Where you will find ocassional clever rantings and lunatic ravings from the NHVino characters responsible for bringing you great wines, killer foods and some of the coolest events in Murphys. Check in often for both the musings and the pathos.
Kirschenmann Vineyard – a prototypical, own-rooted east side Lodi Zinfandel planting dating back to 1915 – made a memorable debut as a vineyard-designate bottling by five different prestige winemakers in the ballroom of the luxurious Four Seasons San Francisco on January 24, 2014.
As part of Zinfandel Advocates & Producers (ZAP) FLIGHTS Experience, the Historic Vineyard Society (HVS) put together a three-part tasting of 2012 Zinfandels sourced from three vineyards – Kirschenmann in Lodi, Bedrock in Sonoma Valley, and Monte Rosso in Sonoma Valley – led by the winemakers presenting the Zinfandels crafted by each of them from these respective growths. Historic Vineyard Society is a recently formed association of growers and winemakers who are dedicated to the preservation of California’s historic winegrowing sites (vineyards they define as those dominated by vines planted prior to 1960).
For probably the majority of the hundreds of ZAP members sitting in the Four Seasons ballroom, this was the first time they had ever tasted Lodi grown Zinfandels in a setting in which the wines were placed in the same context as other venerated California vineyards. Something even a lot of Zinfandel lovers would still think unlikely – like a cowboy crashing a black tie affair (or an early Dylan at a country club)…
Monte Rosso, for instance, has long been considered royalty among Zinfandel specialists and aficionados alike: an 800-1,400-ft. elevation vineyard originally purchased and replanted, beginning in 1938, by the Martini family, on spectacular slopes overlooking Sonoma Valley and the San Francisco Bay in the distance. Bedrock Vineyard, owned and farmed by Joel Peterson (of Ravenswood fame), dates back to 1854, with its oldest continuously farmed Zinfandel vines dating back to 1886.
So how did the 2012 Kirschenmann Vineyard Zinfandels fare in the comparison? Pax Mahle, the respected winemaker behind Wind Gap and Wilde Farm wines, put it most succinctly, describing the Kirschenmann Zinfandels as “pure, linear, streamlined.” Tegan Passalacqua, the current owner/grower of Kirschenmann – and also the head winemaker/grower ofTurley Wine Cellars – described his experience of being “blown away by the freshness and transparency of Zinfandel fruit character” in wines wines coming not just from Kirschenmann, but also from a block located just a few feet away owned by Ross Schmiedt (going into Turley’s Schmiedt Ranch Zinfandels, and also into Schmiedt’s own Twisted Roots 1918bottling
Added Passalacqua, in his presentation of the 2012 Turley Kirschenmann Zinfandel to the crowd, “When I purchased the vineyard in early 2012, from my experience with Schmiedt I knew the vineyard would never make a big, dark, inky wine… I always knew it would produce a very feminine wine – the opposite of what many people think of Lodi. But this is a Lodi style of wine – just not what most people expect out of Lodi.”
The sensory contrast between the Kirschenmann, Bedrock and Monte Rosso Zinfandels could not have been more dramatic. First of all, the average alcohol of the five 2012 Kirschenmann Zinfandels was 14.9%; compared to the 15.16% average alcohols of the five 2012 Bedrock Zinfandels, and the 15.58% average of the 2012 Monte Rosso Zinfandels.
But alcohol is not the only telling sign in a Zinfandel. The Bedrocks, while magnificently rich and concentrated, were also chewier, a little more ungainly, almost drying in tannin and extract; while the Monte Rosso Zinfandels, in compared to the Kirschenmanns, were much riper, almost sweet in their opulence of varietal fruitiness.
Clearly, for Zinfandel lovers who prefer a more sophisticated, balanced, restrained – and yes, feminine – style, Kirschenmann might be the preferred choice.
Of course, the entire premise of the ZAP/HVS FLIGHTS Experience was not to demonstrate which style of Zinfandel is “best,” but to emphasize the impact of terroir, or “sense of place,” on these wines; and to increase appreciation of each and every Zinfandel for what they are – not what they are supposed to be in terms of “varietal” expectations. At this level, we are appreciating vineyards, not so much “Zinfandel,” nor winemaking styles.
