by Fred McMillin
for April 30, 1997

A Swell Zinfandel

Prologue: "The Rocky Top Vineyard Zinfandel vines were planted prior to Prohibition [1920]. They produce tiny crops having some of the most intense flavors we've ever harvested"...from proprietor Lee Sobon (rhymes with "bone")

The Rest of the Story: As a Senior Research Scientist for the Lockheed Space Lab, Lee Sobon was always tinkering and exploring...and he didn't stop when he started making Zinfandel in Amador County two decades ago. It soon became clear that the high-alcohol, blockbuster prevailing style had a VERY BIG appeal to a VERY SMALL number of devotees. However, a winery cannot live with a cult wine alone. So he conducted a number of experiments...harvesting earlier... fermenting at lower temperatures, etc. When the dust settled, he had a Zin with much broader appeal. Berry flavors now dominated; harshness disappeared as alcohol and tannin contents were lowered. If you want to taste what Lee has accomplished, try his rich 1993 Rocky Top. It's hard to find a more satisfying California red for $13.50.

1993 Zinfandel, Rocky Top Vineyard, Amador County
Sobon Estate Winery, Calif. Registered Landmark 762
Plymouth, Amador County, CA
Phone (209)245-6554

Category: Highly recommended in its price range

Postscript: Why is the relatively new Sobon Estate Winery a state landmark? Well, a Swiss emigrant, Adam Uhlinger, put together the original buildings and planted vines in 1856. Thus, it is a landmark because it is the third oldest California winery. Shirley and Lee Sobon bought it in 1989 and have developed a museum to preserve the artifacts and other contributions from the prior owners, particularly the D'Agostini family that owned it most of this century.

About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. He currently teaches wine courses at San Francisco State and San Francisco City College and is Northern California Editor for American Wine on the Web. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers.

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