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ZAP's Simply Summer Celebration showcases the complexity of Zinfandel

Zinfandel Advocates & Producers: Simply Summer Celebration
Zinfandel Advocates & Producers: Simply Summer Celebration
Melissa Vogt

A foggy morning gave way to a beautiful, sunny afternoon for the first annual Simply Summer Celebration, hosted on Saturday, August 16th, by Zinfandel Advocates and Producers (ZAP). For its first year, attendees would agree that the event was highly successful. Over four hundred guests attended and more than fifty wineries poured their best Zinfandel in the setting of the iconic Lytton Springs Vineyard at Ridge Vineyards. This specific vineyard site is well known for growing classic Dry Creek Zinfandel grapes and couldn't be any more appropriate for an event put on by ZAP. With wineries from local regions like Sonoma and Napa, as well as wineries from further regions such as the Sierra Foothills, Lodi, and Paso Robles—there was surely a style of Zinfandel to please every palate.

As guests entered the shaded tasting lounge in the middle of Lytton Spring Vineyards, ZAP was pouring their Heritage Zinfandel, which is produced each year by a different winemaker. The Heritage Zinfandel grapes are grown at the UC Davis Oakville Research Station in Napa Valley and ZAP has been collaborating with UC Davis to "provide superior Zinfandel selections to growers as the basis for future plantings" (ZAP). The Zinfandel Heritage Vineyard Project, as ZAP calls it, "is an unprecedented collection of rare and famous Zinfandel vine cuttings grown throughout California" (ZAP). By annually allowing one winemaker to produce wine from the grapes grown in these vineyards, ZAP is able to give their Zinfandel producers the ability to work with amazing fruit and turn it into high quality, limited production Zinfandel. The ZAP Heritage Zinfandel is only offered through ZAP and poured at ZAP events, making this Zinfandel a rare treat to taste.

The 2012 ZAP Heritage Zinfandel—made this year by Chris Leamy, Winemaker at Terra d'Oro Winery and Montevina Winery in the Sierra Foothills—possesses lovely strawberry, raspberry, and blackberry fruit—both on the nose and on the palate. The twelve months in 50% neutral and 50% two year old French oak gives this Zinfandel a silky texture and medium body, which was just perfect for sipping in the warm weather. The acid and tannins are both well balanced and the finish is long and beautiful. One could not ask for anything more from a Zinfandel produced by an organization dedicated to promoting this wonderfully complex varietal.

From Sonoma County, notable Zinfandel producers such as Ridge Vineyards, Pedroncelli Winery, Kokomo Winery, Sbragia Family Vineyards, Novy Family Wines, and Dutcher Crossing Winery, were in attendance. Proulx Wines from Paso Robles stood out amongst the other wineries from their region at the event, as did Chase Cellars from Napa. m2 Wines represented the Lodi region very well and of course, from the sierra Foothills, Terra d'Oro Winery and Montevina Winery led the way.

Ridge Vineyards, Sonoma County
Ridge Vineyards, Sonoma County Melissa Vogt

Ridge Vineyards, Sonoma County

Ridge Vineyards, whose estate was the setting for the event, poured two Zinfandels—the 2012 East Bench and the 2012 Lytton Springs. The 2012 East Bench boasts dark fruit and cocoa on the nose. Candied cherry and blackberry pie flavors fill the palate with just a touch of baking spice. The 2012 Lytton Springs is made from 70% Zinfandel and the remaining fruit 30% is a blend of Petite Sirah (21%), Carignane (6%), and Mataro (3%). Bright fruit on the nose gives way to a lighter style Zinfandel, full of cranberry and strawberry on palate.

