Thursday, December 30, 2010

Cabernet Franc from Jonata

When Jonata was founded in 2004 by Charles Banks and Stanley Kroenke (they also bought the famous Screaming Eagle one year later), not everyone was too excited. Up until then, Santa Barbara County was a quiet wine region with few superstars (Brewer-Clifton and Sine-Qua-Non belongs to them), and those great wine companies that existed, had a quite low profile. With Jonata, a taste of Napa Valley came to this part of the Californian wine country. Not that the winery itself is "Napa Valley fancy", it’s not - Jonata lives in a warehouse in Buellton previous used by Richard Sanford. However, the ambition to make super premium wines sure is related to Napa Valley. And with all that, the Napa Valley prices came to Santa Barbara County.

From 36.50 hectares of vines on their ranch in Ballard Canyon, the Jonata team with winemaker Matt Dees and consultant Andy Erickson crafts a range of rich, intense and very serious red wines. El Desafio de Jonata is based on Cabernet Sauvignon, La Sangre de Jonata is a pure syrah, the stunning La Fuerza de Jonata is made from one hundred percent Petit Verdot and La Tierra de Jonata is based on Sangiovese, and performs really well!
Then there is a wonderful wine based on Cabernet Franc, El Alma the Jonata. There is no justice in comparing French wines of Cabernet Franc with those of California. Everything except the grape variety itself is different, which is completely natural since both climate and soils are very different from those in Loire Valley of France. Then, of course, winemaking is totally different.
I love the labels of Jonata, but they are not too easy to read for those who are not familiar with their wines. You have to be sharp-sighted to read the name of each particular wine, as well as the vintage. But it looks good. It’s a better idea to read the back labels, where the information one looks for is. But the best you can do, it so open the bottles and the wines speak for themselves.

2006 El Alma de Jonata / 92-94 p
Of all franc wines I have tasted from California, this is normally one of the best and most elegant, and it delivers what I look for in this vintage as well. There is four percent Cabernet Sauvignon and one tiny percent of Merlot in the blend, and as expected from high aiming Jonata, the wine is raised in brand new French barrels for almost two years. You’ll never find the fresh grassiness or currant leaves qualities as in the elegant wines of central Loire, but there is a dash of something greenish and very elegant in the dark fruit. Not knowing this wine is made of Cabernet Franc, some tasters would probably use descriptions such as “cool climate Cabernet Sauvignon”, och “not perfectly ripe Cabernet Sauvignon”, but the truth is that it’s neither cool climate or unripe. It’s just a beautiful example of a richer style of ripe Cabernet Franc, from a relatively warm climate.
The variety signature of black currants is here, the sweet vanilla flavors from the oak as well. On the palate it is medium bodied with a lovely intensity of ripe and somehow sweetish but really not too sweet fruit, still young a bit firm, but with ripe and almost sweet tannins. The slight bitterness found in the aftertaste, comes from the barrels and will diminish over the coming years. I recommend decanting the wine at least one hour prior to serving it – I did, and it worked out pretty well.
Drink it 2011-2021.

Monday, December 27, 2010

2007 Cabernet Sauvignon from Darioush

Darioush Winery is one of the most spectacular wineries in Napa Valley. You just can’t miss it when driving on Silverado Trail in the southern part of the valley. Its pillars, copied from the famous Persian palace Persepolis from 500 BC, are dazzling white in the sunshine, and reveals either insanity, or heritage. In this case, you have to settle for heritage, bcause that what is is. Founder Darioush Khaledi was born in the town of Shiraz in what way back in time was known to be Persia, but had to leave his homeland in 1976. Los Angeles became his new home, and together his nephew he started a market to make a living. Two decades later this market had turned into a huge business (KW Mart) with 20 supermarkets and more than 1 500 employees!
His passion for fine wines nourished as his fortune grew, and instead of looking for a château in Bordeaux (which was his initial plan), he found a vineyard in Napa Valley that he bought in 1997. There was no winery at that time – the ground for it was broken the year after, and believe it or not, all stones were brought back from his homeland, Iran. That’s dedication and pride. Like it or not. I do like it.
Steve Devitt was appointed as winemaker, and that was a smart move. If someone knew about the terroir in this corner of Napa Valley, it was Steve. He worked in Napa Valley since mid 80s, and was at the winemaker at neighbor winery Signorello until he came over to Darioush. Production today has reached more than 10 000 cases, of which the cabernet wine is the by far most important.

