Vineyard & Winery Management

January - February 2012

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MANAGEMENT MARKET WATCH Discovering Zinfandel's t a UC San Francisco Medical Center function 20 years ago, I poured some of California's finest wines to a group of doc- tors from all over the country. Several asked for zinfandel and at least half of them told me, "No, I want zinfandel, not this red wine!" I was surprised that so many in this well-heeled group were still drink- ing white zin. And they came back for seconds. Zinfandel has come a long way since then, now most often thought of as a red rather than a blush wine. And make no mistake, white zinfandel is still extremely popular, the wine of choice for many Americans. Yet it is red zin that is the more serious of the siblings; look no further than the attendance figures for the annual Zinfandel Advocates & Producers tasting in San Francisco (8,000- 10,000 consumers per year) as but one piece of evidence. Forty years ago, table wines ranged in alcohol from 12% to SHORT COURSE Before 1960, California zinfandel averaged 12.5% alcohol. Today's zinfandels often have 15% or higher alcohol levels. Zinfandel fans expect bold, fruity flavors in the wines they drink. Vineyard practices allow wine- makers to produce elegant, bal- anced wines that still taste like zinfandel. WWW.VWM-ONLINE.COM WILFRED WONG True Self Vineyard advances lead to more balanced, nuanced wines 12.5% by volume, and most Americans who consumed them were trained on classic European wines (Burgundy, Bordeaux, Cotes du Rhone, Chianti, etc.). The bulk of Cali- fornia's production shifted to high-alcohol fortified wines in the early 1970s, then changed again later in that decade, as winemakers focused on "food wines" made from traditional Old World varieties. Chardon- nay and cabernet sauvi- gnon began developing American personalities, but zinfandel was another story. It had no European road map, no Old World model, and consequent- ly the variety displayed wide and diverse styles when vinified into wine. In the '70s, there were at least five styles of zinfandel: medium- sweet blush; light, dry table wine; oak-aged and heavy; high alcohol; and late harvest/dessert. When well-made, zinfandel showed it could be successful in many styles, yet it could be that zin is just now truly finding itself, typically pro- ducing wines with more elegance and balance than those of recent decades. 1970S FLASHBACK One of the first great zinfandels to hit the scene was the 1971Ken- wood Vineyards Lot 2 – which I per- sonally bought and sold at Ashbury Wilfred Wong is cellarmaster for Beverages & More and a San Francisco- based wine writer. Market (circa 1975) for the retail price of $3.60 a bottle. My customers were thrilled with the new experience of enjoying a serious stand-alone zinfandel. The wine was about 13.6% alcohol, produced by my very good pal, the late Mike Lee. The Kenwood wine remains one of the all-time great red zins. Kenwood Vineyards pro- duced one of the first great California zins in the early 1970s. Today the winery's zins are still among Ken- wood's top sellers. At about this time, "Buying Guide to Cali- fornia Wines" by John Brennan was published. Over time this book, packed with some of the first serious tasting notes on super-premium California wines, disap- peared from circulation. I had one copy (I lost it in the early 1980s) that I tried for years to replace. Writer Dan Berg- er, who also acknowledges the importance of Brennan's work, has one copy under lock and key. In it, Brennan wrote a riveting chapter on zinfandel and its poten- tial emergence as a rival to caber- net sauvignon. He also warned about the super-ripe style that was beginning to gain traction in the mid-1970s. Brennan stated, "A thankfully minor trend is develop- ing in which zinfandel grapes, har- JAN - FEB 2012 VINEYARD & WINERY MANAGEMENT 27

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