It seems fitting that on National Zinfandel Day, we pay homage to the Godfather of Zinfandel.
Joel Peterson, co-founded Ravenswood in Sonoma, California, 40 years ago, and earned that respected title because he is one of the most tenacious voices in the Zinfandel world.
He makes big bold Zinfandels that are in restaurants and wine stores everywhere and is a founding member of Zinfandel Advocates & Producers.
But don’t disrespect him and ask for a White Zinfandel, a generally sweet Rosé made from Zinfandel grapes because Peterson and his director of winemaking Gary Sitton don’t make “wimpy wines.”
Quick History of the Godfather
Peterson stared out as a medical researcher, but he earned extra money working in the wine business. He apprenticed with Joseph Swan, one of California's greatest Zinfandel winemakers. “And I was total smitten,” he says, who claims he had long hair and an even longer beard back then.
So much so that with no money, “on a wing and a prayer,” he co-founded Ravenswood in 1976 and started his very own revolution.
But he was smart enough to know that the money doesn’t come quickly when you open a winery. He worked in a clinical lab at Sonoma Valley Hospital until 1992, a few years after the winery turned its first profit and wine critic Robert Parker said that Ravenswood wines were “first class — bold, dramatic and complex.”
Flash-forward, the company was bought by Constellation Brands in 2001 and thanks to their massive sales force, Ravenswood is now everywhere.
They make around 35 different wines, according to Sitton, including a few blends which they have been producing long before blends became trendy.
Some Zinfandel Facts
Zinfandel vines are the oldest vines in California and among some of the oldest in the world. Zin came to the US back in 1885, by way of Croatia, and survived prohibition because so many people used the grape to make wine at home, said Peterson.
One distinctive characteristic of Zinfandel is the large clustered grapes ripen unevenly. And because of that, the alcohol levels tend to be higher between 13.5% to 15.5%.
“It’s also pretty sensitive toward the end of its life when you pick it, but that’s part of what makes Zin interesting,” says Peterson.
And the California weather is perfect for this grape — which is probably why it is considered California’s most authentic grape.
So Why Should You Open a Bottle of Zinfandel?
Because it tends to be softer and rounder wine, while Cabernet tends to be more spicy, notes Peterson. “And sometimes you just want a wine with more raspberry.”
Because “it’s just glorious with Asian food or a creamy saucy chicken dish.”
Because Zin and smoky sweet barbecue go together like Don Corleone and Consigliere.
And because its priced much better than your big Napa Cabernets.
You can find a great bottle of Zinfandel for $30-$40, an incredibly respectable bottle for $15-$20, says Peterson.
And that’s an offer we can’t refuse.
Tracy Byrnes, former FOX Business Network anchor and host of “Wine with Me” for Foxnews.com, is editor-in-chief and chief contributor of The Sip.