2007 Cabernet Sauvignon / 93-95 p
I’ve been following Darioush since their inaugural vintage. This cabernet may well be the finest yet produced from this so promising winery. The 2007 vintage is a blend of 85 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, seven percent Merlot, five percent Cabernet Franc and only three percent Malbec, as always only estate grown fruit and from two sites: the main source is the vineyards in Oak Knoll close to the winery, the rest comes from Mount Veeder. I don’t know for sure, and I might be wrong, but it seems like the share from Mount Veeder is more significant in this vintage compared to most of the previous ones. At least, this is what the palate tells me. The intense, dark and for the vintage so typical ripe and rich but still so elegant fruit is perfectly wrapped around a very serious structure of huge but ripe tannins, and there are plenty of mineral qualities from the well drained volcanic soil up on Mount Veeder. Tasted it directly from the bottle, it was tannic and closed and to be honest not so easy to enjoy. Leaving it in the decanter for another hour it started to open up, a bit. So I left it for another hour, and then another hour, and then it blossomed in my Riedel glass. It’s recommended to do either so, or to keep the bottles in your cellar for a few more years. Although I just love the wine today, I’d rather keep it a few more years to not only soften the tannins, but also see the rising of the first secondary aromas. I can’t wait for that day to come!
From being so closed and "hard to see the greatness in it" for a few hours, I later just loved every sniff and sip of the wine. Still dense, firm and marked by its huge structure, it’s a very fine wine indeed – it just need some time. You will find some sweet cassis and blueberry notes on the nose and on the palate, in that sense the wine is ripe and rich, but the structure and lingering aftertaste, in which complex notes of lead pencil shows up, is serious, very serious.
Drink it 2013-2027.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Two faces of Petite Sirah from Langtry Estate

Petite Sirah has over the last century become a typical Californian variety, just like Zinfandel. According to the latest harvest report, there's 2 864 hectares of Petite Sirah planted and in production. Still it’s not particular common as a varietal wine – most of the grapes end up in blends with Zinfandel and Rhône varietals, where they add color, structure, deep fruit flavors and some spiciness.
The most important regions for Petite Sirah are San Joaquin Valley (687 hectares), where it is blended into bulk wines at low prices, and San Luis Obispo County (470 hectares), where Paso Robles have proved to be a very reliable source of some very good varietal wines. Matthias Gubler, winemaker at Vina Robles in the eastern side of Paso Robles, is very excited about Petite Sirah and believes that Petite Sirah will be one of the fines grapes of the region in the future. He is not the only one to salubrate this grape. Well known Bob Foley of Robert Foley Wines in Napa Valley, is also very fond of Petite Sirah.
Today one will find some Petite Sirah in Sacramento, Yolo, Almeda, and Lake County. Napa Valley (283 hectares) and the inland of Mendocino (209 hectares), Sonoma (198 hecatres) are also homes of some fine wines of Petite Sirah.

Durif is the original name of this grape (at least, that’s the common and also by DNA proved theory), although there are a few alternatives to it. Anither one, not proved, is that Petite Sirah is a natural crossing that occurred in the late 1800s, at the time when many European grape varieties were brought to United States. I always refer to the evidences scientist like Dr Carole Meredith have come up with, and it this case it clear that Petite Sirah was born in France in the 1870s, as Durif. The French wine growers never liked it, but growers in California planted it in the 1880s, most likely as a field blend with Syrah (just to make it more confusing), Zinfandel, Carignane and Alicante Bouschet. At least, this is how you will find the oldest vines of Petite Sirah today.
The grape itself seems to have picked up more of the character of Peloursin than of its other parent, Syrah. Color is always dark and the tannic structure important, but although the wines are rich in dark fruit flavors, they most often lack the complexity the wines of Syrah shows.

