During the mid-1990s, after he worked 15 years as an artist, San Francisco native Bryan Harrington fell into the restaurant business. At one point, he worked for five different establishments just to pay the mortgage.\r\n\r\n\u201cWine was really a respite from a lot of the stresses of that era,\u201d he says. It would soon become his vocation.\r\n\r\nBy 2002, Harrington was making a variety of Pinot Noirs, which he continues today. A few years later, he began to explore more uncommon grape varieties, from Nebbiolo and Corvina to Mission and Charbono.\r\n\r\nThirsty for more, he asked nurseries to import other grapes from southern Italy. They declined.\r\n\r\nSo Harrington connected with the Foundation Plant Services (FPS) at UC-Davis, a nearly 60-year-old department that collects, cleans and manages various fruit and vegetable species for use by farmers around the country. Its robust wine grape library is always on the lookout for newly imported varieties, and the group was happy to have Harrington join the hunt.\r\n\r\nIn 2015, he embarked on his first official mission to Italy to collect cuttings of Nerello Mascalese, Carricante and Frappato. He\u2019s returned each year in pursuit of Rossese Bianco, Malvasia Instriana, Pecorino and other grapes that are completely foreign to many of the most wine-savvy Americans. He\u2019s enlisted brave growers to plant these varieties, and an increasing number are becoming open to the idea.\r\n\r\nHarrington spoke to Wine Enthusiast about his great grape adventures.\r\n\r\nWhat turned you on to making lesser-known varieties in California?\u00a0\r\n\r\nI did nothing but Pinot from 2002 to 2008. That\u2019s when I started working with Nebbiolo, and then I really got into approaching all those odd varieties with the same love and care that is lavished on Pinot normally. I tried to deliver the same amount of love that I give to Pinot into things like Charbono.\r\n\r\nI\u2019ve talked to a lot of people who suitcase things in, and there is something fundamentally wrong about that. I didn\u2019t want to be the Typhoid Mary of the viticultural world who spread all this potentially damaging virus.\r\n\r\nSo some of these varieties aren\u2019t getting enough attention?\r\n\r\nIn the example of Charbono, there are some people who really are doing it with a lot of attention and care, certainly in Napa.\r\n\r\nBut take Mission, for example. Mission has been farmed out there in the Central Valley, and it\u2019s sold for $400 a ton. When I first started working with it, I said [to a grower], \u201cThat\u2019s too little. I\u2019m gonna pay you more, but I want you to do a really good job.\u201d He really responded to that, and we\u2019ve been making some interesting wine from Mission, not only Angelica [a fortified version], but a carbonically inspired one that I think is delicious.\r\n\r\nAnother one is Corvina. That hasn\u2019t really been planted in California at all, and it just really responds beautifully to the sandy soils in Lodi. We\u2019ve just planted it again down in San Benito County in limestone. It\u2019s gonna provide a whole different flavor profile. This is the first year that I\u2019m getting grapes from that vineyard.\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nHow did you start importing cuttings yourself?\u00a0\r\n\r\nI\u2019ve talked to a lot of people who suitcase things in, and there is something fundamentally wrong about that. I didn\u2019t want to be the Typhoid Mary of the viticultural world who spread all this potentially damaging virus.\r\n\r\nOnce I met the people at FPS, I was entranced by their commitment to doing great things. What pushed me over the top to do it legally was that, if I bring it in as an open source, they\u2019ll pay for all of the quarantine to clean it up. That\u2019s a $10,000 commitment on their part, so they have a vested interest in having people bring in these other varieties and providing them ultimately to growers.\r\n\r\nIt\u2019s open source, so when I bring it in, anybody can get it. You pay a small fee to FPS, but when you [try to] buy it from a nursery or company, they may or may not sell it to you. You may have to sign all kinds of agreements not to propagate or sell to anyone else. That\u2019s when corporate bullshit gets involved.\r\n\r\nThere\u2019s many Sicilians and Italian-Americans in California. You think someone would have brought it along. I thought maybe it was because the people didn\u2019t really want to give it up.\r\n\r\nIs there another advantage to working with FPS?\u00a0\r\n\r\nSince we\u2019re making this stuff available to everyone, that\u2019s good for the marketplace. It\u2019s great for other growers to work with these things. I\u2019ve just brought in Nerello Mascalese and Carricante, and I\u2019m gonna give it out once we get enough budwood. We\u2019ll build the market together.\r\n\r\nTell me about your first trip in 2015.\r\n\r\nThe first trip was a little scary, because I was after Nerello Mascalese, Frappato and Carricante. These are Sicilian varieties, and it turned into a nightmare/dream because I started wondering, \u201cWhy hasn\u2019t Nerello ever come to America before?\u201d There\u2019s many Sicilians and Italian-Americans in California. You think someone would have brought it along. I thought maybe it was because the people didn\u2019t really want to give it up.\r\n\r\nPlus, I had met a woman here in San Francisco who is from Sicily, and she hooked me up with a number of people there. One was an individual who she said was very well, ahem, \u201cconnected.\u201d She\u2019d only been in America a couple months, so I don\u2019t know if she knew what that meant to me.\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nWe met at a restaurant up on the side of Mount Etna. It was one of the best restaurants in Sicily, and I walked in on Saturday night, went to the guy at the front podium, and he said, \u201cAre you Mr. Harrington?