Watkins Family Winery

2005 Zinfandel/Petite Sirah

Zinfandel •Taylor Mountain & Fall Creek Vineyards

California: Sonoma County

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Mission Codename: Hillside Expressions

Operative: Agent White

Objective: Visit Watkins Family Winery and acquire their delicious Zinfandel/Petite Sirah blend.

Mission Status: Accomplished!

Current Winery: Watkins Family Winery

Wine Subject: 2005 Zinfandel/Petite Sirah (Taylor Mountain & Fall Creek Vineyards)

Winemaker: Randall Watkins


Zinfandel is related to the Italian Primitivo grape, tracing its origin to the Croatian grape Crljenak Kastelanski. Zinfandel is one of the most versatile varietals with the ability to make wines, both rich to fruity, dark to light, and dry to sweet. Sonoma County Zinfandels are among our favorites, and for good reason; So many great California wines are made in this region.

Petite Sirah’s California roots dates back to when it was believed to be a close relative of the Syrah grape. Later it would be found to be genetically identical to the Durif, named for its after French discoverer François Durif who found that the varietal was a Syrah grape pollinated with Peloursin flowers. Its smaller berries with higher skin to pulp ratio leads to more intense flavors. Another benefit of the smaller berries are tighter clusters that are more resistant to mildew. Currently Petite Sirah is less popular in France and increasingly popular in the United States.

Wine Spies Tasting Profile:

Look – Dense and inky purple and almost black through its opaque core. Along the edges, the color lightens to a dark purple and when swirled, razor thin legs show this wine’s deep color. Some sediment is present in this wine.

Smell – Bold and rich with aromas of jammy blackberry, boysenberry, and other dark fruit. Adding complexity are notes of licorice, oak, spice, and toasty herbal bramble.

Feel – Plush and soft, this smooth full-bodied wine is dry and expansive, and almost chewy on the palate. Fine soft but grippy tannins, balanced acidity and a touch of dark minerality linger into the finish.

Taste – Fruit forward with jammy blackberry, boysenberry, plum and a touch of blueberry are layered with dark and sweet and pepper spices, a hint of licorice and herbal bramble and oak.

Finish – Medium in length with this wine’s jammy fruit fading softly as this wine’s soft and well developed tannins linger just a bit longer.

Conclusion – The 2005 Watkins Family Winery Zinfandel/Petite Sirah is a delicious and plush Zin/Petite Sirah blend that doesn’t overpower your palate with coarse tannins. Rich and soft, pleasant and approachable and easy to pair with anything you throw on the grill.

Mission Report:


SUBJECT: Randall Watkins

WINE EDUCATION: Masters in Enology, UC Davis

CALIFORNIA WINE JOB BRIEF: Winemaking for past 16 years in Sonoma, Napa and Chile; current owner/winemaker of Watkins Family Winery.

WINEMAKING PHILOSOPHY: I am committed to crafting limited production wines from the concentrated fruit of hillside vineyards. I believe that vineyard location, soil composition, climate and slope are key factors in creating wines of extraordinary quality and distinction. My goal is to produce wines of great balance with regard to ripe fruit, quality tannin, and natural acidity.

WINEMAKER QUOTE: All of my winemaking efforts go toward producing wines that are rich and intensely flavored, reflecting both their origin in the vineyard, and the balance and elegance of small lot winemaking.

FIRST COMMERCIAL WINE RELEASE: 1994, 1999 as head winemaker


AGENT RED: Greetings, Randall. We are thrilled to be showing your wine today. Thanks so much for taking some time to answer questions for our Operatives today.

RANDALL WATKINS: I am always happy to discuss Zinfandel!

RED: Was there a specific experience in your life that inspired your love of wine?

RANDALL: I grew up on a ranch in Sonoma County where we had horses, chickens, rabbits and 1 acre of Zinfandel and Chardonnay. My father didn’t sell the grapes, he was a home winemaker. Each vintage, all of his friends would come over to help hand-harvest the grapes and crank the hand stemmer-crusher. Then they would celebrate the harvest and their friendship with a big picnic, enjoying wine from previous vintages. From the time that I was 10 years old, I helped with the farming and the harvest of my family’s small vineyard. And when I grew older, it was my friends who came over for the harvest parties and many more great memories!

