Big changes at a winery always induce worry in fans; will the core of what makes the wines special change? The two most common changes that bring about this hand-wringing are new ownership and new winemakers. Sonoma’s Ravenswood winery went through the former in 2001, apparently a relatively painless process as founder and winemaker Joel Peterson stayed on board.
As of 2015, however, Peterson is pulling back, concentrating on his own project, “Once and Future;” Ravenswood is undergoing another transition. Gary Sitton has taken over; given his long experience with the winery, the process, as expressed in the glass, seems to have gone smoothly.
Sitton worked at Ravenswood from 1999 to 2007 before leaving for stints at Blackstone and Clos du Bois. Now he has returned, taking on a double role at Ravenswood as both Director of Winemaking and General Manager. 2015 was his first full vintage with the winery in his new role.
Ravenswood makes several tiers of wines; the real test lies in the single vineyard wines, perhaps the most characterful and age-worthy wines in the portfolio. As personal as Peterson’s relationship with those vineyards seemed, Sitton’s experience has kept the wines on track. My notes on the 2015s are by-and-large consistent with older vintages; here are several from a recent tasting of the 2015s:
Big River Zinfandel 2015: Sitton calls this a “quintessential California old vine vineyard,” with plantings going back to the 1890s. Located 300 ft. above the Alexander Valley floor, an oxbow of the Russian River surrounds the vineyard on three sides. This is not an over-extracted, dense Zinfandel; red fruits, especially cherry and strawberry, dominate, and on the palate the tannins are light and well integrated. It’s full-bodied, well-poised and threading its way between lush exuberance and a more structured, powerful expression. The result overall is elegant and even fresh despite its weight.
Belloni Vineyard 2015: Belloni is a field blend, not an outright Zinfandel; the vineyard contains Alicante, Carignan, and Petite Sirah as well. Dark and blue fruits dominate, with blueberry, boysenberry aromas as well as hints of baking spice and white pepper. It’s well structured; with firmer, more intense tannins than the Big River.
Old Hill 2015: The Old Hill Vineyard is owned by the Bucklin family, who also make a single-vineyard wine from it. Planted in the 1880s, it’s believed to be the first post-phylloxera planting in Sonoma. The mix of grapes makes Belloni look like tame, as Old Hill contains almost thirty different varieties, again in a mixed planting. The wine is more structured and Old World in its expression. It’s closed right now and needs some time in the bottle, but there are some dark fruit aromas and an underlying minerality showing through at this point.
I tasted this alongside the 2007 from the same vineyard. If that wine is any indication, classic “Zinny” raspberry and licorice notes will emerge from the 2015 in a few years, but not at the cost of its graphite mineral character. The 2007 also has plenty of room for development, too; it’s safe to assume the 2015 will show similar ageability.
Teldeschi 2015: Located in a warmer site in Dry Creek, Teldeschi Vineyard’s plantings date back to the early 1900s. It contains the same varieties as the Belloni Vineyard, but unlike Belloni and Old Hill was planted in blocks, rather than as a field blend. The different varieties are vinified separately and only blended after fermentation and aging. Perhaps this accounts for its complexity; the wine shows a mix of strawberry, raspberry liqueur, licorice, and pencil lead. The wine is full and round, with ripe, well-integrated tannins.