No other winery has brought as much attention to Zinfandel as Ridge Vineyards.
If you don't know Ridge, you don't know Zinfandel.
Simple as that.
When they were founded the idea was to make red wines and Zinfandel was more readily
available on the grape market than was Cabernet Sauvignon. Some fellows
who worked at the Stanford Research Institute were curious about wine and
this "hobby" turned into one of the top wine "domaines"
Rosen, Dave Bennion & Hew Crane...
These guys were the original owners of
Ridge...Dave Bennion quite SRI and became the winemaker in 1967 until they hired
a young pup named Paul Draper to take over the winemaking duties.
The Montebello name was used for Burgundy, Chablis and
Riesling, once upon a time!
With Cabernet in short supply, Ridge
purchased Zinfandel grapes from Paso Robles, Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino, Amador and
Lodi. The wines were all fermented individually and bottled either as a
single-vineyard wine or as a regional bottling. This practice continues today, the
flagship wines being "Geyserville" and "Lytton Springs".
The late Donn Reisen...
A photo of Donn in his days as the tasting room manager at Ridge...
He later became VP of sales and then was the President/GM until his untimely
passing in 2008.
Ridge, you see, had an early grasp on the idea of "terroir,"
finding the various batches of Zinfandel to be different depending upon
where the fruit was grown. Over the years, Sonoma County has become a
prime source for fruit and so they make a number of different Sonoma
They used to make dozens of different batches of wine. Sometimes
they'd have a "late bottling" of a wine, what with cooperage and
storage space being scarce. Experimentation has always been done at
Ridge...and it's been quite a training ground for winemakers. Paul
Draper came on board decades ago and he's still over-seeing cellar
cellar treatments are employed in an effort to bottle the most aromatic and flavorful
wines. The wines of the early 1970s were really monumental, some of them still
tasting like barrel samples today (backwards and youthful)!
The winemaking has been refined over the years
and today Ridge, generally, puts out a pretty good bottle of Zinfandel.
What's interesting is the evolution of their wine and style since those
Wines from the early 1970s were hugely extracted, dark, often a bit potent
(in those days, 14% alcohol was considered a monster...today you'll find
Zins at 16+% alcohol!). Over the years the wines have become more
elegant and refined. While they may have appealed to "new"
wine fans in the early 1970s, today they may appeal to more
At one point in time, wine writers would advise readers to know the "3 R's
of Zinfandel, Ridge, Ravenswood and Rosenblum." Given some of the
spotty wines of Ravenswood and Rosenblum, I'd say you only need to know one
We have several wines in the store, typically.
And keep in mind Ridge
is a source for some of California's best Cabernet and Chardonnay.
The 2012 Lytton Springs comes from this special vineyard in Sonoma near the
Dry Creek Valley. It's an older vineyard and is a field blend...the
old-timers planted a number of odd varieties in the same vineyard with the
idea of producing a blended red without their having to do blending trials
in the lab. In fact, nobody in those days had a lab. Deep,
dark...mildly berryish with a spice note.
Three Valleys takes the place of what used to be called "Coast
Range" in the really old days and "Sonoma Station" more
recently. It is a Zin-based blend with fruit coming from the Russian
River, Dry Creek and Alexander Valley regions. I suppose if they had
grapes from Glen Ellen, for example, they'd have to re-name it Four
Valleys. The 2013 is very good...and well-priced.
The 2013 Geyserville is a full-bodied, berryish and mildly spicy Zin. Brambly and
notes of cocoa make for a complex, deep wine. It's drinkable now,
certainly, and will cellar well for 3-6 more years (at least). Very
2012 Lytton Springs Zin, etc. SALE $34.99
2013 "Three Valleys" Zin (List $26)
2013 Geyserville 750ml (List $35) SALE
2012 Lytton Springs Magnum (List $80) SALE $74.99
2014 Paso Robles 750ml SALE
3 Liter bottles of Geyserville and Lytton
Springs are usually in stock, as well.
you're an old-time winery with a long track record, you're often over-looked
by those searching for the latest, most 'hip' wines.
