Newsletter 59 / 20 yr Anniversary Vintage

Talking it Old School — UNTI Turns 20


About 20+ years ago we released our first two wines at Winter Wineland, 1997 Zinfandel and 1997 Syrah. Back then we had no idea we would eventually be making an additional 12 more wines. We were simply trying to see if this winery thing would work out.

20 vintages hence, we are releasing our 2017 Zinfandel and 2017 Syrah. One taste will tell you all you need to know about what we have learned over the years.





    2017 ZINFANDEL


  The 1997 Zinfandel came from a vineyard we haven’t used since 2001. The vineyard block, located on our Benchland property had some virus, which was compounded by a challenging site (the vineyard is bordered by several large trees). It produced a fruity, slightly vegetal wine that was a tad lacking in color, structure and depth.  We blended a whopping 12% Syrah, from the Benchland vineyard to compensate for what the wine was missing.

After a couple of years bottle age, we learned that our Benchland Syrah was too much for the Zin, or as Tom Waits said in Nighthawks at the Diner ‘The veal cutlet came down the counter and tried to beat the shit out of my cup of coffee. The coffee just wasn’t strong enough to defend itself.”

In 2002 we began using our Primitivo-clone Zinfandel exclusively, which made a more complete wine on it’s own, but still needed to be blended for balance. By then we used Petite Sirah from a block planted in 1998. The Petite Sirah seemed to know its supportive role, providing color and tannin structure without dominating the Zinfandel fruit and character. But we still weren’t finished…

In 2006 we added Barbera to the Zinfandel party. Petite Sirah has been and still is the clear choice in Dry Creek Valley for blending with Zinfandel. Almost every winery does it. Many Zinfandels are also blended with Carignan for acidity and freshness. We felt Barbera would be great for  adding acidity, and it was.  Using Barbera in Zin was another step in the learning curve, one we continue to practice today.

Prior to 2010, our only Petite Sirah vineyard was located between the creek and the winery, a site which was not ideal for growing this variety. This site delayed ripening which also left us vulnerable to bunch rot. Former vineyard manager Levi Glen suggested we graft 5 rows of the Benchland Syrah over to Petite, since that site is far more appropriate for ripening Petite Sirah. This not only improved the quality of our Petite Sirah, it also meant we could harvest it at around the same time as our Zinfandel.

In 2017 we were able to co-ferment Petite Sirah with our Zinfandel which we feel makes a more complete wine.

The last piece of the quality puzzle was filled in with the arrival of winemaker Jason Valenti. Jason’s experience with making Pinot Noir and Cabernet gave us a better understating of what it means to “farm for quality” by reducing the yield on the vine.

While it is has been a long, mildly winding road, this 2017 Zinfandel really represents what an winery  can do to get the most out its estate. The ’17 Zin is a full-bodied wine , with complex intense fruit and amazing tannin structure. If you are looking for a jammy fruit bomb, this is not your gig. However, if you want to experience a classic serious style of Zin, from the world’s best growing region for the variety, step right up. This vintage has Syrah-like aging potential, which is saying something.




CASE + (10% off) $31.50   

2 + CASES (20% off) $28

  2017 SYRAH

  Syrah was our first foray into the wine road less travelled. In 1991, when George and Linda planted their first Syrah vineyard, only 400 acres were planted in the entire state. Much like our Zinfandel, we’ve definitely gotten better over the years with Syrah.

We were so impressed with the fruit coming of of our original Benchland Syrah vineyard that George planted 15 more acres of Syrah in 1998/99. The logical thing to do would have been to simply use the same clone from our Benchland block, which came from Sonoma’s Durell vineyard.

But as you know by now, “logic” and Unti rarely go hand in hand.

So my dad planted 5 separate clones of Syrah in various spots on our winery property. We now use 4 of them, including our favorite clone 383. Even in this day of Syrah being seemingly over-planted on California, very few growers have 383.  This slightly tighter than normal cluster Syrah generates great color flavor and tannin structure. It has been a key component in our Cuvee Founder and this bottling of Syrah.

The other clones, 174, 877 and our original Durell clone show more blueberry and blackberry fruit than our Benchland vineyard Syrah.

Once we consistently applied Jason’s crop thinning regimen to our Syrah, the wine became a more serious version than in previous vintages. It still has plenty of fruit with more depth and tannin than your average Sonoma county Syrah. For those of you out there who have pronounced this varietal category dead in California, this will have you Croze-ing the potential of Syrah in Dry Creek Valley.

This 2017 definitely represents the pretty side of Syrah with great balance of fruit, acidity and tannin-  not always easy to do in a less-than-cool climate AVA. I really believe the cool August weather in 2017 really played well for our winery blocks. Now if we could just do this every vintage! As with our 2017 Zin, this Syrah will age nicely over the next 4 to 6 years.




CASE + (10% off) $28.80   

2 + CASES (20% off) $25.60

 All wines may be ordered here on our web store or by calling the winery (707) 433-5590