Sunday, October 24, 2010

Zinfandel and Other "Italian" Wines of Seghesio Vineyards in California

Pictures: Christian G.E.Schiller with Pete Seghesio Jr. in Washington DC

Pete Seghesio Jr., CEO of Seghesio came to Washington DC to present his wines at Pearson’s.

The Seghesio Family Story

The Seghesios are one of the pioneering families in Sonoma County's wine industry. Their story begins in 1886 when Eduardo Seghesio departed his family's vineyards in Piedmonte, Italy for a new life in America. Like so many immigrants, he was drawn to Northern Sonoma County and the Italian Swiss Colony. The "colony," as it was known, hired immigrants for three year stints, providing room and board and then, a lump sum at the end of those three years enabling employees to buy land or set up a business in their new home.

Soon, Eduardo rose through the ranks to winemaker. In 1893, he married a young girl, Angela Vasconi, also from Italy . In 1895, they purchased a modest home in northern Alexander Valley, less for the home than the surrounding 56 acres Eduardo recognized as ideal vineyard land. They planted the "Home Ranch" that year to what has become the family's lifeline - Zinfandel.

Eugene Pio Seghesio, the son of Angela and Eduardo Seghesio, joined the family winery in 1941. During his tenure, Seghesio became a leading bulk producer, but he also started the process that would see the winery transformed to one of the world's premium producers of Zinfandel. While this transformation took place during the tenure of Eugene Pio, it was engineered by 2 Seghesios from the third generation: Eugene Pio’s son Pete Jr. Seghesio, who became the CEO (and who led the tasting), and Eugene Pio’s nephew Ted Seghesio, who became the winemaker. They trimmed production from 130.000 to 40,000 cases. The first wines bottled under the Seghesio label were released in 1983.

Today, all Seghesio wines are sourced from the four hundred acres that the Seghesio family owns and operates in Alexander Valley, Dry Creek Valley, and the Russian River Valley as well as another 100 acres leased on a long-term contract.

Alexander Valley

The Alexander Valley is located north of Healdsburg in Sonoma County. It is the largest and most fully planted wine region in Sonoma. The Russian River flows down the valley, surrounded by vineyards on both sides.

Viticulture dates back to the mid-1800s, when Cyrus Alexander established vineyards in the area. For most of its history, the region was predominately associated with mass-produced bulk and jug wines. The modern era of quality wine production began in the late 1960s with Simi Winery starting to produce wine in the Alexander Valley.

Picture: Maps of Sonoma County and Alexander Valley

The Alexander Valley is known for a wide range of grape varieties but in recent years the area has been noted for the quality of its Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot wines. Jancis Robinson has speculated that Zinfandel and Sauvignon Blanc may prove themselves to be best suited to the climate and soils of the Alexander Valley.


Zinfandel is a red grape variety planted in over 10 percent of California vineyards. It was long considered to be the “American Grape”. But new research revealed that it is genetically equivalent to the Croatian grape Crljenak Kaštelanski, and also the Primitivo variety traditionally grown in the "heel" of Italy, where it was introduced in the 1700s. The grape found its way to the United States in the mid-19th century.

The arrival of Zinfandel in the US may have been via the Imperial Nursery in Vienna, Austria, which likely obtained the vines during the Habsburg Monarchy's rule over Croatia. After World War II, medium sweet White Zinfandel became immensely popular in the US. At the end of the end of the 20th century, red Zinfandel wines came back into fashion.

Seghesio Vineyards


In 1895, Eduardo Seghesio chose the western bench of Alexander Valley as his stake In the New World and planted his first vineyard to Zinfandel. The absence of marine influence marks this growing appellation. Long, warm days create an environment that enables noble red varietals to excel. With only 8-16 inches of topsoil and clay soils with varying underlying layers of basalt, sandstone, and serpentine rock, vines have a difficult time surviving. The resultant lower yields produce grapes with incredible concentration.

Total Acreage: 190 acres (primarily Zinfandel with Petite, Cabernet, Sangiovese, Barbera, Aglianico).

Vineyard purchased in 1895.


Located on the eastern bench of northern Alexander Valley, River Road is the warmest of the Seghesio vineyards. Yolo and gravelly, sandy loams are the result of this vineyard's proximity to the Russian River.

Total Acreage: 56 acres (100% Zinfandel).

Vineyard purchased in 1942.


Climatically, Alexander Valley tends to be warmer as one moves north up the valley. The Lone Oak Ranch is in an area that is slightly cooler than the Home Ranch. The well-drained soils here are comprised primarily of gravel (Yolo) based loams.

Total Acreage: 25 acres (100% Zinfandel).

Vineyard purchased in 1971.


Nestled in the heart of Dry Creek Valley, Cortina's climate reflects both coastal and inland influences. Mornings shrouded in fog are followed by long hours of sunshine. The soils at Cortina are diverse, consisting primarily of loam (Yolo) interlaid with gravelly loam (Cortina) ideal for Zinfandel.

Total Acreage: 56 acres (primarily Zinfandel).

Vineyard purchased in 1957.


San Lorenzo was planted in the early 1890s, making it the oldest Seghesio vineyard. Ideal for Zinfandel, San Lorenzo’s bench lies in the Southeast Alexander Valley above the fog layer and is rooted in clay loams.

Total Acreage: 32 acres (Zinfandel and Petite Sirah).

Vineyard purchased in 1896.


