Napa History Bottled
The 2014 Tofanelli Estate Zinfandel, grown on the estate that Vince Tofanelli’s family has farmed since 1929, is the embodiment of classic Napa. The property’s deep-rooted ancient vines eke out beautifully concentrated berries, about 80 percent of which have historically been claimed by the likes of The Prisoner and Orin Swift’s Dave Phinney, consistent 100-point winemaker Thomas Rivers Brown, and the Zin maestros at Turley. In fact, Phinney loves this vineyard so much that it is Vince Tofanelli’s hands depicted on his Papillon label. What Vince keeps of his estate fruit goes into the 1,000 cases of wine that are sold under the Tofanelli name. This expressive Estate Zinfandel, which is farmed organically and without irrigation in the famous up-valley heat of Calistoga, absolutely bursts with classic Zinfandel boysenberry, plum, mocha, and spice. This is Napa history, bottled.
Vince Tofanelli’s 2.13-acre Calistoga vineyard is a lesson in both grape-growing and in Napa vineyard history. Planted in 1929, the grapes are hand-harvested from gobelet-trained vines so gnarly and stout that they need no help from the wooden stakes hammered into the dirt to support them.
Tofanelli’s in-demand Zin has been tapped for single-vineyard bottlings by Neyers, Schrader, and Turley, which leaned on grapes from the ancient vineyard for 15 years. The Zinfandel is supplemented in the field by Charbono, a variety that once was a Napa mainstay, as well as Grenache, Carignan, and Petite Sirah — all varieties that get better and better as their vines age.
Calistoga, where the cool morning fog is quickly burned away by the hot sun as it rises and warms the vineyards, feels a million miles away from the beaten wine trail, and it’s hard to imagine a location more out-of-the-way than Tofanelli. For several years, Tofanelli’s tasting room was a shared space in downtown Calistoga. Before that the historic vineyard served as Vince’s de facto tasting room: He would pull his truck alongside the vines, crack bottles, and pour what he calls his “sustainable, reality-based wines — no smoke, no mirrors!”
The 2014 Tofanelli Estate Zinfandel is supplemented with small percentages of Grenache, Petite Sirah, and Mondeuse Noir. The concentration that has come from stressed old vines and up-valley heat is beautifully complemented by the spice from 16 months in 20 percent new French oak, and the energetic lift provided by the cool Calistoga nights and morning fogs. It is a taste of “how the valley once was,” Tofanelli told us. It’s also a wine of gorgeous balance by a legendary grower and producer.