The 2017 Zinfandel Chronicles Power Rankings
Welcome to the 5th, annual installment, of the Zinfandel Chronicles Power Rankings. The intent behind the list is to rank wineries based on the buzz and excitement they create in the wine collecting crowd. The rankings are entirely subjective based on my observations on sites like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Wine Spectator, Wine Berserkers, WineBid and Cellartracker. Factors such as demand for mailing list wines and results at auction are also considered.
I’ve ranked the wineries below and indicated whether they’ve moved up the list or down. I’ve also highlighted wineries new to the list and those that have been dropped from the list. Finally, I included my bubble wineries which might find a spot on the list in the years to come.
Without further ado here is the 2017 version of the Zinfandel Chronicles Power Rankings.
- Sine Qua Non – The mailing list has a wait list that I suspect is 8-10 years long. Fortunately I have been at this hobby so long that I finally made the list this past year. Manfred Krankl has recovered from a devastating motorcycle accident and the wines being produced are better than ever. The most unique aspect of SQN is that despite high pricing there is almost an inelasticity to demand. Even at $200+ consumers are climbing all over themselves to buy the wines. Lastly, despite a healthy secondary market, I think most buy the wine to drink, instead of flip. Up 1 spot from 2016.
- Carlisle – The winery epitomizes everything you want in a mailing list. Exceptional wines, fair pricing and second to none customer service. At the forefront of saving California’s historic vineyards. Mike Officer is meticulous in the vineyard and somehow the wines are better than ever. I’m not sure on the dynamics but I would guess Mike can get an audience with most any Zinfandel vineyard owner in the state of CA. Mancini Ranch was added to the fold this past year. Up 1 spot from 2016.
- Rivers-Marie – Their is something for everyone here. Top notch Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon. The personal project of Thomas Rivers Brown. Somehow he runs Rivers-Marie while making wine at the likes of Shrader, Aston Estate, Outpost and Kinsella Estates to name a few. I once had a winery owner confess to me that he was not sure how they could price their Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir at $25 (this was prior to a price increase a year or so ago). Look for expansion in the Chardonnay lineup and the addition of a Bearwallow Pinot Noir in the year to come. Up 1 spot from 2016.
- Screaming Eagle – Demand for the 2014 version of Screaming Eagle was almost as strong as last year despite only receiving 97 points from the Wine Advocate. Mailing list price was $2550 for a 3 pack in OWC but the resale market saw the wines selling for up to $4500 per 3 pack. The wines are in such demand that the winery will kick you off the list if they catch you flipping the most recent release. Unfortunately I think most buyers off the list purchase the wine to sell as opposed to drink (unlike SQN). Lastly, SE is showing up in the display cases at some upscale Costcos. For those reasons I am downgrading SE. Down 3 spots from 2016.
- Saxum – Pricing for the 2015 wines held steady at $98 per bottle. Smart move as $100 is a mental block for many of us. Perhaps the biggest news from the latest release is that there is a white wine blend in the near future at Saxum. Grenache Blanc, Roussanne, Petite Manseng and Chenin Blanc will be in the mix. The wines at Saxum are exceptional and Justin Smith and his team provide fantastic customer service. Lots to like here as evidenced by the incredibly long wait list for the wines. 6-7 years from what I understand. Up 2 spots from 2016.
- Scarecrow – Demand for the 2014 Scarecrow was incredibly high driven by a perfect 100 point score from the Wine Advocate. Don’t lose sight of the fact that Scarecrow is sourced from J.J. Cohn Estate which has some of the oldest Cabernet vines in Napa Valley. The story is cool and the wine is spectacular. You can even make the case that wine is fairly priced at almost $300 per bottle. It certainly sells for more at auction. Unchanged from 2016.
- Bedrock – Morgan Twain-Peterson continues to do all the right things at Bedrock. Exceptional wines, fair prices, tremendous customer service and a passion for California’s historic vineyards. The big news from this Fall’s mailer was the recent purchase by Bedrock of Evangelho Vineyard in Contra Costa County. This wine from Bedrock has always impressed. The rise of Bedrock has been so rapid that I have seen many cut back on their Bedrock purchases as it makes up too much of their cellar. Down 2 spots from 2016.
- Cayuse – Last year Christophe Baron finally made the cover of the Wine Spectator. Cayuse and Horsepower are dialed in and Christophe has a new project in the works. Expect to hear about Hors Categorie in the near future. To top it all off the 2014 Bionic Frog and Cailloux Vineyard Syrahs both got 100 points from the Wine Advocate. The waiting list is exceptionally long and the wines sell well in the after market. The annual release party in April should be on any consumers bucket list. No change from 2016.
- Turley – Carlisle and Turley sit squarely on the pedestal for best Zins in the state of California. The most impressive thing about Turley is the shear scale. Turley literally sources Zinfandel from diverse vineyards throughout the state of California. Tegan Passalacqua has the winery firing on all cylinders. The tasting rooms in Paso Robles and Amador are a fantastic opportunity for those not on the mailing list. Whitney Tennessee Vineyard returned to the Turley fold after a decade long hiatus. Unfortunately, I was unable to secure a bottle. No change from 2016.
- MacDonald – The winery is a collaboration between brothers Alex and Graeme MacDonald. The vineyard that makes up the MacDonald Family Vineyard was originally producing wine as part of ToKalon Winery in the 19th century. It actually rests within the ToKalon Vineyard. This is perhaps the most acclaimed vineyard in Napa Valley. The story here is super cool, Alex and Graeme are gracious and the wines are fairly priced at $150. I missed the boat on this one and hope to make the mailing list in the coming years. With Schrader being sold to Constellation the MACDONALD story is even a little more special. Up 1 spot from 2016.
- Sandlands – This winery is the personal project of Tegan and Olivia Passalacqua. Tegan is the Winemaker and Vineyard Manager at Turley. The line-up encompasses some of the forgotten classic California varieties, primarily grown in decomposed granite from regions and vineyards that have been farmed for many generations but have remained the outliers of California viticulture. Trousseau, Syrah, Mataro, Chenin Blanc and Carignane are the focus here. Only 1 release this year, unfortunately, so the buzz has diminished somewhat. Down 1 spot from 2016.
- Kosta Browne – Someone in the business wrote that Kosta Browne has a waiting list longer than any two Napa Valley Cabernet producers. That speaks to the staying power of the brand now well into its second decade of existence. In exciting news I was finally offered a bottle of the Kosta Browne 4 Barrel. I’ve been on the mailing list since the ’04 vintage so it only took about 10 years. There is hope for the rest of you. Up 1 spot from 2016.
- Rochioli – Admittedly I have a soft spot for Rochioli. I have bought their wines going back twenty years now. Every variety they produce is in the conversation for the best in the state of California. Certainly this includes the Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. They could sell their entire production via their mailing list and retail but they still have a tasting room open to visitors on perhaps the best site in the Russian River Valley. Put Rochioli on your short list on your next visit to Sonoma. Bring a picnic, buy a bottle and sit on the back deck overlooking the vineyard. You can thank me later. Up 1 spot from 2016.
- Ridge – Despite the retirement of Paul Draper, Ridge is more relevant than ever. Ridge is one of the few wineries that make claim as world class in Chardonnay, Cabernet and Zinfandel. The 2015 Geyserville marks the 50th vintage of this bottling. Monte Bello is one of the true blue chips of California and if you buy on futures the pricing is incredibly fair. The Estate Cabernet is an amazing value at around $50 per bottle. Up 4 spots from 2016 and the big winner this year.
- Myriad – Mike Smith started his winemaking career under the direction of Thomas Rivers Brown in 2001. Like TRB he has his own label, Myriad, and works with many other clients including Quivet and Carter Cellars. His newest client, Becklyn, made their debut in the Zinfandel Chronicles Power Ranking last year. The Myriad wines are exceptionally well made and fairly priced. No change from 2016.
- Becklyn – Becklyn Cellars was founded by Matt and Amber Denny in 2012. The aforementioned Mike Smith has been the winemaker since the start. The story here should sound familiar. Successful winemaker, impeccable vineyards and below market pricing for Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. The newest release sold out in only a few days. As of now there is a waiting list for the mailing list. Up 3 spots from 2016.
- Thomas – Oregon’s first cult winery. John Thomas makes exceptional Pinot Noir from the Dundee Hills in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Incredibly well priced at about $50 per bottle. If you want to sign up for the mailing list you will need to send John a letter or try to track down his phone number.Conventional wisdom is that these wines need 10 years in the cellar. Perhaps, but they show pretty well young. Thomas is a one man show but I do understand he takes guests at the winery every so often. A visit is on my bucket list. No change from 2016.
- Williams Selyem – Jeff Mangahas has done an admirable job as the third winemaker at Williams Selyem. Williams Selyem has always been about sourcing fruit from the very best vineyards in the Russian River Valley and Sonoma Coast. The downside with the mailing list is there are literally 15+ wines on the two releases every year. On top of that prices continue to creep up. $65 is a touch steep for the recently offered Bacigalupi Zin. At the end of the day the wines are exceptional so I will continue to be a buyer. A fantastic winery to visit in the Russian River Valley. Down 2 spots from 2016.
- Limerick Lane – The vineyard dates back to 1910. The winery dates back to 1985. The current iteration dates back to 2011 when Jake Bilbro purchased Limerick Lane. The wines coming from this vineyard are second to none. As evidence, Bedrock, Carlisle, Robert Biale and Matthiasson are all producing a Limerick Lane vineyard designate Zin. Lastly, Jake has taken a page from some of the aforementioned producers offering exceptional wines at fair prices with second to none customer service. New to the list in 2017.
- Once & Future – Once & Future was founded by Joel Peterson who previously founded Ravenswood Winery 40 years ago. Ravensood, at it’s core, was always famous for their single vineyard Zinfandels sourced throughout Sonoma County. In what was certainly a move back to his roots, Joel’s first wines at Once & Future were a single vineyard Zinfandel from Bedrock Vineyard and a Petite Sirah from Palisades Vineyard in Napa Valley. I was able to purchase some Zin and Mataro from the release last Spring. Once again a winery that suffers from only have a single release per year. No change from 2016.
On the bubble but not quite on the list: Ferren, Andremily, Piper and Christopher Tynan.
Dropped from the list: Schrader.
Last year 4 new wineries were added. This year, just a single new winery was added. The wineries that continue to excel make exceptional wines at fair prices from classic vineyards and provide amazing customer service. Part of me wants to mix things up a little more. Seriously though, who would you take off this list?
So there you have it! The 2017 version of the Zinfandel Chronicles Power Rankings. As always, I welcome your feedback.
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