Piettro Buttitta thinks a lot of about the history of wine and food — what did Sangiovese taste like in 1783, and what would you pair with it? He’s exploring these ideas at the tasting room for his winery, Prima Materia, now open in Oakland.
“I’ve been coming to terms with the fact that I’m a bit of a classicist. I’m interested in the historical stuff,” Buttitta says. “That’s kind of the theme in general: reaching back.”
The Prima Materia tasting room is tucked within Temescal Alley, the stretch of tiny storefronts that also houses Curbside Creamery and the CRO Cafe. Occupying 482 49th Street, Suite B, it used to house the short-lived Pain Shop bakery and Doughnut Dolly. The 240-square-feet space can seat 10 people, plus about 10 outside on a patio.
The main draw at Prima Materia will be, of course, tasting wine. Buttitta has been making wine for the past 10 years, though Prima Materia is fairly new. With this winery, his focus is on Italian grapes like Sangiovese and Barbera as well as much more rare varietals like Negro Amaro — the latter is unsulfured and served on tap. “I think there are probably only 10-15 acres of that in all of California,” Buttitta says. “It’s kind of like a funky Syrah, kind of medium weight, round. It has a simplistic edge to it.”
Right now, the wine list has 11 Prima Materia wines, all featuring grapes grown in Lake County. Buttitta is toying with the idea of hosting special themed tastings on weekends, like different Sangioveses or a modernist Tuscan flight with underrepresented grapes. That means Buttitta might pour from another winery for the sake of education — “it’s not always about promoting the brand,” he says.
Since Buttitta is also a chef — he’s classically trained and has worked at restaurants in Napa Valley and Portland, Oregon — folks can also expect to see some interesting food coming out of Prima Materia. He’s still finalizing the permitting, but he’s planning to offer one rotating small plate each day, exploring some different historical theme. That might look like a terrine with an ancient Roman spice blend or a paella that nods to the dish’s origins with beans and snails.
That idea will be more fully fleshed out at multi-course wine dinners, with Buttitta hopes to host monthly. He’s done a few in San Francisco through Feastly — one explored old Californian wines, for example. (“What would have been a Zinfandel pairing in 1900?”) He digs through ancient Italian cookbooks looking for unusual recipes and plays with spice blends in an effort to recreate the flavor of extinct ingredients.
“I’m definitely not into forcing education down people’s throats, but I like the idea of it being there if somebody finds that interesting,” he says. “I think we’re seeing history evaporate around us in a lot of ways.”
Prima Materia is open from 1 to 6 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday.