Wine of the Week: Bella Grace Vineyards 2016 Amador County Old Vine Zinfandel
Thirsty grapevines never sit idle; their roots claw through the earth for the nourishment they crave and the painstaking process - surprisingly - can create wines that are absolute standouts.
Thirst played a crucial role in our wine-of-the-week winner - the Bella Grace Vineyards, 2016 Amador County Old Vine Zinfandel at $29. This is a pretty zin with aromas and flavors of bright cherry, subtle oak and white pepper. It’s a tempered, yet tasty zin with an undercurrent of spice. This elegant zin is a food-friendly incarnation that’s just lovely.
“Seven years of drought led up to this wine’s harvest,” said co-?owner and winemaker Michael Havill of the winning Bella Grace Vineyards zinfandel. “Every year the vines had to work harder to find the water … the flavors became much more concentrated, and it’s always about the grapes. If you have high-?quality grapes, you can make a great wine.”
The profile Havill said she’s shooting for is an easy-drinking zin.
“We want this zin to work with food and we want it to work at the campfire,” the winemaker said. “With a (Sierra) Foothills zin, people are expecting something a little more fruit forward. We don’t want a big, plummy high-alcohol zin.”
Havill, 71, joked that becoming a winemaker “was foisted” upon her. After spending more than two decades as a managing partner of New York Insurance in Walnut Creek, Havill and her husband Charlie expected to retire in the Sierra Foothills after buying a vineyard.
“We were going to be gentleman grape growers,” she said. “We were going to ski and travel, but in 2006 we had 6 tons of syrah ready to harvest with no one to buy it.”
Havill sought out the advice of Joe Shebl who produces Fiddletown Cellars wines, and today he serves as a consulting winemaker for the couple.
Havill does not have a degree in enology, but she said “I’m self-taught, but I have a good wine consultant.”
The most challenging part of making zinfandel, Havill said, is to remember to keep it simple.
“Always respect the fruit,” she explained. “Trust that the grapes know how to ferment and you’ll find the answer if things go awry.”
Havill said she’s always been resilient, and perhaps it comes from having a first name typically reserved for men.
“When I was growing up in the 1940s, my mother and grandmother listened to a detective show on the radio and the heroine was a woman named Michael,” Havill said. “They thought it was a good, strong name for a woman because these two were very strong and very liberated for that era.”
The heroine of Bella Grace Vineyards doesn’t plan to retire anytime soon. She continues to follow her palate from one year to the next.
“I do think I have an excellent palate,” Havill said. “The more discerning your palate is when you’re in this business, you can taste what’s there and what’s not there.”
You can reach Wine Writer Peg Melnik at firstname.lastname@example.org or 707-521-5310.