Pedroncelli has been around for decades and we've known their wines going
back to the late 1960s and can recall tasting their excellent 1970 Pinot
Noir and 1970 Cabernet Sauvignon. The family still runs the place, a
smallish facility on Canyon Road in Geyserville.
We've often got wines from Pedroncelli as they make good wines which are
sensibly priced. They get little recognition from today's critics,
since the wines are not amped up and tasting as though they were made from
grapes "on steroids."
We've been especially fond of their "Mother Clone" Zinfandel, made
from a vineyard within the Dry Creek appellation. The vines were
propagated from their ancient, about-100-year-old original parcel of
Zinfandel planted by Grandpappy Pedroncelli. The vines are actually
about 25 years old, though they do blend in the grapes from the quarter acre
parcel of original vines.
A blend of Zinfandel and Petite Sirah, the 2013 is a delicious wine.
Lots of nice berry fruit and some brown spice tones make for a delightful
combination. It's matured in American oak with 30% of the barrels
being brand new.
The wine is not sweet, nor is it the over-the-top style
which catches the fancy of wine "tasters," who have a different
perspective than wine "drinkers." On the other hand, it
works well with food and you can share the whole bottle with a friend or two
and live to tell about it.
We've found the wine is one of those bottles which seems to benefit from
being opened well ahead of time and/or splashed around in a
decanter. It simply seems a bit quiet or subdued at the outset and
then, after an hour, or so, it starts blossoming and showing its true
Currently in stock: 2013 PEDRONCELLI Dry Creek "Mother
Clone" ZINFANDEL $14.99
Seghesio family has been making wine in Sonoma County since the late 1890s.
The winery used to be a "bulk producer" and only in the 1980s did they start
bottling their own wines. The new generation of Seghesios convinced the old-timers
that investment in stainless steel, temperature-controlled fermentation tanks (to replace
the open-top, cement tanks) and minor details like small oak barrels would be a good
I know the "kids" were persistent and today they're making some
As they own substantial acreage, they're not having to buy expensive
grapes on today's high-flying market. Their "Sonoma"
Zin blend has been a winner for many years now, unfortunately garnering high
scores in some wine journals. We say "unfortunately" because
this means all sorts of people are suddenly hunting for this wine, whether
it's suitable for their taste-buds or not.
So many people need a third party to "validate" their taste in
wine and they get a thrill from putting a bottle on the table and announcing
it "received a 200 point score" from some critic. We've long
been fans of Seghesio's Sonoma Zin, as it's been consistently good.
While we've usually had an ample supply of this wine every year over the
past two decades, now that the wine is famous and stores and restaurants
who've never been associated with Seghesio are suddenly lining up and
demanding their "share." This means a smaller slice of the
pie for long-standing customers such as Weimax.
The 2014 is a good example of Seghesio Zin...deep in color, teeming with
berry-like fruit notes and a hint of an underlying spicy element...it is
drinkable immediately and pairs with a wide range of foods. It comes
from a number of Sonoma vineyard sites and it's blended with a bit of Petite
Sirah which adds color, body and a spice note.
2014 Sonoma County Zinfandel (List $24) SALE $19.99
Sonoma Zin 375ml bottles $12.49
The Biale family has been growing grapes and other crops in the Napa Valley for many
years. One customer, seeing the name Robert Biale on the labels, shrieked out
"Bob Biale! He's a chicken farmer!!!" She used to live in the Napa
Valley and used to purchase eggs from the Biale ranch.
Production of wine is pretty
limited. Chickens, too. They have a number of old vineyards and yet they make
a more gentle style of Zinfandel. The wines tend to have ripe fruit notes and a bit
of wood, but are not strongly oaked. Biale has also been fortunate to be able to
purchase Zinfandel from the Louis Martini "Monte Rosso" property in the
Sonoma Valley (that's nice for Biale, but isn't it a shame that a winery sells old vine
fruit because it's worth more as a "raw material" than as a finished wine by
The 2012 Black Chicken Zin is deep and nicely spicy. It's a wine
showing notes of blackberries and dark cherries...Fruity and I find a nice
shading of oak in the wine.
