Organic wine is a popular luxury that wine enthusiasts are putting at the top of their shopping lists. One of the things I find most charming about organic wine, is the history behind the vineyard and the winemakers. One such winery I’ve discovered is the Italian family and friend collaboration, ZIOBAFFA. This wine story has it all, including a film connection. Jason Baffa is a film-maker turned wine-maker and just all seems to make sense. He graciously made time for an interview and told me more about what makes ZIOBAFFA, such a unique find.
SHERRIE WILKOLASKI: Let’s start with the basics, give me your elevator pitch?
JASON BAFFA: ZIOBAFFA is produced in two capacities: Pinot Grigio and Toscana Red. Both are bottled and labeled with eco-friendly material, crafted with a biodynamic focus and organically produced grapes. Handmade by artisans with a focus on traditional production, ZIOBAFFA wine is crafted in quality, authenticity and detail. It is organic, delicious and will always leave you wanting more.
We focus on sustainable, zero waste production and environmentally friendly bottling, including the innovative Helix re-useable cork closure, these wines are a modern take on an old world tradition. ZIOBAFFA wine is a demonstration of close knit Italian culture.
SW: How the name ZIOBAFFA came to life?
JB: The name, “Zio Baffa” came from very fun beginnings. While we were shooting my new film “Bella Vita” in Italy, the local crew truly showed us a good time. We were chasing surf for the documentary and surf in Italy can be unpredictable, so we were also really enjoying everything that is Italian, la dolce vita. The film’s star, Chris Del Moro, has an amazing group of friends in Tuscany and they took me in like family. From home cooked meals to big banquet feasts at the local restaurant, which was usually run by a friend or a family member, it was full on. There were definitely some late nights, a lot of amazing food, a lot of amazing wine and most importantly, a lot of laughs. I guess my insatiable appetite for everything we dove into and moreover, an eagerness for more, earned me the nick-name, “Zio Baffa” or Uncle Baffa. Ha ha, I was having so much fun, I didn’t know the nick-name stuck. Here we are a few years later and the nick-name is now the name-sake to this fantastic ZIOBAFFA wine collaboration.
SW: What synergies do you find between film and winemaking?
JB: One thing I love about the art of filmmaking is that it is a craft. I feel like I’m always learning and exploring. Each project takes on its own life. They are living and breathing things. The art of wine-making is very similar and I’m fascinated by the process of the craft. There is great attention to detail and every decision get’s scrutinized which makes the production of each vintage a unique journey, this is a nice parallel to filmmaking. They both embrace a quotient of “magic.” The end goal is to make something good and it’s the collection of certain moments, from hard work to forces of nature beyond our control that often equal something unforeseen and special.
I’m also inspired by the tradition and time that someone like Piergiorgio Castellani, our ZIOBAFFA winemaker, infuses into every vintage. Piergiorgio and I have had wonderful discussions about the “light” and “dark” of winemaking. The darkness that the roots of the vines live in and the light the leaves and fruit utilize to grow. The darkness the wine uses to ferment and the light of oxygen that ignites it’s potential when a bottle is opened. Filmmaking uses light to create imagery and yet often, the magic of film is revealed in a “dark room” where the film is exposed or in the darkness of a movie theater. So there are some very fun parallels there too. It is tremendously exciting and I’m so eager to continue to learn.
SW: Are you currently working on any new film projects?
JB: We have a few films that are currently in development. Development of a film is a bit like planting a new vineyard. It is the new beginning where the light of a seed must be planted, nurtured from the dark until it grows, evolving into something new, sweet and potentially beautiful. I love making films, watching films and drinking with. I’m learning to enjoy the early beginnings as well. This part takes patience, a lot of love and most importantly faith that what is meant to be, will be!
SW: Can ZIOBAFFA be found in any films, as a product placement?
JB: Oh, yes! First and foremost, the Toscana Red is produced from the actual grapes we harvested while filming, Bella Vita. So you can watch the film, enjoy the wine-harvest visually and at the same time, drink the wine! I call this 4D, an experience for all the senses! This is why the first two varietals of ZIOBAFFA are called “The Filmmaker’s Edition.” They are truly inspired by our experiences making Bella Vita.
