Starry Night Winery
2007 Russian River Valley Old Vine Zinfandel
California: Sonoma County: Russian River Valley
What We Say
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Mission Codename: The Centurion
Operative: Agent Red
Objective: Secure a limited allocation of the Starry Night Montafi Vineyard Old Vine Zinfandel for our operatives.
Mission Status: Accomplished!
Current Winery: Starry Night Winery
Wine Subject: 2007 Old Vine Zinfandel – Russian River Valley
Winemaker: Wayne Hansen
Backgrounder: Zinfandel is often aptly named California’s grape. Its history and lore and the wines that result are often the makings of legend. In this case, Starry Night’s winemaker selected the best old-vine grapes from a number of the Russian River’s best vineyards, many of which have been planted for nearly 100 years. The Russian River Valley is ideally suited for red grape varietals. Its early morning fog and coastal breezes result in a cooler climate than the neighboring wine growing regions.
Wine Spies Tasting Profile:
Look – Gorgeous ruby red to Burgundy, the wine shows clear and concentrated, right through its slightly darker heart. When swirled, the wine shows off a slightly tight surface that settles quickly, leaving behind fast-moving, skinny legs that start high on the glass
Smell – Juicy, spicy and bold with a very aromatic character that leads jammy blackberry, Bing cherry and raspberry. These deep fruits intermingle classic old vine spice of black and white pepper. After some time exposed to the air, additional aromatics of soft oak, anise, cedar and brown spice emerge
Feel – Velvety and soft on the initial attack, then the wine shows a medium-to-full-body as it gradually shows a gentle dryness. Initially round, cool and smooth, the wine bites in softly, first at the edges of the palate, then gradually all over the palate. The wine coats with fresh fruit and spice as it makes its way around your mouth
Taste – Delicious and very focused, with fruit flavors of juicy blackberry, red cherry, raspberry, cassis and a tender hint of red plum. These combine with later flavors of earthen spice of black pepper and white pepper. Toward the end, flavors of blackberry bramble, soft cocoa powder and soft oaky vanilla show up at the back of the palate
Finish – Medium long with black fruit, red fruit, earth, spice and other complex flavors that are framed by soft and rich tannins
Conclusion – Delicious and bold, with juicy and jammy flavors, perfect spice, a great body and exciting aromatics. Pair this wine with almost anything as it has a balance and restraint that makes it the perfect companion to most foods. This is a wine with good acids and a flavor profile that won’t overpower your palate – as some Zinfandels are wont to do. On it’s own, this is a great solo-sipper with plenty of ’let’s discuss’ complexity. Our tasting panel found itself pulling aroma after aroma and flavor after flavor out of this special wine. We give this wine a very hearty Wine Spies recommendation!
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.
What the Winery Says
Awards & Accolades:
Bronze Medal – 2010 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition
About This Wine:
This Old Vine Zinfandel comes from vineyards in the Russian River Valley planted in the early part of the last century. We produce this wine using traditional methods including fermentation in small open top fermenters and hand punch downs twice a day. Known for being among the coolest climate where Zinfandel is grown, which allows for a longer growing season and fully developed flavors, our Russian River Valley Old Vine Zinfandel has bright and complex flavors and aromas of raspberries, cherries and blackberries with hits of pepper, vanilla and cedar.
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.
Varietals: 100% Russian River Valley Old Vine Zinfandel
Harvest Date: September 27, 2007
Average Sugar at Harvest: 27.5º brix
Cooperage: Barrel Aged over 18 months in new American and French oak barrels and select one to three year old American and French Oak barrels
TA: .650 g/100ml
Production: 750 cases