It’s Pinot Time


By Dan Berger
Napa Valley Register

Chardonnay was clearly the American wine sweepstakes winner in the 30 years following its ascendancy about 1975. Cabernet had a slightly longer run, roughly 40 years in the driver’s seat after it arrived about 1976.

For reasons too numerous to delineate here, both grapes had their days in the sun truncated recently by an obstreperous, truculent, and irritating upstart that has created no end of headaches for the wine industry, and which continues to search for its rightful home base among the wine-buying elites.

Of all the grape varieties that claim preeminence in this world, disheveled, tattooed, unshaven, sandal-wearing Pinot Noir seems to be the least likely candidate for stardom. Only statuesque Riesling ever gets this sort of praise.

Pinot Noir is fractious — difficult to grow, doing best in harsh, colder climates that threaten to produce nothing drinkable in times of stress. It’s susceptible to vineyard maladies, has a propensity for turning evil once at the winery, and even if the fermentation goes perfectly, occasionally becomes brutally argumentative. And no one has developed a Zoloft for it.

Yet those who pay ungodly sums to acquire the very best (which by acclaim are French Burgundies) swear there is nothing quite like this in the entire world of wine.

Bordeaux lovers speak of the greatness of the best wines of the great houses in great vintages — and the exhilaration they experience after a single sip. In some ways, such comments are about the speakers, not about the wines.

Burgundy lovers most often focus not on themselves, but on the wines and their astounding complexities, both in new releases and very, very old samples.

Robert Mondavi and I and several others shared about an ounce each of an 1865 Beaune in the 1980s. One initial sniff and one tiny sip was all I ever needed to see what the Burgundy-ites were cooing about. Mondavi and I were awed.

For me, one glass of a great Bordeaux shows richness, depth, and broad flavor development that’s all about abundance. But a great Burgundy is all about nuance, the multitudes of elements, some based on fruit, some on soil or minerals, some on herbs, tea, sea spray, dried leaves, tobacco, tree bark after a rain.

Poets come to mind.  Bordeaux is about power and intensity. Burgundy is about grace and distinctiveness.

Pinot has lately taken on such mythic proportions because finding a truly great one is difficult and can be pricey. Not only is so little great stuff made, but the best Burgundies are often sold to wealthy insiders long before a bottle ever gets out of the producer’s cellar.

(So much for that score of 99 points for a great red Burgundy. The words used to describe it define extravagance until you look at the last word in the review: “Unavailable.”)

Indeed, the fact that California and Oregon Pinots are in vogue today is testament not to its complexity in old age as much as what it brings to the dinner table as a youngster, and how it has effectively poisoned the wine market for just about any red wine that doesn’t offer what it does.

And that is to provide a tasty, lighter-weight red wine experience without any of the nasty, astringent tannins that have caused so many red wine lovers to abandon Cabernet and seek alternatives.

It is that one key factor – astringency – that has divided Pinot Noir lovers from Cabernet lovers. The latter seem not to fret over tannin “bitterness” (they almost never refer to tannins as being bitter).

Cab lovers speak in terms of power and intensity. They seek scores above 95 points. And they will pay almost anything to get what someone else says is the best. Hundreds of dollars a bottle? No problem. For them, Bordeaux is an option, as are California Cabs.

Pinot people seem less awed by points, but react quickly when the highest-image Pinot Noirs are available. This may well be because high-end Burgundy is simply not available, so the next best thing is from California or perhaps New Zealand.

Another thing that separates Pinot Noir from Cabernet is how both should be treated. Years ago, to drink the latter wine when it was young was considered unthinkable. The tannins were so harsh it was hard to justify subjecting one’s palate to that treatment.

So we aged our Cabernets for 20 years or more, until the late 1990s, when winemakers changed the style of wine to one with much higher alcohol, and softened the acidities so the wines could be accessed much more quickly.

However, without the proper structure to age, Cabs rarely took on the complexity and depth that the earlier vintages provided.

Pinot, on the other hand, didn’t require aging, so it could be consumed more quickly. The best could easily go a decade, perhaps two, in the bottle, but aging was optional. And in today’s less patient society, it was the wine we adored as an adolescent.