Guenoc Valley is a single estate appellation in the southeastern corner of Lake County. It’s just in the shadow of Howell Mountain of Napa Valley – and so are the prices of the wines from here. There’s only one producer here, Langtry Estate, but on their ranch of 8 900 hectares, only 162 hectares are planted to vines. They make four wines of Petite Sirah, two of them from the Serpentine Meadow Vineyard, which is located on the valley floor below the winery (altitude is around 300 meters above sea level). The unique thing about this vineyard is that the soil is dominated by serpentine, a soil type very high in magnesium. That, and the fact that the soil tends to absorb a lot of water, and then dry out very quick, creates a lot of stress to the vines. Most winegrowers have noticed that the vines become weaker, thinner, more sensitive, and also later to ripen the grapes. Well, this may well be so elsewhere, but these wines are superb!

2007 Petite Sirah Serpentine Meadow Vineyard / 90-91 p
One hundred percent Petite Sirah normally results in a very rough and tannic wine, but in this case I find it to be surprisingly well balanced. The reason for that is spelled “tannin and bitterness management”. First of all it is important to reduce yields to get the grapes fully ripe – I guess the serpentine soil, to a certain extent, is part of that. A strict selection, fully destemmed grapes, and a careful extraction during the fermentation are also crucial. At Langtry Estate, the winemakers also remove as much seeds as possible during the fermentation process.
The wine is dark, dense and purple blue in color. On the nose, you’ll find a sweetish spiciness of the 24 months of ageing in the highest quality American oak barrels, but not too much oak tannins on the palate. The fruit flavors are truly text book to Petite Sirah – the wine is loaded with blueberries and sweet plums, but in a good way, and the richness makes a good balance with the structure. I kept the wine in the glass for 15 minutes, and it opened up beautifully during that time, so decanting is half an hour prior to serving it is recommended. It’s not a charming wine to just take a sip of – this is a wine that’s needs rich foods like steaks, venison, duck or goose.
Drink it 2010-2017.

2007 Petite Sirah Port Serpentine Meadow Vineyard
/ 90 p
This is quite funny – it’s actually almost the same wine as the dry version. During the fermentation, a small lot was treated differently … with the port wine method. When the alcohol had reached six percent, a neutral brandy from Sonoma was added to the fermenting wine, which killed the yeast and left around 75 grams of sugar unfermented. In the ready wine, alcohol then reached 19 percent. It’s a superb, sweet and quite port like wine with lovely flavors of sweet blueberries, cherries and chocolate. Acidity is good, and of course the high alcohol gives a kick in the long, sweet and silky aftertaste, but that’s just what it should. I’d love to taste this with a chocolate fondant with compote of cherries, or to a blue cheese like Forme d’Ambert. Serve it at 14-16 degrees.
Drink it 2010-2022.

Friday, December 24, 2010

2005 Zinfandel Ponzo Vineyard two styles

Russian River Valley is home to many fine zinfandel wines. The slightly cooler climate, compared to that of neighboring Dry Creek Valley and Alexander Valley up north, results in a slower ripening process with more intense perfumes and a fresher acidity, and quite often a more elegant and lighter colored fruit flavor. The Ponzo Vineyard is situated off the Old Redwood Highway, just south of Healdsburg, and it’s owned and farmed by the Ponzo cousins, Phil and Bob. The vineyard was originally planted in 1900, and there’s still around 4.25 hectares of vines from that year. Later on it was expanded with more blocks and it survived through the prohibition thanks to the admittance of making 200 gallons of wine per year and household over the country. Later on, some vines were replanted, and new blocks were planted, almost four hectares in 1985 and five hectares in 1999 and 2000. In the older blocks, some Carignane and Petite Sirah vines are planted mixed with the Zinfandel wines.

