Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Story Behind 7 Deadly Zins a Tasty Tale

The story behind one of the best tasting and most successful value wines has good winemaking, gratitude to terrible sweet wine, and a long family history of fruit production to credit for its success.

7 Deadly Zins is one of the easiest to find value wines in the $10-$15 price range. It’s 100 percent Zinfandel and consistently a favorite of critics and fans. It’s made by Michael David Winery, Lodi, Ca., an area best known for its full-flavored Zinfandel.

“I was in the winery making wine and I wanted to taste what other vineyards tasted like for Zin,” Michael Phillips recently told me. “So I bought some grapes from my seven growers and put them in barrels separately. You could taste the difference between those seven old vine vineyards. The grapes were grown by my uncle, neighbor across the street, cousin down the road, and my best friend from high school. We had a couple old vineyards next to the winery. They were all different to a certain extent.”

Michael Phillips during a recent Indianapolis visit.
Phillips recognized a distinct taste of Lodi in all seven wines but knew his winery couldn’t bottle seven different Zinfandels and expect success. 

“So I said lets combine all seven and call it 7 Zins,” Phillips said. “So I went to my brother (David), who was doing more of the marketing at the time and gave him my idea. He said let’s tie it to the seven deadly sins we learned in grammar school. We made 800 cases that first year and sold out in two months.”  

To say the wine took off is a bit of an understatement. The 2002 release of 7 Deadly Zins was gone in no time and the brothers knew they had found something special. The Michael David Winery today produces nearly 300,000 cases of wine annually with more than 200,000 cases under the 7 Deadly Zin label.

Back when it all started in the 1980s the winery was simply known as Phillips but there were other Phillips wineries in California so the brothers put their first names on the bottles to become Michael David Winery.

The family story actually goes back much further. The Lodi family farm has been producing fruit of all sorts since the 1860s.

The brothers have fun with the names and labels marketing wines under the names of Earthquake, Incognito, Rapture, and even Freakshow. But it’s that $9-$12 Deadly Zin that makes the fun possible.
Zinfandel has been called “California’s grape.” As opposed to Cabernet, the Zin vines thrive past 100 years old and produce deeply flavored grapes.

“That’s what put Zinfandel on the map,” Phillips said. “It’s that taste of spice, the fruit and it’s easier to drink than tannic Cabernet.”

Oddly, California’s old vine Zins were probably saved by what many consider the bane of the wine Zin industry – white zinfandel. “Whie Zin helped those vines survive,” Phillips said. “When Sutter Home wanted all that white Zin in the 70s it kept those old vines from being ripped out and planted to whatever Gallo wanted at the time.”

Zinfandel is one of those wines that is sometimes targeted for its over-the-top fruit and alcohol. Phillips fights right back.

“We have a style it took me time to develop,” he said. “The longer we let the grapes hang on the vine the better  quality gets. The alcohol is going to be a little higher, but if you handle it right it’s not a negative. You get better color, more body and basically that’s our Michael David style.

“Fruit is good. People want fruit. Now, it can’t just be fruit and it can’t just be high alcohol. It can’t just be big tannic wine either. That’s why Napa buys so much of our Lodi fruit because it has a fruit component they don’t have. That’s the kind of stuff they don’t want you to know or tell you about but fruit is the key. People like fruit, and so many people are switching to that style – and Lodi has it.”

Howard Pick’s:

7 Deadly Zins – This easy to find value bottle can be found at $9-$14 a bottle. It is consistent and easy to appreciate. It has a bold in-your-face dark fruit flavor on the palate that pairs well with food.

6th Sense Syrah – This French-style 100 percent Syrah is beautiful wine that’s stunning for the $15 price point. It has a huge rich nose, dark purple color with hints of licorice, juicy dark fruit and a very pleasant and lingering finish.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Long Road from Louisville to Saint Jean de Minervois

It’s a long path from Louisville, Ky., to Saint-Jean-de-Minervois in Southern France. But that’s the journey Brown University graduate John Bojanowski took in transformation from literature major to Languedoc winery owner.

Bojanowski was recently in Indianapolis to promote his Clos du Gravillas wines and visit family in Kentucky. His journey is an interesting one as is the unique Languedoc wine he champions.

Bojanowski attended prestigious Brown University in Providence, RI., and wanted to travel. He landed a job in the computer industry that took him to 50 countries in five years. During that time he met Nicole who wanted to be a winemaker. They went in search of just the right property to open their winery. 

John Bojanowski at Indy's Tastings
“When my wife started she wanted white limestone gravel, which is what our soil is because you get freshness and minerality out of that to balance what the sun does to the grapes,” he explained. “But Carignan was what we started with because that’s what she was able to buy. “
Their property included Carignan planted in 1911.

Carignan is an often-maligned grape. It is a dark-colored and strong flavored wine. Some will even call the nose offensive and the taste can be strong. But the old vine Carignans can produce deeply flavored and rich wines. Small amounts of Carignan is consistently found in most Languedoc blends.
“We discovered that Carignan could be more than just okay. It can be really, really good. We’ve made it our purpose to tell everybody about it.”

Clos du Gravillas is a small production winery featuring wines made from 15 different grapes. “So it’s sort of like being an artist with 15 different colors on the palette. We try to figure out what each of those grapes are best for and how we can make it the best wine.”

The Languedoc is the largest wine-producing region of France.

“The Languedoc is on the Mediterranean. It’s between the Rhone River and Spain. Our winery is three hours form Barcelona and six hours from Paris. It’s sunny, beautiful and rain free almost all summer. You find very different terrain when you go a half hour drive in any direction from sea to flatlands to plateaus to mountains. It’s a beautiful place and wine grapes have been grown there for 2,000 years.”

The warm weather, the region averages 315 days of sunshine a year, produces ripe fruit. “We pick the grapes ripe which means a certain amount of sugar, a certain amount of alcohol, so they’re not little wines. We practice very natural and organic farming and then natural non-interventionist winemaking, and fermentations.  We try not to do too much besides getting really great grapes, putting them into the tank and letting them become wine.”

Clos du Gravillas wines are available in some Indiana restaurants and fine wine shops. John’s wines are above the value price points usually featured in Grape Sense. His wines are in $30-$50 range.

Languedoc wines are widely available in the $12-$16 range. Finding a 100 percent Carignan isn’t impossible but could be difficult; it will be worth the effort.

Howard’s Picks:
Le Rendez Vous du Soleil 2007 - This is a nice extracted blend of Cabernet, Syrah, Mourvedre, Grenache, Counoise, Tanet, Terret Gris, and Carignan. This is big rich red wine that is beautifully balanced with big dark fruit. (SRP $42)

Lo Vielh Carignan 2007 - This is the real star in John's stable and the supply alloted Indiana has already sold out. This is the 100 percent Carignan from vines planted more than 100 years ago. Its a big incredible wine that has a smoothness unlike many Carignan wines. It's outstanding fine wine. ($53)

Howard W. Hewitt, Crawfordsville, IN., writes every other week about wine for 18 newspapers. Contact him at: hewitthoward@gmail.com