We entered Hall Wines in Saint Helena on a gorgeous May evening, looking forward to a walk through the sculpture garden as the sun set over the vineyards. The focus of the evening was HALL/WALT Wines’ announcement for the launching of its newest brand. The debut was such a secret that the attendees were asked to guess the new varietal by putting a marble in one of four glasses marked riesling, zinfandel, syrah and merlot. I incorrectly guessed syrah.
Kathryn Hall, amid blue and orange balloons, soon stood by the large, symbolic blue door and introduced her daughter Jennifer Brown who will be spearheading, with winemaker Alison Frichtl Hollister, the new BACA Wines brand that features zinfandel from vineyards in four prime California AVAs. Latin for “berry,” BACA honors the fruit from which it all begins.
BACA will follow the WALT platform by sourcing grapes from established and proven zinfandel vineyards, rather than pinot noir. The Paso Robles, Russian River Valley, Howell Mountain and Rockpile AVAs are among the finest growing regions for California zinfandel, and each enhances BACA’s goal of making nuanced wines.
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The origins of zinfandel are not totally clear; the Wine Institute states that the primitivo in Italy and something called Crljenak Kastelanski from Croatia are an identical match to zinfandel in California. The grape, according to the California Department of Agriculture, is grown in 45 of our 58 counties. American zinfandel comes from California soil, and the diversity of our terroir is on display with the BACA releases.
I am very familiar with the Dante Dusi Vineyard, adjacent to U.S. Highway 101 between Templeton and Paso Robles, having enjoyed their zinfandel through several producers in the local region. A few years ago, I had the pleasure to walk through the vineyard with the late Mr. Dusi, a World War II veteran and seasoned farmer.
As with other wines from this vineyard, the full-bodied BACA Zinfandel Dusi Vineyard ($50), aka “Double Dutch,” is bold with concentrated fruit and spice on the palate and a classic licorice finish. It is aged for 10 months in French oak, 35 percent new.
The Rockpile Vineyard, in the northeast corner of Sonoma County, sits at high elevations above Lake Sonoma with soils and climate described as “wild and rugged.” Higher heat, less fog and rocky, somewhat stressed soils are what zinfandel vines thrive on. The medium-bodied BACA Zinfandel Rockpile Vineyard 2016 ($50), aka “Cat’s Cradle,” is quite complex with floral hints on the nose, a pleasant minerality that combines with the red fruit flavors and spicy finish. It is aged for 10 months in French oak, 35 percent new.
The historic Maffei Vineyard has been producing zinfandel grapes in the flat, easterly portion of the Russian River Valley for nearly 100 years. Over the past few decades, they have sourced their crop to many highly recognized wineries. The loamy soils and foggy marine layer can stress the vines, resulting in fruit-forward wines. The healthy tannins and acidity of the full-bodied BACA Zinfandel Maffei Vineyard 2016 ($50), aka “Tug O’War,” are offset by layered flavors of strawberry and blueberry. It is aged 10 months in French oak, 30 percent new.
In a dry-farmed vineyard high above the valley floor, rich with volcanic soil, the BACA Zinfandel Howell Mountain Napa Valley 2016 ($50), aka “I Spy,” was born. A perfume quality on the bouquet precedes softer tannins and full-bodied dark berry flavors with herbal, floral and spice hints through the finish.
The BACA zinfandels are each nicknamed after games that require agility, dexterity, mental acuity and brut strength. The assorted skills seem to be metaphors for the distinctive four releases.
Due to very limited production, BACA will distribute their wines primarily through a membership list that enables members to purchase up to a case of each, compared to a three-bottle limit for the public. Options include shipments of two, four or six bottles twice a year. BACA will also host a variety of events at the HALL winery site, a benefit of its own.
Among it advantages, BACA Wines offer, for zinfandel lovers, an opportunity for one-stop comparisons of the grape’s expression in different terroir. My initial choice is still the Dusi Vineyard, but I can always be convinced otherwise.