authentic. They have a wonderful eye-catching feature: a giant barrel with three tap handles protruding from the front, each one pouring a unique Italian wine, Vaso di Marina, that customers can bring back special milk jug to fill from. The history behind it is incredible, and a true homage to her love of family.
Q: “One of my favorite features of your tasting room is the wine taps coupled with the Portalupi milk jugs, what’s the history there?”
A: “My Noni, Marina, was a winemaker in Piedemonte. It was rare to have a woman winemaker in those days but she was from a large family of mostly girls so her father chose her to learn the craft. She moved to San Jose and opened up Luna Park Grocery in the Alviso area where she started her bootlegging operation. She used to collect milk jugs and bottle her wine in them. So we created Vaso di Marina and have carried on the tradition.”
Q: “Your winery is very family oriented. Do you feel that your family dynamic has contributed to Portalupi Wines?”
A: “We have a very strong work ethic and everyone contributes. Tim has lived the legend and is very expressive and passionate about his winemaking, and shares his knowledge with everyone. I am the “gatekeeper” of the business and responsible for strategy, business planning, branding and managing the business. We are still very excited for each and every harvest and the uniqueness of each season. We are always creating new ideas. We recently made a Barbera Sparkling Methode Champenoise, the first in the industry with a new label that expresses visually the Cal-Ital lifestyle, with a drawing of an Italian Wine Goddess bringing vines over to the California Golden Bear.”
Jane and Tim also love to travel, and once a year they take members of their Wine Club members back to Italy so they can experience it for themselves, with the hopes of igniting a passion for the Cal-Ital lifestyle in others.
Jane truly embodies the fierce love for life that her ancestors were known for and, through Portalupi Wines, continues to pay respect to them and that trait. She loves cooking and wine (especially Barbera and Eggplant parmesan) and most of all, her family. She is incredibly excited that her daughter is expecting a baby in May and that she will be a Noni herself soon. Everything about her screams pride and passion, and is the human embodiment of everything Italian. Truly she is the Queen of Cal-Ital.
You can visit the Portalupi tasting room in Healdsburg CA, or learn more at PortalupiWine.com.