In many ways, Healdsburg is my “home base” in Sonoma County. My first press trip, essentially, was there, my first article that received any sort of “attention” was about Dry Creek (just north of Healdsburg), I have ridden far more miles within 30 miles or so of the town than any other region in California (and I was riding there when I received the rather sad news that one of my childhood mentors had died), there are several winemakers there that will literally drop anything to see me, two of my dearest friends (until very recently) lived there, and another great friend lives right there in town.
Healdsburg is also the hub of several major Sonoma appellations that radiate out seemingly from its center. Dry Creek Valley, the Russian River Valley, Alexander Valley, Chalk Hill, and even Knights Valley and Rockpile are all easily accessible by relatively short (but also quite hilly) rides from downtown Healdsburg.
So yeah, I have a lot going on in Healdsburg.
What I did not know about Healdsburg is that there is a fairly high concentration of legendary Zinfandel vineyards within just a few miles from Healdsburg’s town square. As a part of the Zinfandel Advocates and Producers (ZAP) effort to highlight many of the legendary Zinfandel vineyards across California (I wrote a piece about a few legendary vineyards in Paso Robles for ZAP’s website last year), I was invited to partake in a tasting of a few Zinfandels from around Healdsburg.
The first came from the Maple Vineyard in Dry Creek Valley, which is on Dry Creek Road and Lytton Springs Road, a spot that I have ridden past at least a couple dozen times without even knowing about the vineyard. The oldest block (now referred to as Tina’s Block) was planted in 1910 to about 80% Zinfandel, with the rest a curious mix of “petite sirah, carignane, mission, black malvatia (a.k.a cincault), grenache, and some still-unidentified-black grapes” (from Maple Vineyards). That block was originally slotted to be ripped out and replanted, but Tina and Tom Maple (who purchased the 30-acre vineyard in 1988) instead nursed it back to life and it now produces some of the most coveted fruit in Dry Creek.
2018 Armida Zinfandel Maple Vineyard, Dry Creek Valley, CA: Retail $44. Under cork. B.A.B. 92% Zinfandel, 8% Petite Sirah. Tina and Tom Maple had farmed this vineyard together from 1988, when they purchased the vineyard, until Tom’s untimely death in 2015. Since 2015, the vineyard has been maintained by David Rafanelli. A lot to unpack there. The wine? Particularly after a bit of time open? Close to a Whoa. The nose is rather refined: black cherry, raspberry, plenty of earth, jasmine, lavender. OK. Whoa. The palate is equally noteworthy with luscious fruit, rampant acidity, a hint of dark earth, and incredible balance. Zin, for whatever reason, does not get its due as a serious wine. This is a serious wine. Outstanding. 94 Points.
The second wine comes from the Russian River Valley, perhaps more known for its Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Limerick Lane is another roughly 30-acre vineyard whose oldest block was also planted in 1910. Jake and Alexis Bilbro purchased the vineyard a hundred years later and like the Maples, they decided to reinvigorate the ancient vines and restore the vineyard to its former glory. If the bottle I tasted is an indication, they have succeeded.
2019 Limerick Lane Zinfandel Russian River Valley, Sonoma County, CA: Retail $42. 100% Zinfandel. Here is a quick tip for you: if you see “Russian River Valley” and “Zinfandel” on a label? BUY IT. Sadly, Zinfandel is a bit of a dying breed in the Russian River, but there are a few hold-outs and they are more than worth it. I now add Limerick Lane to that list. Yowza. Big (but not over-powering) fruit (cassis, plum, loveliness), black pepper, hints of anise, and black pepper. Close to a whoa. The palate? Certainly fruity but that fruit is not dominant–there is a ton of tart acidity, more than a modicum of earth, and a mineral-flinty aspect on the finish. Whoa. Yeah, this is a big, kinda brawny, bodacious Zin. Outstanding. 93 Points.
The last wine came from Mauritson (a fantastic winery in Dry Creek Valley) and the Rockpile Vineyard, which looms over Dry Creek at the northern end of the valley. I have ridden up to Rockpile a few times and it is a bit of a religious experience–I spend most of the time praying to several gods that I can survive the climb to the top.
2018 Rockpile Winery (Mauritson) Zinfandel Jack’s Cabin, Sonoma County, CA: Retail $49. 95% Zinfandel 5% Petite Sirah. Winegrapes were first planted in what is now Rockpile Vineyard in 1872, when it was far more difficult to access the vineyard near Lake Sonoma at the northern end of Dry Creek Valley. Mauritson makes several different wines from Rockpile’s 10 distinct vineyards including this Jack’s Cabin Vineyard which is at nearly 1000 feet and has 15% slopes. Dark and a bit brooding in the glass with black cherry, a smidge of mocha, black pepper, and a decided floral aspect (violet?). The palate is fruity and rich with multiple layers of complexity, and is also fairly light on its feet (14.6% ABV), finishing with considerable fruit and delicate tannins. Outstanding. 93 Points.