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Wine of the week: Beltane Ranch, 2019 Heins Block Estate Zinfandel

Tasting Room: Zinfandel

Beltane Ranch, 2019 Zinfandel, Heins Block Estate, 15.5%, $52, 4.5 stars. A touch earthy, this is a striking zinfandel with generous fruit. Aromas and flavors of raspberry, currant and anise. Balanced, with crisp acid and nice length, it’s spot-on.

Bella Grace Vineyards, 2017 Zinfandel, Amador County Estate, 14.6%, $38, 4 stars. Black cherry and currant aromas follow through to the palate, with a hint of cracked black pepper. Balanced, elegant and light on its feet. Impressive.

Monte Volpe, 2018 Primitivo, Mendocino County, 15.5%, $23, 4 stars. This primitivo (also known as zinfandel) has high-toned fruit of cranberry and pomegranate coupled with notes of anise and cracked black pepper. Lingering finish. Well-crafted.

Rodney Strong, 2018 Old Vines Zinfandel, Sonoma County, 14.5%, $26, 4 stars. A jammy zin with notes of raspberry, blackberry and boysenberry. Savory, with just a hint of anise and sage. Balanced, crisp and refreshing. Top-rate.

Decoy, 2018 Zinfandel, Sonoma County, 13.9%, $25, 3.5 stars. A food-friendly zinfandel that’s elegant and refined, with bright fruit. Balanced and buoyed by crisp acid, it’s a solid pick.

Sheep often roam through the 25-acre vineyard at Beltane Ranch in Sonoma Valley. It’s a holistic approach to grape growing.

Alex Benward, 39, is the fifth generation of his family to live and work on the ranch that dates back to 1936. Benward works closely with winemaker Kevin Holt to bottle his grapes; the duo is behind our wine of the week winner — the Beltane Ranch, 2019 Zinfandel, Heins Block Estate, 15.5%, $52.

A touch earthy, the Beltane Ranch zinfandel is striking. It has generous fruit with aromas and flavors of raspberry, currant and anise. Balanced, with crisp acid and nice length, it’s spot-on.

“I want zin to have impact but with balance, to be a large-scale wine, but one that is not over-the-top,” Holt said. “In other words, classic Sonoma Valley zinfandel, but with a unique Beltane Ranch flavor that shines through.”

Including the Beltane Ranch vineyard, the ranch encompasses a sprawling 105 acres and is well-known as a bed and breakfast. Its grounds are bucolic, with 4 acres of olive orchards, as well as hiking trails. One path that loops around the property cuts through the vineyard, past the orchards by the horses, burros, longhorn cattle, sheep and food garden.

In addition to wine grapes, the ranch grows heirloom stonefruit, raspberries and organic vegetables. Beltane is also home to laying hens and honey bees.

The focus with farming is on grooming premium grapes, according to Benward. The Beltane Ranch label produces 1,800 cases per year and operates out of Fel Wines in Sonoma.

“This cobbly, volcanic site has a long history of producing premium fruit a stone’s throw from some of Sonoma Valley’s original 1860s plantings,” he said.

The vineyard was first planted in 1879 by pioneer viticulturist John Drummond, who produced wines from the site. In 1892, businesswoman and civil rights advocate Mary Ellen Pleasant acquired the property. Pleasant is said to be the country’s first self-made woman millionaire and was renowned at the time as one of the wealthiest Black women in the U.S., according to Petaluma resident Janet Gracyk, who was part of a team that successfully advocated for the property to be recognized as a Historic Black Landscape by the National Park Service.

Pleasant named the property Beltane Ranch and built the landmark ranch house for farm hospitality accommodations.

In the 20th century, Benward’s family bought the ranch as a home and working family farm. They began replanting the vineyards in the 1970s with a focus on fine-wine growing for vintner clients in Napa and Sonoma. Then, in 2009, the family began making its own wine under the Beltane Ranch label.

“We’re focused on producing high-quality wines by using regenerative practices and pulling inspiration from the wisdom of the farmers before us,” Benward said.

Exploring the terraced hillsides of the Douro Valley in Portugal inspired Benward to farm grapes. He said he also was drawn to the wine industry because of his childhood memories of the hustle of harvest in Sonoma Valley.

“We believe in the work it takes to shape the wines in the vineyard,” Benward said. “The wines are the result of a long-term commitment to quality through stewardship. It takes the hands of many.”

Wine writer Peg Melnik can be reached at peg.melnik@pressdemocrat.com or 707-521-5310.

Peg Melnik

Wine, The Press Democrat

Northern California is cradled in vines; it’s Wine County at its best in America. My job is to help you make the most of this intriguing, agrarian patch of civilization by inviting you to partake in the wine culture – the events, the bottlings and the fun. This is a space to explore wine, what you care about or don’t know about yet.

Tasting Room: Zinfandel

Beltane Ranch, 2019 Zinfandel, Heins Block Estate, 15.5%, $52, 4.5 stars. A touch earthy, this is a striking zinfandel with generous fruit. Aromas and flavors of raspberry, currant and anise. Balanced, with crisp acid and nice length, it’s spot-on.

Bella Grace Vineyards, 2017 Zinfandel, Amador County Estate, 14.6%, $38, 4 stars. Black cherry and currant aromas follow through to the palate, with a hint of cracked black pepper. Balanced, elegant and light on its feet. Impressive.

Monte Volpe, 2018 Primitivo, Mendocino County, 15.5%, $23, 4 stars. This primitivo (also known as zinfandel) has high-toned fruit of cranberry and pomegranate coupled with notes of anise and cracked black pepper. Lingering finish. Well-crafted.

Rodney Strong, 2018 Old Vines Zinfandel, Sonoma County, 14.5%, $26, 4 stars. A jammy zin with notes of raspberry, blackberry and boysenberry. Savory, with just a hint of anise and sage. Balanced, crisp and refreshing. Top-rate.

Decoy, 2018 Zinfandel, Sonoma County, 13.9%, $25, 3.5 stars. A food-friendly zinfandel that’s elegant and refined, with bright fruit. Balanced and buoyed by crisp acid, it’s a solid pick.

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