Joel Peterson, who moderated the panel of five winemakers who produced 2012 Kirschenmanns, commented that “the lightness of these Lodi Zinfandels contradicts many assumptions most people have about the region.” Mike Officer, the winemaker presenting his floral scented, gently spiced 2012 Carlisle Kirschenmann Zinfandel, admitted to the crowd, “Before Tegan purchased the vineyard, I’m embarrassed to say that I was pretty ignorant of Lodi. But I was intrigued, and later on I was really struck by the white sandy soil, and the astounding way that the fruit in Kirschenmann is able to retain acidity as it ripens.”
Tegan Passalacqua (left), harvesting Kirschenmann Zinfandel for Turley Wine Cellars
The 2012 Arnot-Roberts Kirschenmann Zinfandel was liveliest in acidity – lip smacking, taut, sleek, almost Beaujolais-like in its lightness. Duncan Arnot-Meyers, half of the winemaker/owner team behind the Arnot-Roberts brand, confessed “a little trepidation working with the vineyard because of Lodi’s reputation for big, alcoholic wines… Our style of wine is lean and light, and we had no problem getting exactly what we wanted out of the vineyard in our first vintage.”
The 2012 Bedrock Wine Co. Kirschenmann Zinfandel, in the style of winemaker/owner Morgon Twain-Peterson, was the darkest, most sinewy, tannin driven wine among the five Kirschenmanns presented, while still retaining the moderate weight typifying the growth. Twain-Peterson talked about “ephemeral, spicy, beautiful qualities we were able to get from the incredibly thick skins in the fruit.” Scott Klann, who made almost as tightly wound and richly spiced a wine out of his 2012 Newsome Harlow Kirschenmann Zinfandel, noted the “finesse in weight” of his bottling – “a much softer wine than what we typically make in the Sierra Foothills.”
Whereas Arnot-Roberts, Bedrock, Newsome Harlow and Carlisle all made less than 100 cases of Kirschenmann Zinfandel in 2012, Turley Wine Cellars produced over 800 cases. So it was no surprise that the 2012 Turley Kirschenmann Zinfandel seemed like the most complete wine of the bunch: with strong sense of lightness and femininity despite the wine’s 15.3% alcohol; and compellingly bright, flowery red berry fruit layered and laced with fine, penetrating touches of licorice and white pepper.
Passalacqua explained: “For the Turley, we picked two different times, on the north and south side of the vineyard, destemmed the fruit, the berries going into closed-top fermentors (Turley utilizes 10 and 12-ton stainless steel tanks) without being crushed… pumped over twice a day, and then going to barrel – just 20% new oak… 20% of that French, and the rest American.”
Also par for the Turley style, the Kirschenmann was native yeast fermented, with no acidulation, no watering, absolutely “nothing” added or removed through fining or filtering – hence, the purest expression of a vineyard possible. When recently asked about why he has stuck to the straightforward, minimalist protocols (while also eschewing usage of the latest in high-tech winery equipment) that have burnished Turley’s reputation as a Zinfandel iconoclast over the past 20 years, owner Larry Turley replied, “If it ain’t broke, why fix it?”
Says Passalacqua, “When I first bought the vineyard from the Kirschenmann family, I was like a new parent, showing it off to everyone I could, nervous about everything going on in there. I manage a lot of vineyards (Turley sources not only fromNapa Valley and Lodi, but also from Sonoma, Contra Costa, Amador and Paso Robles), but Kirschenmann is the one that gets the 3 AM feeding and burping. That’s why I wanted to see what other winemakers could do with it. In 2012 we were all making wine from it for the first time.
“Recently, when digging a well on the property, I discovered a 4-inch ribbon of limestone-like chalk, just 4 feet below the surface. It isn’t just the Tokay fine sandy loam like we originally thought. This could explain, to some extent, why this little oxbow bend along the Mokelumne River produces Zinfandels with so much emphasis on balance.” Half facetiously – and also very seriously – Passalacqua makes the qualification, “A lot of this also has to do with the ‘cool climate’ of Lodi.” Something definitely driven home last week, during this memorable tasting in San Francisco!
Scary stuff, this dry winter. Snow pack levels are sitting around 20% of normal. Reservoirs are not much better. Many of you have been asking about what it means to us as a small ragtag winery trying to make our way in the world. It’s a tricky question for sure. In a warm-climate region such as ours here in the foothills, water is supremely important. Dry-farming in the foothills is not the norm, especially during the typical heat waves we experience a few times each summer. Most of the vineyards in our area are farmed more often than not using groundwater. These little pockets of water are normally replenished each year via snow pack. This wouldn’t be such a problem if not for the two dry winters we suffered prior to this one. So heading into a growing season such as this we are starting with buckets that are half full.
