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Corti Bros 2015 Amador Co. Zinfandel: A Fifty Year Commemorative Wine

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Old head pruned Zinfandel vines Old head pruned Zinfandel vines Photo: Vineyard 360 - Cathleen Francisco

By Darrell Corti

This 2015 Amador County Zinfandel is a commemorative wine.

It commemorates the 1965 Amador County Zinfandel made as a home wine that, in 1968, convinced Bob Trinchero of Sutter Home Winery in Napa Valley to begin buying Amador County grapes. A lot has happened in the last fifty years.

DCorti 2 shot by Rick Mindermann PicmonkeyDarrell Corti in photo by Rick MindermannThe original 1965 Amador Zinfandel was made as a homemade wine by Charles Myers, an English instructor at Sacramento City College, who in 1972 would become a winery owner, opening his Harbor Winery in West Sacramento, CA. Charles’ home winemaking showed Bob Trinchero of Sutter Home how good Amador Zinfandel could be at a time when few wineries actually bought Amador County grapes. Most went to home winemakers in the Bay Area. At that time there was only one winery in Amador County, D’Agostini, which had been there in one form or another since the 19thcentury. The first new winery in Amador County was to be Cary Gott’s Monteviña which was created in 1970. By that time, Sutter Home had already produced two vintages of Amador County Zinfandel.

In May, 1968, Bob Trinchero, Charles Myers, and I went to Amador County and drank a bottle of Charles’ 1965 Zinfandel which convinced Bob that he should look to Amador County for grapes. The harvest of 1968 was the first year of a Napa Valley winery using Amador zinfandel and also labeling the wine with the appellation of Amador County. (Christian Brothers and Gallo had been buying Amador grapes at that time, but did not label any wine made from them with the Amador appellation.) Sutter Home was the first out-of-county winery to label its wine made from Amador grapes with the Amador appellation. Others would follow.

Since I have Charles Myers’ home winemaking notebook, I tried to make the wine following the notes which Charles wrote about making his wine. The grapes in 1965 were picked October 2, fermented with champagne yeast (the most common wine yeast at the time), pressed off on October 8 at 5% Brix, aged in one used small wood cask and in glass demijohns; racked four times during the year, and bottled August 15, 1966, just before Charles resumed teaching. So: very little time on the skins, very little time in wood, early bottling, and no fining or filtering, just the addition of metabisulfite at racking. It was very simple winemaking. According to Charles’ notes, he paid $75.00 the ton for 500 lbs of grapes which gave him 150 bottles of finished wine. This was his first Amador Zinfandel wine. He would make other vintages and in 1972 made his first commercial wine from Amador zinfandel at Harbor Winery.Chas Myers on label of Corti ZinChas Myers in Wayne Thiebaud painting on Zinfanddel label

In making our 2015 Amador Zinfandel, we asked Andis Winery in Amador County to make it for us. Mark McKenna, the winemaker, was enthusiastic about doing this project and used hillside grown, head pruned vines of some 50 years of age, picked September 3, 2015. Fermentation lasted 10 days with Champagne yeast; the wine was pressed at 2% Brix, and some of the new wine put into neutral oak barrels and the rest in flextanks rather than in glass demijohns. It was bottled on September 1, 2016. This production produced 290 cases of 750ml bottles and 10 cases of magnums. The bottles were bottled with Stelvin caps rather than corks since I am a great fan of Stelvin and I think Charles would have concurred. The magnums have corks.

A unique thing about this wine is that the label has a portrait of the original winemaker on it done by the noted Sacramento artist Wayne Thiebaud. In the early 1960s, Wayne and Charles were colleagues at Sacramento City College and in 1963 Wayne painted the image of Charles reading, which is on our label. In Wayne’s opus, the picture is called “Man Reading.” We asked Wayne if he would concede the use of this image for this one time bottling, and he graciously allowed it.

Corti Brothers Amador County Zinfandel 2015 is a sort of mirror of what happened in 1965. Fifty years later, wine tastes have changed and in no small part to the effect Amador County zinfandel had on the California wine market. Tastes changed and there is now a completely different profile of Zinfandel as a wine in California. According to the classic wine texts of the early 1960s and before, Zinfandel was always a light, fruity wine, described as such by most wine writers of the time. Amador County changed all of that. And it was begun by a really well made, homemade wine, from 1965.


Editor’s note: Darrell Corti is a wine and food authority of international renown. He can often be found at Corti Brothers, a specialty grocery and wine business begun by his father and uncle in 1947 in Sacramento, California.

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