Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Dry Creek Valley: Dutcher Crossing Bernier Sibary Vineyard Zinfandel

Field blend wines are those for which various different grape varieties are grown and harvested together, then cofermented.  19th century winemakers found it advantageous to blend the wine in the field, rather than use separate barrels for each grape variety. Today's methods are more expensive, but more flexible.  However, those longing for Zinfandel the way great-great-grandaddy used to make it can find field blend Zin in Dry Creek Valley.

As noted in the first of this series, Dry Creek Valley is located in Sonoma County, with a history of grapes that dates back to California's Gold Rush days. The valley is 16 miles long, two miles wide, and sustains 9,000 acres of vineyards.  I was supplied with three field blend Zins from Dry Creek Valley for the purpose of a BrandLive virtual tasting event with the winemakers in January 2014.  This is the second wine in the series, from Dutcher Crossing.

Dutcher Crossing has an estate vineyard and sources fruit from a handful of other local grape-growers.  This field blend Zinfandel - Dutcher Crossing Bernier Sibary Vineyard Zinfandel 2012 - is named not only for the vineyard from which the grapes come, but also for the grower.   Jane and Scott Sibary partner their hillside vineyard property with grower Paul Bernier.  The land is planted to organically farmed Zinfandel, intermixed with Petite Sirah, Carignane and Mataro - more often called Mourvèdre.  The object of the planting method was to make a Zinfandel wine with nuances from the other varieties.

In 2012, the vineyard was harvested in mid-October.  Winemaker Kerry Damskey says the long hang time was critical to the ripening of the interplanted Carignane and Mataro.  Temperatures held fairly steady through the season and no inclement weather hampered the growing.  During the video presentation, Damskey revealed that he and another man are responsible for all the Zin vines in India, having brought them there in a suitcase.  Who knew?

Damskey was able to produce 477 cases of this Zin, which retails for $43 per bottle.  The blend is 75% Zinfandel, 10% Petite Sirah, 10% Carignane and 5% Mataro.  He likes the "mushroomy" notes added by the Mataro grapes.  The 14.9% abv alcohol number is fairly high, even by Zinfandel's usually lofty standards.  During vinification there were 22 days of skin contact, insuring a rich color.  The wine spent 14 months in barrels, 30% of which were made from new French oak.

The wine's foil cap is adorned with the image of a vintage high-wheel bicycle, which was given to proprietor Debra Mathy by her father.  It is stated on the winery's website that the velocipede "represents Dutcher Crossing's pursuit of quality small-lot winemaking, the guiding power of her father's imagination and the journey that lies ahead."  Ride on, sister.

This is a big Zin, and it shows it right away.  Its dark purple color and a huge blast of alcohol on the nose tip the scales towards brawny expectations.  After some time, the alcohol blows off.  There is a sweetly medicinal aroma left draped over the fragrance of dark fruit and cigar tobacco.  On the palate, a bit of bramble joins an otherwise elegant display of dense, dark fruit.  A long finish features cassis and spices.  Tar notes come forth on the second night open.

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