Random Musings

The 2018 Zinfandel Chronicles Power Rankings

Welcome to the 6th, annual installment, of the Zinfandel Chronicles Power Rankings. The intent behind the list is to rank wineries based on the buzz and excitement they create in the wine collecting crowd. The rankings are entirely subjective based on my observations on sites like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Wine Spectator, WineBerserkers, WineBid and Cellartracker. Factors such as demand for mailing list wines and results at auction are also considered.

I’ve ranked the wineries below and indicated whether they’ve moved up the list or down. I’ve also highlighted wineries new to the list and those that have been dropped from the list. Finally, I included my bubble wineries which might find a spot on the list in the years to come.

Without further ado here is the 2018 version of the Zinfandel Chronicles Power Rankings.

  1. Sine Qua Non – The mailing list has a wait list that I suspect is 8-10 years long. The postcards sent to those not able to buy the wine are a rite of passage for new collectors. The most unique aspect of SQN is that despite high pricing there is almost an inelasticity to demand. Even at $200+ consumers are climbing all over themselves to buy the wines. Lastly, despite a healthy secondary market, I think most buy the wine to drink, instead of flip. The Dirt Venacular Grenache and Cypher 16 Syrah were released just a few weeks ago. Unchanged from 2017.
  2. Carlisle – The winery epitomizes everything you want in a mailing list. Exceptional wines, fair pricing and second to none customer service. At the forefront of saving California’s historic vineyards. Mike Officer is meticulous in the vineyard and has honed his craft almost to perfection after being at this for over 20 years now. Rumor has it that Mike has a Cabernet Sauvignon from Montecillo Vineyard and a Russian River Valley Pinot Noir in the works. Unchanged from 2017.
  3. Rivers-Marie – Their is something for everyone here. Top notch Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon. The personal project of Thomas Rivers Brown. Somehow he runs Rivers-Marie while making wine at the likes of Schrader and Outpost. I once had a winery owner confess to me that he was not sure how they could price their Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir at $30. New to the fold this year is single vineyard Cabernet from Herb Lamb Vineyard. Unchanged from 2017.
  4. Saxum – Pricing for the 2016 wines held steady at $98 per bottle. Smart move as $100 is a mental block for many of us. The wines at Saxum are exceptional and Justin Smith and his team provide fantastic customer service. Lots to like here as evidenced by the incredibly long wait list for the wines. 6-7 years from what I understand. Members of the Saxum mailing list can expect an opportunity to get on the mailing list for Downstream in the near future. This is a new project from Justin and Philippe Cambie. Up 1 spot from 2017.
  5. MACDONALD – The winery is a collaboration between brothers Alex and Graeme MacDonald. The vineyard that makes up the MacDonald Family Vineyard was originally producing wine as part of ToKalon Winery in the 19th century. It actually rests within the ToKalon Vineyard. This is perhaps the most acclaimed vineyard in Napa Valley. The story here is super cool, Alex and Graeme are gracious and the wines are fairly priced at $150. The wines are selling in the secondary market for 2 and 3 times release price. Perhaps the best news is that yours truly made the mailing list with the 2014 vintage. One of two wineries on the list to move up 5 spots year over year. Up 5 spots from 2017 and the big winner this year.
  6. Screaming Eagle – Demand for the 2015 version of Screaming Eagle was brisk after receiving 100 points from the Wine Advocate. Mailing list price was $2550 for a 3 pack in OWC but the resale market saw the wines selling for up to $5500 per 3 pack. The wines are in such demand that the winery will kick you off the list if they catch you flipping the most recent release. In recent news Screaming Eagle announced they will not be releasing the 2017 vintage due to fire taint and their second wine, Flight, just got released at $550 per bottle. Down 2 spots from 2017.
  7. Bedrock – Morgan Twain-Peterson continues to do all the right things at Bedrock. Exceptional wines, fair prices, tremendous customer service and a passion for California’s historic vineyards. The big news from this Fall’s mailer was new wines from Sky Vineyard and Bien Nacido Vineyard. The rise of Bedrock has been so rapid that I have seen many cut back on their Bedrock purchases as it makes up too much of their cellar.  Unchanged from 2017.
  8. Cayuse – What a crazy year for Christophe Baron and Cayuse. In October the winery announced that most of the 2015 vintage was tainted by bad corks and the wines would not be released. Just devastating news for both the winery and the buyers on the mailing list but ultimately I think this only cements Cayuse as a winery any collector wants to buy from. Christophe also released the first vintage of Hors Categorie. The waiting list at Cayuse is exceptionally long and the wines sell well in the after market. The annual release party in April should be on any consumers bucket list. Unchanged from 2017.
  9. Scarecrow – Demand for the 2015 Scarecrow was incredible despite only receiving a 99 point score from the Wine Advocate. Don’t lose sight of the fact that Scarecrow is sourced from J.J. Cohn Estate which has some of the oldest Cabernet vines in Napa Valley. The story is cool and the wine is spectacular. You can even make the case that wine is fairly priced at almost $300 per bottle. The wine is selling for around $550 at auction.Expect their second wine, M. Etain, to be released later this week. Down 3 spots from 2017.