2005 Zinfandel Ponzo Vineyard from Ridge Vineyards / 90-91 p
This blend of 97 percent of old vines Zinfandel and three percent Petite Sirah comes from three distinct lots within the vineyard, the Old Vine Block, Triangle Block and Back Block. This may be one of the reasons for being so different from the Nickel & Nickel selection. Another reason is the different oak philosophy – at Ridge all wines are raised in American oak barrels. For the old time winemaker Paul Draper, it’s crucial to make the wines to be age worthy, and therefore they always show a good balance and a great structure. Compared to the previous wine, this wine offers a deeper and more concentrated body, not that it is sweeter, it just slightly more ripe and intense. Still it’s a bit closed compared to what I expected. Using American oak may often result in a sweetish and vanilla like flavor in the wine, but there are no such flavors here, which I find positive. Tannins are present but ripe, so there’s no bitterness whatsoever. To be a Ridge wine, alcohol is quite high – 14.9 percent – but it is very well integrated. As always with these wines, they need time to open up and show all their glory, and even if it’s good to drink today, I recommend just a few more years of cellaring for this particular wine.
Drink it 2012-2025.

2005 Zinfandel Ponzo Vineyard from Nickel & Nickel / 89-90 p
Nickel & Nickel are more famous for their Napa Valley tier of cabernet wines from various vineyard of interesting terroir, and they are also the ones to really look after. For this wine, they lease and work since 1997 with a 4.45 hectare block of dry farmed vines planted in 1920 in the Ponzo Vineyard (this is one of only two zinfandels they make. Compared to the Ridge wine, this is a bit lighter and less concentrated, and it also shows a bit more red fruit. Ripeness is most likely more or less the same, at least both wines are dry and both have the same level of alcohol (in this wine, 15.0 percent). The main thing that separates these two wines is the tannic structure, that in the Nickel & Nickel wine is much more marked, and therefore it seems to be a bit younger. Also the acidity is slightly higher, and the oak – French in this case – is actually a bit more present, especially in the aftertaste. All these characteristics corresponds pretty much to what is expected from Nickel & Nickel – their philosophy if a bit more French in that sense. It’s a good wine, but not great, and I suspect it to be a bit more elegant in a few years from now.
Drink it 2012-2020.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Kissed by a sweet Zinfandel from Bella Vineyards

It’s not easy to find great sweet wines produced in California. Botrytis of the good sort is not common in the dry and sunny climate (although there are a few delicious noble rotted wines made in the Golden State), the passito method is rarely used, and fortified wines seems to be part of the history rather than the modern wine list. However, there is a tradition of making late harvest or even fortified wines of Zinfandel. While most of them are heavy, overly sweet and high in alcohol, you can find well made elegant examples, if you search.
One of the finest examples of sweet, late harvest zinfandels comes from Bella Vineyards in the northwestern corner of Dry Creek Valley. This charming, medium sized winery was founded in 1999 by Scott and Lynn Adams. They didn’t start from scratch – they bought the very old Lily Hill Estate, which at the time of purchase was home of 28.30 hectares of gnarly Zinfandel wines planted in 1911 on a beautyful slope, under which the barrel cellars is. They also own the 40.10 hectares Big River Ranch in Alexander Valley, planted to Zinfandel, Petite Sirah and Carignan in 1905.
The dry wines of Bella Vineyards are well worth looking for, at least if you don’t look for big, super ripe and fruit driven wines with high alcohol – you’ll not find that kind of wines here. Since 2009 they make a delicious and delightful Ten Acre Chardonnay (hardly any oak), but they are more well known for their zinfandels, of which the Lili Hill Zinfandel (97 year old vines in the current release, 2008) is the finest.

2009 Late Harvest Zinfandel / 92 p
This dark beauty is almost entirely made of Zinfandel, but there is a splash of Black Muscat in the blend to make it a bit more floral and charming. Grapes are harvested at full ripeness at 32 Brix, so the wine is rich, intense and sweet (residual sugar is 110 grams per liter, and alcohol is 14.2 percent). Since grapes are sourced from various appellations, the wine carries the generic origin “California”. However, there’s nothing everyday and average about this wine – on the contrary it’s exquisite, silky and lush with a seductive texture and flavor that lingers for quite a while. Notes of sweet blackberries, dark cherries, figs, plums and chocolate will be found in the flavor profile, as well as a touch of the finest chipotle. Tannins are moderate, so there will be no resistance in this wine. I’d love to have it at 15 degrees Celsius, served to a dessert made of dark chocolate and cherries or raspberries. And if you, for some reason, don’t finish the bottle at once, it could be kept in the bottle (store in cold) for at least 3-4 days.
Drink it 2010-2015.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Great Grenache from Unti Vineyards