One more thing made the wines so different from one another. Both Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon should be served at cellar temperature (60 degrees to 65 degrees). But if a young Pinot is served a bit cooler (say 55°), no harm, no foul.

Does Pinot have a long run ahead of it? Yes, but only if the Pinot Noir sophisticates begin to appreciate and support the great diversity in regional styles.

Petaluma Gap’s “dried thyme” differs from Russian River Valley’s cranberry/strawberry. Central Coast’s “tarragon” differs from Santa Lucia Highlands’ “tea/spice” and Willamette Valley’s earth-tone, Euro styling provides more complexity than does Santa Barbara’s Santa Rita Hills’ cherry notes or Monterey’s red pepper.

And we have said nothing about Carneros, True Sonoma Coast, Arroyo Seco, Bennett Valley, Sonoma Valley South, and Umpqua Valley, Oregon.

One thing is certain: Pinot Noir is here to stay. And along the way, red wines that emulate Pinot Noir, such as cold-climate reds from other grapes, are developing a following as well.



100 Point Winemaker’ 4 Barrel Pinot Noir from a California Grand Cru Vineyard

Boris Guillome is a 20+ year wine industry veteran, having worked in some of California’s best wine establisments.  In 2013, he decided that his next challenge would be to create his own label, so he hired Helen Keplinger as his winemaker and set out to find exceptional sites and the best fruit possible. These wines are pure, focused and spectacular.

Waterfall 2016 Pinot Noir “UV Vineyard” Sonoma Coast
GGWC 64.99
Use code SHIPFREE6 during checkout

The 2016 Waterfall UV Pinot is rich and layered with red and black cherry fruit, baking spices and fresh earth notes. This youngster is a fuller version bodied Pinot Noir with dark fruit, nicely integrated French oak, nice acidity, and a long, focused finish.  Only 4 barrels (90 cases) were produced

The Vineyard: Ulises Valdez (died Sept 2018 at age 49 of a heart attack) came to the US at age 16 to work the vineyards in Sonoma.  After many years of hard work and saving up every penny, he seized the opportunity and co-started a vineyard management company. After a few years, he bought out his partner.  Ulises’s dedication and love for his work didn’t go unnoticed; He obtained a reputation for his impeccable work and gained many high profile clients such as Mark Aubert, JC Cellars, Paul Hobbs and Pahlmeyer. Valdez and Sons Vineyard MGMT now farms just over 1,000 acres.


Click here or on the links above to order!

What Exactly is Minerality?


By Roger C. Bohmrich, MW

published in

The notion of minerality has become a valuable aspect of the rubric of wine tasting for some professionals. To understand this multidisciplinary and multimodal phenomenon, we need to turn to geology, botany, chemistry, oenology and sensory science. Minerality has been met with skepticism by scientists who point out that, whatever tasters mean by this term, it cannot be the actual taste of stones and fossils in soil. When a winemaker or critic says that a wine possesses the flavor of minerals, it is not only meant as a compliment but may also serve to identify a specific vineyard origin. Put another way, minerality has become a surrogate for terroir. That, unfortunately, does not make it easier to define objectively.

