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A fine zinfandel is a tribute to small producer

Ravenswood’s ’03 "Dickerson Vineyard" zinfandel shows unusual elegance.

With so-called vineyard-designated wines, a winery acknowledges the source of its fruit if it is not grown by the winery, or estate bottled, as is often the case in California. Providing the name of the vineyard on the bottle gives it a kind of badge of honor, a credibility and honesty that is often lacking these days as many wineries buy fruit or wine on the bulk market, bottle it and slap on their labels without telling you the source.

That's decidedly not the case with Ravenswood, a Sonoma County winery that offers a range of reds, but most notably zinfandels. In fact, Ravenswood has a whole lineup of vineyard-designated zins from well-known growers, including the gorgeous wine I tried recently.

For full disclosure, Ravenswood has sent me its wines for review over the last couple of years, but since I am not an avid drinker of zinfandel — I find many of them too big and too alcoholic — the wines have not been a priority. That is, until I picked out Ravenswood's 2003 "Dickerson Vineyard" Zinfandel for a taste not long ago with some delicious pan-seared pork chops from du Breton, a Canadian producer of organically raised pork whose products are available here.


The bottle, I noticed, had unusual labeling — the type and the Ravenswood logo were painted and there was gold lettering and a gold wrapper, suggesting that this was a special bottling as, indeed, it was. But more on that a bit later.

On opening the wine, which has a suggested price of $30 and limited production of under a thousand cases, I was immediately struck by its beautiful fruit, concentration and unusual elegance. Although the alcohol level is just under 15 percent (many French wines, by contrast, are in the 12- to 13-percent range), the wine is not overpowering, thanks to ample acidity that keeps the overall impression bright and uplifting.

Still young and relatively light in color, it gives off aromas of ripe, fresh red and dark berry fruit, eucalyptus, mint and earth. In the mouth the fruit becomes more defined with notes of blueberry, blackberry, cranberry and plum, all of it framed by ample but pleasing tannins and well-integrated and muted oak. It’s a refined and charming wine and a fitting tribute to Bill and Jane Dickerson.

Bill Dickerson, a psychiatrist by training, became a winemaker in 1971, having purchased a 21-acre vineyard in Napa Valley with cabernet sauvignon and old-vine zinfandel. He divided his time between the practice of medicine and the art of winemaking, using organic methods, dry farming (no irrigation) and hand harvesting, producing his own limited bottlings of reserve wines and selling the rest of his fruit to Ravenswood. The wines were critically acclaimed.

I was saddened to read on the bottle that Ravenswood’s 2003 "Dickerson Vineyard" Zinfandel, bottled last year, became a commemorative wine honoring the Dickersons, who were lost in the South Asian tsunami while on vacation in Thailand in December 2004. The work of the vineyard is continuing with the Dickersons’ children and the winemaker, Joel Peterson.

And that’s fortunate, because Bill and Jane Dickerson were really on to something with their little vineyard and their zinfandel, showing us how lovely this quintessentially American wine can be.

Edward Deitch's wine column appears Wednesdays. He welcomes comments from readers. Write to him at EdwardDeitch