As I write this, very difficult decisions are being made in vineyards. Discussions revolve around how to prune and how much fruit to carry on these vines. If we don’t prune tightly enough, vines will throw too much fruit. Coming out of bud break and into fruit set the ground will still be damp. Damp enough to fool the vines that there are few problems on the horizon. However as soon as the summer temps warm up this groundwater will not only get sucked up by the vines, it will also evaporate. Essentially, water will be disappearing upwards as well as downwards. All of a sudden it’s gone and there will still be 75 – 120 days ahead still of growth needs. We run the risk of losing entire blocks of fruit for lack of water. Vines will simply shut down for the season. If we start getting pounded with rain and snow tomorrow this will not be a major problem, but that does not appear to be the case. So we need to be mindful of water yet still try to make the best wines we can. This means being very frugal with fruit cropping. Certainly this will mean fewer cases of your favorite NH wines. With some of these NH wines we can adjust a bit by picking up a little extra fruit here and there. But some wines we don’t have that option. Wines like Big John, Donner Party and the like (which are single-vineyard wines) will be down a bit in numbers. If we blow it, some of these may not even get ripe this year. The upside is that if we pull it off, wine quality for the 2014 vintage will be high. Only time will tell, and you can be sure we will keep you posted on the progress.
Our California editors share their favorite growing regions for the Golden State's iconic grape.
Published on Aug 7, 2013
BY STEVE HEIMOFF AND VIRGINIE BOONE
Periodically, Zinfandel comes into style and goes out of fashion. It’s currently “in” like never before, with hot new restaurants like Healdsburg’s Spoonbar and San Francisco’s Hakkasan giving it prominent play on their wine lists.
“It’s one of those wines that guests don’t typically ask for, but when we pour it for them, they absolutely love it,” says Cara Patricia, Hakkasan’s senior sommelier.
Part of the consumer hesitance lies in the multiple personalities Zin has shown over the years. It’s been made red, white, rosé, sweet, dry, late-harvest (“Port”) style, Beaujolais-style and even sparkling.
The variety grows well wherever the climate is warm enough to ripen it, which is pretty much everywhere in California that’s not on the immediate coast. Yet, Zinfandel thrives in some regions more than others.
In general, Zin shows two styles: one from warm, inland regions, the other from cool-to-warm regions where the vines experience some maritime influence.
The former tends to be higher in alcohol, the latter a little more elegant, but neither is “better.” It’s all a matter of taste.
Keep in mind, too, that vintners have several techniques for adjusting alcohol downward. So even warm-climate Zins that got very ripe can still have moderate alcohol levels.
Wine Enthusiast zeroes in on the Golden State’s top Zinfandel addresses, analyzing what makes each one so special.
With vines hearkening back to California’s Gold Rush more than a century ago, Zinfandel is the Sierra Foothills’ longest-standing and most widely planted variety.
Set among the jagged mountains between Lake Tahoe and Yosemite, Foothills vineyards range from 1,000–3,000 feet above sea level.
Divided among four counties—Amador, El Dorado, Nevada and Calaveras—vineyards and wineries are spread out. Growing characteristics can vary substantially from site to site, although most vineyards are planted on soils derived from decomposed granite.
The one thing these areas have most in common is Zinfandel.
The area’s 1970s grape boom kicked off when the old-vine Deaver Vineyard showed up on a Corti Brothers wine from 1968. Wineries from outside the region, like Sutter Home and Ridge, started sourcing grapes from the Sierras. Local wineries, like Boeger and Montevina, followed soon after.
The Amador County towns of Plymouth and Fiddletown serve as the northern center of the appellation. Pioneers like Boeger, Montevina, Renwood and Easton are still going strong, alongside new faces like Andis, Fiddletown Cellars and Helwig.
Fiddletown Cellars and Borjón winemaker Joe Shebl, who also serves as Helwig’s general manager, says there’s been a shift over the last decade toward more concentrated, structured and refined Zinfandels, “stemming from more precise farming and smarter, more calculated winemaking approaches in terms of fermentation and aging management, use of better barrels and a drive to show off what this area is capable of.”
Working with so many different vineyards, Shebl finds it difficult to peg an “Amador County” style of Zinfandel. Some create Zins with deeply concentrated black fruit flavors and silky, balanced tannins, he says, while others make wines that are lighter, with more fresh red fruit and finesse.