Where did the word come from? Surprisingly, it is difficult to say for certain. Even now, minerality is absent from most English dictionaries from Mirriam-Webster to the Encyclopedia Britannica – and, for that matter, Microsoft Word. On the other hand, mineralogy, the study of minerals, does have ancient origins. One of the early examinations of mineral substances was undertaken by Theophrastus, a disciple of Aristotle, in the 4 th century BCE. His tome, De Mineralibus or “On Stones,” gives physical descriptions of onyx, amber and quartz together with precious stones such as emerald, sapphire, diamond and ruby (Theophrastus, 1498). Pliny the Elder built on his work in Naturalis Historia of 77 CE. In the 16 th century, Georgius Agricola went further. In De Natura Fossilium (Agricola, 1546) – which has been called a foundational textbook of mineralogy – he wrote that “some minerals have a sweet taste,” halite (sodium) is salty, and copper is “very bitter and unpleasant.” He also observed that “certain minerals have an odor when struck with an iron or stone.” This has unexpected relevance to the discussion of minerality in wine. It was not until much later that certain key minerals were discovered in a chemical sense by Sir Humphry Davy (Davy, Encyclopedia Britannica). He is credited with isolating sodium and potassium (1807) along with calcium and magnesium (1808).
Oxford Dictionaries claim minerality has late 19 th century origins, but on investigation it appears this early usage related to mineral water, not wine. Oxford’s terse definition is simply: “a mineral quality.” For elaboration, we must turn to sources within the wine community. Wine Spectator offers the following: “Minerality is a tricky one to explain, but it refers to a group of non-fruit, non-herb, non-spice notes…Think of the taste of the sea that you get from crunchy sea salt or oysters. The smell of a sidewalk after it rains” (Dr. Vinny’s Archive, We may suspect that minerality must be the phonetic equivalent of the French “la minéralité” but this leads us on a wild goose chase as notable contemporary French references fail to cite that term. As happens in the evolution of language, minerality appears to have been simply made up, in the not too distant past, by someone who evidently found it to be evocative of flavor characteristics which lacked a suitable one-word description.

One study utilizing Chablis wines (Rodrigues et al., 2015, cited in Parr, et al., 2018) found at the core the words terroir, chalky, freshness and shellfish. Winemakers associated the word with soil (stone) as well as acidity, gunflint and salty whereas stone was the primary emphasis for consumers. Professionals appear to sense minerality as an aroma, both to the nose and in the mouth through the retronasal passages, and as tastes on the palate. Pros attach “a positive connotation to minerality, while some consumers expressed neutral or even negative connotations.” This raises the question of how tasting notes of wine writers referring to mineral qualities are being interpreted by drinkers, especially those who do not read wine publications on a regular basis. True aficionados may well be absorbing the language of the “tribe” and accepting minerality at face value as both objectively accurate and a sign of quality. If cult wine growers and famous critics embrace the term, why should it be questioned?

Aside from differing individual perceptions of minerality, the very idea at its core is in doubt: “Minerality cannot be the taste of minerals, geological or nutrient, in any direct, literal way” (Parr et el., 2018). It is true that soils are composed of minerals and that vines do require certain ones, taking up what they need. The nutrient minerals the grapevine draws in through its roots pass through various stages and are altered by the fermentation process as well as cellar treatments and aging in barrel. The volume of minerals in grape must ranges from 2.5 to 3.5 g/l, less than 0.5% of juice constituents (Fig. 1).

Fig 1. Chemical composition of grape must (juice).
Moreno, J & Peinado, R (2012), Enological Chemistry.

The final product – the finished wine – contains merely 0.15 to 0.20%, and 0.40% at the maximum, of inorganic constituents. Potassium is the most significant mineral. In specific cases, wine may contain atypical concentrations of sodium chloride – as high as 1,000 mg/l rather than the usual 10 to 40 mg/l – if vineyards and wineries are situated in close proximity to a saltwater sea (Moreno et al., 2012). Human palates may neither detect saltiness in (white) wine until it reaches 570 mg/l nor recognize its true origin below 4790 mg/l (Bastian et al., 2011). In coastal vineyards, salt may find its way into a wine as a result of sea breezes which leave sodium deposits on grapes. Plausible examples might include the Greek island of Santorini, known for its bone-dry, saline Assyrtiko-based whites and Sanlúcar de Barrameda in Andalucía, Spain, the provenance of Manzanilla Sherry. A specialist website, Sherry Notes, claims that “Manzanilla typically displays more coastal aromas than a Fino, like seaspray, salt or even iodine.” However, there is a dearth of publicly available data to confirm the sodium content of these and other wines from sea coasts.

Even less known is that sodium, calcium and heavy metals may be added to grape must and wine from other sources: irrigation, vineyard treatments, chemical residues, fining agents (i.e., bentonite) and filtration as well as the addition of sulfur as sodium metabisulfite (Moreno et al., 2012; Waterhouse, et al., 2016). This further undermines the causality argument claiming that minerals in wine are derived exclusively from those naturally present in rocks and soil.

