With Italy the largest wine producing country in the world and a key exporter to the United States, knowledge of Italian wine is critical to the wine profession. And who better to gain that knowledge from than a native Italian. Now an instructor in SDSU’s Professional Certificate in the Business of Wine, Stefano Buttò was born and raised in Piacenza, northern Italy, famous for its medieval cities, and rich gastronomy.
“Growing up in the Emilia Romagna region, it was just natural to develop a passion for good food and especially good wine,” said Buttò. “After 13 years of ‘attorney life,’ in 2009 I decided to turn my passion for wine into a possible new career, enrolling in the A.I.S. program (Associazione Italiana Sommelier) where I achieved the Level 2.”
At the end of 2010, Buttò embarked on a new adventure and moved to Temecula, Calif., to forge a path in the wine and hospitality industry. In the early years, he worked mostly as a manager and sommelier in the tasting rooms of local wineries such as Europa Village and Miramonte; and local restaurants including Meritage at Callaway.
Then in 2013, Buttò started his own wine brokerage business, Sipiens, and brokers the portfolios of The Organic Cellar LLC, Fabulous Wines, Vinity Wine Company, and DOCG Imports. He’s also the founder of B.T.W. (Blind Taste Wine), a group of professionals who meet periodically to taste and evaluate wines.
Buttò answered a few questions about his career and his SDSU course, Italian Wines Intensive.
When did your love of wine begin?
First sips as a kid with Grandpa bottling the bulk wine he would buy from local farmers, and then the beginning of my wine studies in 2009.
How did you come to be an instructor with SDSU’s Business of Wine program?
I was already teaching wine at Mt. San Jacinto College, and Gus Vizgirda — who also teaches in both programs — recommended me for teaching at SDSU. Initially, a class about Italian wines was not available so I proposed and wrote a new class, Organic, Biodynamic, and Natural Wines. This class went well and I was then offered to teach the class about Italian wines.
Please give us a brief overview of your course, Italian Wines Intensive.
This course mostly covers Piemonte, Veneto, and Toscana, with specific focus on the most significant (especially in regard to the California market) DOCG appellations found in those three regions. Through extensive tastings, students will learn about varietals, wine production by region, terroir, vineyard sites, and quality levels.
What is DOCG?
It’s short for Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita, and is an origin certification method used by Italy, by law, to certify and guarantee that a wine comes from a very specific area (that proved to be exceptional through centuries of winemaking tradition) and that the highest standards of quality and tradition (indigenous grape varieties, aging, etc.) have been respected.
What distinguishes Italian wines from all others?
In one word: Diversity. Hundreds of different indigenous varieties, different terroirs, and different traditions generated a plethora of unique wines to pair with the most diverse regional cuisines.
As an Italian Wine Specialist certified by the North American Sommelier Association, what universally recognized superpowers do you have?
I guess I feel pretty confident with all the main wine appellations of Italy, especially Piemonte and, as a native Italian, I can spell and pronounce them correctly too!
What’s your advice to anyone considering taking courses in SDSU’s Business of Wine program — whether they’re an enthusiast or work in the food and beverage industry?
Approach wine with an open mind, almost like when going to an art gallery.
Do you have some must-see tips for anyone planning a trip to the Emilia Romagna region of Italy?
Emilia Romagna is a foodie’s heaven. I will refer to Anthony Bourdain’s specific episode for that. For an unforgettable road trip through castles, old bridges, and wild nature, I recommend the ancient road that connects Piacenza to Genova — Val Trebbia.
Your B.T.W. group sounds fabulous. What does a typical gathering look like?
A group of friends that gets together to play with blind tasting and then normally turns into an Italian-style party.
What are your top three favorite wines?
Any wine that was made with the intention of letting the fruit (and the terroir it came from) expresses its true nature is interesting to me.