Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Zinfandel Advocates and Producers Tasting

Fruity. Spicy. Powerful.”, were the words heard around the Deerfield table at the 2012 Zinfandel Advocates and Producers (ZAP) Tasting, as Winemaker Robert Rex quickly filled the glasses of the boisterous Zin-thusiasts. These adjectives, used by Winemaker Robert Rex, describe the varietal that Deerfield Ranch Winery is increasingly becoming known for “Zinfandel”. The wines Robert was describing were the “fruity” 2007 Sonoma Valley Zinfandel, the “spicy” 2008 White Perry Zinfandel and the “powerful” 2007 Dry Creek Valley Old Vine Zinfandel.  As Robert Rex explains it, “We’ve learned more from making Zinfandel than any other wine.” The challenges brought on by the Old Vine Zinfandel have called for new techniques to be created and old ones to be honed. With this experience, the other Zinfandels have become more balanced, better tasting and more intriguing over time. Our Zinfandels were once again received positively by the tasters at this years ZAP event. It became common-place at the Deerfield booth to hear, “This is the best Zinfandel I’ve tasted today”. With over 200 wineries present, this was quite the compliment. So what exactly has made Deerfield ‘Famous for our Zinfandel’?

If accolades determine what is ‘famous’, then this is part of the answer. Deerfield has received various awards for Zinfandels over the years. For 12 out of the past 15 years we have recieved 90 - 95 Points in the Wine Enthusiast for our Old Vine Zinfandels. The current release 2007 Sonoma Valley Zinfandel and the 2007 Dry Creek Valley Old Vine Zinfandel won Gold medals in this year’s Sonoma County Harvest Fair. Other recent reviews and awards for Deerfield Zinfandels include: Best Pick in blind tasting by the Tennessean Magazine and silver in the 2010 SF Chronicle Wine Competition for the 2006 Old Vine Zinfandel; Best Red Wine in the 2010 Winefest in Edmonton, Canada and Wine of the Show in the Rocky Mountain Food and Wine Festival for the 2005 Old Vine Zinfandel. These awards are definitely appreciated and something the Deerfield family is proud of - but as Robert Rex says “ We are not in the business of accumulating awards”. There is more to what makes Deerfield Zinfandels both spectacular and special. Just look at the history.

The first Zinfandel in America was planted in Sonoma Valley in 1850, the White Perry Vineyard is on the very same property as the first Zinfandel Vineyard. The Deerfield 2007 Sonoma Valley Zinfandel has 38% of its grapes from the White Perry Vineyard. The rest of the fruit is from the Los Chamizal Vineyard which is a stones throw from the first planting. This heritage brings an abundance of quintessential Zinfandel flavors such as dark berry fruit and white pepper. As Robert puts it, “If you want to know what Zinfandel should taste like, this is it.” Our Old Vine Zinfandel comes from vines that have been producing grapes for 125 years. We have been making wine from these vines for over 30 years. This powerful Old Vine Zinfandel is a challenge to produce. The vines don’t ripening evenly, the grapes lack sufficient nutrients for the yeast and high alcohol causing the fermentation to stop or stick before all the sugar is converted. These problems have taught us how to make great Zinfandel. As you can see, Deerfield Zinfandels have a rich and rare history to back them up. This history brings along with it characteristics that make the wine very special.

The positive reviews, top awards and rich history Deerfield Zinfandel carries with it are merely additions to what makes all Deerfield wines what they are. Our motto at Deerfield is “Taste The Passion”. We use the best barrels and grapes that come from growers that are just as dedicated as us, we triple hand-sort the grapes, use the most gentle production techniques, experiment with the latest ideas while operating from the foundation of tradition. The wines are lovely in appearance, fruity in the nose, balanced and delicious. Deerfield wines are also clean, meaning they have very low histamines and sulfite levels so that they produce no headaches or allergic reactions. Essentially, Deerfield Zinfandels are spectacular Deerfield representatives, but try them all!

Heritage of Meritage

There are many people in the wine world, even expert wine enthusiasts and professionals, that pronounce the word ‘Meritage’ incorrectly. They have a tendency to Frenchify the word ‘Meritage’ by pronouncing its last syllable with a ‘zh’ sound, as in ‘garage.’ The Meritage Alliance specifically states that the word should be pronounced to rhyme with ‘heritage’- MEH-rih-tij. This is a made-up word, registered as a US trademark, that wineries use to identify their Bordeaux blends.

