California Zinfandel: The names to know


March, 2020

Decanter’s recent feature on Zinfandel ‘the blood and sun of California’ pays homage to the early Italian grape farmers in Northern California and recommends a handful of need-to-know producers making exceptional wines from the vineyards they planted more than a century ago:

The regions looked like northern Italy. They had Italy’s Mediterranean climate. And those Italian farmers brought with them more than 2,000 years of grape-growing and winemaking experience. They didn’t have degrees in viticulture or oenology. They farmed by the seat of their pants…These field blends were yielding wine grapes when Monet and Van Gogh were painting their masterpieces.The head-trained vines in those vineyards are ancient, thick and gnarled now. They don’t yield much fruit, but they clutch the earth in a strong embrace and impart its essence, and the richness of their age, to their grapes.

ridge 2017 pagani ranch zinfandel

Ridge Vineyards, Pagani Ranch, Sonoma Valley, California, 2017

Winemaker John Olney says that the long hang-time of the grapes shifts the red-fruit notes towards sweet cherries and boysenberries, without any cloying overripeness. Pagani has earthiness, too. This is Zinfandel with Petite Sirah, Alicante Bouschet and Mataro. 94 Points – Jeff Cox

Pagani Ranch sits in the middle of a stretch of the Sonoma Valley so picturesque that cars are often parked along the highway, their occupants taking photos of the ranch’s Victorian farmhouse and barns, century-old vines and the mountains to the east.

Felice Pagani bought the property in the late 1880s and put in 12ha of the field blend – mostly Zinfandel – from 1896 to 1922. Another 2.4ha were planted to Zin and Petite Sirah in 2013. Pagani’s descendants still manage the vineyard. Several wineries purchase its fruit, but half of the harvest goes to winemaker John Olney at Ridge. Pagani Ranch has been a part of Ridge’s array of Zins since 1991.

The site is gravelly clay loam in a cool part of the valley that allows for slow ripening and a delayed harvest. ‘In 2017,’ says Olney, ‘we finished picking on 7 October.’ The next night, fire blazed through Kenwood, but the fruit had been safely trucked away. ‘Pagani Ranch shows character,’ says Olney, referring to a terroir best described as giving honest, focused red- and black-fruit flavours.


In order to qualify for user related discounts, you must log in before proceeding with checkout. Click the button below to log in and receive these benefits, or close the window to continue.

Log In