Dry Creek Valley and Zinfandel have decided to become what Napa and Cabernet Sauvignon already are – “soil mates” matching a terroir with a grape variety. They’ve been living together for more than a century, and now they want to make it official.
It will be a French-style marriage. Zinfandel will have discreet dalliances elsewhere, particularly down south in Paso, and Dry Creek will always have a special fondness for Cabernet.
Of course, all grape-to-ground relationships, whether swept up in passion or calmly deciding let’s-first-see-if-we-can-live-together, have to consider what the parents – the forces of the marketplace – will bless. Some parents are concerned only with pedigree – what scores and reviews are these relationships getting? And other parents are only concerned with finances. If there is not the right demand at the right prices, then your mother and I won’t give you a red cent of investment to get started.
Three real examples: In that Garden of Eden that California was the 1970s, Cabernet Sauvignon and Napa Valley were such an immediate success that the parents demanded a shotgun wedding following the Judgment of Paris in 1976 – great scores, great prices, smiles from the god Parker. While some other terroirs were interesting suitors, in the end they couldn’t compete. Cab + Napa became the Brad and Angie of the California wine world.
Second, take West Side Paso Robles and Syrah. High-level passion! Beautiful children with great SATs! But the parents who demand great prices and great market demand still aren’t satisfied, so Syrah may eventually become a grizzled-on-the-vine, forever bachelor.
Finally, Pinot Noir. We’ve always known that Pinot Noir is a fickle little thing, and now it appears that she is just plain not monogamous. Carneros has been pleading for her to settle down with him for years. Santa Barbara promised her a lifetime of great sunsets. Now, Sonoma Coast has become a suitor, offering her an adventurous, if often stormy, relationship by the Pacific. And let’s not talk about her running way to Oregon. After Sideways, the Pocketbook Parents loved her, but the Pedigree Parents still moan, “She’s a cutie, but she’ll never be Burgundy.”
Anyway, I got the wedding announcement the other day from D.C. and Zinny. Actually, I had been expecting it, because together they make such beautiful offspring, and all the other writers have also been saying great things about them for decades. Their card proclaimed “A Century of Great Zin” and, “At its heart, over a century of Zinfandel vines, farmers, vintners and families with a shared history and tradition of wine excellence and influence on the world of Zinfandel.” I shed a red-tinged tear of joy!
Picking a date when this relationship started is a bit iffy. The first recorded commercial Zinfandel vinted in Dry Creek was in 1872 – 140 years ago – and vines were planted much earlier, immediately after the Gold Rush of 1849. But only four of 16 wineries made it through Prohibition when love grew cold, and two of them, J. Pedroncelli and Frei Brothers, kept the spark burning until now. Over the past two decades, Zinfandel’s lineage has been traced back to southern Italy. If the ancestors weren’t noble, they are said to be “good people.”
Today, there are more than 60 wineries and 9,000 acres of Zin vines in the 16 x 2 miles valley. The cool nights and hot days matched with well-drained soils and minimal rain during growing season make for well-ripened, well-balanced grapes.
Officiating at the beginning of the season-long celebration, which will kick off with bud break and the blessing of the vines, are the Winegrowers of Dry Creek Valley (www.wdcv.com). There is some concern that the High-Alcohol Prohibitionists may object that the wedding should not take place because Dry Creek Zins regularly come in at over 14%, often over 15%, but their objections are expected to be hooted down as being “sour grapes.”
If you can’t attend (tout-le-Healdsburg would love to have you visit), go out and buy a case – hell, buy two cases – of Dry Creek Zin and pop a cork. It’s the vinous world’s equivalent of kissing the bride.