While some tasters insist they are tasting minerals drawn up from the earth, the essential truth is that “the actual amounts of the minerals in wine are minuscule, and they are virtually tasteless” (Parr et al., 2018). If this is the empirical reality, the term minerality must be a stand-in for other flavor characteristics. There is still a great deal to learn and verify, but research findings to date are expanding our understanding of the complex sensory aspects. Grape variety could be one determinant. Riesling, Pinot Gris and Sauvignon Blanc wines have been found by tasters to be more “mineral” than Chardonnay – despite the supposed “mineral-laced” personalities of Chablis and other white Burgundies.

Salinity, as noted, is of particular importance and seems to be identifed in every trial. Elevated levels of acidity, both tartaric and malic, have been linked to the perception of minerality. If the malo-lactic conversion is blocked, entirely or partially, the unconverted malic acid could convey or reinforce a perceived mineral taste. Avoiding the malo is common practice with Riesling and some other white wines fermented in tank. In addition, succinic acid, a minor product of fermentation, is known to impart a salty rather than acidic taste and may contribute to perceptions of minerality. The role of pH remains to be proven unambiguously; yet, since low pH is a multiplier of acidic taste, it may well be another factor.

Also implicated is sulfur dioxide, especially free SO2 but also total (Parr et al., 2018). Sulfur compounds are present in wines found by tasters in studies to be “mineral,” notably polysulfanes and BMT (benzene methane thiol), linked by several researchers to wines described as having “flinty,” “gunflint” or “wet stone” odors (Tominaga et al., 2003). As geologist Alex Maltman has noted, flint – a type of silica – is by itself flavorless and odorless. “Gunflint” is used by some tasters to describe a certain aromatic accent – as in the “smoky” Loire Sauvignon, Pouilly-Fumé – yet this can only refer to the smell of striking flint to create a spark. The smell of a wet stone is actually petrichor, the organic or animal residue on its exterior. Sterilize a vineyard rock by soaking and washing it twice with distilled water and let it dry briefly; there will be little if any odor until “it becomes filmed with volatile compounds present in the atmosphere” (Maltman, 2013). Nevertheless, all of these odors could well be real rather than imagined; but that does not mean they are derived from minerals. The many factors which may act, together or singly, to accentuate or diminish the perception of minerality are laid out on the following diagram (Fig. 2). This should be seen as a template for discussion and further study, not the ultimate terminus.

Figure 2. Diagram of Perceived Minerality: Factors Favoring or Suppressing.
© Roger C. Bohmrich 2019

A professor of cognitive and behavioral biology has written that human beings “are incapable of being fully objective, even in our most mundane observations and impressions” (Koch, 2010). Sensory responses are among the most complex phenomena: they are governed by preconception, experience, our individual “hardware,” mood and health, and many other influences. Moreover, taste cannot be separated from culture, which encompasses language. We select arbitrary words – minerality among them – to express our multifaceted sensate impressions. Even if there are widely varying sensitivities and preferences, there are universal tastes: sweet, sour, bitter, and salty. Sourness or acidity, as we have seen, is linked to perceptions of mineral flavors, as is bitterness, albeit less consistently. Saltiness “appears to be associated with minerality in every conceptual study” (Parr et al., 2018) and is therefore at the core of the discussion of minerals and wine.

Minerality is a loaded term questioned by academics and defended by instinctive wine tasters. Many of those who see it as a valid descriptor take it literally: the actual taste of minerals in vineyards. However, wine is not water, which transports minerals “as is” from below-ground sources into bottles labelled Gerolsteiner® or S. Pellegrino®. Despite a lack of scientific corroboration, exponents find minerality to be an appealing and convenient term. Fortunately, there is an emerging understanding of this phenomenon thanks to new research, even if some may resist its findings.

Now that you know more about it, come explore the aspect of minerality with us every Saturday from 1-5 PM in out tasting room! See the calendar below for the upcoming tasting schedule.