Looking towards the future, when I’m not making films, I am directing commercials. Often, we are talking to brands about creating film & media content that explores the ethos and spirit of their brand in entertainment form. I am very excited to impart this philosophy into creating new, fun content for ZIOBAFFA. This wine collaboration has come from a wonderful friendship of international surfers and artists who believe in products that are responsibly produced in an environmentally friendly way. We want to do projects, like the wine, that can be enjoyed but also inspire people in a positive way. I hope ZIOBAFFA will be a hub for this type of thinking and support a myriad of sponsored media in the future. I call it vertical integration, in that I’m combing all my favorite things- family, friends, food, wine, perhaps a surf trip and of course filmmaking. It is a new journey and I’m thrilled to see where it leads!
SW: Why produce organic wine and go the extra mile on the “sustainability” factor?
JB: My job has taught me to love nature and respect living things. There is not a better way of producing a good wine and nourish the body and spirit of humans.
SW: What challenges do you face with an organic vineyard that you otherwise would not, if you were producing a more “commercial” product?
JB: The biggest difference is the quality of the attention that the winegrower has to bring to an organic vineyard. This constant attention to details develops a particular instinct able to feel the best way to protect the vineyard and produce the best fruit that can give life to a healthy, honest and durable wine.
SW: What is the business culture like in a family that has been making wine for over 100 years?
JB: Groped to avoid the mistakes that have been made in the past and try to guess the best way for the future. Tradition has much to do with the memory and the correction of errors made.
SW: How has Castellani Wines evolved over the years and has each generation had their own impact?
JB: In the last 60 years my family has worked hard to raise the awareness of the wines of our tradition to the rest of the world. Today the Castellani winery export its wine in 50 countries in the world. To talk about so many cultures through the wine is amazing. Every generation must discover how to keep alive this dialogue and there is not a better education for a winemaker than being born and live in the middle of a vineyard!
SW: What is your favorite type of varietal to work with?
JB: I like those grapes varietals that you can use to create “living” wines. Wines that change in relation to the soil, the harvest, the ability of those who produce them to express their identity, wines that change with every sip and that sometimes surprise you, and sometimes let you down… man-made wines … Sangiovese is one of these varietals.
SW: What is the one thing you haven’t done yet in your vintner career that you would like to accomplish?
JB: I’m in a very deep and fascinating study of the structure of the soil on which stand my vines. I am discovering many new things and above all continue to learn that our senses and scientific instruments are so limited to fully understand the complexity of the natural processes. It will take a long time to complete the first phase of this study, but this is normal when you have to follow the rhythm of the seasons.
SW: If you could provide one or two tips for prospective winery owners, what would it be?
JB: Let’s start with studying the ancient history of winemaking and feel part of this story, because that is the story of human civilization. Be humble and grateful in front of the magic of nature and respect those who drink the product of your work. If you are a vintner make a serious evaluation and then try to take the risk of making a sustainable viticulture.
SW: Any advice for wine lovers?
JB: If you are a wine lover let’s discover the great world of organic wines for your everyday drinking and the beauty of great historical wines for the good occasions.
SW: What can we expect to see from ZIOBAFFA in the future?
JB: We will add two additional varietals in spring of 2016.
ZIOBAFFA is bottled and labeled with eco-friendly material, crafted with a biodynamic focus and organically produced grapes. Handmade by artisans with a focus on traditional production, ZIOBAFFA wine is crafted in quality, authenticity and detail. With a focus on sustainable, zero waste production and environmentally friendly bottling, including the innovative Helix re-useable cork closure, these wines are a modern take on an old-world tradition. ZIOBAFFA wine is a clear demonstration of close-knit Italian culture. Wine is a way of life in Italy. Enjoyed during lunch and dinner, it is served with food as part of the dining experience. It is shared amongst family and friends, celebrating the simple beauty of community. Open a bottle of ZIOBAFFA with close family and friends and enjoy “la belleza d’ Italia.”