The climate in Anderson Valley is too cool for most red wine varieties. We figured that if we wanted to make Zinfandel, we should look for vineyards in Mendocino's Russian River Valley. Twenty years ago, we selected a vineyard that looked very promising for top-quality grapes: ancient gnarled vines on a hillside with not-too-fertile soil and good drainage. That vineyard is still part of this 2011 Zinfandel cuvée. We inspected Ed Pallini's vineyard frequently during the summer of 1991 and on each visit we were always surprised at how much bigger the clusters seemed than on the prior visit. Ed's grapes arrived at the winery in late September. They had been hand-harvested into small bins; the fruit looked perfect and tasted great. But, yikes, the clusters and berries seemed gigantic compared to the tiny berries and clusters of Pinot Noir and Gewürztraminer, to which we had grown accustomed. Since we then sanctimoniously believed that good wine could only be produced from tiny berries, how could these big, juicy grapes possibly make good wine? Whoops, another preconception shattered. We continued our search for heritage vines grown on exceptional sites and in 1999 we came across another old Zinfandel vineyard, owned and operated by Al and Sally Tollini, planted in the 20's and 30's.
Ed Berry and Jim Klein inspecting grapes before harvest. Once the fruit has colored, we typically taste and measure the grapes sugars and acids on a weekly basis until a couple of weeks before harvest; then we take samples on alternating days, to minimize surprises when we harvest.
A Zinfandel cluster (left) and a Pinot Noir cluster. The surprise for us, starting in 1991, was that the bigger clusters make good wine too!
Then in 2001 we discovered a third similar vineyard, with vines over half a century of age, owned and operated by the Berry family. The wines from these three vineyards have become the stalwart components in Navarro's Mendocino Zinfandel, and proof that big ain't bad. The big juicy flavors are great with robust flavors of your favorite Sugo di Pomodoro. Gold Medal winner.
Al and Sally Tollini are hardly absentee owners; most of the hard work on this farm is done by family members.