As my mother used to say when I would take her up to Brandlin Vineyard, high in the hills of Mount Veeder,“ this is as close to heaven as I am going to get.” It’s a magnificent and magical setting that ultimately finds its way into the wine. There are many well-made technically sound wines out in the marketplace, but few can capture the soul and personality offered by Brandlin. Since 1991 I have worked with this vineyard, and each vintage I can feel the energy and excitement because I know these are grapes that will never disappoint!
In the early 1920s, Henry Brandlin and sons Richard and Chester began planting vines on an eastern exposure hillside 1200 feet above the Napa Valley floor. They adhered to the regimen of “filed blend”—a mix of different varieties. Today these are probably the oldest vines on Mount Veeder, and they continue to produce intensely flavored grapes, growing for all these years without any irrigation other than the winter and spring rains. The vines are head-trained, independent of any trellis, and do not require much manipulation.
What a growing season! Torrential rains and flooding in the winter gave way to periodic blasts of heat during the summer. The winter rains definitely helped all vineyards in general as they began the growing season much less stressed than the last couple of vintages. Labor Day weekend was the most extreme, with temperature in San Francisco 105+ -- unheard of! Cool weather followed and allowed sugars and grapes to settle down.
I like to ferment our Zinfandels at temperatures slightly lower than those for Bordeaux reds to accentuate the zesty and forward fruit character of the variety. Aging exclusively in Burgundian French oak barrels adds complexity as well as refinement to the wine.
2017 produced another classic Brandlin! Youthful dark ruby with complex aromas of bramble fruits, dried herb, rose petal, anise, allspice and vanilla. Black cherry flavors are bright, forward, and expansive with a refreshing lift and structure atypical for most Zinfandels. The wine finishes with just the right amount of grip to say the wine is serious—but you can still smile as you enjoy it!
My 27th Zinfandel from Brandlin—but who’s counting?