RED: What wine or winemaker has most influenced your winemaking style?

RANDALL: For Zinfandel, Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay, Dan Goldfield has been influential. I worked under him at Hartford and La Crema and learned about the Burundian methods of cold soaking and open-topped fermentation to help extract color and express the fruit. He was one of the only winemakers who was producing an elegant style of Zinfandel, which is the style in which I make the Bugay Vineyards Zinfandel.
For Cabernet Sauvignon and other Bordeaux varietals, I learned a lot working with Álvaro Espinoza, one of Chile’s most talented winemakers. In addition to his experience at Château Margaux, Álvaro is a well-known wine consultant and has his own highly rated label, Antiyal. He taught me the importance of organic farming, picking at perfect ripeness, and achieving a sense of place from the vineyard site.

RED: Who do you make wine for?

RANDALL: I make wine for people to enjoy and share. I want the people who try my wine to want to have another glass, and that is why balance is so important to me. Some Zinfandel wines can be overripe and raisiny, sweet but with a burn from high alcohol. I prefer to make a more elegant style which has balanced alcohol and acidity, retaining the freshness of the fruit and the liveliness that makes young Zinfandel such a fun wine to enjoy. And that is why I was awarded Sonoma County Winemaker of the Year for my Monte Rosso Vineyard Zinfandel a few years ago!

RED: Please tell me a little bit about the wine we are featuring today.

RANDALL: Fully developed fruit, complex and delicious. Incredibly pure, both in the fruit flavors and aromas. Smooth and rich with wonderful spice box notes framing the flavors of plum, boysenberry and apricot. This wine displays the pure essence of Sonoma mountainside Zinfandel.

RED: What is your favorite pairing with today’s wine?

RANDALL: This Zinfandel that pairs well with foods often associated with a fine Cabernet Sauvignon. Grilled New York Steak is an excellent pairing, as well as other grilled meats, vegetables, and Italian cuisine. But my favorite? Zinfandel Braised Beef Short Ribs! (Find the recipe is on FoodNetwork.com)

RED: In your opinion, what makes the Mayacamas region so special?

RANDALL: Bugay Vineyards, where the grapes for my wine come from, is located nearly at the top of the Mayacamas Mountains in between Santa Rosa and Calistoga. The steep rocky volcanic slopes are well drained and create a struggle for the vines which concentrates the color and flavor of the fruit. The vineyard elevation of approximately 1200 ft. places the vines above the valley fog, and above damaging spring frost. The north-south vineyard row alignment allows each side of the vine to enjoy equal sun exposure. Bud break is generally earlier resulting in a longer growing season with greater ‘hang time’ for the fruit. During the hot summer months, the vines receive the benefit of natural air conditioning as cool marine air follows the pressure gradient from the ocean over our vineyards on the south (ocean) side of the Mayacamas Mountains and down into the hotter interior valleys of Napa County and beyond. This temperate climate allows the fruit to mature slowly, evenly and with full physiological ripeness at a lower brix than most wine grape growing locations. In addition to its great location, the vineyard is meticulously farmed by John Bugay, whose talent for landscaping and gardening is reflected in the quality of the grapes and wine.

RED: What is occupying your time at the winery these days?

RANDALL: I wear a lot of hats all year around, but in the springtime, I am doing a lot of blending to prepare wines for bottling in the summer. John Bugay and I sit down together with the different lots (wines produced from grapes from different vineyard blocks, picked and fermented separately), and determine what % of each component makes the best blends. Some components don’t make the cut and are sold to other wineries. After vineyard site and farming practices, a good fermentation and careful blending are the next most important steps in making quality wine.

RED: How would you recommend people approach your wines and wine in general?

RANDALL: Have fun with it, feel comfortable having an opinion on what you like and don’t like. Go with your instincts. There is no point in suffering through a wine that you really don’t like just because you have read that it’s supposed to be good. Wine, like art, is subjective. Try new things, new producers, new varietals, wines from different growing areas. Trying different wines is the only way to build your sensory memory and discover your own tastes. Realize that the most important characteristic of a good wine is balance. A wine’s flavor can have many different elements: fruit, tannin, spice, oak, etc. The best wines have all these things in a complex harmony, and no one flavor overshadows the others.