There's a wine from the Varozza vineyard...a St. Helena site near York Creek
and not far from the Napa River. The vineyard is a mix of older and
younger vineyards and Biale does a nice job of highlighting some of the
black fruit notes of Zinfandel without it going over the top...though it
still is a big, robust red.
Biale has long admired the fruit from the Moore Vineyard in
Coombsville. The Turley winery had been purchasing and vinifying those
grapes, but a friend of Biale's (who's also a winemaker) married into the
Moore clan and now there's a single vineyard R.W. Moore Vineyard Zinfandel
in the line-up. The 2009 is the first vintage...it's got a bit of dark
fruit and a mild spice tone with mild tannins. We're on to the
Currently available: 2009 "VAROZZA" Napa Zinfandel
2012 "BLACK CHICKEN RANCH" Zinfandel (List $48) SALE
HALF BOTTLES: BLACK CHICKEN RANCH (List
$28) SALE $25.99
2011 R.W. MOORE VINEYARD ZINFANDEL SALE
If your name is Duane
David Dappen, I suppose you had no alternatives but to name your
Dappen started his winemaking career working for Mike Grgich at Grgich-Hills
before leaving to work with Dr. Jerry Seps at Storybook Mountain in
Calistoga. From there he went on to work for the Rombauer family
winery. He's making his current wines at the Brown Family winery in
Chiles Valley (Napa).
Under his own label he
makes a rather peppery Howell Mountain-grown Zinfandel. We've
been quite happy with most D-Cubed Zins. They tend to be exuberantly
berryish and have a nice bit of spice to them.
From the 2009 vintage we have their delightfully gentle, yet beautifully
flavorful Napa Valley bottling. It's said to be 100% Zinfandel and it
sure tastes good! Lots of blackberry fruit to this medium-full bodied
red. It's bright, fresh, zesty and has a touch of a cedary note from
the oak. It's smooth enough that we like to serve it at cellar temp.
Currently available: 2009 Napa Valley Zinfandel$26.99
Jonathan Lachs in the Cedarville vineyard
Sierra Foothills seemed to be a hotbed of Zinfandelity back in the early
1970s. Sutter Home was making its deep, robust Deaver Vineyard Zin,
Ridge dabbled with a few Amador Zins and the upstart Montevi˝a were making
waves back in the day.
Since then, Sutter Home makes its money on White Zinfandel, Ridge lost
interest in Amador and Montevi˝a is now owned by Sutter Home and they make
There is a handful of artisan producers in "them thar hills," but
while the region was of interest to California connoisseurs back in the
1970s, being on par with Napa and Sonoma, these days you have to look
diligently to find some worthy bottlings.
One of our favorite estates is Cedarville, a small "Mom & Pop"
cellar owned by a couple of former Bay Area wine geeks. Jonathan Lachs
and Susan Marks had studied winemaking at UC Davis, but took actual
"paying" jobs in the Bay Area to save up enough cash to invest in
their winemaking endeavor.
In the mid-1990s they took the plunge, buying a property in the town of Fair
Play, about a half hour south of Placerville.
The estate comprises about 20 acres, with 15 of those devoted to
vineyards. They farm "sustainably," farming their grapes
organically since 2010.
Zinfandel from this vineyard can be rather charming. The 2013 sure
is. It was a bit cool that vintage and we like the bright fruit and
red berry notes from a year that's not hotter than hell.
There's a hint of plum and a touch of spice here. Petite Sirah may
give a bit of body to the wine and perhaps a spice note, too. It's a
ready-to-drink wine...best now and it should hold nicely for another three
to five years.
Currently in stock: 2013 CEDARVILLE El Dorado ZINFANDEL SALE
Jerry Seps was a professor or European history and he and Mrs. Seps had
purchased a "ghost winery" in a remote location up in Calistoga.
The ghosts inhabiting the place were those of the brothers Grimm, but not
the legendary story-tellers. This Grimm family had roots, and still
does, we're told, in German wine. I know there's a Grimm weingut in
the Rheinpfalz, so perhaps the boys emigrated from there back in the late
Jerry and Sigrid embarked on their enological adventure in 1976 when they
bought the place and planted Zinfandel, partly at the suggestion of
legendary BV winemaker Andre Tchelistcheff. In those days, Cabernet
Sauvignon was often close in price to Zinfandel, for example. We
fondly recall the first wines from Storybook Mountain...the wines were truly
regal in style. (Andre might have also realized Seps might make better
Cabernet there, so he led him "astray" down the Zinfandel
Over the years, Seps has continued to produce elegant wines. This,
despite the current fashion of "Zins-on-Steroids."
