It was a most unusual United Parcel Service delivery — hundreds of three-foot long stalks wrapped in moist sawdust, then plastic bags in three rectangular boxes.
Point of origin: the Tuscany region of northeastern Italy. Destination: Tucson, Ariz. Contents: the ingredients for Steve Nannini's vineyard of Sangiovese grape plants.
Only four years later and his plantings fully mature, the 66-year-old real estate developer hoped for his best-ever harvest last Friday from his front yard vineyard not far from the La Cholla-Magee intersection. His late-August goal is 1,400 bottles from a 1.5-ton harvest.
"That would be almost 50 percent more than my 2009 harvest," says Nannini, whose Italian-born grandfather had the foresight to purchase hundreds of acres in the Northwest segment of greater Tucson in the 1940s. "The vineyard now has 500 plants with a possible 2,000 on my four-acre site."
In 2003, Nanini made one of his many visits to Italy, this time to attend a special cooking school. While there, he began exploring a lifelong wish – to have his own vineyard – but ran into too many potential legal snarls.
"Then I thought, 'Why not have one in Tucson and make life a lot easier."
So a year of research began with experts at the University of Arizona about soil, climate, terrain and other factors deemed vital. The results were positive: Climate and elevation of the Greater Tucson area matched Tuscany at 2,000-2,500 feet above sea level. Sandy ¬and rocky terrain was perfect to create needed drainage.
The only factor missing was minimal water for the grape plant grafted to root stock. "And I knew I could take care of that," says Nannini, who has a 520-foot well fortified by mountain rainfall to fulfill that need. During the March-August growing season, the vineyard is watered twice daily by drip system.
Since first planting the 12-row vineyard in March 2006, progress has been swift. "Just a few grapes in 2007," he remembers, "then 650 bottles in 2008 and over 1,000 bottles last year.
His eventual goal? "By 2012, I hope to be able to compete with Napa Valley vineyards." That would mean a yearly harvest to produce about 2,400 bottles.
At present, about three-quarters of production is 100 percent Sangiovese Chianti, the remainder a blend of Sangiovese and Merlot, according to Nannini, who grew up in Chicago and moved to Tucson in 1973.
He has no desire to go retail with his tasty wine. "I'm hoping it can become a house wine for Restaurante Silvio (honoring his late grandfather) which I'm planning to be part of a commercial development on the southwest corner of La Cholla and Magee," adds Nannini. The restaurant — a project in conjunction with famed Napa Valley restaurateur Joseph Keller – is expected to be completed in 2012.
Another future project that Nannini foresees is building his own private wine-tasting facility at his home site. "That would have a grape processing and production facility on the lower level (to keep his entire process on site)." Currently, processing is being done by a friend in the Sonoita wine country southeast of Tucson.
He's also planning to create a special label for his still-unmarked wine bottles. "It's going to be an oval showing a photo of my grandparents (Silvio and Giaconda Nannini)," he explains. "The name – Vigneto de Nannini – will be across the top with the production year at the bottom."
That would be a fitting tribute to his deep Italian heritage and the Tuscany region where his grandparents grew up.