At the southern end of the appellation lies Calaveras County, where a few producers are honing in on specific vineyard sites that seem to capture Zinfandel’s playful nature.
Sierra Foothills Zinfandels often evolve great elegance upon aging. Tight and often intense when young, with pronounced cinnamon-tinged spice, creamy textures and layers of tar, licorice and cedar, these Zins increasingly offer a sense of freshness, making them very inviting to drink. —V.B.
Recent Top-Scoring Zins from Sierra Foothills
93 Easton 2010 Estate Bottled Zinfandel (Shenandoah Valley); $32.
92 Newsome-Harlow 2010 Big John Zinfandel (Calaveras County); $36.
91 Cedarville 2010 Estate Zinfandel (El Dorado); $22.
Lately I've been thinking quite a bit about vineyards. I'm sure you think that sounds silly from a guy that's been making wine for two decades, but it's true. Obviously vineyards are important and no, I'm not suddenly realizing this for the first time. However I am starting to view them in a completely different way than I have ever before. See, a vineyard isn't just a source of fruit…it isn't even JUST a vineyard. What it is is an amalgamation of otherwise completely unrelated things. A vineyard is a piece of land. It is a slope or a flat. It is a deep narrow valley or a wide open and exposed gently rolling hill. It is water. It is heat or wind or cold nights. But it doesn't stop there. It is a soil profile. It is a farmer. It is a sum of many different decisions a farmer makes. It is a farming philosophy as much as it is a farming practicality.
I've always known this deep down I guess. I've always felt that long term relationships with vineyards (the amalgamation, not the land) were imperative. But that feeling has never before been so close to the surface. If I spend a few years with a vineyard that I like, the more of a desperation I feel to make sure I never lose that vineyard. The longer I am with it, the more important it becomes. Take Big John's vineyard for example. The reason that wine has become the flagship wine for us is not only because we've made it for 12 years now. It's not even because it is good, although that helps. It is because we have spent those years learning about that vineyard. Experimenting with different techniques. Finding out how the vineyard (as a whole) works best. Shake Ridge Ranch in Amador is another good example.
These are the same reasons The Dalton Ranch is such an important partner as well. It sits in a breathtakingly serene valley (If you are a spiritualist you understand how much 'better' you are in that type of environment). It has a consistent soil profile. It was established by a man of vision and high standards. He hired a very talented vineyard manager. He committed the resources to do the job right. The vineyard manager has employed organics and an extremely gentle and sustainable approach. It truly is in my opinion one of the most special vineyards in our area. But it is like that because of the amalgamation.
We receive several different lots from The Dalton Ranch. The Donner Party Zin comes from there. A sizable amount of Petite Sirah comes from there, as does Carignane (for The Deviant) and Sauvignon Blanc. It also is the source for this very special 2010 Dalton Ranch Syrah that is in the March 2013 wine club order. It pleases me to no end that this special vineyard is our partner and I hope that as the years go by we keep our greedy little hands on it (and develop a few more sources just like it).
Fast and furious! It is true that each and every Crush has its own unique personality. After the last few long drawn out harvest seasons we were certainly about due for a barnburner. And a barnburner it is. As I take a brief time out to sit here and write this, we have received almost 100 tons out an expected 130. In fact, we have almost nailed down the schedule for the remaining few picks (with a couple very small exceptions).
At this point last year we had barely scratched the surface of picking and here we are, approximately 75 - 80% through the whole thing. Blame it on the weather! We've had a fantastic growing season and the final stretch of it has been near perfect. Is it a good vintage? Normally I say things like, "it's a little early to tell just yet," or, "time will tell." However this year it is clear from the get-go that we are experiencing the best vintage we've had in several years. Everything from the SB and Muscat all the way through the Syrahs, Petites and Zins are all showing great promise. It is always said that the job is hardest in bad vintages and this is true. That being the case, this vintage is shaping up to be a walk in the park.
Pictured: Scott Klann(Newsome) with former partner and dear dear friend Mark Skenfield(Harlow) bringing in the 2012 Big John they planted many moons ago.
I’ve been eyeing this date on the calendar for the better part of the summer. It has finally arrived and I find myself in awe of life’s poignant cycles. In June of 1992 I left my beloved friends and second home in Long Beach, CA. These were/are people that I love dearly. They had helped me to see the world in new ways and to see that I was perfectly worthy of all that it had to offer. There was no plan, no grand scheme, other than a much needed inward look at what my life was going to be about. The only place to do that was under my father’s roof...the safest haven I had ever known.