Thinking about all winemakers with a passion for southern French and Rhône varietals, and taking into consideration that Châteauneuf-du-Pape almost has gained a kind of “holy grail” status over the last decade, one can easily end up believing Grenache would be a very popular grape variety. Well, it is, but not that popular, at least not if one looks at the figures. In 2007, there were 2 818 hectares of Grenache planted all over California, just slightly more than Ruby Cabernet, but less than the not so popular Barbera. One reason for that may be that very few wines are labeled as Grenache, and therefore that few consumers are familiar with Grenache and what to expect from it. It’s mainly used in blends. Since the 90s, some more Grenache have been planted, and its acreage will most likely increase over the coming decade.
Unti Vineyards is a small family owned winery with 24.30 hectares of vines in two vineyards in Dry Creek Valley in northern Sonoma. Of that, only 1.18 hectares in planted to Grenache. The vineyards were purchased in 1990 by George Unti, son of an Italian immigrant, but it wasn’t until 1997 that his son Mick made the first wines under the Unti Vineyards label.
The winery has one small fermentation room with small stainless steel tanks for fermentation and blending, and an adjacent room for the barrels. It’s not big at all, but enough for the annual production of approximately 7 000 cases.
Overall, the wines are predominately made of southern French and a few Italian varieties, they are elegant, quite classic and often more European than typical Californian.

2007 Grenache / 90-92 p
Owner Mick Unti and his winemaker produce some very interesting wines of great value, and this grenache is normally one of their very best wines, if not the best. It’s made of 80 percent Grenache and ten percent each of Syrah and Mourvèdre from vines planted in 1998, and around 20 percent of the Grenache clusters were added in the fermentation tank without being destemmed. After a few days of cold soak, some of the pink grape juice is bled off to make the wine more dense and structures. Fermentation is carried out with the indigenous yeast, and pigeage is utilized as extraction method. Wisely enough, the wine is then (since 2005 vintage) transferred into larger foudres rather than smaller barrels, to undergo malolactic fermentation and maturation over a year. Although the alcohol touch 15 percent (or just under that), the wine is not ripe, overly sweet and fiery. On the contrary, it’s very elegant and – to be very honest – very French! As expected, it shows a lovely raspberry fruit aroma, with some deeper notes of plums, also a lovely spiciness of licorice, white pepper and violet, but it will take at least 10-15 minutes before the wines opens of and shows all that. Therefore, decanting is recommended if poured young. Tannins are young, but not aggressive, and not to firm. Still it is recommended to keep this wine for a year more or two. Since the wines isn’t filtered or fines, it may be slightly hazy.
Drink it 2010-2017.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Copain goes white

When Wells Guthrie founded his own label Copain in 1999, his main focus was Pinot Noir and Syrah. He built the foundation of his philosophy from what he learned in France, where he travelled and worked before he started Copain. In Burgundy he was particularly impressed by the wines of Chambolle-Musigny (he often refers to domains such as Dujac, Roumier, Mugnier and Groffier), and in the Rhône Valley he found the inspiration in the wines from Thierry Allemand and August Clape in Cornas, and Jamet of Côte-Rôtie.
Although Wells had turned into a true Francophile, his first vintages wasn’t that French in style. Sometimes alcohol levels jumped up to 15 percent, but most of the time his wines were elegant compared to other Californian wines.
With 2006 vintage, Wells have taken a new direction, with earlier harvest, lower pH and sugars, which have resulted in much more profound wines with lower alcohol (around 13 percent for his pinots, slightly higher for his syrahs), higher natural acidity, greater finesse, and above all that, more intensity and elegant flavor profiles. His 2009 vintage, of which most of his reds are not yet released, is his best vintage ever.
And in 2009, he added, for the first time, a white wine.