\u201d I was shocked he would know me. I followed him into the main room, and it was completely empty except for one guy over in the corner. I shat in my pants. This was beyond belief.\r\n\r\nBut when I sat down at the table, bottles started arriving and he was the nicest guy. They pulled out old, very beautiful vintages of Nerello Mascalese and Carricante, things I would never have had the chance to taste in America. The next day, we\u2019re up on his 150-year-old vineyard of Nerello Mascalese and Carricante. They were mixed vineyards, so it was hard to tell in the middle of winter what was what, but the vineyard manager knew each and every vine.\r\n\r\nHere was the amazing thing: these were 150-year-old vines, and they got through quarantine in two years, which means that had no viruses. That was absolutely miraculous.\r\n\r\nIt\u2019s a great adventure to bring these things back and put the pieces of the puzzle together, and find the right place for the right grapes. This is what winemakers should be doing in California. We should continue with experimentation.\r\n\r\nI understand that the process can be extremely labor intensive, and it can take years to get grapes out of quarantine.\r\n\r\nWhich is one of the reasons why it\u2019s really important to get hooked up with someone who is really reputable, because you can go out there and meet a grower who just grabs a couple cuttings off a vine and you don\u2019t know what you\u2019re getting\u2026.It\u2019s some other thing that makes horrible wine.\r\n\r\nIt\u2019s really important that you spend time with people who know what they\u2019re talking about, and the place you source from is what it says it is. You gotta do your homework, know what you\u2019re looking for, and know who to trust.\r\n\r\nWhere did you plant those 2015 vines?\u00a0\r\n\r\nWe just planted it at Sumu Kaw Vineyard, above Placerville. It\u2019s at 3,000 feet, the same elevation from where I got it on Mount Etna, and it\u2019s within 40 miles [in latitude], so it gets almost exactly the same inclination toward the sun, and seasonal humidity and temperature.\r\n\r\nI\u2019ve been tracking on my iPhone for the Sicilian town nearby, and it\u2019s like they are bookends of each other. On top of that, it\u2019s volcanic soil. There couldn\u2019t be a more perfect spot for it.\r\n\r\nIt was one of the best restaurants in Sicily, and I walked in on Saturday night, went to the guy at the front podium, and he said, \u201cAre you Mr. Harrington?\u201d I was shocked he would know me. I followed him into the main room, and it was completely empty except for one guy over in the corner. I shat in my pants. This was beyond belief.\r\n\r\nAre vineyard owners open to new varieties?\u00a0\r\n\r\nNot at first, but now, as things are starting to open up, people are beginning to realize that there is a market for them now. Five to six years ago, it was pretty tough to get other people interested in it. You have to be a bit of a salesman, and you have to sign contracts. You have to make them feel that they are going to be taken care of. It\u2019s a commitment to plant a new vineyard to things that are not really known or take a saw to your existing income flow and lose one to two years of income.\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nAre you making this an annual adventure?\r\n\r\nIt\u2019s travel, but with a purpose. You get immersed in the culture so much more than just being a tourist somewhere. I\u2019m going to miss going to Southeast Asia and India and China, but, for the next few years, this is really what I want to do. Spain, Crete\u2026I\u2019d love to go to Armenia.\r\n\r\nWhy is this important for California?\u00a0\r\n\r\nPart of this is to help build California\u2019s reputation as not just being Cab, Pinot and Chardonnay by showing that we can do so many things really, really well here.\r\n\r\nYou\u2019ve got all these microclimates, all these different soil types. It\u2019s a joy to be part of the calculus right now. It\u2019s a great adventure to bring these things back and put the pieces of the puzzle together, and find the right place for the right grapes. This is what winemakers should be doing in California. We should continue with experimentation. We are great technicians for change.\u00a0In 500 years, we\u2019ll have it more down and people will have their traditions. But right now, it\u2019s about innovation and bringing new things to light.\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nThis state is an accordion because of all the tectonic activity. It\u2019s got volcanoes in the north, limestone patches in Monterey and Paso Robles, and through the Santa Cruz Mountains. There\u2019s just a cornucopia out there.\r\n\r\nIs there history to these obscure varieties here?\r\n\r\nYes. I\u2019m also finding lots of old vine things like Trousseau. There\u2019s a question of whether it\u2019s Trousseau or not, but it does really well in certain areas, and it\u2019s got a long history. And they used to grow Poulsard, another grape from the Jura, all over the Santa Cruz Mountains. It got wiped out by phylloxera, but there\u2019s history to California\u2019s grapes being not just the ones we know now. Spanish, Italian and Greek varieties would probably do better here than French varieties, so that\u2019s another reason to keep asking.\r\n\r\nIt\u2019s never gonna happen in Napa, for obvious reasons, and I\u2019m out of Sonoma too, because the same thing is happening there. The growers are getting too greedy.\r\n\r\nAre growers interested everywhere?\u00a0\r\n\r\nIt\u2019s never gonna happen in Napa, for obvious reasons, and I\u2019m out of Sonoma too, because the same thing is happening there. The growers are getting too greedy. These are all wines I want to sell around $25 a bottle at the most. That limits me in terms of where and who I can work with. I like making wine that is affordable. Let\u2019s just put it that way. I don\u2019t want to make wines just for the few. I want them to be interesting wines for everybody.