Wine & Spirits - June 2020 - 25

Coastal Challenges
"I tend to find the most exciting sites are not always the most
dependable ones," Daniel Schoenfeld tells me. "It takes hardheaded, determined people to grow grapes out here."
In 1981, Schoenfeld and his wife, Marion, owners and
winemakers of Wild Hog, planted the third vineyard in
what is now the Fort Ross-Seaview AVA. Their site is five
miles from the ocean, between 1,300 and 1,400 feet in elevation. Hugged into a canyon, the site is a little more protected from cold ocean winds than Bohan.
"We planted zinfandel before we planted pinot," Daniel
Schoenfeld says. "It was just everyone saying, 'you are crazy.
You will never get it ripe.' So, I planted pinot too, but it turns
out the zin works really well for us," though, he admits, he
sometimes has to pick sooner than he'd prefer because of
rain. "We do have extreme weather."
The coastal mountains are consistently one of the rainiest parts of California, making it difficult to ripen thinskinned varieties such as pinot noir or zinfandel without
damage or rot. Of the two varieties, pinot noir tends to
ripen long before the rains start in late autumn. Zinfandel
harvest in the region is typically in October, well into the
threat of late-season rain. 	
Aside from the elevated acidity of coastal vineyards,
Schoenfeld finds that tannins can be accentuated, too. "Our
place in particular, we tend to get some pretty big tannins,"
he says. "We tend to hang onto our wines a couple years
longer before we release them." Wild Hog is only just starting to release the 2015 zinfandel.
Tasting the wine, the heightened acidity is immediately
apparent. But it is also full of wild fruit aromatics and has a
markedly long finish. With the additional age, the tannins
have turned powdery fine. The wine is rustic and exuberant, playful while still ageworthy.

"The far-coast
wines are more
dew-kissed than
sun-kissed, like
you get from
inland sites.
That dew-kissed
sense gives a
little wilder
aromatic."
--TEGAN PASSALACQUA,
TURLEY WINE CELLARS

Risky Business
When it comes to coastal zinfandel, "it is a bit of taming
the beast," says Eric Sussman, owner and winemaker of
Radio-Coteau. "On coastal sites, zin tends to have bigger
berries," he explains. "With these dry-farmed sites, and the
later growing season, the grapes can start to dehydrate a bit,
so you get higher sugars but still higher acids, too. A way
to mask the acid could be to leave the wine slightly sweet,
but we don't want to do that."
I had called Sussman and asked him to send over a bottle
of his 2016 Lemorel Zinfandel and am tasting it as we talk
over the phone. We had walked the site together several
years ago. It's eight miles from the ocean, at an elevation
of 800 feet, near the town of Occidental, sheltered from
strong winds but strongly influenced by fog.
"Zin here is risky business," says Sussman. From 2002 to
2007, Sussman made wine from several blocks of old-vine
zinfandel planted by the Morellis and Robert Von Weidlich,
the subsequent owner, across a mix of decades; he bottled
it as Radio-Coteau Von Weidlich Zinfandel. Then, when he
purchased the property in 2012, he decided to call the wine
Lemorel, after the original winery on the site. It's mainly
made up of fruit from the 1946 Morelli block but in some
vintages, like the 2016, it includes a bit of fruit from the
1981 Von Weidlich block.

He's been fine-tuning the farming every year, he says.
"Better pruning and better canopy management have
helped us balance the acidity and ripeness. It is hard
because there is not a lot of fruit there." The old headtrained vines produce around one ton per acre in a good
vintage. Even so, at veraison, they go through the bunches,
removing wings and small berries that could otherwise create excessive acidity in the wine.
Sussman's team has also fine-tuned the canopy. "We're
trying to keep the inside of the vines open, to avoid shading on the inside. We had to have fenders fabricated for
the tractor so we can leave the canes to flop open, [allowing for] good sunlight penetration and airflow. It means
more uniformity and ripeness, with a little more balance
to the acidity, too."
	Tasting his 2016 Lemorel, from a year with unusually even
ripening, the acidity is elevated but feels comfortably married to the body of the wine. The aromatics are full of bramble and forest notes, there's finesse to the depths of flavor
and the finish seems to last forever.

More Coastal Zinfandel?
Just down the road from Lemorel, the Morelli family also
planted zinfandel at what is now a Dutton Ranch vineyard,
the source of Dutton-Goldfield's Morelli Lane zinfandel.
Other than that, there is very little zinfandel in Sonoma's
coastal mountains.
"The market isn't asking for it," Sussman says. "We have
zinfandel because this Italian family moved to the area and
planted it," he explains. "It's part of the history of the site."
	He's committed to sustaining the block of old vines and,
as individual vines die, planting new ones. But instead of
simply replanting zinfandel, Sussman is experimenting with a field-blend approach. He's been interplanting
another thin-skinned, high-acid variety with a long-standing kinship to zinfandel in California's historic field blends:
grenache.
"We'll see how the grenache does," he says, noting that,
at five years of age, it's just beginning to produce fruit.
Eventually, he hopes to harvest and coferment it with the
zinfandel. "The historic zin would be a part of a wine that
speaks of the site," Sussman hopes. "It's more like a life
project." n

ERIC SUSSMAN AT
RADIO-COTEAU TENDS
VINES PLANTED BY THE
MORELLI FAMILY IN 1946,
THE SOURCE OF HIS
LEMOREL ZINDANDEL.

WINE & SPIRITS

JUNE 2018

25



Wine & Spirits - June 2020

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Wine & Spirits - June 2020

Contents
Wine & Spirits - June 2020 - Cover1
Wine & Spirits - June 2020 - Cover2
Wine & Spirits - June 2020 - 1
Wine & Spirits - June 2020 - Contents
Wine & Spirits - June 2020 - 3
Wine & Spirits - June 2020 - 4
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Wine & Spirits - June 2020 - Cover3
Wine & Spirits - June 2020 - Cover4
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