2009 Chardonnay Brosseau Vineyard / 93 p
Since Chalone achieved it AVA status back in 1982, it has been referred to as a single winery appellation, with the well known Chalone Vineyard as the only winery. But there are actually a few other vineyards, five to be precise, and Brosseau Vineyard is one of them. This is a cool appellation at 450-500 meters above see level in the Gavilian Mountains, overlooking the Salinas Valley in Monterey County. With daytime temperatures of 17-22 degrees Celsius, this is a very cool appellation, and wines from here turns out to be very elegant with high natural acidity and, if red, a firm structure.
In 2009 Wells purchased some Chardonnay from 30 year old vines here to make his first white. He fermented the juice in neutral French oak barrels, five to six years old, so there is no oak flavor at all here – which is great. The oak just add some texture to the wine. Another smart move was to never do any bâtonnage, and even though the wine went through full malolactic fermentation, the acidity is lively and fresh (pH is 3.12), which in combination with lovely notes of minerals, adds focus and complexity in the perfectly dry and long finish. In many ways, there are a lot of burgundian styled qualities in this superfine inaugural vintage of this chardonnay. Although this wine may keep very well, it’s at it best quite young. It’s a good idea to decant it half an hour. Serve it at 12-13 degrees Celsius.
Drink it 2010-2017.

Kistler Vineyards in Russian River Valley may well be more known for their chardonnays, but there is actually a quite substantial production of pinots here as well. Around 10 to 20 percent of the total annual production of 23 000 to 28 000 cases of wines (depending on the vintage) will be made of Pinot Noir. Of that, the pinot from Kistler Vineyard is by far the most important.
Yields are always kept low, normally at 23-25 hectoliters per hectare, and there’s always a first strict selection in the vineyard before the grapes are trucked to the well designed winery at Vine Hill Road in the heartland of Russian River Valley. There will then be another selection at a sorting table, before the clusters are destemmed. Each single block and clone of Pinot Noir is fermented in separate lots in small open top tanks of stainless steel, and prior to the fermentation there will be a few days of cold soak at ten degrees Celsius. After almost four weeks of fermentation and gentle pigeage, the free run wine it then transferred into French oak barrels, approximately 40-50 percent new, to complete malolactic fermentation, (this will occur completely natural without any enzymes in slightly heated chambers in the underground wine cellar.
In the early days, the pinots were a bit more concentrated and oaky, but over the last ten vintages, there has been a slight change into something more elegant - lower alcohol, less new oak - just as for the chardonnays . Still, these wines are by no means fashioned in a burgundian style. They are Californian, and should be, whether you like it or not!

2008 Pinot Noir Kistler Vineyard / 92-93 p
This cuvée consists of Pinot Noir from several vineyard lots and of several clones, the Dijon 777 and the two older American selections Calera and Swan. It have spent a good year in oak. There have been some issues regarding the fires in 2008, and some wines from the vintage are tainted by smoke. This is not.
On the nose, it’s quite intense, and at first glance there are some quite interesting, fruit forward, dark scented and earthy aromas reminiscent of those in modern wines from Vosne-Romanée. However, there is a slight sweetness here, and no chalky mineral qualities, and of course there’s a good portion of oak, but not to that extent it makes the wine unbalanced. It’s just young, and it needs some time. I noticed, over the 30 minutes I had the wine in my glass, that the fruit opened up with air as the spicy oak almost went away, so decanting may be a good idea if drinking it young. The 14.1 percent of alcohol is well balanced by the medium intense body, but tannins are young but ripe and almost – at this stage – totally balanced by the fine, dark scented and sweet cherry fruit. I particularly like the lingering aftertaste – it’s noble, but young and not as silky as it will be in at years or two. Around 25 700 bottles were made.
Drink it 2012-2020.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Terroir expression from Ravenswood