Located in northern Russian River Valley, this vineyard's microclimate is tempered by cool coastal breezes and frequent summer-morning fog. These climatic conditions provide an optimum growing environment for Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, and Arneis. The soils are composed of gravel and clay loams.

Total Acreage: 72 acres (Pinot Noir, Pinot Grigio, and Arneis).

Vineyard purchased in 1961.

The Wines Peter Seghesio Jr. Poured

Here are the wines Peter poured, with his notes.


Winery Notes: “Arneis originates from the hills of Roero, northwest of Alba in the Piedmonte region of Italy from which our grandfather, Edoardo Seghesio, emigrated in 1886. First noted in Italian records as far back as 1478, Arneis’ production grew as it was often planted among rows of Nebbiolo to lure hungry birds away from the more prized red grapes. Arneis’ literal translation is "little rascal," due to the viticultural challenges it presents in the vineyard.

Tannins and flavors developed slowly without the usual heat spikes, but a very warm September punctuated the vintage by bringing the fruit to full ripeness. Complex, lingering flavors of ripe pears, honeydew melons and green apples. Crisp acidity and bright varietal fruit aromas.”



Winery Notes: “Our family has grown grapes in Sonoma County since 1895 and, in Russian River Valley, since 1961. A decade ago, we began an aggressive move toward producing all estate wines which included an extensive vineyard-replanting program.

Pinot Grigio is part of that plan to grow intriguing varieties in the best and most appropriate sites. Noted for its unusual grayish/pink clusters and shared lineage with Pinot Noir, Pinot Grigio is well suited to the cooler climate of the Russian River Valley. Richness and textural complexity while maintaining pure, bright varietal essences.Aromas and flavors of ripe apples and quince. Lively citrus character followed by lingering notes of apple and tropical fruit. Try this wine with grilled pork chops with lemon zest, rosemary and black pepper.”



Winery Notes: “Our family roots are firmly planted in Zinfandel, as our great-grandfather, Edoardo Seghesio, first planted this intriguing varietal on our Alexander Valley Home Ranch in 1895. Today, we share his passion and, reverently, farm over 250 acres of estate Zinfandel in Alexander and Dry Creek Valleys.This wine combines sites that have produced Zinfandel for over a century with newer sites that utilize proprietary clones and the most advanced viticultural practices. Climatic-induced spicy undertones mark the 2008 vintage. Vibrant display of acidity enhances the briary raspberry and blackberry varietal expression. Lush, velvety mouth feel interwoven with fine, integrated tannins creates a smooth richness. Full-bodied, juicy mid-palate with Seghesio "balance."

Robert Parker’s The Wine Advocate 89 points: "The 2008 Zinfandel Sonoma offers up copious amounts of blue, red, and black fruits as well as excellent purity, medium to full body, a supple texture, and enough acidity to provide vibrancy. It is a pure, elegant, substantial Zinfandel to drink over the next 3-4 years."



Winery Notes: “Edoardo Seghesio immigrated to America in 1886 from the Piedmont region of Italy, home to Barbera. In 1895, he planted his first vineyards to grapes he had come to enjoy in his new country; yet one vineyard was saved for varietals from his homeland.

Our Barbera clones were found in that century-old vineyard. Subsequent Barbera plantings on the Home Ranch benefit from northern Alexander Valley’s warm, dry days where the grape’s classic acidity creates a wine with vibrant aromas and a velvety texture. Barbera's dark ruby/purple color is followed by loads of briery, berry fruit, earth, herbs, pepper, and spice. Gutsy and zesty, it is a delicious, medium-bodied red with abundant personality. Enjoy it over the next 3-4 years."



Winery Notes: “Our grandfather first worked with Sangiovese in the late 1800’s during his tenure as winemaker at Italian Swiss Colony. In 1910, he planted a Chianti field blend surrounding the railroad station in what was then Chianti, California. Those Sangiovese plantings on our Home Ranch are the oldest in America and provided the rich source of four unique clones for our subsequent plantings of the varietal. Although Sangiovese typically grows vigorously, the low yielding, shallow soils of our Home Ranch, combined with our small-berried clones, produce wines of intense varietal character. “Purity of fruit” core of blackberry/black cherry aromas and flavors. Fragrant anise spice undertones. Scents of violets and just-tilled earth. Sangiovese’s bright acidity adds succulence Dusty oak and fine tannins provide structure for the fruit to excel. Elegant, round and balanced.”



Winery Notes: “In 1893, newlyweds Edoardo and Angela Seghesio purchased their first home in Alexander Valley. As winemaker for the most prominent winery in Sonoma County, Edoardo recognized great vineyard potential surrounding the modest home. In 1895, he planted the "Home Ranch" and began our family's lineage of Sharing Uncommon Ground. Lush boysenberries and blackberries flood the senses – mouthwatering! Briary underbrush spiciness with subtle hints of black pepper. Home Ranch site-specific "graham crust" nuance. Old Vine's prominent acid presence contributes focus Warm climate exposure to the elements provides for well integrated tannin ripeness. Vineyard Designate that consistently produces finely crafted Zinfandel.”


Seghesio Family Vineyards
Healdsburg, California

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1 comment:

  1. I really hope to get to visit those valleys some day.... Since long on my wishlist...

    Look at that wine shelf behind the two of you. Such a shame I did not know about that while visiting DC a year ago! Seems, I can alost f-e-e-l the atmosphere there.

    All the best and