The 10th annual Zinfandel Advocates and Producers tasting brought an estimated 9,000 Zin lovers to San Francisco's Fort Mason Center on Jan. 27. More than 250 wine producers from all over California poured their latest releases in side-by-side pavilions -- the first time the event has had to spread to two buildings to accommodate the crowds. ZAP, a nonprofit organization dedicated to educating the wine-drinking public about Zinfandel, continues to break its own records every year for the largest tasting in the world dedicated to a single grape variety.
This year's tasting introduced more than 50 new ZAP winery members to the public. Here are some of the new faces -- from grapegrowers-turned-winemakers to people who started by making wine in their basement -- and the wines they were pouring.
Pouring: 1999 California Moush Zinfandel ($25) and 1998 California Moush Zinfandel ($25)
Gary Agajanian (pronounced ag-a-JANE-yan) considers himself primarily a grapegrower who makes wine for a hobby. The Agajanians have been farmers since Gary's grandfather came from the Armenian village of Moush to California in 1922, and began working for Mission Bell Winery. Gary's father planted the family's first vineyard in 1930, and later sold the property to Gary, who always wanted to be a farmer. As import/export director for the Safeway supermarket chain, Gary maintained close ties to growers of all types. Responsible at Safeway for everything from "apples to zucchinis," Gary longed for independence and farming. After taking wine courses and practicing for a few years in his garage, Gary was ready to release his first wine: 428 cases of 1998 Zinfandel. Production goes up to 1,500 cases with the 1999 vintage.
Pouring: 1999 Paso Robles Zinfandel ($27), 1999 Paso Robles Reserve Zinfandel ($35) and 1998 Paso Robles Zinfandel ($27)
Young and enthusiastic, husband-and-wife team Brock and Michelle Waterman have been intent on pouring their own wine at ZAP for six years. "It sounds kind of corny," Michelle confessed, "but we love wine, we love Zin, we had a dream and we just did it." The couple met six years ago when Brock was working at the Elk Grove Brewing Company, south of Sacramento. Brock switched from beer to Zinfandel when they moved to Paso Robles. Brock, now a mechanical engineer, and Michelle, an office manager for Southcorp Wines, debuted their first release: 50 cases of a 1998 Zinfandel from grapes grown on their 20-acre property. Production goes up to 300 cases in the 1999 vintage, when the Watermans release a reserve bottling, from select vines in their estate vineyard.
Pouring: 1999 Lencioni Vineyard Zin ($22)
You might say that Camellia Cellars has a "Inn" in the winemaking business. Since 1983, guests of the Camellia Inn have received complimentary wines made by owner Ray Lewand, his daughter, Chris, and son-in-law, Bruce Snyder. The inn, located in downtown Healdsburg, in Sonoma County, was originally built in 1869 and for a while operated as the town's first hospital. The overwhelming response from guests and friends of Camellia Cellars encouraged the Lewand family to make more wine, and they began to release their wine commercially with the 1997 vintage. This small-production winery has steadily grown and released 220 cases of the 1999 Zin last year. Camellia Cellars is producing a Cabernet Sauvignon, a Zinfandel, a Sangiovese and a Sangiovese-Cabernet blend for release later this year.
Charter Oak Winery
Pouring: 1998 Napa Valley Zinfandel ($35)
Robert Fanucci and J. Murry Baria met in 1987 while working at a Napa law firm. For years they tossed around the idea of starting their own winery, an idea that culminated with their first commercial release, the 1998 Napa Valley Zinfandel. As a boy, winemaker Rob Fanucci learned how to make Zinfandel by working with his Italian-born grandfather on homemade wine. Later Fanucci fine-tuned his winemaking skills by experimenting in his basement. Having winery clients gave the partners access to consultants and grape sources. Both attorneys now wistfully dream of turning Charter Oak Winery into a full-time business. Only 80 cases were made of their first vintage, but production rises to 400 cases with the 1999 release.
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