Starry Night Winery

2007 Sonoma County Zinfandel


California: Sonoma County

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Mission Codename: Warm Summer Starry Nights

Operative: Agent White

Objective: Return to Operative favorite, Starry Night Winery to recover one of their most popular Zinfandels

Mission Status: Accomplished

Current Winery: Starry Night Winery

Wine Subject: 2007 Sonoma County Zinfandel

Winemaker: Wayne Hansen


Varietal Backgrounder: 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. Alexander Valley and the Russian River Valley, where this Zinfandel’s grapes are are grown are characterized by their balanced flavors, are gaining in popularity with our Operatives.

Wine Spies Tasting Profile:

Look – A deep garnet, with a dark but clear core that shows ruby colored highlights when held up to the light. When swirled, this wine shows a bouncy, fast-settling surface that leaves behind tightly spaced fat legs that take their time to emerge before they slowly descend down the side of the glass.

Smell – Bold, ripe and tangy aromas of wild bramble berry including blackberry, black cherry and raspberry with a dusty earthy-herbal touch and hints of exotic spice and soft oak.

Feel – This full-bodied Zinfandel is dry and tangy with firm textured tannins that coat the mouth, coupled with its bright acidity it leaves an almost chewy structure that lingers through to the finish.

Taste – Classically bright but balanced flavors of ripe dark wild bramble fruit including wild blackberry and red cherry and a touch of plum. Spicy white pepper and fresh cut oak supported by this wine’s sturdy and tangy structure. A touch of mocha and herbal bramble add to the easy drinking but complex flavor profile of this wine.

Finish – This wine finishes smooth and with medium length with balanced flavors of its fruit, spice and earthy minerals.

Conclusion – In tasting this wine, its clear why Starry Night Winery is one of our operatives’ most favorite Zinfandel producers. Classic bold Zinfandel aromas and flavors, but in a wine that doesn’t knock you over the head by being overly powerful. This blend of great Alexander Valley and Russian River Valley fruit shows a finesse and elegance not common in Zinfandel. We paired this wine with classic summertime fare including burgers, sandwiches and crudités.

Mission Report:

For those Operatives that missed it, what follows is a retransmission of a prior winemaker interview:

For today’s wine mission, we were able to get Starry Night winemaker, Wayne Hansen, to a secure location for the following interview:

AGENT RED: Greetings, Wayne. We are thrilled to be showing your Zinfandel today and I am happy that you made some time to answer some questions for our Operatives.

WAYNE HANSEN: No problem – and greetings to all you Operatives out there.

RED: Tell me, was there a specific experience in your life that inspired your love of wine?

WAYNE: In the early seventies, I went to weekly graduate school brown-bag screw-cap faculty seminars on demography and advanced statistical methods. These seminars developed into wine fests, with each of us bringing new wines to try (under $7.00). I think that was the only way they could keep us coming back for yet one more lecture! And, of course the gallons of Gallo consumed at every occasion.

RED: I hear that is a common practice at colleges these days. Where did you learn the most about winemaking?

WAYNE: In my garage.

RED: I remember reading that about you in an intelligence briefing. You’ve come a long way since then. We recently visited your winery. Impressive to be sure. Tell me, what is your winemaking style or philosophy?

WAYNE: I am a minimalist – the less fussing, the better. And of course, like raising children, do no harm. I make all of my wines fruit forward, not overly extracted, and very approachable.

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

WAYNE: That would have to be a young guy that came and made some wine with us early in my career – Nick DeLuca (now winemaker for Dierberg and Star Lane). Like me, he was not fussy and he taught me to work with the fruit as it was picked, tailoring the process to develop the best qualities of those particular grapes at that particular time, to be creative with solving any problems they may present, and to avoid formulaic wine making.

RED: How long have you been making wine?

WAYNE: Only about 12 years.

RED: You’ve accomplished a lot in that time! What is one piece of advice that you would give to someone that is considering a career as a winemaker?

WAYNE: You might want to reconsider! Working for a large corporate winery is no fun, and working for a small winery can be a lot of fun, but has its own set of challenges. In any case, winemaking is a lot of hard work, requiring dedication, perseverance, and guts. It is not for the faint of heart.

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

WAYNE: Paperwork, blending, and bottling. In that order.

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

The following answer refers to a wine that we featured previously

WAYNE: This is the last vintage of the Tom Feeney Ranch Old Vine Zinfandel. We have made this wine every year from 1997 until 2006. It has been our flagship wine. After Tom’s death, the vineyard was sold in 2006 and all but one small plot of zinfandel was replanted with Pinot Noir grapes. These were historical vineyards that should have been preserved and their loss was mourned by all of us who knew and loved the wine that came from those gnarly old vines.

This is a wine that will age well. We recently did a vertical tasting back to 2002 and found that the earlier vintages were showing very well, with the 2002 and 2004 being favorites. In short, this wine is very drinkable now, but it will age very well and will continue to develop for ten or more years.

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

WAYNE: A nice veal or lamb chop. Although I have had it paired nicely with everything from oyster bisque to a chocolate éclair.

RED: Please share one thing about yourself that few people know

WAYNE: My grandparents, who grew Thompson Seedless grapes for raisins ONLY, were extremely active in the temperance movement and actually helped destroy wine and wineries during prohibition. I hope they are rolling over in their graves.

RED: More than likely, they are proud! What is your favorite ‘everyday’ or table wine?