Joel Peterson took his first steps in his wine life in 1973, at that time as a wine writer and consultant with a weekend job at Joseph Swan Winery in Russian River. Although Joseph Swan was (or were soon to be) famous for his pinots, he told the young Joel no to grow Pinot Noir because it was too demanding and difficult. Instead Zinfandel caught Joels interest. “At that time, there were a lot of old vineyards with Zinfandel in Sonoma, but few winemakers seemed to be interested to buy them, therefore I travelled around Sonoma to look at the vineyards, and later on to buy some grapes. In 1981 he and Reed Foster (a business man) founded Ravenswood.
Over the years, Joel Peterson and Ravenswood have been the leading forces behind the great success of Zinfandel. Or, the transition from being a booring grape destined for sweet pink colored White Zinfandel into something deliscious and serious. Today Zinfandel is, with its 20 383 hectares in production, the third most widely planted grape variety in California. Only Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon are more important.
On the entry level, Ravenswood makes a quite average but acceptable Zinfandel Vintners Blend that reflects the grape variety without being distinct. I much more prefer the not particular more expensive appellation series, with an elegant and fruit forward Mendocino County Zinfandel, a more ripe and intense Sonoma County Zinfandel, a well structured Napa Valley Zinfandel and the Lodi Zinfandel, a wine with a lush body and a slightly more sweet scented fruit. But it is in the vineyard designated wines the true gems are to be found. These wines show that Zinfandel also can be transparent, that its wines can reflect terroir.
All the vineyard designated wines are made in more or less the same way. Some stems may be included in the vat, but most often all bunches are destemmed. Fermentation takes place in open top fermenters of old redwood and it’s always carried out with the indigenous yeast. Like for Pinot Noir, pigeage is utilized for extraction. The malolactic fermentation in the zinfandels is slow, very slow – sometimes the wines needs up to one year to complete it! The wines are then matured in small oak casks, for this quality most of them are French, 30 percent to brand new, for up to 18 months.
“I always make more wines than I need from each single vineyard, that allows me to make a strict selection of which barrels I’d like to use to the vineyard designated wines – the barrels that doesn’t make the cut, are blended into my regular Vintners Blend”, Joel says.

2002 Zinfandel Old Hill / 92 p
The Old Hill vineyard is probably one the oldest in Sonoma County. It was planted already in 1854, but was replanted in the 1870s and 1880s by William Hill. Joel Peterson once told me, this vineyard probably served as a nursery in the past. “Side by side to the Zinfandel vines, you’ll find other grape varieties, at least 20 of them, such as Alicante Bouschet, Malbec, Touriga Nacional and Petite Sirah”, he said. Not enough to make a descent volume of wine from each grape, but highly interesting to add to the blend. This is also how Joel Peterson uses these grapes in this wine. “As a spice”, he says. Since the vines are very old, the yields are extremely low, barely a half bottle of wine per vines.
Some wine critics claims that zinfandels should be drunk within five to ten years, and that may be true in many cases, but even after eight years this wine still shows its sweet scented primary fruit qualities, yet with a slight touch of secondary complexity. And that’s just fine, that’s the way it should be. Tannins are fine and silkier than in the Monte Rosso selection, but still the structure is there to hold up body. In the lingering aftertaste, there are notes of sweet tobacco and dried fruits, but less of that alcohol warmth (alcohol is only 14.2 percent in this wine) you find in the Monte Rosso wine. Production this year was 395 cases.
Drink it 2010-2016.

2002 Zinfandel Monte Rosso / 92 p
The southwest facing Monte Rosso Vineyard is one of the finest for red wines in Sonoma Valley, or actually at 250 to 360 meters of altitude above the valley floor, where the soil is rocky and dominated of a red volcanic soil (hence the name). It was planted with Zinfandel already in the 1880s, and of a total of 102 hectares, there’s as much as 16.20 hectares with vines from that time! The history says the cuttings came directly from Croatia, and therefore it’s likely that these clones are the oldest and most close to Creljenak Castelanski, the most ancient and original type of Zinfandel that was brought into United States in the 1830s. This vineyard was once owned by Louis M Martini, but when they sold their company to the Gallo family in 2002, they also sold this unique vineyard.
The wine is made in the same way as the one from quite nearby Old Hill, but the structure is much more firm due to the slightly cooler site, and the poor volcanic soil. The nose is just lovely, the still youthful dark and sweet fruit play around with the first signs of more complex secondary flavors, there’s actually a kind of stony mineral note that’s very attractive. Even though the tannins still are firm – in a way they hold back the fruit a bit – there’s enough fruit to make the taste, and the lingering aftertaste, very interesting. The 15.4 percent of alcohol stated on the label is very well integrated. Compared to the Old Hill selection, this wine offers fine notes of dried fruit such as prunes and raisins, which is quite common in ripe zinfandels. Still this wine hasn’t reached its perfect maturity yet. There was 3 075 cases made of this wine.
Drink it 2012-2018.