The Hilt is part of Jonata and Screaming Eagle owner Stan Kroenke’s wineries and has been receiving rave reviews

The Hilt 2016 “Old Guard” Pinot Noir “Estate”
GGWC 73.99
Use code SHIPFREE6 during checkout

Jeb Dunnuck 96 Points: “The 2016 The Hilt Pinot Noir Old Guard offers more Bing cherry and even hints of blue fruits, and is concentrated, rich, and incredible pure. Smoked earth, leafy herbs, violets, and underbrush all emerge from this rockingly complex, concentrated, yet ethereal beauty. It has ample structure, yet it’s so beautifully interwoven into the wine that you hardly notice. It needs 3-4 years of bottle age and will cruise for 10-15 years or more.”

Galloni 96 Points: “Expressive floral, savory and mineral notes give the 2016 The Hilt Pinot Noir Old Guard much of its super-distinctive personality. Hints of crushed rocks, graphite, blueberry and lavender develop in the glass. Above all else, though, the 2016 is a wine of structural intensity and persistence. I loved it.”

Robert Parker 95 Points: “The 2016 The Hilt Pinot Noir Old Guard was my favorite of these wines from The Hilt, unfurling in the glass with a lovely bouquet of plum, rich soil, truffle, licorice and nori. On the palate, the wine is medium to full-bodied, its rich chassis of tannins cloaked in a youthfully primary but attractively sapid core of fruit, its mid-palate deep and layered, and its finish bright and sappy. The Old Guard derives from later-harvested parcels and was fermented with 40% whole clusters. Winemaker Matt Dees observes that, while the Vanguard emphasizes texture, the Old Guard emphasizes structure. 430 cases were produced.”

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Why is your wine crying?

Why is your wine crying?
Scientists say shock waves likely play a role

Alcohol content, the pour, and shape of the glass are also factors in wine tears.

By Jennifer Ouellette
from ArsTechnica


Wine tears are due to a difference in surface tension across the top of the wine, resulting from the alcohol evaporating faster than the water in the wine.

Perhaps you’ve noticed a ring of clear liquid near the top of your glass of wine, with droplets forming and dropping back into the wine. These are “tears of wine,” also known as wine legs or “fingers.” Physicists have been intrigued by them for over 150 years, and while the basic mechanism is understood, new research indicates that shock-wave dynamics may also play a role in their formation.

UCLA engineer Andrea Bertozzi described her recent work on the subject today in Boston at the 2019 March meeting of the American Physical Society, the largest annual physics conference in the country. “There’s been a flurry of activity over the last 30 years trying to understand more about this phenomenon, but nothing that really addressed the dynamics of the actual tear formation,” she said. Adding shock waves into the explanatory mix “would explain why sometimes one sees tears of wine and sometimes one does not.”

British physicist James Thomson (elder brother to Lord Kelvin) first noticed wine tears in 1855, although they’re technically known as the Marangoni effect after Italian physicist Carlo Marangoni. The phenomenon is also responsible for the infamous “coffee ring effect,” which has also generated much interest among physicists. It’s most notable in wines (or other spirits like rum) with alcohol content at least as high as 13.5 percent. (That’s because alcohol has a lower surface tension than water.) If you spread a thin film of water on your kitchen counter and place a single drop of alcohol in the center, you’ll see the water flow outward, away from the alcohol. The difference in their alcohol concentrations creates a surface tension gradient, driving the flow.

Wine is basically water and alcohol, along with acids, dissolved sugars, and other compounds that lend color and flavor. The first step in creating wine tears is swirling wine to coat the inside of the glass—a common practice among oenophiles to enhance the flavor. Thanks to capillary action the wine will start to climb up the side of the glass. Both the water and alcohol evaporate as it does so, but since alcohol evaporates falser, the alcohol concentration gradually decreases. This increases the surface tension of that wine so more is drawn upward because the wine below still has a high alcohol content and hence lower surface tension.

A drop of alcohol at the center has lower surface tension than the surrounding water, creating a surface tension gradient.