  10. Turley – Carlisle and Turley sit squarely on the pedestal for best Zins in the state of California. The most impressive thing about Turley is the shear scale. Turley literally sources Zinfandel from diverse vineyards throughout the state of California. Tegan Passalacqua has the winery firing on all cylinders. The tasting rooms in Paso Robles and Amador are a fantastic opportunity for those not on the mailing list. The Turley portfolio expanded in 2016 to include Mendocino County with the addition of a DuPratt Vineyard Zinfandel. Down 1 spot from 2017.
  11. Ridge – Despite the retirement of Paul Draper, Ridge is more relevant than ever. Ridge is one of the few wineries that can make claim as world class in Chardonnay, Cabernet and Zinfandel. Monte Bello is one of the true blue chips of California and if you buy on futures the pricing is incredibly fair. The Estate Cabernet is an amazing value at around $50 per bottle. Geyserville and Lytton Springs should have a spot in every cellar. Up 3 spots from 2017. 
  12. Thomas – Oregon’s first cult winery. John Thomas makes exceptional Pinot Noir from the Dundee Hills in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Incredibly well priced at about $60 per bottle. If you want to sign up for the mailing list you will need to send John a letter or try to track down his phone number. I routinely see the wine selling for $100 at auction. Thomas is a one man show but I do understand he takes guests at the winery every so often. A visit is on my bucket list. Up 5 spots from 2017 and the second big winner this year.
  13. Sandlands  – This winery is the personal project of Tegan and Olivia Passalacqua. Tegan is the Winemaker and Vineyard Manager at Turley. The line-up encompasses some of the forgotten classic California varieties, primarily grown in decomposed granite from regions and vineyards that have been farmed for many generations but have remained the outliers of California viticulture. Trousseau, Syrah, Mataro, Chenin Blanc and Carignane are the focus here. I’d love to see Tegan expand the portfolio enough to merit two mailers per year. Down 2 spots from 2017.
  14. Williams Selyem – Jeff Mangahas has done an admirable job as the third winemaker at Williams Selyem. Williams Selyem has always been about sourcing fruit from the very best vineyards in the Russian River Valley and Sonoma Coast. The downside with the mailing list is there are literally 15+ wines on the two releases every year.  New to the portfolio this year is the Saitone Estate Zinfandel. From a 120 vineyard in the Piner-Olivet area that Williams Selyem acquired in 2016. A fantastic winery to visit in the Russian River Valley. Up 4 spots from 2017.
  15. Ultramarine – Michael Cruse makes three sparkling wines from Charles Heintz Vineyard in Sonoma. This might be the hottest new winery in California outside of MACDONALD. The upcoming November release is sold out and the wines sell for a ridiculous amount in the aftermarket. I’ve yet to try a bottle or sign up for the mailing list so the ship sailed without me. New to the list in 2018.
  16. Rochioli – Admittedly I have a soft spot for Rochioli. I have bought their wines going back twenty years now. Every variety they produce is in the conversation for the best in the state of California. Keep your eye out for a new release of their hard to obtain sparkling wine. They could sell their entire production via their mailing list and retail but they still have a tasting room open to visitors on perhaps the best site in the Russian River Valley. Put Rochioli on your short list on your next visit to Sonoma. Bring a picnic, buy a bottle and sit on the back deck overlooking the vineyard. You can thank me later. Down 3 spots from 2017.
  17. Myriad – Mike Smith started his winemaking career under the direction of Thomas Rivers Brown in 2001. Like TRB he has his own label, Myriad, and works with many other clients including Quivet and Carter Cellars.  The Myriad wines are exceptionally well made and fairly priced. Down 2 spots from 2017.
  18. Realm Cellars – Realm released their first vintage in 2002. They source fruit from a number of premium vineyards located within and around the Napa Valley including Dr. Crane, Farella and To Kalon vineyards. Both the 2013 and 2014 Realm Absurd received 100 points from the Wine Advocate and it appears the winery is having no problem selling the new release at $425. New to the list in 2018.
  19. Limerick Lane – The vineyard dates back to 1910. The winery dates back to 1985. The current iteration dates back to 2011 when Jake Bilbro purchased Limerick Lane. The wines coming from this vineyard are second to none. As evidence, Bedrock, Carlisle, Robert Biale and Matthiasson are all producing a Limerick Lane vineyard designate Zin. Look for a Limerick Lane Zinfandel from both Bedrock and Carlisle Vineyards in the not so distant future. Unchanged from 2017.
  20. Once & Future – Once & Future was founded by Joel Peterson who previously founded Ravenswood Winery 40 years ago. Ravensood, at it’s core, was always famous for their single vineyard Zinfandels sourced throughout Sonoma County and that is the recipe at Once & Future as well. The lineup has expanded to include several single vineyard Zins, a Merlot and a Petitie Sirah. Once again a winery that suffers from only having a single release per year. Unchanged from 2017.

On the bubble but not quite on the list: Arista, Christopher Tynan, Dehlinger and Ferren.

Dropped from the list: Becklyn, Kosta Browne.

Last year one new winery was added. This year two new wineries were added. I have mixed emotions about Kosta Browne as I still adore the wines but I know many who have moved on due to pricing and new ownership. