I took a road trip to Healdsburg, California, to Seghesio Family Vineyards in Sonoma County. This winery celebrates a historic milestone with 125 years of harvesting its flagship grape, the legendary Old Vine Zinfandel. Although “old vine” is an unregulated term, Seghesio applies it exclusively to vines of at least 50 years.
Edoardo Seghesio planted his first Zinfandel vineyard in the Alexander Valley in 1895, and he is considered one of the oldest winemaking names in Sonoma. Through earthquakes, Prohibition, the Great Depression, droughts and fires, five generations of the Seghesio family stayed on course 125 vintages later to establish themselves as Sonoma’s exalted Zinfandel specialists. Today, Seghesio Family Vineyards encompasses over 300 acres in Sonoma growing regions of Alexander, Dry Creek and Russian River Valleys.
Once arrived, I was handed a glass of 2019 Vermentino, which set the stage for tasting Italian-style wines. This white wine had a bright acidity and would be perfect with seafood or shellfish. But no food could be served, due to Covid-19 restrictions; alas, I gratefully began tasting more Seghesio wines.
I hadn’t expected the first tasting of red wines to be the Italian varietal, Barbera. I was elated to begin with this 2017 Barbera made with grapes from Alexander Valley. Winemaker Andy Robinson took an old-world approach to craft this (and every) wine, and I have to say… this Barbera didn’t actually taste like the Old World Italian Barberas I’ve enjoyed in the past. The Seghesio version of this peasant grape was much more sophisticated in style. It offered a burst of raspberry goodness with a juicy finish, reminding me more of a pinot noir.
But I digress. I was here to taste zinfandel wines of which Seghesio produces 14 versions.
I was more than ready for the first taste of 2017 Mariah Zinfandel. The grapes that make up this wine hail from Mendocino Ridge and grown at an elevation of 2,600 feet, which gives these grapes a bit more minerality to produce a bright, cool-climate wine. Spending 14 months in an oak barrel added baking spices of clove and slight forest floor notes. The tannins were bold enough to let this sit for a few years, no problem.
Next, a 2017 Cortina Zinfandel from grapevines planted in the early ‘70s proved how different a wine can taste when its grapes are planted on the valley floor. This wine hails from grapes harvested at Chen’s Vineyard in Dry Creek Valley (I’m a huge fan of this region), and I have to say… wow. Elegant, yet bold. Balanced and a perfect expression of how a zinfandel should be made. Boysenberry, mulberry, cedar, clove… it’s all there.
Kudos to the dedicated vineyard team, led by Viticultural Director and fifth generation Seghesio family member Ned Neumiller, who maintains several blocks of 100-plus-year old-vine Zinfandel, including the original vines the founders planted in 1895 at Home Ranch in Alexander Valley, of which I am excited to taste next.
Four percent of the 2017 Home Ranch Zinfandel was crafted with those old vines of 1895, with an added smidgen of petit syrah, attributing to its darker color. This estate wine offers complex characteristics and a great intensity I fully enjoyed. Incredible structure and dark berry notes with a nutmeg finish. Oh, yes. I truly tasted the integrity of purple.
Before I departed my outdoor tasting spot, I enjoyed one more wine – a 2018 Paso Robles Zinfandel that tasted more like grenache to my palate. This might be explained by the winemaking techniques Robinson utilizes, which are more commonly associated with First Growth Bordeaux or Grand Cru Burgundy than with California Zinfandel.
Said Robinson, “Our roots, just like those of the old vines we tend, run deep in Sonoma County and we have a responsibility to the Seghesio family name to make wines that celebrate the American dream of our founders—Italian immigrants who came to this country to build a family and a future. As we’ve evolved, so too has our idea of family to include not just the one you’re born into, but also the one you choose. This is the inclusive and welcoming spirit that inspires everything we do.”
All I know is I’ve become a huge fan of Seghesio Family wines.
Charlene Peters is a travel, food, wine and wellness writer with a newly published book, “Travel Makes Me Hungry”. She can be reached by email: SipTripper@gmail.com