Before we go any further, if you found this through a QR code…..awesome! I want you to hear from Matt Reid, the winemaker for what’s in your glass and someone I’m happy to call a friend, before I move on. Here’s his story in his own words, explaining about People’s Wine Revolution (PWR):
Ok, so let’s get into the wine a bit since I can’t tell his story in any more detail than he can.
So, Zinfandel. First and foremost, it’s a grape that has an outsized significance in consumers minds, while winemakers have a love-hate relationship with the grape.
Even in California, there was actually more Zinfandel planted in California than Pinot Noir up until a few years back. Here’s what plantings state wide looked like back in 2014:
So why do winemakers have a lot/hate relationship with a grape that consumers obviously will purchase? Mainly, it’s because there’s something of an obsession with old vine zinfandel. For good reason too, the older Zinfandel vines get, the better the resulting wine tastes. Cheaper, newer Zin often tastes something akin to being watered down, but with all the tannins. Not a good combo.
So winemakers fret. Can they find enough old vine zin to quench your thirst? Is anyone going to ever plant Zinfandel in a region that grows grapes well, if an old vine zinfandel takes the average length of time for a vine to mature from 5 years, to over 30 years. (Heck, I had a winemaker tell me that she wouldn’t call something an old vine, until it hit 100 years old).
But, Zin in many ways is native to California. It grows and grows well in a variety of climates. From the warmest spots where we think wine grapes do well like the Sierra Foothills, to some other spots that you haven’t heard of.
Like Poor Ranch. This is Mendocino County as I often picture it and the vines are located in the town of Hopland. Hopland is a 1 stoplight kind of town. It’s the kind of place you don’t find by accident and in some ways, feels forgotten by time and modernity.
In many ways that sense of being forgotten is more than a simple sense. Back 20-30 years ago, in many regions around the state Zinfandel was getting pulled out, for Cabernet, or even (agast) Merlot. But growers in Mendocino and the Foothills, largely couldn’t make the numbers work. Sure, their grapes weren’t fetching high prices, but could they afford to go 5 years with no grapes to sell? The pay back, for these lesser known spots was too long. Plus, Hopland and the surrounding Anderson Valley was still back then at least, considered marginal. It was going to be too cold to ever grow good grapes right?
So the Zinfandel stayed planted and while the vines were aging, the marketplace turned. Pinot Noir took off. Mendocino’s wine growers came up with an innovative marketing program called Coro Mendocino that focused on Zinfandel.
Sure, Mendocino is going to be known for Pinot Noir. It boasts some of the best sites for the grape in the state, but it’s got a lot of Zinfandel. An inordinate amount of that Zin is planted on these small, family farms in obscure places.
That’s why a winemaker like Matt can find a few tons of these grapes, before others. He was looking for something specific. Zinfandel grapes that didn’t necessarily have to be old vine, but had to mimic the characteristics. As it turns out, cooler climates tend to thicken up Zinfandel the same way that vine age happens to.
Sometimes though you get lucky. Porter Ranch is home to 4 generations of the Porter family and these are some of the oldest Zinfandel vines in the state. Even if the vines are new, they’re grafted from these old vines, with many times the amount of genetic diversity needed to call it unique to this vineyard site. Originally planted back in 1880, the vineyard isn’t contiguous as you’re likely picturing in your head, instead certain family members it seems over the years has taken it upon themselves to plant some grapes. So there’s an acre here. An acre there. 3 acres on the ridge. ETC. In fact from the oldest planting to the newest, it’s at least 3 miles as the crow flies. We’re talking about a vineyard that’s both dry farmed and certified organic while being grown at elevation, three other factors that many winemakers theorize could contribute to the impression of vine age.
The size and complexity is also why Matt can buy these grapes and perhaps a larger conglomerate cannot. I’ve heard similar stories by quite a few folks in Mendocino County, that people coming from Santa Rosa seem like too much of city folk. They want a business deal for their large winery. While the people on the farm, want to sell to someone trying to do it on his or her own. That’s where Matt falls in the line and I think you’ll see that to make a wine for $18 of this quality, quite a few things had to fall into line.
Enjoy the Zinfandel. If you’ve got a steak on the BBQ, all the better.