About 10% of all the wine-grape acreage in California is planted to Zinfandel so it's hard not to think of this grape as a domestic treasure. However the vines planted in California most likely came from Apulia, Italy's southern heel, where it is known as Primitivo. DNA research has revealed that Zinfandel's origin is Croatia, where it is known as Tribidrag. Because of the international interest in Zinfandel and Primitivo, this research also fueled plantings in Dalmatia from only 23 vines identified through DNA research to over 200,000 vines two decades later. In all three regions, the clusters are long and the ripening uneven: a single ripe cluster may contain both raisins, overripe fruit, and underripe, green berries. We measure the Brix in the red must twice; once when the fruit is crushed and again two or three days later before we begin punchdowns. It's common that Zinfandel harvested at 24° Brix ends up at 27° Brix after cold-soaking with raisins, so Zinfandel and Primitivo wines tend to have higher alcohols than Pinot Noir.
Navarro purchases Zinfandel from two of Al Tollini's vineyard blocks; one block with 90 year old vines and another with 70-year-old vines. Al bent down and picked up some rocks to show us the composition of his "soil."
We ferment Zinfandel in these five-ton fermenters. We punch down twice a day and when the fermenter is full, the dry cap—composed of skins that have risen to the surface—is about a foot thick and requires some brute force to try and break through.
But these uneven clusters deliver a range of flavors from underripe apple-skin to ripe flavors of cherry, raspberry and blackberry revealing the various stages of ripeness. This wide range of flavors is amplified on head-trained bush vines; clusters on the same vine are at different heights and higher clusters are riper than the fruit at a lower level. The fruit was destemmed, fermented using pigeage then aged in seasoned French oak barrels for 11 months. Rich and jammy with flavors of blackberry, currant and licorice ending with a peppery note. Double Gold Medal winner.