RED: Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?

RANDALL: There is no better way to end a day than to relax and share wine, food and conversation with friends!

RED: Thank you so much for your time. We learned a lot about you – and your wine. Keep up the great work, we are big fans!

Wine Spies Vineyard Check:

The approximate location of the Watkins Family Winery can be seen in this satellite photo.

What the Winery Says

About This Wine:

Taylor Mountain Vineyard is nestled just below the saddle-shaped peak of Taylor Mountain, as depicted on the front label painting by well-known Sonoma Valley artist Michael Holland. When John Shakleford Taylor settled in Sonoma Valley in 1853, his land holdings were the largest under one name in all of Sonoma County. On his most prized land he planted Zinfandel and Mission grapes. The Watkins Family has farmed Zinfandel on this breathtaking property since 1979, and we have found that the dark fruit and spicy flavors of Petite Sirah blend perfectly with the boysenberry jam and pepper components of Zinfandel. The gnarly old vines of Fall Creek Vineyard on the northwest Dry Creek bench are carefully tended by owner and master viticulturist Dane Peterson (of Silver Oak fame.)

To avoid the overripe flavors that many Zinfandel wines can express, the grapes were picked when they were at optimal ripeness, before many raisins could develop. During a nine day fermentation in two T-bin fermenters, the cap of grape skins was punched down two to three times daily until dryness was achieved (no residual sugar remained). The wine was then aged in both French and American oak barrels (20% new) for ten months before bottling.

These low-yielding Zinfandel and Petite Sirah vines produce a concentrated and complex wine that is a great example of hillside-grown Zinfandel. The wine has humongous fruit yet perfectly balanced acidity and alcohol. It pairs well with spicier, saltier dishes such as paella with peppered chicken and spicy sausage or baby back ribs.

About The Winery:

We are a small family-owned winery in Sonoma County specializing in mountain-grown Cabernet Sauvignon. The Watkins Family has been handcrafting boutique wines in Sonoma County since 1979, beginning as farmers and garagistes. For many years we have enjoyed growing grapes in the beautiful countryside of Sonoma County, making only two barrels of wine each vintage. This tiny production of wine was just enough to share with friends and family.

In 2003, we decided to make a little more wine, increasing production to eight barrels of Cabernet Sauvignon from the Barn Block Vineyard on the rugged rocky slopes of the Mayacamas Mountains. This allowed us to increase our allocation mailing list to those who had been asking for more of our wines with “strikingly pure flavors and a pronounced sense of place.” We do not have a tasting room that sells to the general public, so at this time the best way to buy our limited production wines is to fax or mail an order or contact us by phone or email.

About The Winemaker:

Winemaker Randall Watkins grew up on a vineyard located in the foothills of Taylor Mountain in Sonoma County. In 1979, when Randall was only 10 years old, his father planted the Watkins Family Zinfandel and Chardonnay, maintained and vinified with the help of friends who were paid in wine.
In 1993, Randall received a bachelor’s degree in sociology and management from the University of California, Davis. After a brief stint working for a consultant in San Francisco, Randall again felt the call of the wine country. He continued his hands-on winemaking training, working in the cellars and labs of Buena Vista Winery and Hartford Family Winery in Sonoma County, as supervisor of red wine fermentations at Carmen Vineyards in Chile, and as assistant winemaker at S. Anderson Vineyards in Napa. Randall then returned to UC Davis, where he rounded out his practical knowledge by completing a master’s degree in enology in 1999. Over the next 7 years, Randall produced some of the most highly regarded wines in Sonoma County as the winemaker for Carmenet Winery and Moon Mountain Vineyard.

Currently, Randall is the consultant winemaker for three up-and-coming small wine brands in addition to crafting Watkins Wines.

Technical Analysis:

Appellation: Sonoma County

Vineyard Designate: Taylor Mountain & Fall Creek Vineyards

Vintage: 2005

Varietal: 75% Zinfandel/25% Petite Sirah

Case Production: 110 cases

Alcohol: 14.9%

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