Beekeeper Cellars Zinfandel, this being the release of the 2012 vintage. Proprietor Ian Blackburn of LearnAboutWine and the new wineLA, teamed up several years ago with old friend and brother in wine, Clay Mauritson, to make the very best Zinfandel possible. Ian thinks of Zinfandel as California's grape, an intrinsic part of the history of winemaking in California, and he brings his passion to fruition.
The event at Josie in Santa Monica featured a vertical tasting of all the Beekeeper vintages, from 2009 to 2012, during which Ian recounted his education in winemaking, vintage by vintage. Four of the five wines we tasted came from the Madrone Spring Vineyard in the appellation known as Rockpile, owned by the Mauritson family, situated at the Northwest edge of Dry Creek Valley. All of the vineyards within the Rockpile AVA range from between 800 – 2000 ft. in elevation. Although Rockpile is located just 13 miles from the coast, Lake Sonoma provides an inversion layer that prevents the heavier fog that typically blankets other Northern California appellations, allowing for longer, more consistent sun exposure. Moisture and daytime temperatures are regulated by coastal breezes, and in many cases, steep slopes and rocky terrain require manual vine management.
2009 Beekeeper Cellars - Ian's very first vintage, 81% Zin and 19% Petite Sirah, received kudos from everyone when it was released, and now in 2015, it has softened and become very drinkable. Deep purple color, soft berries, leather and wood in the nose and on the palate make a wine that has come into its own.
2010 Beekeeper Cellars - The 2010 vintage was a rough one, with a huge loss of fruit due to a sudden leap in heat after a long, cool summer. The inky purple wine is spicy with a delightful anise finish. This blend of 89% Zin and 11% Petite Sirah should be drunk now.
2011 Beekeeper Cellars - 2011 was the summer that never ended. There was no flower and very little fruit, so Ian and Clay did what any winemaker does when presented with a difficult vintage; they punted. 78% Zin and 22% Petite Sirah make for a more austere, leaner wine, with cranberry and rich spice. We found this wine to be surprisingly complex and interesting, and we are anxious to see how it will age.
In 2012, Ian found that he not only had fruit from the Rockpile, but he had the opportunity to purchase some fruit from another special vineyard: Black Sears Vineyard at the top of Howell Mountain in Napa Valley, another very high elevation site, with terrific fruit.
2012 Beekeeper Cellars - Madrone Spring Vineyard, Rockpile - Ian described this vintage as a 'mean, angry bitch' and 'backward'. He blended 80% Zin and 20% Petite Sirah to create a lighter textured, medium purple wine with tobacco, leather and cola on the nose, and tasty red fruit on the palate. Good tannins provide a firm backbone for a wine that will continue to develop.
2012 Beekeeper Cellars - Black Sears Vineyard, Howell Mountain, Old Vine Reserve, Napa Valley - The fruit from Black Sears is growing at 2400 feet and was planted back in 1974, dry-farmed, organic/biodynamic and gnarly. This wine could not be more different from the Rockpile wines. Dark ruby in color, a nose of black pepper, herbs, dark fruits with a floral undertone, and a rich, full-bodied texture with serious tannins. Tasty! Only 1% Petite Sirah in this Zin.
Of course we purchased the 2012 releases in order to continue our perfect vertical of Beekeeper Zins. If you're nice to me, I'll share them with you!
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