TASTE News Service December 5, 2014 - For the first time in 24 years, four new Zinfandel selections have been named by authoritative experts from UC Davis and Zinfandel Advocates and Producers (ZAP) Heritage Vineyard Project. The collaboration between ZAP and UC Davis is marking the culmination of 17 years of research to date. The four named Zinfandel vineyard selections are Lytton, Moore, Teldeschi, and George Zeni. Each represents a unique set of research data sourced from historic old vine plantings that are geographically diverse from the other selections, proven to make quality wine based on “small lot” productions and immediately recognizable in the marketplace.
“Since 1997, ZAP’s Heritage Vineyard Project has set a clear direction for the future of Zinfandel. With ZAP’s ongoing support, UC Davis scientists have conducted research to cultivate virus-free Zinfandel material for growers and provide winemakers with grapes that exhibit consistent characteristics and predictable quality results,” said Rebecca Robinson, ZAP Executive Director.
Ravenswood Founding Winemaker and a project founder, Joel Peterson, explains that "The Heritage Vineyard Project gives viticulturists knowledge about the clean material unavailable until now with options to achieve better results in the vineyard and with the wine. At the end of the day, it’s about knowledge, choice and getting results that are more predictably defined."
The UC Davis Foundation Plant Services (FPS), which evaluates and virus-tests rootstock for commercial distribution, had only certified four selections of Zinfandel in 1990. In 2009, FPS released 19 Zinfandel selections from the Heritage Vineyard Project to nurseries. Now, for the first time, the FPS numbers are linked to four of these selections, Lytton, Moore, Teldeschi and George Zeni. “Ultimately, by creating greater diversity, ZAP has fulfilled a primary goal to provide superior clean, documented Zinfandel selections to growers as the basis for future plantings,” Robinson adds. “These named selections represent the history and lineage of Zinfandel that will create the new historic vineyards of California’s traditional variety. Naming also delivers additional context to the selections, providing more information to consumers who are interested in Zinfandel, ultimately enhancing the viability of the varietal,” Robinson continued.
Lytton – FPS 24Beginning with a colorful 19th century captain and evolving into a model sustainable enterprise and historic vineyard, Lytton Springs tells a story of land development, boom and bust, chance encounters, and the rebirth of the wine industry, all reflected in the old vines still standing today. The Sonoma County property originally developed as a resort by Captain W.H. Litton didn’t take advantage of existing vineyards. Not until the land passed through a number of owners over nearly a century was the value of the vineyard truly recognized and its vines- produced fruit coveted by some of the most enviable wineries in the region.
Mark Vernon, Ridge's president, prizes the significance of this vineyard. "We are very fortunate to care for these Lytton Zinfandel vines. Some of them have been producing world-class wine for over 100 years and our mission is to keep them healthy, happy, and productive for another century, if possible."
Today, Ridge Vineyards owns the 69 acres of old vines that exist as a mixed field blend of predominantly Zinfandel with Petite Sirah, Grenache, Carignane, Mataro, Syrah, and Viognier. These provide the backbone and character of Lytton Springs wines. As with each of its vineyards, Ridge takes a straightforward approach, growing intense, flavorful grapes with minimal impact on the land, using sustainable growing practices. The soils in this part of Dry Creek Valley in Sonoma County are varied with a predominance of gravelly clay with gravelly clay loam on hillsides. Lytton Springs Zinfandel has a ripe nose of raspberry, plum, pepper and chaparral. Blackberry, mineral and vanilla notes dominate the palate.
Moore – FPS 25Planted in 1905, the R.W. Moore Vineyard remains one of the oldest vineyards in the Napa Valley Coombsville appellation, still flourishing among all the modern-era plantings. Productive for more than 100 years, this vineyard has thrived through a series of stewards, beginning with seafarer Pleasant Ashley Stevens and currently under the watchful care of Bill Moore and his nephew-in-law, Mike Hendry.