WAYNE: Other than a cold beer, any good zinfandel.

RED: How would you recommend that people approach your wines, or wine in general?

WAYNE: My best approach is usually with one or more wine glasses and a cork screw. One of my favorite answers to such a question paraphrases Dorothy Parker – “Like a lion approaching an antelope – with anticipation and gusto”.

RED: Great answer! If you could choose any one wine to drink (regardless of price or availability), what would it be?

WAYNE: The Libfraumilch in a clay bottle that I drank one fine afternoon in 1964 with my true love under an oak tree by a trickling stream deep in Malibu Canyon. That was the best wine I ever drank.

RED: I can see why. Thank you for spending this time with me today. And keep making your wonderful wine. We remain loyal fans of your work!

WAYNE: Thank you, Agent Red.

Wine Spies Vineyard Check:

The location of the Alexander Valley, in Sonoma County can be seen in this satellite photo.

What the Winery Says

About This Wine:

The grapes for this wine come from select vineyards located in the Alexander Valley and the Russian River Valley.

This is a rich, complex wine with bright aromas of berries and plum, and rich flavors of blackberry, plum and white pepper leading to a long and elegant finish that has hints of cedar and cocoa. Fruit from the Russian River Valley provides bright, fresh fruit flavors and Alexander Valley fruit gives the wine spice and depth.

About The Winery:

Starry Night Winery became a bonded winery in 1999 and our first commercially available wines were introduced in November of 2000. The story of how we came into existence though starts many years earlier when the four of us, Wayne Hansen, Bruce Walker, Mike Miller and Skip Granger started making wine at an amateur level. Our motivation for this came from a shared life long passion for wine and an increasing disdain for the over priced and often mass-produced wines found in the market.

In our first year we crushed several hundred pounds of grapes and produced about fifty cases of Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay in Wayne’s basement. This worked well since with his food processing background, Wayne was destined to become our winemaker. By combining the best of both new and traditional methods we found that we could make outstanding wine. We also spent time researching wine making methods, taking classes at UC Davis and received the advice of some very helpful commercial winemakers.

We are excited to announce that as of December, 2006, Nimrod Kovacs, a citizen of Hungary and the US, joined the management team of Starry Night Winery. Mr. Kovacs has a substantial background in both domestic and international marketing, communications, advertising and management. He has also been instrumental in the growth of cable and satellite media delivery in Eastern and Central Europe. Nimrod is the owner of Monarchia Winery of Eger, Hungary, the new sister winery of Starry Night Winery! You can learn more about Monarchia Winery in the Newsletter section or in the Links & Associations section of the website.

At Starry Night Winery, our goal is to produce the finest wines possible that accentuate the regions from where the grapes are best grown. We currently produce Chardonnay, Syrah and Zinfandels from the Russian River Valley, a Sauvignon Blanc from Dry Creek Valley, Zinfandel from Amador and Lake Counties and Zinfandel and Rhone varietals from the Lodi appellation. In 2006 we also produced a Petite Sirah from the Lodi appellation and a Cabernet Franc from High Valley which will be released during 2007.

Many people ask us why we are in Novato and what kind of grapes do we grow there? Well; we don’t grow any grapes. What we do is find the best grapes and growers that allow us to produce the finest wines. We have now worked with one of our growers for nine harvests and two of our growers for six harvests. We have added seveal new growers in the last three years and we are very excited about sharing our new wines and new releases with you!


Our primary focus at Starry Night Winery is Zinfandel, which accounts for over 60% of our production. We think Zinfandel, which is uniquely American, is not only a great wine, but also offers a significant value when compared to many other grape varietals. In 2001 we became a member of Zinfandel Advocates and Producers (ZAP), which promotes Zinfandel education worldwide. Bruce currently serves as Vice President of ZAP and is a member of ZAP’s Board of Directors.

We are also excited by Rhone varietals, which we believe are making significant gains in popularity. We make a Russian River Syrah, and in 2001 introduced our Adara, which is a blend of wines made from grapes found in the Rhone region of France. Because we love Chardonnay, we also produce a barrel fermented, 100% malolactic, and well balanced Chardonnay.


The vastness of Sonoma County with its diverse climate and topography allows growers to produce grapes for distinct wines from the same grape variety. Various areas are known by Appellations. Appellations reflect unique climate, soil and other conditions which tend to produce wines unique to those areas.

With the best combination of natural resources and climate, Starry Night Winery’s key viticulture philosophy is to maintain a small berry size to more concentrated fruit. Our grapes realize bud break often several weeks earlier than other Sonoma Country Wineries, promoting a longer growing season. The rocky soils, comprised of silt loam on top of broken shifts allow the vineyards to deplete water early in the season so there is greater concentration in the berry by the time of harvest.

Our viticulture practices also reflect our desire to put forth optimal flavor in all of our wines. These practices sophisticated trellising system, over cropping early in the season then thinning later in the season to contribute to pH and acid balance and promote higher skin surface to grape ratio.

Technical Analysis:

Composition: 30% Tanya’s Vineyard, 25% Ash Creek Vineyard,
16% Windsor Oak Vineyard, 29% Nervo Vineyard

Cooperage: Combination of American and French oak barrels

Harvest Date: 9/28– 10/31/07

Average Sugar at Harvest: 25.6º brix

PH: 3.84

TA: .634 g/100ml

Alcohol: 14.4%

Production: 2,400 cases

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