Curves of the Bottle

By / Magazine / June 10th, 2008 / 2

On October 14, 1997, Natalie Skeldon entered the world naked. As adult-movie star Savanna Sampson, Natalie has spent the last eight years of her life in front of the cameras in the same condition. It is not because of her legs or her body that she is being featured in Tidings, though, but as a bona fide wine producer whose wines have elicited scores of 90 and 91 points from adult-wine critic Robert Parker. As a result of this endorsement, her initial offering of 400 cases sold out before it could reach the US market.

So far, Savanna’s image graces three products, all made in Italy by a vintner who also supplies wines to the Vatican. Tony Aspler caught up with the Manhattan-based wine celebrity in Toronto recently, where importing agent Larry Brenzel was introducing her 2004 Sogno Uno (“Dream One”) at Nocce restaurant.

What was your childhood like?

What people don’t know about me is that I come from a family that made wine. I remember when I was a little girl in New York State, the crate of grapes came and we had this big barrel in the basement. My sisters and I would take turns working the crane. The neighbourhood boys would come and drink the wine because we had a pool table. My Dad would ask who’s drinking the wine. I would say, “I don’t know.”

And what about your first wine experience away from home?

When I was off on my own, I would go to the local liquor store and just ask advice. I’m making pasta tonight, I want a red wine, what should I buy? Then I met the man who was soon to be my husband, Daniel Oliveros; he owns Royal Wine Merchants in Manhattan — specializing in very old, rare wines. My first dinner with him was a tasting of so many wines. I didn’t think I’d ever be able to pronounce them. Brunello di Montalcino and all these names, it was just so mind-boggling. I travelled with him to vineyards. It was a journey, I was learning. 

And where did this journey take you?

I’ve been studying wine, travelling to Italy and France for the last ten years, and all the while I fantasized about having my own vineyard one day. Then I thought, “Why wait?” Of all the winemakers I’ve come to know and love over the years, if one would agree to make my wine I knew it would be great.

Natalie Oliveros chose Roberto Cipresso; his winery is located in the town of Torrenieri in Montalcino, in a former railway station he calls the Wine Circus.

When I asked Roberto if he would be interested in making the first Savanna wine, he was honoured to do so — as long as I’m there and making a style that I like. If I’m there, I’m tasting and blending and not just putting my name on something. I didn’t know what I wanted. I went to Wine Circus and was presented with dozens of wines. In their raw form … tasting Cabernets, Merlots and then Sangiovese. I loved the Cesanese. Cesanese is a grape that very few people know about, because winemakers in the past tested its strength instead of its silk side, so they gave up on it. It’s a very old vine grown just outside of Rome in the Lazio region. Roberto made this wine that I just loved, very spicy, but I asked him if he would make it a little sweeter, so with his artistry he added Sangiovese (20%) and Montepulciano (10%).

I went back to Florida with different blends that I would taste blind at different times, and each time it came up that I would choose the same one first. So that’s when I called them Sogno Uno [“Dream One” in Italian] and Sogno Due [“Dream Two”]. I really loved the Cesanese wine. I thought it really represented who I am, because the spiciness is like the naughty side of my work as an adult-film actress, but yet it’s an elegant wine — I love ballet and opera and the arts — and there’s a chocolate undertone, because I love chocolate. My second wine, Sogno Due, was actually the first wine that was made: I knew I wanted to make a white wine, a Falanghina. My third wine is a Barbera, one of the only feminine grapes in Italy.

Do you intend to have other labels bear your name?

I’ve visited Napa and would like to make an American line of wines. Roberto Cipresso will come and do the consulting. He has friends in Santa Barbara and Santa Cruz. I’ll go there and try those wines. I’m definitely going to make a sparkling. I tried a 100% Pinot Noir this summer and a rosé made by a Belgian winemaker but they were already done. I could have put my name on it but I’d rather take a chance choosing my own before the combination, whatever you call it. I very much want to make an Icewine. I was thinking about Upstate New York.

In addition to her wines, Savanna Sampson is planning her own line of wine accessories, stemware, decanters and corkscrews.

Why I must make the stemware is because I had dinner with a man who had a big nose, but he couldn’t drink the Champagne that he ordered. We had this fine Champagne and he couldn’t get his nose into the glass. I could see the embarrassment of this man.

What will the champagne glass look like?

Elegant.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tony Aspler has been writing about wine for over 30 years. He was the wine columnist for The Toronto Star for 21 years and has authored sixteen books on wine and food, including The Wine Atlas of Canada, Vintage Canada, The Wine Lover's Companion, The Wine Lover Cooks and Travels With My Corkscrew. Tony's latest book is Tony Aspler's Cellar Book.

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