The Meritage Association was formed in 1988 by a small group of Napa Valley vintners increasingly frustrated by U.S. regulations stipulating wines that contain at least 75% of a specific grape must be labeled as that varietal. Interest was growing to create Bordeaux-style wines, which by their blended nature fail to qualify for varietal status. Wineries sought to create a recognizable name for their high-quality blended wines and it was getting hard to keep track of them all. As these wines cannot call themselves "Bordeaux" without infringing upon the Bordeaux region's legally protected designation of origin, the Meritage Association organized this collaborative effort to define a "Bordeaux Blend" of grapes that was done on non-French soil. They had over 6,000 people submit choices for the name of this blend, and "Meritage" won. This is a deliberate combination of the words "Merit" and "Heritage". By 1999, the Meritage Association had grown to 22 members. Shifting its focus from trademark policing to education and marketing resulted in swift growth. By 2003 the Meritage Association had over 100 members, including its first international participants. In May 2009, the Meritage Association announced that it has changed its name to the Meritage Alliance. As of August 2009, the Alliance had over 250 members.

So now that you know the history and correct pronunciation of the word ‘Meritage’, lets get into what exactly makes up a Meritage wine. First off, its a blend of Bordeaux varietals. No grape can be over 75% of the blend or else it is designated as that varietal. In order to be considered a red Meritage the blend must be made up of at least two of the following grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petit Verdot. A white Meritage must be made up of at least two of the following grapes : Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon. Also, in order to earn the name "meritage" the wine can't be a mass-marketed wine. The winery's release of a Meritage must be under 25,000 cases. It has to be a "high-end" wine for the winery - it can't be their bargain basement offering and is intended to showcase the high quality wines.

At Deerfield, we take pride in our Meritage wines. Winemaker Robert Rex makes two different types of these blends with unique specifications. The Deerfield Meritage is made from the above mentioned Bordeaux grapes from a single vineyard. The Deerfield DRX is made from the best tasting barrels of the Bordeaux varietals in the wine cave (marked with an “X” by the winemaker). These our our flagship wines!


Crisp, fruity, lean style chardonnay or oaky, buttery style chardonnay? What’s your preference? Some would say they love a glass of “ California Chardonnay” that is big, expressive, has lots of vanilla, butter and oak. Others prefer a Frenc...
h style Chardonnay with fruit characteristics leaning toward the crisp fruitiness of apples, pears and lemon.

During the 1980’s the buttery, oaky style Chardonnay was at its peak of popularity. Partially due to the advent of the “Spago” style menu, with choices likes Chinese chicken salad, breast of chicken salad and the pasta craze; the American palate developed a liking for the smoothness of Chardonnay with the butteriness of a pasta or chicken dish. During this time Oaky, buttery Chardonnay also became a popular cocktail substitute for women at bars. Soon this oaky, buttery Chardonnay hype created a negative conotation for this type of wine.

Depending on the type of oak the wine was aged in will determine the specific oak characteristics. French oak adds smoke, caramel, vanilla or butterscotch ; while American oak creates dill and coconut tastes. The problem with oaky Chardonnay and the emergence of phrases like ‘ ABC’ or ‘ Anything But Chardonnay’ by restauranteurs was that winemakers began over oaking chardonnay. This grew as a phenomenon because winemakers were attempting to emulate the legendary white Burgundies. In Burgundy, barrel fermentation and aging are standard practices for the finest wines. But the weather is very cool there, and Chardonnay grapes struggle to fully ripen, producing fruit with low sugar levels and high acidity. This fruit can stand up to the use of oak barrels, absorbing subtle complexity rather than harsh woodiness. In warmer regions, such as California, the fruit produced is riper with high sugars and lower acidity. If this kind of fruit is subjected to intense oak regimen, it often becomes woody and the lush fruit character of Chardonnay is overwhelmed.

Butter is often ascribed to oak. This is a common misconception. A process called malolactic fermentation is used to convert the tartness found naturally in grape skins into lactic acid which creates a buttery, creamy feeling and taste and adds roundness to the wine. A Chardonnay can be buttery without being oaky.

Many claim that the natural varietal taste and smell of Chardonnay is often disguised by the dominating winemaking signatures. Chardonnay’s primary fruit characteristics lean toward crisp, fruitiness of apples and pears but the varietals body is capable of supporting characteristics such as oak, butter and vanilla. In an effort to reproduce the great whites of Burgundy, Chardonnay has often been subjected to excessive oak fermentation and aging, These wines lose their varietal and regional signatures.

Not to say that french, more acidic, lean style chardonnay is better than it’s oaky, buttery counterpart. It’s simply a matter of taste.

Deerfield Ranch Chardonnay is more Burgundian in style. We focus less on oak and butter and more on the subtle nuances of flavor from the fruit, plus balanced acidity and layered complexity.