Sunday, January 29, 2012

Why Zinfandel? Answers from Sierra Foothill Wineries

I dragged my photographer friend Nicole out of bed on a lazy Saturday morning and hauled her over to be a second set of eyes and ears at the ZAP tasting in San Francisco.  She's a novice wine taster, and her big question was, "Why Zinfandel?" 

Obliging Sierra Foothill winemakers and winery owners left her agog at their passion for this grape, and the overwhelming answer was:  Nobody does it better than Sierra Foothill wineries!

But don't take my word for it.  Here are the answers, pretty much verbatim from persons close to the situation (as they say in the Wall Street Journal), with thanks to the 18 Sierra Foothill wineries that participated in the ZAP 2012 festival.

"Celebrating the Goofiness of the Grape..."

Scott & Jana Harvey
 We were lucky to start by talking to Scott Harvey, of Scott Harvey Wines.   He was pouring his 2009 Zinfandel and also his 1869 Zinfandel. “Let me tell you a little about our Amador family history,”  he said.  “Our 1869 Vineyard is probably the oldest documented Zinfandel vineyard in the area; it’s off Steiner Road in the Shenandoah Valley.  We know the vineyard was planted in 1861 and horses were used for cultivation then.  We bought it in 1984. Then there is the grandfather’s vineyard.  DeMille planted it during prohibition.  I guess you’d have to say he was a bootlegger;  I have his “still” yet today.  Actually, the acreage in Amador increased during prohibition.  The jobbers like Mondavi shipped grapes in lugs to the east coast for the ethnic markets out there.  I’ve heard that the Basques paid $35 a ton for grapes then.  We get close to $1200 a ton now.”

Scott continued:  “Actually, I think that the best variety for Amador is Barbera, but I certainly believe in Zinfandel.  I was one of the founders of ZAP.  I grew up in Diamond Springs (El Dorado County) and went as a high school exchange student to the Rheinland-Pfalz area of Germany.  That’s where I learned about Zinfandel and other wines too.”

Joan Kautz, Ironstone
Joan Kautz of Ironstone Vineyards in Murphys, Calaveras County,  replied to the Why Zin question with a forthright, “It’s California.  We sell our wine in 50 countries worldwide – international sales is my responsibility at the winery – and when I got out on the road, California and Zinfandel are hand-in-hand.   The Sierra Foothill area is absolutely Zinfandel Country.”

Beth Jones, Lava Cap
“Zinfandel is the most robust, well-balanced of all California wines,” said Beth Jones of Lava Cap located near Placerville in El Dorado County.  “It has more history and more character than many other wines, and goes with food for every occasion.”

Bill Easton, Terre Rouge/Easton
 Bill Easton of Terre Rouge and Easton Wines,  Amador County,   noted that Zinfandel “has shown itself to be a great variety here in the Sierra Foothills;  it’s been 150 years in the region.  Zinfandel has proved itself to make great complex wines with aging potential.”  

Bill McGillivray,
Dono Dal Cielo
 “I’ll tell you the short story of how I came to be involved with Zinfandel,”  said Bill McGillivray of Dono Dal Cielo, Newcastle, Placer County.   “I’m an engineer by education, but I’ve had a passion for wine since the 1960’s.  Spent a lot of time in Napa, but went back and forth to Lake Tahoe too.  Finally I found 30 acres on the way to Tahoe, and bought it.  All of our Zinfandels are estate wines now.”

Bill’s personal favorite is their 2006 Zinfandel.  “I call it a single-serving wine, because with a plate of pasta, I can probably enjoy most of a bottle all by myself.   I’m a big pasta fan, and this wine delivers a lot of flavor.   I was a Cabernet person for a long time, but 20 years ago I got a taste of Zinfandel, and that was it.  The best place to grow Zinfandel is in the Sierra Foothills, because of the granitic soils.”  

Jonathan Lachs,

Jonathan Lachs of Cedarville Vineyards, El Dorado County, proclaimed that “Zinfandel   has an almost ancestral link to California; it is a variety that expresses place so beautifully.  We love it more now than when we planted it beginning in 1993, because it is truly unique.  What can I say?  It is really the magic of it.” 

Chaim & Elisheva Gur-Arieh,
CG Di Arie.

“You get the best Zinfandel in California from the Sierra Foothills,” agrees Chaim Gur-Arieh,  Ph.D., winemaker and owner of C. G. Di Arie Vineyard & Winery in Mount Aukum, El Dorado County.  “Zinfandel grows so well here.  The weather is conducive, normally glorious!  In 2011 we had some difficulty to get the sugar up, but this will be a good vintage for us.  Zinfandel is one of the three wines I consider my Flagship Wines.” 
Rusty Folena, Vino Noceto
and my photographer Nicole
Vino Noceto’s winemaker Rusty Folena confessed that Zinfandel is one of his favorite varietals.  “I’ve been working in it since high school.   Yes, at Vino Noceto, our flagship wine is Sangiovese.  But I like Zin:  it’s vineyard-driven, and I like that is has a kind of chewy character that goes well with almost any meal.  I’ve had people come into the winery and say “it smells like coffee in here” and that’s the aroma that’s coming out of the fermentation … a nice spiciness.”  
Chris Leamy, Terra D' Oro
Chris Leamy, winemaker for Terra d’ Oro,  part of the Trinchero Family Estates group,  gave a short answer to the Why Zin question:  “Because I am in Amador County, and that’s where it grows,”  Chris said.  “I ended up in Amador because I personally love Zinfandel.  You understand that Zin makers are a slightly different group.  We celebrate the goofiness of this grape, and we have a good time doing it!”


