|Michael Phillips during a recent Indianapolis visit.|
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.”
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.”
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.