With around 10,000 attendees, the Zinfandel Advocates & Producers Festival—held January 23-26 in San Francisco—has a vibe Bruce Walker affectionately calls “a Zinfandel reunion.”
It’s when grape growers, winemakers and vineyard owners—as well as enthusiasts—gather for several days to celebrate this luscious, complex wine with deep California roots.
Zinfandel was first planted in the state in 1850. “In a short number of years it became the most predominant grape planted in California, until around 1970,” says board member Walker, also president/co-founder of Starry Night Winery and director of Hungary’s Monarchi Winery. “It really was the catalyst for the entire industry in California.” In fact, two years ago the state legislature named Zinfandel the most historic grape.
Since the festival’s debut 17 years ago, participation has grown exponentially, particularly noticeable during Saturday’s Grand Zinfandel Tasting, which began with about 20 wineries and has since blossomed to more than 275. This year, inside Fort Mason Center, 283 California producers poured their Zinfandel, a combination of barrel samples, new releases and wines already at the retail level. Participants received a baguette and ZAP-logo wine glass upon entry.
On Wednesday the panel “Flights: A Showcase of Zinfandels,” brought together Prof. Jim Wolpert (UC-Davis Department of Viticulture & Ecology), historian Charles Sullivan (researcher at The Smithsonian) and Mike Dunne (Sacramento Bee’s wine and food editor). After the discussion commenced a tasting of 38 rare Zinfandels from all of the state’s growing regions, paired with foods prepared by The City College of San Francisco Culinary Arts & Hospitality Studies program. Two tastings were also held: “The History, Mystery and Magic of California’s Oldest Vineyards: A tasting of Zinfandels from Vineyards 100 years old-or older,” and “Deconstructing Zin—Component Tasting.”
Then, on Thursday night, Zinfandels proved their diversity in options during a dine-around marrying wineries with chefs. Food pairings included sausages, ribs, lamb, Asian pumpkin soup, goulash, chocolate desserts; and signature dishes belonging to Spanish, Moroccan and Mexican cultures. “What attracted me to Zinfandel were the regional differences, and the differences in various appellations where you get all kinds of sensory components and flavor profiles,” says Walker. Barbecue from Maine, and chili from New Jersey, were also served.
Friday’s “Evening with the Winemakers” took place at The Westin St. Francis Hotel and included a live auction, as well as a VIP dinner. Bottles of the 2006 Heritage Vineyard Zinfandel were poured for the first time (the 2005 vintage, made by William Knuttel of Dry Creek Vineyard & Ottimino) was available for purchase the next day at the Grand Tasting). Between 25 and 30 wineries were featured. Among the 25 items at the live auction were a vertical of Ravenswood beginning with the 1976 vintage, a 15L (Nebuchadnezzar) of 2005 Heritage Zinfandel, a Mexican fiesta for 15 at Chase Family Cellars’ vineyard in St. Helena, a collection of 36 California Zinfandels, and hand-painted bottles by various artists. A silent auction included about 150 selections, from a Ridge Vineyards vertical to a mixed case of Gold Medal Zinfandels from the Los Angeles International Wine & Spirits Competition.
The next ZAP will be January 28-31, 2009. Stay tuned to ZinWorld.org for further details.