Tears form and gravity kicks in when the droplets’ weight exceeds the force of the effect, causing them to fall back into the glass. Bertozzi drew an analogy to driving in the rain. “You have water on the windshield of the car, and the wind creates a surface stress that pushes the rain up the front of the windshield,” she said. “And gravity is pulling it back down.”

That’s the standard explanation, but some nuanced complications have emerged in recent years. For instance, a 2015 study looked into the impact of thermal effects at play (i.e., the temperature of the room). The study found that evaporative cooling is also a significant contributing factor to the formation of wine tears. The first quantitative study of the wine tears phenomenon appeared in 1992. But Bertozzi noticed that the equations typically used to describe wine tears didn’t account for all the interesting physics—namely, they were missing such factors as the balance between surface tension, the surface tension gradient, and gravity, or the curvature of the glass.

For her own theoretical work on the phenomenon, Bertozzi drew on earlier work she’d done in the 1990s while at Duke University, with experiments involving silicon oil on a wafer. The wafer was placed at an incline, so when the oil was heated, it was colder on the top and warmer on the bottom—a thermal gradient, essentially the same kind of Marangoni stress as the surface tension gradient that leads to wine tears.

“Lo and behold, we were able to produce these unusual waves traveling up the plate against gravity—what we call undercompressive shocks,” said Bertozzi.

The surface tension gradient behind terms of wine is essentially the same underlying mechanic dynamics. To test that theory, Bertozzi and her team used port wine in a martini glass with a 65-degree incline. They observed a circular wave forming—similar to the waves that formed in the silicon oil on a wafer—and traveling up the glass. “Fingers,” aka tears of wine, then formed because of the instability of the wave, eventually draining back into the glass. “We believe such waves are some of the dominant effects when you see tears of wine,” she said.

The next step is to partner with experimentalists to further test her theory about the complex dynamics of wine tears—which may or may not involve imbibing a glass or two.

If all of this isn’t “shocking” enough for you… Come join us at one of our upcoming in-store wine tastings and we’ll investigate this phenomenon together! See the complete tasting calendar below.

An Under $55.00 Napa Cab Stunner

Almost 20 years ago Scott Palazzo was asked by Thomas Keller, “Chef Extraordinaire” and owner of French Laundry and Per Se restaurants to craft a wine exclusively for him!  That resulted in amazing exposure for this small winery and the rest-as-they-say-is-history. Ever since then Scott’s wine has received great accolades and is selling like hot cakes.  Last year he added the first Left Bank (Cabernet Sauvignon ) to his portfolio, and it sold out in no-time (Quality/Price Point).  The 2016 is even better, and again very limited! This wine tastes like an 80+ Napa Cab,  so I suggest… to hurry on this one!

Palazzo 2016 “Left Bank” Red Cuvée Napa Valley
FREE SHIPPING on 6 or more
Use code SHIPFREE6 during checkout

Winemaker Notes: “The Palazzo 2016 ‘Left Bank’ Red Cuvée Master Blend is ‘generous on the palate’ …with lots of rich & delicious Napa Cabernet Sauvignon fruit! Lush black cherry and blackberry fruit on the nose and palate, along with hints of chocolate, coffee, and cassis notes! The wine enjoys a freshness, with the enticing ‘Signature Palazzo Wine aromatics & finesse’…that all Palazzo Wines have! The beautiful floral tones and spice come from the Merlot and Cabernet Franc fruit blended in from the Carneros Region! The mouthfeel is plush & full-bodied, with integrated sweet tannins and great acidity… with a long and distinctive finish!”

Click here or on the links above to order!



By Allen Balik
Napa Valley Register

My last column generated a broad reader response with most of the questions and comments directed to the history of Zinfandel and the true definition of “Old Vine” as is seen on countless wine labels.  The question on Old Vine is an easy one to address because in the U.S. it has no official meaning or definition by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) that regulates the labeling and sale of all alcoholic products. It is a popular term and often seen on Zinfandel labels to differentiate them from other bottlings. But, like other popular terms such as “Reserve,” there is no legal definition and it is used primarily for marketing purposes.

