Wine of the week: St. Francis, 2018 ‘Old Vines’ Sonoma County Zinfandel
The vintage of 2020 made winemakers humble, aware that firefighters were a part of their winemaking team.
“We are so thankful for the support of the first responders who worked so hard to keep us safe during the Glass fire,” said Katie Madigan, winemaker of Santa Rosa’s St. Francis Winery. “They literally had our backs as the fires came close to the winery. We were extremely fortunate and had little damage to our buildings. We had started picking before the fires, so I’m making some wine. But sadly we had to leave a lot of grapes on the vines this year.”
Madigan is behind our wine of the week winner — the St. Francis, 2018 “Old Vines” Sonoma County Zinfandel, 15.2%, $22. With this zinfandel, generous fruit meets edgy spice. It has aromas and flavors of blackberry, dried cranberry and cracked black pepper, with a hint of cinnamon in the mix. It has nice length, and it’s a steal for the caliber of this zinfandel.
Other tasty zins include Acorn, 2016 Heritage Vines, Alegria Vineyards, Russian River Valley Zinfandel, 14.5%; Bogle Vineyard, 2017 California, 14.5%; Dutton Goldfield, 2018 Morelli Lane Vineyard, Dutton Ranch, Russian River Valley Zinfandel, 14.5%, and Peachy Canyon, 2018 Adelaida District, Mustang Springs Zinfandel, Paso Robles, 14.4%.
As for the St. Francis zin, Madigan said she’s shooting for one that’s “alluring with the aroma, yet retains traditional spiciness on the palate.”
The winning zin, the winemaker said, is comprised of 22 different zinfandel vineyards spanning the length of Sonoma County, with some close to 100 years old.
“The 2018 vintage was a cooler vintage overall, so being patient with grape maturity was a necessity,” Madigan said. “I have a whole list of criteria that I use to determine when a vineyard is ready to be picked, but for me, top of the list is taking the time to know a vineyard’s history and listening to that inner voice that says it’s ready.”
Zinfandel is notorious for uneven ripening, she said, so paying attention is crucial.
“Each zinfandel vineyard seems to follow its own set of rules, from watering practices (if any), cluster formation to fermentation behavior in the winery,” Madigan said. “It takes constant attention.”
After studying chemistry at UC Santa Barbara, Madigan, at 21, worked the harvest at St. Francis. She then earned a certificate in viticulture and enology from UC Davis. Now 40, the winemaker rose through the ranks of lab tech and assistant winemaker.
“My parents have always been into wine, and as I started tasting it with them I realized that you can make it the exact same way year after year, but the wine itself may taste completely different,” she said. “I was intrigued by that and wanted to know why.”
Madigan credits her curious nature for her winemaking prowess.
“I’m constantly asking myself how I can make better wine, be it in the vineyard, in the winery or what the consumer is looking for in style,” she said.
Wine writer Peg Melnik can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 707-521-5310.
Wine, The Press Democrat
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