Italian Christmas traditions with Sorelle’s Scott family
For the Scott family, who own and operate Sorelle Winery – one of Lodi's most successful wineries in recent years – family is everything, and that's the way they celebrate the Christmas season as well.
The Sorelle estate is located on the site of the original plantation home built by Jonathan Dodge Holt in 1866, which the Scotts are in the process of lovingly restoring. George West, who founded El Pinal Winery in the 1860s, helped Holt plant grapes on his farm; but by the time Mike Scott bought the property in 2007, the original plantings were long gone. And so Scott planted Italian grapes – Sangiovese and Barbera – in tribute to the Italian heritage of his wife Joanne, whose maiden name is Caporusso.
Scott also founded Sorelle (Italian for “sisters”) because he wanted to establish a business for his daughters, Kim and Melissa – and hopefully for future generations of Scotts – to make their own. The everyday yeoman's work in the winery and vineyard is done by Mr. Scott with the help of Kim's longtime significant-other and fiancé, Ron Justice; and like Mr. Scott, Justice smartly goes with the flow when it comes to well established Caporusso family traditions.
Says Justice, "The yearly Christmas routine generally starts with the Christmas Tree Hunt, and our mission is to find the biggest one possible. We usually end up with one measuring about 10-ft. tall. There's nothing better for the Christmas spirit than the smell of a fresh tree and the fun of decorating it.
"Our next mission is to hold a Toys for Tots event at the winery," says Justice. "We invite everyone to come help less fortunate children have a better Christmas, and Santa also makes an appearance. Thanks to everyone's help, the Marines then collect all the toys." The family held their Toys for Tots party at the winery this past Sunday the 15th, but additional donations during the week before Christmas are still welcomed!
All families inevitably grow so large and far apart, it becomes impossible for everyone to come together on Christmas Day; and so the Scotts follow a tradition started by Joanne's grandmother Caporusso, who held a Christmas Open House in the basement of her home the weekend before every Christmas. Says Justice, "Joanne now throws the weekend-before-Christmas party in the basement of the Scott home so that as many friends and family as possible can get together to celebrate the holidays.
The immediate family, of course, spends most of Christmas Day together. Justice tells us, "The fun begins about 7 AM at the Mike and Joanne's. Everyone shows up – still wearing their PJs! – to open up presents. Once the house is covered in wrapping paper, and everyone has played with the grandbaby's toys, it's off to get ready for some extra stops. We'll regroup again at the Scott home later in the afternoon, joined by more family – ending with dinner and drinks."
Because the Scotts are dominated by Caporusso traditions, Christmas is closely associated with edible Italian heritages like biscotti, focaccia bread, and those little white powdered sugar coated cookies (please see recipe for "Josephine's Pecan Dreams" below). Says Justice, "A lot of the dishes we eat are passed down from the Caporusso family, who even put together their own bound cookbook for future generations to follow."
In respect to wine, everyone has their preference. "Kim and Melissa prefer white wines," says Justince, "and Joanne, who is really not a big wine drinker, will enjoy glasses of our Vin Brulé (for more details on Sorelle's Vin Brulé, see The perfect holiday refresher).
"Mike and I go for red wines," adds Justice. "I love the Sorelle Sangiovese with the prime rib of beef that is typically served for dinner. I think the Sangiovese's spice and moderate tannins are perfect for the beef, but Mike prefers either Cabernet Sauvignon or the Sorelle Primitivo with his prime rib – especially the Cabernet Sauvignon, because of the full body and heavier tannins. That's why we call our Sorelle Cabernet Sauvignon Primo Amore – it's really Mike's 'first love.'"
CAPORUSSO FAMILY FOCACCIA
1 package active dry yeast
1 tsp. sugar
½ cup lukewarm water
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 tbsp. salt
1½ cups all-purpose unbleached flour
Dissolve yeast in water for 10 minutes. Add sugar, sale and olive oil; mix well. Put flour in a medium bowl and add yeast mixture until all ingredients are incorporated. Knead dough for 10 minutes. Dough should be smooth. If dough sticks to surface, add a little more flour. Place dough in large bowl and cover with kitchen towel. Let dough rise 1 hour, and put in pan with a little olive oil. Let dough rise again for 1 hour. Preheat oven to 425° F. Bake 15-20 minutes until golden brown. Slice and serve.
CAPORUSSO FAMILY BISCOTTI
2 large eggs
¾ cup sugar
½ cup vegetable oil
1 tbsp. grated lemon peel
2 tsp. crushed anise seeds
1¼ tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. vanilla
¼ tsp. salt
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup coarsely chopped almonds
Preheat oven to 350° F. Grease large cookie sheet. Whisk eggs, sugar, oil, lemon peel, anise seeds, baking powder, extracts, and salt in a large bowl until smooth. Stir in four and nuts. Divide dough in half.
Form each half into a 12 x 1½ inch log on cookie sheets, leaving 4 inches between logs. Bake 20-25 minutes until toothpick inserted into center comes out clean. Cool on wire rack 10 minutes. Transfer logs to cutting board. With serrated knife, cut into ½ inch-thick slices. Lay slices flat on cooking sheet; bake 10-15 minutes until golden. Cool on wire rack. Yields 4 dozen biscotti.
JOSEPHINE'S PECAN DREAMS
1 cup butter
¼ cup brown sugar
2 cups flour
½ tsp. salt
1 tbsp. water
1 tsp. vanilla
2 cups chopped pecans (or walnuts)
Preheat oven to 350° F. Cream butter and sugar, gradually adding flour, salt, water, vanilla and nuts. Roll into small balls (about 1-inch). Bake 18-20 minutes; cool, and dip in powdered sugar.