Ancestry and Oil
By Wine Press Staff
The Ponzi family is a forward-thinking bunch.
Dick and Nancy Ponzi founded Ponzi Vineyards in 1970, one of only a handful of wineries at the time and now considered a pioneer brand. On the side, the couple established Oregon’s first microbrewery, BridgePort, in 1984 — they subsequently sold it to Gambrinus Company in 1995.
As the Ponzi children — Michel, Luisa and Maria — grew up, they became a major part of the family business, helping to launch the Dundee Bistro and Ponzi Wine Bar in 1999.
By this time, the second generation was fully involved in the family’s successful ventures. Marking a major milestone of 40 years in 2010, Ponzi now produces 40,000 cases in its state-of-the-art facility outside Newberg, as well as selling its latest offerings at the brand new tasting room adjacent to the winery and at the historic estate outside Beaverton.
Maintaining the entrepreneurial spirit, Michel has yet another business to add to the family’s already impressive résumé: Casal Cristiana Extra Virgin Olive Oil.
This summer marks one year Michel, his wife, Rebecca, and two children have lived outside a small Italian village called Torre di Palme. It is located an hour away from the Ponzis’ Italian origins in the Le Marche region of central Italy.
After growing up in the wine biz, Michel explains why he chose olive oil and Italy.
“It is a natural evolution for me to bridge my Italian heritage with my American life,” Michel says. “All things Italian — its culture, music, art and, most particularly, food — have been at the center of my attention.
“In Italy, extra virgin olive and wine are two of the most important kitchen staples,” Michel continues. “They are both considered to be elixirs to health. For me, it’s an obvious marriage.”
Initially, Casal Cristiana EVOO is available solely through a membership subscription to its exclusive club, Viva Verde. Because it is made using artisanal methods, the first-press EVOO is limited, requiring reservations.
Olive varietals featured in Casal Cristiana’s premiere offering include frantoio, leccino, carboncella and moraiolo. Harvested at optimum ripeness, the fruit makes a low-acid, buttery and flavorful olive oil.
“While there are hundreds of different varietals of olives — just like winegrapes — certain types thrive in specific climates and soil,” Michel explains. “Olives are abundant throughout the Mediterranean but different zones are conducive to particular varietals.
“Our olives grow on the rolling hills along the edge of the Adriatic Sea. The climate off the coastline with the ocean breezes produces olives that are ‘più dolce’ (sweeter), which characterizes a fruitier and lighter flavor. It makes our first product ideal for multiple uses in the kitchen.”
According to the website, “the oil is bright green in color with golden highlights, and has aromatic hints of apples and almonds, unique to the area’s varietals.”
In regard to the brand, Michel named it after the villa his family now calls home.
“Over 100 years old, [the home] once housed three farming families and is still standing with original stone walls,” Michel says. “We’ve learned the stories of this special property from various family members who reside as our neighbors and deeply appreciate its beauty.”
The label showcases the villa’s view, a panorama of olive groves, Torre di Palme and the Adriatic Sea. Interestingly, the location of Casal Cristiana is a five-minute drive to the small resort town called Porto San Giorgio, one of the original towns that participated in the now famous Seven Countries Study, which coined the term “Mediterranean Diet” and promoted the consumption of olive oil.
Viva Verde memberships are $160, which includes six 500-ml bottles of Casal Cristiana EVOO made from the 2013 harvest — forecasted for October and November — and delivered in January 2014.
Casal Cristiana Extra Virgin Olive Oil is produced for Fratelli Ponzi Importers, also owned and operated by Michel and Rebecca Ponzi. For more information, visit www.casalcristiana.com.