The questions I received about Zinfandel’s history stemmed primarily from my reference to its European origin. Some people continue thinking of Zinfandel as a California grape, although genetic research and DNA identification established in the mid-1990s through 2001 by UC Davis Professor Emerita Carole Meredith proved otherwise. She traced Zinfandel’s true beginning to Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast and a grape known since the 15th century as Tribidrag, also known by several other names including, Primitivo and Crljenak Kastelanski.

In his book “Zinfandel—A History of a Grape and its Wine,” Charles Sullivan does a masterful and entertaining job of tracing Zinfandel’s history while dismissing several myths that had become popular over time. Perhaps the greatest myth around the grape began in the 1880s and was not disproved (and is still believed by some) until the 1970s.

Bottling at Buena Vista

Arped Haraszthy was the son of the colorful European nobleman Agoston Haraszthy, who founded California’s first bonded winery, Buena Vista in Sonoma, and was considered a major figure in California’s winemaking history. To glamorize his father’s legacy after a tragic death in Nicaragua, Arped fabricated the story of his father being the first to introduce Zinfandel in the U.S. by bringing a native vine from his Hungarian homeland to California as early as 1852.

Agoston falsely became known as the “father” of Zinfandel even though he never mentioned the grape in his prolific writings on California wine. However, Sullivan’s research clearly illustrates that Zinfandel (under a variety of spellings) was found on the East Coast in the 1820s and grown in Massachusetts hot houses as a table grape before it migrated by an undetermined route to California and was eventually used for making wine.

Zinfandel found a welcome home in Northern California in the late 19th century. Today, quite a few of those vineyards remain productive in Sonoma and Contra Costa counties as well as Lodi. In 1976, Joel Peterson founded Ravenswood in Sonoma with a clear focus on Zinfandel from Heritage vineyards. He has also recently launched his own Once & Future brand dedicated to those same vineyards.

Peterson began his Zinfandel adventure by making wine from 100-year-old vines in Dry Creek Valley. Throughout his illustrious career, he expanded his search for other vineyard sources where the weathered vines and shallow soils continue to produce wines of an idyllic nature speaking of their history. Zinfandel has in many ways become linked to old vine viticulture, due in part to its robust planting in the late 19th century after phylloxera and the vine’s inherent resistance to disease. Peterson says, “Old vines are not just about longevity, they are totally in synch with their terroir and more consistently expressive of the flavor of place.”

Napa Valley’s celebrated vintner Mike Grgich arrived from Croatia through Canada in 1958 and immediately saw a resemblance of Zinfandel vines to his treasured Plavac Mali, widely planted in his homeland. But at that time, technology and scientific protocols could not relate the two and the Haraszthy myth remained widely accepted as fact. In the 1970s, others recognized a similarity to Primitivo (from Southern Italy’s Puglia region) so cuttings were brought to UC Davis for propagation and investigation.

While studies began on the connection of Primitivo and Zinfandel nothing could be accurately confirmed until Meredith began to apply her genealogical expertise. In 1992, the Zinfandel/Primitivo connection established that they were in fact identical. In 1995, Meredith began her work to find the source of both.

Italian scientists did not believe Primitivo was a native grape, and with the narrow Adriatic Sea so close to Puglia, Croatia (just across the water) became a target of the research. And let’s not forget Grgich’s observation of Zinfandel’s similarity to Plavac Mali that lent a further connection to Croatia. Meredith ventured to Croatia and gathered samples for her DNA research. An early finding was that Zinfandel and Plavac Mali were not the same but probable siblings. The search was intensified to find the ultimate match and the “Original Zin.”

Hearing of Meredith’s research, scientists from the University of Zagreb who were examining old Croatian varietals that were on the verge of extinction, contacted her for assistance. Together, they collected a wide range of samples that underwent DNA testing at Davis, finding many siblings but no direct match.

In 2001, after three years of work and with only a few vines remaining in the ground, the match was found in a remote Croatian vineyard.