My return there was at the same time both calming and foreboding. I was 23 years old and was seriously beginning to feel the need to find a calling. Music had always been a central focal point in my life but by this time I was aware that it was probably not going to be something that I would be successful at.
I picked up some work painting houses that summer...something I was DEFINITELY not interested in doing for very long. A friend had told me that a local winery was always looking for help this time of year for something called ‘Crush’. As I have often said, I knew nothing about wine at this point...I thought Chardonnay was the name of some guy who had his wine EVERYWHERE. So something called Crush was completely foreign to me.
The winemaker, Chuck Hovey (now a dear friend) and I hit it off well in my interview. He mentioned that I was welcome to come down and help out and he would call me when harvest was nearing. This was mid-July. Growing up in an rural area like Calaveras County, one would think I would be aware of the unknowns of farming. Nope. Weeks went by and I was beginning to think I had been blown off. No worries though...at this point I was not aware of what I would be missing. In mid August I finally got ahold of Chuck and asked if there was still a place for me.
Meanwhile a few days before that, our hot and dry foothill county began fighting a small but fierce fire right in its geographical center. It was dubbed the Old Gulch fire and within just a few days it had burned an astonishing 25,000 acres...right here in my home. However the hubris of youth combined with a total ignorance of my surroundings left me unaware that this fire was burning perilously close to the small winery that I was to be working at. Unbeknownst to me, several of my soon-to-be co-workers were on their feet 18 - 20 hours a day that week helping to save the winery and ultimately, the town of Murphys, from being consumed by the tasmanian devil-ish fire. In fact, the California Department of Forestry had decided that the winery and vineyards were the last line of defense before Murphys and that they would backfire from there into the main fire in order to burn the fuel behind the winery in order to save it.
One week later, CDF announced that they had a handle on the fire. I had reached Chuck a day earlier (himself having been up for days on end keeping the winery safe and as moist as possible). He mentioned that everyone had gone home to rest for a day before coming back in to work and that he could use some help getting set up for Crush.
And so it was, on this very day twenty years ago, August 22nd, 1992, I walked into Stevenot winery and into the wine business forever (to give you an idea of how much my life would be changed by this unique period of time, it would be only six more weeks before I met Melanie, my wife now of 18 and a half years).
I remember clearly my very first day in the winery. It was the day that my eyes had been opened. The idea that you could work under the hot sun, producing something that was grown in the ground(!) and turn it into this incredible and historical nectar that people freak out about...my goodness, sign me up! From my first moments in this business I found something that had been missing. I became a student of the industry, a wide-eyed neophyte and lifelong fanatic. And though some days are more challenging than others, I wake with that same enthusiasm every single day of my life. And I am grateful.
Those early days were incredibly formative times for me. And I hold the people that I worked with very dear. As my career has grown I have had the opportunity to work with many other people that have also had a profound effect on me. Finally, there is a vast amount of people in this industry that I have met along the journey. They are friends, mentors, counselors and confidants. And again, I am grateful.
Stockton Record TimeOut Dining Food Critic Robin Nichols loved her recent visit to The Kitchen.
"Newsome-Harlow Wines is one of the venues where this evolution [pairing local organic gourmet foods with wines] is playing out. Owners Scott and Melanie Klann could even be poster children for the trend."
Spent the last couple of days in the winery working on the 2010 Big John Zinfandel. Typical zesty zingy Big John flavors however the plummy character is a bit more muted in this one. Could be a phase. We'll watch it for a few weeks before we bottle it. Also curious is an atypical slightly nutty character on the finish of the mouthfeel...not quite sure what it is yet but again, we'll watch it closely. Hoping it's not an overdose of oak.
In other news, Big John (the guy, not the wine) took a spill the other day and had to have some work done on his hip. He'll definitely be spending a little less time on a tractor this year so our old friend Mark Skenfield will have to step in a bit more for the 2012 vintage. If John gets too much worse Nancy has given us permission to take him out back and just shoot him. Just kidding, John...see you soon!
That's the game. Period. We could wax-philosophic all day long about the cool events, the eclectic food pairings, our hip and contemporary Tasting Lounge and Courtyard on Main Street in Downtown Murphys, but for us it comes down to one unwavering mission... steward the greatest wines we possibly can into existence and bring you some of the most sought-after wines (Zinfandel or otherwise) in this great Sierra Foothills mountainous wine region. 'Nuff said? Great, so jump in and explore...