Inspired by our friends at Bedrock and Turley, we wondered what a California Zin field blend tasted like in, say 1910. This is our answer: a modest 14.0% ABV, no new oak, but full of fruit, earth and graceful texture. 90 points in Wine Enthusiast Magazine, and Master Sommelier Ian Cauble at SommSelect had this to say:
"Prima Materia is a one-man operation up in Lake County (north of Napa Valley) crafts a range of wines in criminally small batches, and today’s singular non-vintage Zin maxed out at 15 barrels. It’s a lively, satisfying, high-altitude Zinfandel with European sensibility, meaning it has little in common with its jammy, excessively oaked California neighbors. Domestic winemakers love to talk about their Old-World inspirations, but Pietro Buttitta, the “one man” in question, is among the few who actually walks the walk.
Half of the fruit for today’s wine comes from the 2018 vintage, the other from 2019—the latter of which underwent partial whole-cluster fermentation. Small amounts of Aglianico and Petite Sirah add depth and structure to the blend, without interfering with Buttitta’s primary goal of preserving the wild, brambly sophistication of Primitivo. The result is an invigorating, high-elevation Zin that had us refilling our glasses and asking why more California producers who work with the variety don’t take a few pages out of Italy’s book. The goal was to highlight Lake County’s signature structure and up-front ripeness while incorporating texture, acidity, and savory notes more akin to the nuanced wines of the Old World. The fruit—wild blackberry, black plum, boysenberry, pomegranate, cranberry, and cherry—is certainly juicy, but not at all in a cloying way; rather, it mirrors the delightful freshness of just-squeezed, unripe forest berries. Accents of damp moss, sage, tobacco smoke, freshly turned earth, and black pepper add savory layers of complexity to a Zinfandel that reminds us how good this variety can taste when it’s not masked by aggressive winemaking and excessive ripeness."
Grown at 1450’ elevation on red, obsidian-strewn soil resulting from Mt. Konocti’s volcanic upheaval, our Zinfandel includes a big slug of Primitivo that combines 2 vineyard blocks with the hope of finding dignified Primitivo-ness in the land of Zinfandel. We priced this bottling for medium-weight everyday drinking.
Tasting notes: Red fruits of raspberry maceration plus plum notes from 7% Petite Sirah, pepper, smoke, tea leaf. Medium, fine-grained tannin with characteristic low-ish but still present acidity and with robust mouthfeel from 7% Aglianico. The Zin red fruit is there, but so is the Primitivo bramble. No new oak, drinking closer to a modest old-school Dry Creek Zin blend with Petite and Mourvedre than then the softer, creamier and oaky style. A nominal 14.02% alcohol.
Vineyard: Zinfandel (and Primitivo) was one our first vines planted in 1999 and then another block in 2004. This bottling is actually a mix of DuPratt Zinfandel and clone 03 Primitivo, both on St. George rootstocks. The blocks are trained differently and planted in different orientations. California sprawl and quadrilateral training. Small amounts of estate Petite Sirah and Aglianico were blended in post fermentation.
Winemaking: All blocks hand harvested and fermented separately in stainless and bins. Fermentations lasted 14-16 days generally and were straightforward spontaneous ferments after destemming. A touch of whole cluster was in the mix in 2019. Wood-basket pressed at dryness. About 12 months in barrel on average before spending 5 months in tank before bottling. Maintaining some of Primitivo’s phenolic bramble character was important, especially with the bassy blenders.
Vintages: 2018 was a fire year, with lots of heat spikes and then a beautifully moderate fall. After 2018 and 2020, 2019 seems like some abstract dream. Sure, there was heavy rain, and enough heat to take harvest from 2 weeks late to one week early, and there was the week without electricity. But, there was no smoke, using stems was ok, we could use press wine, and we could still dream.
3.78pH, 14.01% ABV
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