We sent this out as an email and then mentioned it again in our Sunday ‘week that was’ piece. But we think this deal is so extraordinary, we want to make sure that everyone gets a look at it as, at the time of this writing, our source still has some wine:
“The odyssey continues, but the story lines are as interesting now as they were back some three decades ago when we started with Ravenswood, though for entirely different reasons. Back in the 90s, Ravenswoods single vineyard wines were iconic. We used to have ‘Ravenswood Day’ where we would offer up our allocations of these well reviewed , exceptional Zinfandels for distribution. At the time we, a single store, were one of Ravenswood’s larger customers in California. We sold everything from those compelling single vineyard bottlings to their ‘lowly’ but exceptionally performing ‘Vintners’ value series.
Then, one day, it all changed. OK, maybe not all of it. The key issue was that one of the first significant winery acquisitions of the modern era in California took place. Winemaker/mind behind Joel Peterson and his partner Reed Foster sold Ravenswood to Constellation in 2001 for $148,000,000. That’s a lot of zeros. Can’t blame them for taking the money, but the rub was Joel had to stay and help keep an eye on things. Small price to pay for that kind of coin and Joel, always the businessman, saw the wisdom in the move.
Once one of the most recognized brands in California, Joel had to know that the only way for the new owners to recoup that kind of investment was to ramp up production. Once Ravenswood ‘went corporate’ most of the winery’s long term loyal supporters figured production of the personality filled, well-priced Vintners wines, as well as their other regional varietal bottlings, would predictably add a zero to their production level and churn out tens of thousands of cases of soulless corporate juice. Predictably, that happened.
The same folks also dismissed Joel’s treasured line of single-vineyard Zinfandels as going ‘corporate’ as well. What now? Would there be some 50,000 cases of ‘Big River’ or 200,000 cases of ‘Old Hill’. No. With these small, ‘heritage’ sites covered with low yielding old vines, there was no way to boost production. The current iteration of Ravenswood does indeed put out a million boxes of Vintners Blend wines now. But the historic single vineyard program has remained essentially the same as it was ‘back in the day’. We talked with both Joel and his long-time winemaker Peter Mathis, who made Ravenswood wines for 20 years, and both of them had no clue why Ravenswood’s Historic Single-vineyard program was no longer revered.
Our best guess is ‘guilt by association’. Certainly, there was an emphasis by the corporate bean counters to deliver big numbers. There were ‘stockholders’ and all sorts of new criteria by which Ravenswood would be judged. As to the single-vineyard jewels upon which Ravenswood built their reputation in the first place, there was little reason to spend corporate marketing dollars to promote them. In fact, we’d guess that the accounting dept. gets downright annoyed to have to keep track of such tiny numbers. Eventually the media pretty much stopped talking about them.
Anyway the results of this story led us to a remarkable cache of Ravenswood’s treasured single vineyard Zins at fantastic prices in May of last year. Don’t ask us about the machinations that brought this about, we couldn’t tell you. But we sent that offer to an enthusiastic audience. We were pretty sure we were ‘killin’ it’ at $24.99 on Old Hill, Big River, Dickerson and Barricia, about the price we sold these special Zins for decades earlier in the mid-90s.
But even more inexplicable is the offer we are rolling out today on that 2013 Ravenswood Barricia Zinfandel. What happened? Beats us. Everything with this program is the same or better. Even though Joel’s bank account is larger, he still has ‘the fire’ concerning these vineyards. The vineyards themselves are still the same, too…. old and super low-yielding. This is still some of the most treasured dirt in California. Are they made the same way? Pretty much. Joel himself says so, except now they can buy better equipment with a corporate bankroll.
So how did an outstanding example of true California Zinfandel, from a revered vineyard, made under the auspices of one of the true Zinfandel masters, end up at this kind of price? Again, we have no clue, but we don’t care. We simply grabbed every box we could of this once-in-a-lifetime offer. This Zin is sourced half from Zinfandel planted prior to 1892 and the balance from new plantings of Zin and Petite Sirah, which makes up around 20% of the blend. That Petite gives the wine heft and another level of complexity.
The nose shows brambly blackberry and black raspberry augmented by brambly notes. Big in the mouth with notes of pepper and spice, this one shows expansive volume yet both the tannins and acidity are nicely integrated. The wine hasn’t skipped a beat over the years. The only thing missing is the ‘aura’ of times past. At roughly 1/3 the typical price, we can deal with that. If you love Zinfandel, here’s a legendary Zin for a remarkable fare… ”