2002 Tulip Hill “Old Vines” Zinfandel, Lake County, California

I’ve been curious lately about some of the more fringe appellations of Northern California, such as Lake County. A lot of grapes are being grown there, but not a lot of wine shows up with Lake County as its appellation on the bottle. What does this mean? Mostly that juice from these grapes is being blended in with juice from more “fashionable” appellations by wineries big and small in quantities below the 20% level that would require them to disclose their origin.

It’s nice, then, to see winemakers like the folks at Tulip Hill making a wine that is 100% Lake County fruit, and in this case from “old vines” no less. We’ll just have to take the folk’s at Tulip Hill’s word for that but they seem nice enough so we don’t have a lot of reason to doubt them.

Tulip Hill is a fully family run outfit that has vineyards both in Napa as well as Lake county. Founded by a character named Budge Brown and his wife Arlene about 6 years ago and now run by their son Jeff, Tulip Hill is the culmination of nearly half a century of California farming by the Brown family. Budge was farming row crops in the Fifties and by the time he decided to pursue his longtime dream of owning land in Napa he had grown vegetables, grains, nuts and tree fruits, so perhaps grapes were the only thing left.

According to their web site, even though he attended UC Davis, if asked about his education, Budge is fond of saying he “graduated from the School of Hard Knocks with a degree in Trial and Error and an emphasis in Blood, Sweat and Tears.” Along with his son, who runs the majority of the daily operations of the vineyards, the family makes wine from a large vineyard called Mt. Oso, in Stanislaus County, I believe — 270 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon, 11 acres of Chardonnay, 17 acres of Merlot, and 90 acres of Syrah — as well as a smaller vineyard in Pope Valley on Howell Mountain in Napa which is primarily Cabernet Sauvignon and a little Petite Syrah. Their main winery operation is in Kelseyville in Lake County.

The winery takes its name from the Browns’ interest in flowers, in particular the history of tulip mania in the Netherlands during the 1600’s when tulip bulbs were worth far more than their weight in gold.

This particular wine is made from a single vineyard site at the base of the Mount Konocti volcano in Lake county.

Tasting Notes:
This wine is light garnet in color and has a nose of stewed prunes and blackberries. In the mouth it is rather light for a Zinfandel — less concentrated than one would expect — with surprising flavors of strawberries and raspberries and a decent amount of acidity. Ruth liked this wine a lot, and I found it refreshing, even pleasurable, but not particularly complex or dynamic. This is a good wine for afternoon drinking and for those who are wary of Zinfandels that are full of spice.

Food Pairing:
This wine would go particularly well with light cheeses as well as lightly spicy foods. Try it with these smoked rib-eye and goat cheese empanadas.

Overall Score: 8

How Much?: $18

This wine can be purchased directly from the winery by giving them a call, or you can check their Web site for distributors in your area.