Photo courtesy of Visit Napa Valley
Back around 100 B.C. (Before Cabernet, circa 1860) Napa Valley was a booming wine frontier as westward-bound fortune seekers turned their attention to vineyards. Shaped by two coastal mountain ranges and gifted with a combination of alluvial and volcanic soils, bright sun, and the cooling Pacific, Napa Valley’s long growing season was a magnet to pioneering winemakers. Hundreds of wineries and thousands of acres of vines sprang up in the valley as Napa entrepreneurs by such names as Osborne, Crane, Crabb, Krug, Beringer, Niebaum, Sutter and Schram realized both the potential of the land and the national thirst for domestic wine from out West in sunny California.
Among the myriad of grape varieties becoming available via shipments of grapevine stock to California, it was Zinfandel, the ancient grape of the Adriatic coast of all places, that became the grape of choice for winemaking. A Perfect fit – Zinfandel became the main grape in Napa Valley in those early years. These days Napa Valley has added international members to its still family-centric winemaking community and has become a luxury lifestyle brand that is basically synonymous with the idolized grape of the prestigious chateaux of the Medoc in Bordeaux – Cabernet Sauvignon. Many, but not all, of Napa’s bottle prices for Cabernet Sauvignon-based wines can range up into the hundreds of dollars – in a couple of cases – thousands!
So, is Zinfandel still relevant in Cab-rich Napa Valley? You bet it is!
Despite Cabernet’s dominance and pricey status, Zinfandel still accounts for about 3% of Napa Valley’s acreage and there is a fanatical, preservation-minded subset of winemakers who believe the pioneers were right all along about favoring Zinfandel in Napa Valley. Since Zinfandel production has become so specialized in Napa Valley, it is nowadays something of a rare treat! Zinfandel styles in Napa range from sublimely elegant to rich and bold depending on the winemaker and the vineyard. As for value, Napa Valley Zinfandel comes in as an amazing bargain compared to its Bordeaux-y brethren.
Since Napa Valley has a daunting selection of approximately 375 wineries, 150 restaurants, and 130 lodgings, it is highly recommended that you have a good plan in place to spend your time wisely. Use the Zinfandel Trail www.zinfandeltrail.com planner to help you map a selection of Napa Valley’s Zinfandel wineries, or to make it easy, we have created an adventurous two-day itinerary for you of 5 Napa Valley Zinfandel secret cellars, along with a hit list of suggested places to stay and eat that will make your trip a memorable one.
So for the Zin-venturous, here is a featured “underground” route to follow for the lower-profile Zinfandel “speak-easies” among Napa’s posh shrines to Cabernet. These farming-based artisan wineries totally belie the perception that all of Napa Valley has become over-commercialized, and they are all highly regarded by Zinfandel-savvy aficionados.