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12.2009

Massachusetts Beverage Business

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Article By: Harvey Finkel

Although the American Indian word zaca means “restful place”, it appears that Zaca Mesa Winery in Los Olivos, California, founded in 1972, entered a blessedly restful phase only a few years ago.

It’s original owners, a group of investors led by oilman Louis Ream, gave way in 1986 to the family of John Cushman, a commercial realtor. Its original conventional array of varieties, planted initially in 1973, gave way to Rhône varieties, plus chardonnay, after mixed reviews of its wines and the discovery that syrah, mourvèdre, grenache, cinsaut, roussanne, and viognier did especially well here. (Zaca Mesa planted Santa Barbara County’s first syrah in 1978.) A who’s who of winemakers have paraded through the place over the years.

The winery was built in 1978, expanded in 1981. The vineyard retooling began in the 199Os, culminating in 2OO2 with the replanting of tightly spaced, vertically trellised new Rhône clones and the installation of an improved irrigation system. The more than 2OO acres of vines under sustainable viticulture grow at an elevation averaging 15OO feet in a valley set most unusually in a west-east orientation about 3O miles from the Pacific Ocean. This orientation channels cooling marine air through the vineyards. About 15 percent of the vines grow on their own roots, allowed by the Phylloxera-inhibiting sandy soil. All of the 3O,OOO case production is estate-grown, estate bottled, of Santa Ynez Valley appellation.

Eric Mohseni is the winemaker, and presiding over this restful era at Zaca Mesa is President/CEO Brook Williams, with whom I visited and tasted with recently.
Let’s taste the wines, which clearly testify that Zaca Mesa has found its comfort spot as a member of the Rhône Rangers.

Viognier 2OO7
Aromatic, with good texture and finish.  $2O

Viognier 2OO8
Fragrant and floral.  More concentrated and longer than the ’O7.  I don’t know whether that reflects a vintage difference or Viognier’s need to be drunk early.  $2O

Roussanne 2OO6
Spent 1O months in oak, 7O percent new.  Rich and firm.  Age-worthy.  $25

Z Cuvée 2OO6
Rhônish blend of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, and Cinsaut from 25-year-old vines.  16 months in oak barrels, 2O percent new.  Bursts with fruit, grenache predominating.  $2O

Syrah 2OO5
Contains a bit of Viognier, a la Côte Rôtie.  Same oak treatment as Z Cuvée.
Rich in dark fruit, with hint of black pepper.  My own favorite.  $22

Z Three 2OO5
46 percent Syrah, 4O Mourvèdre, 14 Grenache, from vines less than 1O-years-old.  21 months in French oak, 4O percent new.  Young, exuberant fruit.  Good finish.  Ripe and tarry.  $46

Black Bear Block Syrah 2OO5
From 3.5 acres of 3O-year-old ungrafted vines, the Estrella clone sourced from Chapoutier in Hermitage.  Fermentation by natural yeasts.  1OO percent new French oak for 21 months.  Intense cherry fruit, with some black pepper.
Will age well.  Only 5OO cases produced.  $6O

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