It was Crljenak Kastelanski, now referred to by its oldest recorded name Tribidrag, originally planted along Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast by Venetian nobility in the 15th to 17th centuries. Plavac Mali, that many associated as Zinfandel, is believed to have evolved as a genetic sibling with an inbred resistance to the conditions that swept the country almost wiping out Tribidrag.

Another interesting note connecting Tribidrag to Primitivo is the translation of their names. Both refer to “early ripening” in their native languages, but Zinfandel in California only became the recognized spelling of the table grape from Massachusetts.

As a lover of Zinfandel, I certainly appreciate Sullivan’s statement in the preface of his book, “Many wine grape varieties are of mysterious origin, but none as important as Zinfandel.”

Be sure to heck out these great Zins offered by Golden Gate Wine Cellars:
ALDEN ALLI 2015 ZINFANDEL “LIMERICK LANE” by the Kosta Browne winemaker!

FOXTROT, not just a dance – Its a wonderful Pinot

The Foxtrot winery was created by Torsten and Kicki Allander who believe that the key to producing world class wine is total control over the grape growing and winemaking process from start to finish. To this day, both remain an integral part of the family business, with Kicki spending her days in the estate vineyard meticulously cultivating the vines, and Torsten overseeing quality control.

The Story behind the Label: Every year, just in time for harvest, Foxtrot has had a resident Black Bear around the vineyard. Sometimes he has been known to make an appearance at picking time and pickers would comment that it looked like he was dancing when standing up on his hind legs. At the winery they have come to affectionately call him Fred and he has graced the label ever since.

Foxtrot 2016 Pinot Noir “Estate”
GGWC 62.99
FREE SHIPPING on 6 or more
Use code SHIPFREE6 during checkout

Winemaker Notes: “The 2016 Pinot Noir has beautiful balance and intensity carrying the classic Foxtrot Vineyard aromas of bright and dark red fruits along with spice and earthy tones. These notes carry through to the palate and are wonderfully framed by the balanced acidity, rich dark fruit flavours, and bold silky smooth tannins producing a long lingering finish. Our 2016 Foxtrot Vineyard Pinot Noir can easily be aged for up to 10+ years but can also be consumed in the near term with decanting.”

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This is the 10th release for O’Dwyer and I am proud to be ONLY US establishment to offer this limited produced (Australian) Cabernet – Also the only non-California Cabernet in our inventory.

The 2016 O’Dwyer Cabernet might be the very best Cabernet the winery has produced to date!  Very limited and sensational in quality. One would think Napa and Bordeaux visited the Clare Valley!

O’Dwyer 2016 “Estate” Cabernet Sauvignon, Clare Valley
GGWC 74.99
FREE SHIPPING on 6 or more!
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This youngster offers up a gorgeous nose of amazing black currant and dark chocolate.  The lush palate is complex and loaded with bright black stone fruit, chocolate and espresso notes.  Full in body, yet extremely refined, this wine is intense with a long finish of silky grained tannins.  I highly recommend decanting this wine an hour or two before imbibing.  As always the production is very limited and only 50 cases are coming to the US!

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An UNDER $45 Napa Cabernet

Boris Guillome is a 20+ year wine industry veteran, having worked in some of California’s best wine establisments.  In 2013, he decided that his next challenge would be to create his own label, so he hired Helen Keplinger as his winemaker and set out to find exceptional sites and the best fruit possible. These wines are pure, focused and spectacular.

Waterfall 2015 Proprietary Cabernet Blend, Napa Valley
GGWC 44.99
FREE SHIPPING on 12 or more
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The 2015 Waterfall Proprietary Red is a tremendous blend of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon and 50% Cabernet Franc.  On the nose you are greeted by purple flowers, dark chocolate, tobacco and espresso. The wine is mouthcoating dense and chewy, with flavors of black plums, black cherries, dark chocolate and cocoa. The wine is medium to full in bodied with great grip and texture, and fine grained silky tannins.. The wine was aged 21 months in 30% new French oak and bottled unfined and unfiltered. Then aged in bottle for a few more years before its release. Only 140 cases were produced.

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