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An immigrant’s Sonoma legacy: Zinfandel and other Italian varietals

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At Seghesio Family Vineyards, the designation of “old vines” begins at 50 years. (Courtesy photo)

Today, Sonoma County’s Seghesio Family Vineyards is well-known for its fine zinfandel and other Italian varietals and enjoys a large following from those who appreciate exemplary crafted releases, vintage to vintage.

However, Seghesio has been entwined into the fabric of Sonoma wine culture for nearly 125 years, since Italian immigrant Edoardo Seghesio settled in the Alexander Valley and began producing grapes and bulk wine for large wineries.

And, the vineyard is among a select few of today’s California wineries that successfully persevered through Prohibition. Surviving a century and reaching their current status required an ongoing philosophy to avoid complacency by continually striving for something new and better.

Seghesio’s watershed moment began in the 1980s when fourth generation family winemaker Ted Seghesio began bottling wine under the Seghesio Family label. In the early 1990s, the family decided to lower their annual production and focus solely on the grapes from their estate vineyards.

With the transformation from bulk to fine wines complete, the only goal was to get better with each vintage. Currently, Seghesio produces wine from nine estate vineyards on over 300 acres in north Sonoma County.

Recently, I entered the beautiful grounds of their tasting room near downtown Healdsburg intent to discover new current releases from winemaker Andy Robinson.

We began with an Italian white varietal, the 2017 Vermentino ($22) from a Russian River Valley vineyard, that was crisp, well-structured, bone dry with expressive fruit flavors. Seghesio also produces another rare Italian white, the 2017 Arneis ($22)

From this country’s oldest Sangiovese vineyard in Rattlesnake Hill, the pure 2015 Venom Sangiovese($50) is aged in new French oak, concrete eggs and lengthy time in the bottle resulting in flavors that are rich and integrated.

A flight of four zinfandel releases clearly revealed the impact of terroir beginning with my favorite, the spicy 2015 Dry Creek “Cortina” Zinfandel ($40), from vines planted over three decades, that exudes pepper and eloquent red fruit on the palate.

The Rockpile appellation consists of a series of higher elevation vineyards separated by rugged terrain and known for wonderfully stressed zinfandel vines. Although the flavors of the 2015 Rockpile Zinfandel ($50) are more savory, the mouthfeel is lavish and uninhibited.

Seghesio’s designation of “old vines” begins at 50 years and the highly rated 2015 Old Vine Zinfandel($40) blends grapes from vineyards in three different appellations on vines planted 50 to 125 years ago. With small amounts of petite sirah added, this release is well-structured with more restrained flavors than the last zinfandel.

The “old vines” for the 2015 Home Ranch Zinfandel ($58) were planted in 1895 by Edoardo Seghesio on his original property. They were combined with grapes from younger vines that are, surprisingly, credited with pushing flavor to the forefront in this highly praised wine.

People consume and enjoy wine at varying levels, but petite sirah is universally acclaimed because of its structure and accessibility to most palates. The full- bodied 2012 IL Cinghiale Petite Sirah ($38), dubbed the “wild boar,” has a opulent bouquet and demonstrative deep, dark berry flavors. A true value.

Native to southern Italy, aglianico is a grape that develops highly tannic and complex wines that need time to mature. The tasting concluded with the full-bodied 2010 Aglianico ($38) that delivered savory spice, mushroom and red fruit flavors. This wine can require a decade to fully open up. Although the current release is a 2010 vintage, our host suggested decanting for 24-36 hours prior to serving.

Seghesio provides a beautiful setting and amenities like picnic facilities and bocce ball courts designed to enhance the tasting experience. They boast that their wines are food-driven and have developed a wine pairing kitchen where Executive Chef Peter Janiak prepares regular weekend pairing programs as well as numerous seasonal special event dinners throughout the year.

In 2011, Seghesio was sold to a large investment company that owns other wineries in the Napa-Sonoma region. However, family members are still involved daily in all facets of production and operations.

While the history and sustainability of Seghesio Family Vineyards is impressive, the real story is their diverse estate vineyards and the ability to consistently produce well-crafted, complex wines. Their zinfandel releases are among the best in California.

Lyle W. Norton is a wine enthusiast and blogger in Santa Rosa who has written a wine column for 15 years. Visit his blog at www.lifebylyle.com or email him at sfewine@gmail.com. He is a guest columnist.

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