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Wine of the week: St. Francis 2013 'Old Vine' Sonoma County Zinfandel

San Francisco will be ground zero for zinfandel fanatics on Saturday at ZAP, the Zinfandel Advocate & Producer’s Grand Tasting, and Katie Madigan will be among those pouring.

Madigan is the winemaker behind our wine-of-the-week winner, the St. Francis 2013 “Old Vine” Sonoma County Zinfandel, 15.2%, $20.

“Even for those who may not favor zinfandel, you will be hard pressed not find one you love,” she said. “ZAP will showcase the best of this varietal by location and by winemaking style.”

Zin lovers from Sonoma County will be migrating in big numbers this year to celebrate the grand tasting’s 25th anniversary, and to get a peek at new zins tumbling onto the market.

More than 150 zinfandel producers will showcase 400 labels from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Pier 27 in the Embarcadero. Tickets range from $80 to $170 at zinfandel.org.

Chris Silva, CEO and president of St. Francis, said, “Zinfandel is my favorite grape, in part because no varietal captures the history of winemaking in Sonoma like ‘old vine’ zinfandel does. Sonoma County is blessed with so many amazing vintners making some truly compelling zins. We are indeed in good company.”

The modestly-priced St. Francis is a juicy, approachable, budget-savvy gateway to ZAP. This fruit-forward zin has notes of boysenberry, cinnamon and tobacco. It finishes with bright red fruit and a hint of cranberry. It’s a steal for the price.

“Zinfandel can be a very complex wine with layered flavors and aromas,” Madigan said. “It’s definitely more supple than many other grape varieties, but that doesn’t mean it’s overtly soft. It’s all about balance.”

The most challenging aspect of making great zinfandel is the harvest, she said.

“Flavor is of the utmost importance with zinfandel,” she explained. “Because the varietal itself has a propensity to ripen unevenly, it can be painstaking to decide how much of a particular vineyard to bring in at once. The 2015 vintage is a great example. Many vineyards were split into multiple picks over a series of weeks.”

Madigan, 35, knows the vineyards well. She began her tenure at St. Francis as a 21-year-old intern during crush in 2002.

“During harvest the proverbial light bulb went off, and I just knew this is what I was meant to do,” she said. “Soon after, I began studying enology and viticulture at UC Davis.”

Madigan stayed on as the lab tech during her studies, and after graduating in 2005 St. Francis was promoted to assistant winemaker. In 2011, when Tom Mackey retired, she took his place as winemaker.

“I think the best winemakers have a distinct love for the vineyard,” she said. “When you take time to care about every aspect, from pruning to harvest, the winemaking never ceases to be fascinating because you do your best to allow the vineyard to express itself.”

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.

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