Wine diva masters the Zen of Zin

Carol Shelton of Carol Shelton Wines in Sonoma appears more a cherubic schoolteacher than a wine diva, making and romancing that zesty Zinfandel that is the third most-planted wine grape in California.

Last I counted and tasted, she had seven zins on her current list, four of which I had the pleasure of getting to know at a recent event at the Encinitas Wine Merchants.

Before going through this luscious list, it’s important to know that Shelton reportedly has been cited as the most awarded female winemaker in the U.S. and has been honored as Winemaker of the Year numerous times.

After enology studies at UC Davis, she launched her career working under industry greats like Andre Tchelistcheff and Robert Mondavi. She learned more when she traveled to Australia and went to work for Peter Lehman Wines. It was there that she found many union organized workers making a lot of dull wine. “I had enough and came back to California and did some winemaking time in the Central Valley where I found more of the same recipe type wines with a set formula,” she said. “I finally found my niche by going back to Tchelistcheff who was chief winemaker at Buena Vista in the Napa Valley. He used to speak to his wines, like ‘Good morning ladies, how are we doing today.’ He was a very dedicated winemaker.”

I asked her why there was so much Zinfandel on her list. “Zin doesn’t have to fight with European wines for an identity and doesn’t have to compete with old world versions. It’s fruit friendly and fruit forward. It’s a happy-puppy kind of wine. Zin shows California terroir better than any other varietal.”

Shelton shows that better than most by letting the natural flavors speak for themselves. There are no artificial flavors or oak influences, and she takes care that the grapes not become overripe and overcome by high alcohol content.

Here are the Zins to look for: 2008 Wild Thing, an old vine Zin, grown organically from Mendocino with a twist cap ($19). “This is the wine we’re most known for,” she said. “It has 78 percent Zin, 12 percent Carignane, 7 percent Petite Sirah and 3 percent Cabernet.” Others include 2009 Monga Zin from Cucamonga in Southern California and Karma Zin from the Russian River Valley in Sonoma.

Carol Shelton has received many titles over the years, but the most fitting is now “Queen of Zin.” Find out more at


Elizabeth Huettinger is New Wine Director at the Grand Del Mar

The long-awaited replacement for seven-year legendary Wine Director Jesse Rodriguez has been named at the Grand Del Mar and its Five-Star, Five-Diamond Addison Restaurant.

She is Elizabeth Huettinger, who most recently was assistant wine director at the world-renowned Spago in Beverly Hills, Calif. working with Master Sommelier Christopher Miller. She has previous sommelier experience in San Diego and Carmel.

She is currently studying to take the Court of Master Sommeliers’ Advanced Sommelier exam.

She will be supervising Addison’s 37,000 bottle wine collection and directing the resort’s 13 person credentialed sommelier team, as well as the wine dinners, tastings and educational seminars.



Wine Bytes

Bistro Sixty in San Diego has a Fields Family Wine Dinner, June 7 at 6 p.m. A five-course dinner is offered with wines to match. $70. Call (619) 287-8186 to RSVP.

Wilson Creek Winery in Temecula lights up with Cigar Night, June 9 from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. Add a five-course wine/fine dinner and entertainment and it’s a memorable night. Admission $140, including three cigars. Call (951) 699-9463 for details.

Firefly Grill and Wine Bar in Encinitas is presenting the Napa Valley Cakebread Wine Dinner, June 11 at 6:30 p.m. This five-course dinner is $100. RSVP at (760) 635-1066.

La Gran Terraza, in the University of San Diego, invites the public to its Simi Sonoma Wine Dinner June 11. Reception is at 6 p.m. Cost is $50. RSVP at (619) 849-8205.

The 2nd Annual Baja Bash will happen June 15 from 6 to 10 p.m. at the Broadway Pier Port Pavilion. Spend an evening with food, drinks and entertainment. Chefs and wines from both sides of the border will participate. The B Side Players will drive the Latin beat. $75. Information is available by calling (619) 423-8665.

West Steak and Seafood Carlsbad presents a Napa Valley Duckhorn Dinner June 18 at 6:30 p.m. $150. Call (760) 930-9100



Log in with your credentials


Forgot your details?