Jerry has long been passionate about Zinfandel and I know it pained him to
see so many vintners creating huge, mammoth wines with plenty of color, too
much alcohol and tons of tannin. Seps, I suppose being an historian,
was well aware the market for Zinfandel was nearly killed around the early
1980s since winemakers "pushed the envelope" to the point where
many consumers lost interest. What's the point of buying a wine you
cannot drink? He was also aware of many wineries considering pulling
out their Zinfandel in favor of planting more "expensive"
varietals such as Chardonnay and Cabernet.
I'd seen Jerry one day and he was preoccupied with calling a winery owner in
the Valley to urge him to not pull out his Zinfandel vines! Seps realized he
"needed" more wineries making Zinfandel for the variety to
continue to be viable in the market.
Jerry was instrumental in founding the ZAP group, Zinfandel Advocates and
Producers. He got a few producers together with Margaret Smith, who'd
been at Sunset Magazine years ago and then was working on organizing wine
"events." Together they got ZAP off the ground and today the
San Francisco ZAP tasting is pretty much out of control. Zinfandel
sales continue to be strong, thanks to Seps' great efforts.
Though "new" wineries have sprung up over the years and Turley and
Robert Biale garner high numerical scores from various critics, Seps has
retained his elegant, "claret-styled" Zinfandel. If you're
looking for the huge, late-picked, "gobs-o'-fruit" style of
Zinfandel, Storybook Mountain Zin might not be to your taste. It's not
sweet, jammy or "over-the-top"-styled wine. Jerry, after
all, makes wine for "adults" and he makes wine for "wine
drinkers." He is a "living legend" and the hundreds of
new Zinfandel producers around the state owe him a major debt of
The 2011 struck us as even a bit more vibrant and fruity. Berries and
light spice notes...beautifully balanced and drinkable in its youth.
Very fine and complete...it has a great nose, lovely flavors and a nice
This wine is made for adults, rather than kids, if you know what I mean.
Currently in stock: 2011 Napa "Mayacamas Range" Zinfandel $31.99
Winemaker Jeff Runquist launched his own brand in the mid-1990s after
working at a Paul Masson wine facility in the Central Valley, working at
Montevina winery in Amador County and then at the J. Lohr winery in San
Then he became the winemaker at the McManis Family winery in Ripon,
California, producing oodles (that's a technical term, well understood by
accountants and CPAs) of Central Valley wine.
We gather he's now focused on his own brand and he's making quite a range of
different wines. But his "Z" Zinfandel is a flagship wine
for Runquist and the fruit comes from the old Massoni vineyard in Amador
Jeff has a good recipe for making this wine and it, like most of his wines,
is showy and consumer-friendly in a variety of ways.
What is especially interesting is that Runquist's Zinfandel is consistent in
its big fruit and fragrant oak style. But we're surprised to learn
that Jeff lets his various grape growers "do their thing" in the
vineyard. They even get to make the call as to when the grapes should
If you like a wine that's dark and youthfully purple in color, teeming with
berry-like fruit and framed by plenty of cedary oak, this may be your
wine. It's big, but gentle on the palate, another feature of Jeff's
wines. Runquist describes the wine as a "Pinot Noir of
His style is distinctive, though. I can tell you I've been invited to
be a judge at the San Francisco International Wine Competition tastings each
summer. On Sunday when we have the big show-down of picking the best
of the best, a Runquist wine is often in the mix. And I can pick his
wines out of the tasting, typically. And despite his winning a bunch
of medals, he remains rather down-to-earth.
One time he was riding around with a sales rep whose portfolio featured lots
of wines from winemakers who had lofty opinions of their own wines.
The rep told me "You can buy one case of this winery's Sauvignon Blanc
per order, with one per week being the maximum."
