A few weekends ago I had the pleasure of volunteering for ZinEx, a multi-day celebration of all things Zin put on by Zinfandel Advocates and Producers (ZAP). For over 25 years ZAP has not only been celebrating Zinfandel but also celebrating the people and regions that produce it. ZinEx is an annual festival where Zap members come together in San Francisco. You don't have to be a member to volunteer, but I was so inspired by the winemakers and other volunteers that I will be joining.
My responsibilities at the festival began on Friday morning when I arrived at the Bentley Reserve to set up for their guided Zinfandel tasting, known as Flights! That ! sums up the excitement of everyone there, including the volunteers like me. It was a unique opportunity to not just interact with the wine, but those who made it as well. In total there were 16 wines, 8 winemakers, and 3 flights at the session. After Flights!, we enjoyed some downtime before the much-anticipated Winemaker's dinner and auction.
The dinner started with an elegant reception, where participants were encouraged to try wines from any, or all, of the 20+ wineries participating. Each of the participating wineries also hosted a table at the dinner, with the winemaker present to discuss the wines being served. The dinner ended with a live auction, including a painting that had been painted LIVE at the event by George Utrilla of Random Art Studio. In addition to the amazing wine and wine experiences, I’ve got some wonderful photos of the painting on Instagram, but you can see then in the gallery at the end of this post too.
The next day was the Grand Tasting. The morning was spent helping wineries check in, and the afternoon was dedicated to blogging on social media during the big event. ZAP had a #ZinfandelLive vloggers, bloggers, and podcast lounge that included everything a media person could ask for - charging stations, coffee, water, and more. After all the hard work of the past couple days I felt like Cinderella, shedding my apron and being able to focus on blogging. I mentioned this to Seth of Rota Winery who quipped, "More like Zinderella!,” which is where I got the title of this post. There were so many excellent wineries at the tasting it was impossible to taste or write about them all, but I’m including a few that really stood out for me.
I'd like to start with the classics: Chateau Montelena, Grgich Hills Estate, and Ridge Vineyards. Sheri Bowen, Hospitality and Retail Manager did an excellent job of showcasing Chateau Montelena's legendary friendliness and warmth. What I liked most about the 2014 Calistoga Zinfandel were the notes of vanilla spice. While vanilla is not a common note for a Zinfandel, it was delightful, and worked well with the overall flavor profile. Grgich Hills was pouring their 2013 Zinfandel, which made me want to break into my 2012 vintage sitting at home, but I decided it would be even better in a few years. Finally, Ridge had several Zinfandels available for sampling, and as always, all of them were spectacular examples of this varietal. Ridge is also the producer of ZAP’s proprietary Heritage Zinfandel which you should definitely try sometime.
There were quite a few wineries in attendance from Amador County as well. My dad has been singing the praises of Amador County Zinfandel for a long time, and I was pleased to have the opportunity to sample some of their regional specialty. I was also glad to see The Amador Vintners Association promoting not just the individual wineries, but Amador County as a whole. As someone whose day job is marketing, I found it noteworthy that they offered a "passport" encouraging you to visit all the Amador wineries in attendance. They awarded a grand prize for one lucky person who turned in their completed passport. I didn't win, but I had a wonderful time chatting with the representatives of Amador Cellars, Bella Grace Vineyards, Easton Wines, Renwood, and Terra d'Oro. I'll be headed up to El Dorado County in April for Passport Weekend and hope to pop over to visit a few Amador wineries too.
Another wonderful find for me was Bucklin Vineyards, a family run business in Sonoma. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to speak with more than one member of the Bucklin family. This family affair is Sonoma's oldest zinfandel vineyard and they focus on field blends, which are hard to find these days. Though their vineyards are predominantly Zinfandel grapes, they have a helpful and unique varietal map showing the placement of every grape produced by the vineyard. They actually have one varietal that even UC Davis couldn't figure out. I suggested they petition UC Davis to let them name it, and they thought it was a good idea. They said they would keep me posted on the outcome.
One of my favorite parts of the Grand Tasting was Meet the Makers. This interactive round table allowed participants to sit down with the respective winemaker while they discussed their wine and guided a brief tasting. Because of the crowds at the grand tasting, this was the best way to get some more individualized attention. There were multiple winemakers at each session and several sessions throughout the day. My only regret is that I only had enough time to attend one session. At the session I went to I met Michael Talty, of Talty Vineyards and Winery. Like me, Michael credits his love of wine to his father, who was named William Talty. His Dry Creek Zin is a small production, and he graciously poured me and a few others his 2014 Estate Zinfandel which was marvelous. The black fruit contained in the bottle was well balanced and luscious, plus it is always inspiring to see someone who started out as a home winemaker.
All and all it was an incredible few days. I look forward to volunteering at next year’s event, and further involvement with ZAP. There's a gallery below with the highlights, so be sure to check it out!