Wine of the week: Dutcher Crossing 2017 Bacigalupi Vineyard, Russian River Valley Zinfandel
Grapes in the vineyard need the watchful eye of a winemaker during harvest to call the pick. But when the winemakers are forced to evacuate, grapes may be left to wither on the vine.
“It’s scary to walk away from what you have in the vineyards during harvest and not know when you’re going to be able to get back to them,” said Nick Briggs, the winemaker of Geyserville’s Dutcher Crossing Winery.
The winery was under mandatory evacuation orders for 11 days when the Walbridge fire sparked in August.
“Unfortunately, we weren’t able to bring in some of our fruit,” Briggs said. “But fortunately, we didn’t have any wine in the tank at that time.”
The winemaker is behind our wine of the week winner ― Dutcher Crossing 2017 Bacigalupi Vineyard, Russian River Valley Zinfandel at $38. It’s a well-crafted zin with generous fruit and a supple texture. The zin has aromas and flavors of blackberry, black cherry and cracked black pepper. While juicy, the zin has good bones ― good structure. This impressive bottling, with a lingering finish, is a bold incarnation of zin. It’s impressive.
Other zins in the blind tasting include Dry Creek Vineyard 2018 Heritage Vines, Sonoma County Zinfandel at $26; Quivira Vineyards 2017 Black Boar, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County Zinfandel, $55; Wonderment 2016 Pritchett Peaks Vineyard, Rockpile, Sonoma County Zinfandel, $40; and Mount Peak Winery’s Rattlesnake 2016 Sonoma County Zinfandel, $42.
As for the winning Dutcher Crossing zin, the winemaker said he’s shooting for a bold but balanced wine.
“We aim for a ripe style without getting into prune or cooked fruit flavors,” he said. “We want it to be drinkable upon release with the ability to age in one’s cellar for several years.”
But monitoring the pick to pull off ripe yet balanced isn’t an easy feat when it comes to zinfandel, Briggs explained.
“The clusters will have perfectly ripe fruit, under-ripe fruit and raisins all on the same bunch,” he said.
The bottling is weighted to zinfandel but contains 8% of petite sirah.
“It allows us to blend and build out both the aromas and body of the wine,” the winemaker explained. “We view this blend as the best offering we can create every vintage.”
Briggs, 38, graduated from Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo in 2005 with an agribusiness degree. He was just 6 years old when he got his first peek at winemaking. While living north of Los Angeles, he spent his summers near Arcata in Humboldt County, helping out the owners of Oliveira Winery, his family’s friends.
“I got to be around the smell of fermenting grapes,” Briggs said. “Most people don’t get to be around that at that age, and it showed me something that was very interesting.”
Yet winemaking has become more complicated in recent years. Briggs has evacuated twice in the past four years.
“Winemaking is tough enough without the new challenges,” he said. “I had no idea that fires would affect my life so much. But I’ve seen our community continue to grow and bond and help each other ― winemakers, vintners and growers.”
Wine writer Peg Melnik can be reached at email@example.com or 707-521-5310.