In 2009, Moore’s family, Mike and Molly Hendry, decided to start their own winemaking project and asked if Robert Biale Vineyards would like to share the grapes with them. Bob Biale could not have been happier. "The wine from here displays a true sense of place—an identity that is due to its well-drained foothills soil, cool climate, modest rainfall, and good genetics. Small berries, thick grape skins, low yields, and slow ripening are the keys to growing great Zinfandel, and these sturdy old vines deliver it all," said Biale.
The vineyard, with its ten acres of old head-trained vines and prominent red barn, is as iconic a setting as it gets in California viticulture. Zinfandel represents about 95% of the vineyard, with Gamay, Mourvedre, Carignane and Petite Sirah making up the rest. Given the age of the vines, well-draining gravelly loam soils and dry-farming, the vineyard yields an exceptionally low 1.5 tons per acre, leading to expressive wines with intense blackberry fruit, earthy complexity and natural balance that only come with age.
Teldeschi – FPS 10The Teldeschi old vine vineyard features 30 acres of vines planted by the Reiner family between 1913 and 1919 in the gravely clay loam Tuscan Red Hill series soils of Dry Creek bench. The vineyard was purchased by the Teldeschi family in 1946 and has been farmed by them up to the present. The vineyard is dry-farmed and cross cultivated with a plow. It produces on average about 3.5 tons per acre and typically ripens in the first week of September. The ripe grapes have a distinct black cherry, vanilla flavor, deep colors, healthy acidity and moderate tannin.
Ravenswood first purchased fruit from Frank Teldeschi in 1982 and began vineyard designating this wine in 1997. The wines regularly receive among the top scores for Zinfandels in any given year by a broad range of top scoring periodicals. The wine is a traditional California field blend that includes Zinfandel, Petite Sirah and Carignane which exhibit the exceptional flavors and aromas that epitomize Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel; rich flavors of sweet cherry liquor, vanilla and smoke that lead to a ripe, dense, long and bright fruit finish.
George Zeni – FPS 26Owned and operated by four generations of the same family, the Zeni Ranch still holds true to many of the traditions of the founder of the family, Eduino Zeni, who planted the first vines in the 1880's. Currently, the three acres of head-trained, dry-farmed old vines feature Zinfandel as the primary varietal. This original old vine portion of the vineyard is owned and managed by Ray Zeni, George’s son, and grandson of Eduino, along with Ray’s wife Jane, and their son’s Robert and Mike.
"The gnarly ancient vines yield sparingly but reward the winemaker most magnanimously. At least, that's what the wine labels used to brag," according to the Zeni family. Producers throughout the years have included: Kendall-Jackson, Edmeades, Ridge Vineyards, and Pacific Star.
Speaking passionately about the Zinfandel grapes growing on top of the ridge, the late George Zeni explained why winemakers such as Jed Steele trekked up the steep and twisting 15 miles to get the fruit from their historic vineyards. “They wanted our mountain grapes...there was more sugar and it’d make a better wine. In fact, they’re still doing that right now. Why do you think Kendall-Jackson comes over here and buys Ciapusci grapes and my grapes? That’s where they get all their gold medals....I must have a dozen gold medals over there....So does Ciapusci.”
Zeni Ranch Zinfandel is perhaps best described by Frank Prial in his 1995 New York Times article discussing the '93 Edmeades Vineyards (Zeni Ranch) Zinfandel: "Mendocino County, and particularly the Anderson Valley, is great Zinfandel country, as this wine illustrates. It's a big-bodied wine with a deep, garnet red color. The taste is intense, and the flavors are concentrated. The wine has power and a long, lingering finish. The oak is a bit forward, but let's face it, oak is where the action is these days. Keep the wine around a couple of years and the oak will blend in. But who's going to keep it around that long?"
Ultimately, that is the question. All the "named" selections today from the famed vineyards, Lytton, Moore, Teldeschi, and George Zeni—are still nourishing vines that are more than 100 years old—still going strong, advancing the legacy of Zinfandel for generations to come, preserving Zinfandel for the future.