I teased Jeff about what he could "learn" from this sort of sales
program, but Runquist remarked "You know, the only time I want to tell
a customer they can't have my wine is because it's SOLD OUT."
The 2014 is blended with 18% Petite Sirah and it's matured in both French
and American oak.
Currently in stock: 2014 RUNQUIST "Z" Amador County
"Massoni Ranch" ZINFANDEL $22.99
Doug Nalle was the winemaker for an old, long-gone Sonoma winery called Balverne.
He went on to be the winemaker at Quivira, turning out some very fine Zinfandels under
that banner. For years now he's been the captain of his own ship, producing Zinfandel from Dry
Creek Valley grown-fruit (his wife's family have been vineyard owners
In his early days of making "Nalle" Zinfandel, this was a much
sought-after wine. Anybody who knew anything about Zinfandel had to
have Nalle wine. Today, though, not many people know the name, since
the big, brain-buster style of Zinfandel scores points with the
critics. As a result, Nalle is, today, a bit "under the
radar" of most Zin drinkers, though he still has a very loyal following.
Zinfandel comes from older vineyards. Some from seriously older vines. About
20% new French oak each year gives just a touch of a sweet spice to his wines.
Years ago, I was fortunate enough to be invited to taste his 2000 vintage out of barrel, back to each
and every vintage to 1990. These wines, for the most part, age quite nicely.
They are not likely to win blind-tastings, as the wines are not the
"in-your-face," high alcohol, high oak, slightly sweet concoctions which seem to
catch the attention of the critics.
Nalle's Zins are, almost always, less than 14% alcohol. These are wines for the
mature wine drinker, rather than the young whippersnappers out there who need a wine which
The 2012 is all of
13.5% alcohol...there's 9% Petite Sirah and 9% Carignane along with the
Zinfandel. You'll find nice red and black
fruit notes with a faintly spicy undertone (that's Dry Creek for you!)...
For some people, this sort of wine is a bit to subtle...they prefer the
bombastic, pushing-the-envelope, over-the-top, gobs o'fruit sort of
2012 Dry Creek Zinfandel $39.99
known Mark Neal for many years. He runs his family's vineyard
management business in the Napa Valley, cultivating hundreds of acres of
grapes for all sorts of wineries.
He launched his own brand of wine in the late 1990s. Aside from his
wines being well-made and attractive, Mark prices them so consumers can
afford to drink them more frequently than once-in-a-lifetime (unlike many
We like the blackberry fruit notes and there's a faintly spicy tone with
some sweet wood elements.
It's a medium-full-bodied red and ready to drink in its youth.
Currently in stock: 2012 NEAL Napa ZINFANDEL
$23.99 (case discounts, too)
met Leon & Shirley Sobon decades ago and they had just started their
Shenandoah Vineyards winery.
Leon had been employed by Lockheed and was a real rocket scientist who
also dabbled around as a home winemaker.
Things got out of control in the early 1980s and their Shenandoah brand
was quite popular, allowing them to purchase another old-time, family
winery in Amador County: the D'Agostini Winery. ((We had been
fans of D'Agostini's wines, as they were a good source of modestly-priced
I'm pretty sure the boxes of Sobon Estate Zinfandel makes mention of
something like "150 Years of Winemaking." We remember Leon
as being a bit of an "old-timer" back in the 1980s, but we had
no idea he was THAT OLD!
Unlike so many brands of wine from Napa and Sonoma, where wines are priced
to accommodate fancy automobiles, Ivy League educations for the owner's
children and a small yacht in Portofino, the Sobon wines are offered at
prices based upon the cost of production, a modest margin to allow them to
keep the lights on for another year and gasoline for Leon & Shirley's
son-in-law to make sales calls.
The "Old Vines" bottling is produced with the idea of being
immediately drinkable, low in tannin and with plenty of fruit. And
it seems they've nailed it nicely.
We prefer such a soft, smooth red served at cool cellar temperature
(lightly chilled to 45-55 degrees). It's not a wine for aging, so
enjoy the wine while it's young.
Currently in stock: 2014 SOBON ESTATE Amador County
"Old Vines" ZINFANDEL Sale $10.99 (yes, that's
right...ten dollars and ninety-nine cents.)