Jon Affonso, assistant winemaker at Renwood, poured
their 2009 Old Vine Zin.

Jana Nadler, Milliarie

Miraflores Winery

Camille Sobon, 3rd
generation, Sobon Estate

Sera Final Cellars
Mount Aukum

Scott Harvey Wines:
The 1869 Zinfandel is ruby-red in color, with black fruit aroma of raspberries and black cherries.  It has a complex flavor profile: raspberry, cherry, blackberry, a hint of allspice and black pepper.  The finish is long and a real palate pleaser. 14.5% alcohol. Retail price of $45 per bottle.

The 2009 Old Vine Reserve Zinfandel is sourced from his grandfather’s vineyard, and is an old-world style zinfandel.  “It expresses the Amador Zinfandel terroir with good balance of fruit, French Oak, structural tannins and medium alcohol,” Scott says.  “ A briary varietal Zinfandel, with flavors of deep raspberry, allspice, cloves and peppermint”

14.5% alcohol.  $32 the bottle.

Ironstone Vineyards

Joan Kautz was pouring their Ironstone 2008 Amador “Deaver Vineyard” Reserve Old Vine Zinfandel.  The grapes are sourced from a 90 year old vineyard located at 1,100 feet.  Pepper and spice are integrated into this wine, which is big and rich, with flavors of raspberries and cranberries as well as hints of chocolate and cherries.  15 percent alcohol.  $28 the bottle.

Lava Cap
Beth Jones was pouring the 2009 Lava Cap El Dorado Reserve Zinfandel, estate bottled.   This wine has plenty of lush blackberry and plum flavors and balanced tannins with a spicy pepper finish,”  she said. “Lava Cap is regarded as one of the premier zinfandel producers in the region. This estate grown fruit was hand picked over a period of three days and has lush berry flavors.”   15.1 percent alcohol, $20 the bottle.

Terre Rouge and Easton Wines

Bill Easton was pouring the 2010 Amador County Zinfandel that will be released in a few weeks.  It is a balanced Zin with the spiciness that you expect in a great zin, but the flavor is not overly jammy.  It has nice acidity.  14.5 percent alcohol.  $17 the bottle.

Dono dal Cielo
“The 2006 Dono dal Cielo Zinfandel is a classic Zinfandel, reminiscent of the great Zinfandels from the late 70′s and 80′s. Not your typical heavy, high alcohol, over-extracted Zinfandel, it highlights brighter fruit notes with aromas and flavors of cinnamon, allspice and anise,” explains Dono del Cielo’s winemaker Derek Irwin, “Fruit component is raspberry and cherry. Good acidity and balance with light to moderate tannin.”   14% alcohol.  $28 the bottle.

Cedarville Vineyards
Jonathan Lachs was pouring his 2009 Estate Zinfandel, El Dorado.  Website notes: “This vintage is big, thick, and textural, yet its integrated tannins and overall balance keep it in bounds. Its brooding blackberry aromas and long finish stand out this vintage. The final blend includes our four estate Zinfandel vineyard blocks, with 8% Petite Sirah added for depth. It's a classic!”     14.9 percent alcohol, $22 the bottle.   We also got a sneak preview of the 2010, as he had some barrel samples at the ZAP tasting.
C. G. Di Arie Vineyard & Winery
Chaim Gur-Arieh’s personal favorite of the Zins he poured at ZAP is the 2006 Zinfandel, Shenandoah Valley.  “It’s an elegant, well-balanced wine, but with good structure.  It’s got a little muscle.”   14.6 percent alcohol, $25 the bottle.   He also poured his 2009 Interlude, Shenandoah Valley, a blend of Zinfandel and Syrah, noting that this is the most successful wine he has ever introduced…”a fusion of New World and Old World wines.”
 Terra d’ Oro
Among other wines, Chris Leamy was pouring a Zinfandel Port.  “We use the traditional Portuguese port-making techniques, but we use Zinfandel.  That makes it a bit lighter in flavor, and we want to encourage that raisiny character.”    19 percent alcohol, $24 the bottle.

1 comment:

  1. I attended ZAP, and was up in the Sierra Foothills tasting last month. They do a great job with Zins and at a better price point than some of the better known Zinfandel regions. They also do a nice job with Primitivo. Nice post! I'm going to share on my blog FB page!