I dined with friends at The Q Restaurant and Bar in Napa, Califonia, recently. Although I have lived in Napa for over five and a half years, I had never been to the Q. Being a Southern belle, of course I went for one of the signature dishes, the brisket. While my companions and I enjoyed a lovely Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon with dinner, I wished I had brought the 2017 Artezin Zinfandel, Mendocino County (sample; SRP $18) I had tasted the weekend prior.
When I received this wine sample a couple of months ago, I was immediately curious as to why the focus on zinfandel, especially hailing from Mendocino County, not particularly as well known for this grape variety. Winemaker Randle Johnson was kind enough to respond to my question:
When we began Artezin in 2002, we knew Zinfandel was considered unique to the grape/wine world and was essentially the “California Grape.” It was also the most significant heritage/heirloom variety. As such, it needed its own identity, its own “brand” within our organization. After much discussion, we came up with the name “Artezin.” Many varieties, including Zinfandel, were planted throughout Mendocino County. With Artezin, I like to work with family growers to honor the tradition of Zinfandel winemaking that has been established throughout the generations. Most vines I work with are old vine, head pruned and non-irrigated. By 2004, we realized that there were other close (and far flung) heritage varieties like Carignan, Charbono and Petite Sirah. Thus, we expanded our Artezin portfolio to include other varieties, as well as vineyard designated Zinfandels.
I have always been interested in the uniqueness of Mendocino County. On one hand, there is the cool Anderson Valley, where Chardonnay, Pinot and Riesling/Gewurztraminer do exceptionally well. On the other hand, is the warm to hot “central” Mendocino that follows the Highway 101 “corridor,” shielded from the ocean air by the coastal Mayacamas range. Here big red varieties like Cabernet, Syrah, Petite Sirah and Zinfandel excel. I especially like Zinfandels from Mendo because the climate is perfect: warm days & cool nights. They also exhibit classic “zinny” character: red fruits (boysenberry, raspberry, cherry, pomegranate), black/white pepper, exotic spices, and the ever elusive “brambles!!” As an additional bonus, Mendocino Zinfandels are usually good values.
Another focus of Artezin is its commitment to sourcing fruit from local grape growers who practice sustainable farming. In the case of the 2017 vintage of zinfandel, Johnson and his team acquired fruit from farmers such as Peter Chevalier, Dennis Hunt, Cherrie Laviletta, Darin Colombini, Bree and Kevin Klotter, Larry and Doreen Venturi, Paul Dolan, Ken and Diane Wilson, Eddie Graziano, and Charlie Sawyer, a veritable who’s who of Mendocino County farming. Artezin, the artisan, er, art of zin, collaboration between these notable farmers and Johnson, has rendered Mendocino County zinfandel accessible, approachable, affordable, and most importantly, palatably appealing.
A wine and food writing colleague, Kristy Harris, and I tasted the Artezin together, but without food. It is everything one seeks in a zinfandel: an initial pop on the palate of bold, dark berries, especially blueberry and blackberry; a touch of food-friendly acidity; and a remarkable peppery-cayenne finish. The only thing missing was a hearty meat dish, such as the aforementioned brisket, pulled pork, or sausage. This wine is big on quality, flavor, and value, a trifecta of “yes, please.” Lesson learned. The next time I dine at The Q, I will have Artezin Zinfandel, Mendocino County, in tow as Beth’s Smart Sip.