The name La Donella was inspired by one of the 5 “Monuments” of cycling.
Liège-Bastogne-Liège (pronounced lee-aizhe bastone-ya lee-aizhe, or LBL for short – you can see why it needs a nickname!) is one of the 5 “Monuments” of cycling, the single-day races of greatest age and stature, all at least 160 miles in length. All 5 occur during the spring. It is contested across the hilly country of eastern Belgium. The outbound leg from Liege to Bastogne is mostly flat, but the return trip is on a different route, winding and very hilly. These are not big mountains, but steep rolling hills a mile or so in length – about 20 of them. Hence the “hills and valleys” in the text on the back label of the La Donella. The sheer length and difficulty of the course ensure that only the strongest riders are left at the front of the race by the end. The finish of the race features a climb (of course), and the finale of the race typically includes a handful of riders racing each other up this final climb for glory.
LBL is the oldest of the Monuments, hence the nickname “La Doyenne” (the grand dame). I named the wine La Donella as an alteration of the La Doyenne nickname. I made up the word Donella, but it turns out that in Italian it means “little Virgin Mary” or “young woman” and it is also used as a woman’s name.
This wine was originally named Sweet Sarah (because my wife, Sarah, prefers white wine and I wanted to put her name on something she would like), and then the first time I took it to a tasting, people said “white syrah? what the heck? And you spelled syrah wrong.” So, we moved the Sweet Sarah name over to a wine that is actually made from syrah. The grapes in La Donella are sauvignon blanc from Red Mountain, from the famed Artz vineyard. These are the only vines that we have been getting grapes from since our first year. I love grassy sauvignon blancs like those from New Zealand and parts of France, so I was hoping to make something like that when I originally sourced sauvignon blanc for our first vintage. After several years of adjusting harvest timing earlier and earlier, I finally concluded that I was never going to be able to make the style of Sauvignon Blanc that I was looking for out of these grapes. To boot, I found that I really preferred the wine made from these grapes when it had a little bit of residual sugar. Not wanting to sell an off-dry wine under the sauvignon blanc name, the wine was renamed, but remains 100% Sauvignon Blanc. Earlier vintages were a little bit sweeter, but these days it is made in a style that is similar to vinho verde, the wonderful summer white from Portugal: early harvest, slight sweetness, hint of effervescence.