Sbragia Family Vineyards, Sonoma County
Sbragia Family Vineyards, Sonoma County Melissa Vogt

Sbragia Family Vineyards, Sonoma County

Sbragia Family Vineyards impressed palates with two of their newly released Zinfandels: the 2012 La Promessa and the 2012 Gino's Estate—a Wine Club only release. The 2012 La Promessa possesses a full body with delicate pepper, oak, and tannins. The lovely blackberry and raspberry fruit is pleasant on the palate. The 2012 Gino's Estate is far more robust than La Promessa with forward notes of vanilla, plentiful oak, and a rich, full body. With gripping tannins and a noticeable amount of oak, this Zinfandel takes over the palate—flooding the taste buds with beautiful blackberry jam flavors and intricate complexity. The Gino's Estate is pleasantly intense and surely won't disappoint a palate that expects expressively oaked Zinfandel.

Proulx Wines, Paso Robles
Proulx Wines, Paso Robles Melissa Vogt

Proulx Wines, Paso Robles

From Paso Robles, Proulx Wines poured lovely Zinfandels with a nice range of complexity. Their 2011 Merveille is rich with a full body and flavors of cooked wild berries, such as blackberry, raspberry, and blueberry. There is also a touch of pepper on the back of the palate that balances out the fruit and provides desired complexity for the entire tasting experience. The 2011 Willow Creek Farm is made from fruit harvested from sixty-five year old vines that are dry farmed; this Zinfandel is much spicier than the Merveille. With notes of blackberry jam, a luscious body, and excellent pepper on the palate, this powerful Zinfandel is a wine that one would prefer to sip on its own, just to experience the complexity on the palate without interference from food.

Chase Family Cellars, Napa and M2 Wines, Lodi
Chase Family Cellars, Napa and M2 Wines, Lodi Melissa Vogt

Chase Family Cellars, Napa and M2 Wines, Lodi

The 2013 Rosé of Zinfandel from Chase Family Cellars in Napa exhibits great body with crisp strawberry fruit on the palate—perfect for enjoying on a warm summer afternoon. The 2011 Hayne Vineyard also possesses bright red fruit, such as raspberry and cherry, alongside floral notes of violet, subtle oak, and a pleasant mouthful of baking spices.  From Lodi, m2 Wines poured two old vine Zinfandels from the Soucie Vineyard—one produced from fruit grown on the east side of the vineyard and the other from the west side of the vineyard. The Zinfandel produced from the west side of the vineyard boasts bright raspberry and strawberry fruit with gentle oaking that doesn't interrupt the fruit forwardness of the wine. The Zinfandel produced from the east side of the vineyard shows riper fruit on the nose and palate. Blackberry and cherry pie abound, followed by notes of ripe raspberry and blueberry.

Terra d' Oro Winery & Montevina Winery, Sierra Foothills
Terra d' Oro Winery & Montevina Winery, Sierra Foothills Melissa Vogt

Terra d' Oro Winery & Montevina Winery, Sierra Foothills

Terra d'Oro Winery and Montevina Winery are located in the Sierra Foothills. Tasting Room Manager, Tracy Dehn, was pouring Zinfandel from both wineries—which are both part of Trinchero Family Estates. The 2010 Montevina Amador County Zinfandel shows bell pepper and herbs on the nose. The palate possesses notes of bell pepper as well, followed by blackberry and plum fruit with a bit of spice. The 2011 Terra d'Oro Amador County Zinfandel also shows bell pepper on the nose, alongside earthy, mushroom scents. On the palate, this wine has fantastic spice with dark, ripe blackberry fruit and gentle oak—though the oak is more noticeable than in the Montevina.

From start to finish, the Zinfandel never stopped flowing at Zinfandel Advocates and Producers' Simply Summer Celebration. There was Zinfandel with ripe, baked fruit flavors, lighter styles with less oaking, and heavier, more robust styles with strong tannins, noticeable spice, and intense oak. From one end of the spectrum to the other, every palate was pleased by the complexity of this amazing varietal. Guests couldn't have been any more grateful for the opportunity to taste such a fantastic range of California Zinfandel in such a beautiful setting, on a perfect summer afternoon.