For the longest time in California, Zinfandel was the most widely planted grape in California until Cabernet Sauvignon, thanks to the Mondavi Family and Napa Valley, caught up and passed it in 1998. For the longest time, it was thought to be California’s native grape. One of our recent governors wanted to make it officially California’s grape but was straightened out by winemakers who knew its history as a cloning from Croatia and southern Italy.
The grape was abused 30 or so years ago, mixed in as White Zinfamdel or Port, but more to date, at its purest, it is a jammy, dry red, thick and chewy. And the best of the Zins are the Old Vine Zins, some of the oldest vines in California. They are so concentrated, that vineyards that feature Old Vine Zins are taking care to present the history and vineyard descriptions on their labels, distinguishing them from the standard Zins on the market. There are no hard, fast legal rules about this, but generally if vines are over 50 years old, they are accepted as old vines. They stand out in the vineyard as artistically twisted, arthritic looking, and gnarly vines. They are survivors.
Up in Geyserville, Sonoma, Jim Pedroncelli is about as knowledgeable as anyone gets. He calls his 2012 Pedroncelli Zins, “Mother Clone.”
“Our Mother Clone vines contribute fruit to the younger vines through cloning. We add in a small amount of Petite Sirah for additional color and a high note of tannin to get a jammy, blackberry flavor with black pepper spice ($17).
A little further south, the Healdsburg area is home to Seghesio Family Vineyards with its 2011 Old Vine Zin that recently picked up a 92 point rating at Wine Spectator ($38.99). The first Zinfandel was planted in 1895. Their old vines average over 90 years production.
Ridge Vineyards of Sonoma is one of the pioneers of modern California Old Vine Zins. It stopped putting Zinfandel on their labels and instead placed vineyard location names such as the 2012 Lytton Springs in Sonoma ($38), confident that a “taste the place” would increase in importance. This wine logs in at over 100 years on the vines.
“Old Vine Zinfandel should be preserved and honored as part of our past,” says Dr. Jim Wolpert of the University of California at Davis. “They are a national treasure and should be treated with reverence like our redwoods and oak trees.”
San Diego County Deserves a Taste
The county of San Diego has allowed a program to open up 1/3 more land to wineries — about 650,000 acreage.
The 2012 crop report for the county showed a 478 percent jump in wine grape production from 2011 to 2012.
Ramona is the happening place. On any weekend you can choose from 24 tasting rooms to taste San Diego County wines. The farmers are often there to guide you through their vineyards.
One of the wineries I have been observing and tasting over the recent years is Salerno Winery just south of Ramona. Rose and Herman have newly renovated their vineyard, built a tasting room and created an outdoor world-class sculpture gallery in partnership with a leading businessman from Mexico. Herman is a former opera singer from Italyand and others have been known to break out in arias at weekend gatherings. More than 30 sculpture pieces can be viewed while sipping Salerno handcrafted small batch wines. Visit salernowinery.com.
The 2nd annual Ramona Art & Wine Festival is being held at the Amy Strong Castle at Mt. Woodson, Nov. 1 from noon to 5 p.m. Enjoy handcrafted wine and food from area chefs. Artists are selling their work. A live auction of wine barrels will be featured. This is a benefit for Ramona’s city mural program. Access ramonaartandwinefest.net for details.
A Taste of Rancho Santa Fe is planned for Oct. 12 from 4 to 7 p.m. at The Inn at Rancho Santa Fe. Sample fine wines and spirits and food from the leading area restaurants. Cost is $75. Details at (760) 453-6362.
The La Jolla Art & Wine Festival is Oct. 11 and Oct. 12 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., on Girard Avenue. A juried art show with an estimated 150 artists will be the feature of the event. This is a free event open to the public. A nighttime Brew Fest will be added this year. Access lajollaart&winefestival.com.
VINZ Wine Bar in Escondido celebrates Oktoberfest with an all-German dinner menu and live Oom Pah Pah music Oct. 17. Do the Chicken Dance and other polka and shurkle dances. Call (760) 743-8466 for more.
Frank Mangio is a renowned wine connoisseur certified by Wine Spectator. He is one of the leading wine commentators on the web. View and link up with his columns at www.tasteofwinetv.com. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.