According to an industrious farmer who has faithfully recorded weather conditions over the last 50 years, temperatures have actually cooled down in the Ukiah Valley rather than warmed. This makes late-season red grapes like Zinfandel difficult to ripen. Cool years make for late harvests, nervous farmers and, unfortunately, occasional lost crops. Over the last two decades we've searched hard for old vines grown on well drained, rocky soil. We've developed long term relations with five family growers who tend small plots of septuagenarian vines. Old vines don't produce much fruit, but their concentration of flavors makes the grapes worth the additional cost. Usually growers have to wait patiently through cold weather and rain, but in 2009, the last weeks of September were hot and dry. Earlier the grapes had been ripening slowly but when the weather turned hot, growers had to race to avoid losing their crop to shrivel. Ed Berry Jr. was first, harvesting on September 25 and 26 and the intense blackberry-briar flavors of his fruit constitute almost half of the blend. The next largest lot came from the grapes grown by Al Tollini.
Gnarled old Zinfandel vines are generally head-pruned with no trellis and grow to an amazing size.
We ferment Zinfandel in open-top tanks; the grape skins rise to the surface during fermentation and we push them into the juice several times a day. Frequently we begin punch-downs before sunrise and finish after sunset.
His grapes were the last we harvested, perhaps because his oldest vines are as ancient as they come. The remainder of the heritage grapes came from Young Vineyards, Lovers' Lane and Eagle Point. Tasting this Zinfandel is really like swallowing a bit of Mendocino history since the vines that produced it are older than many of our customers. Bold and confident with olallieberry and plum intensity, it is great with manicotti or grilled hanger steak. Gold Medal winner.
The town of Navarro, July 4, 1906, just four weeks after the San Francisco earthquake. There were four hotels in town with the one in the center of the photograph called Hotel D'Italia that looks a little tipsy. We'll wager a bet that the wine they were drinking was Zinfandel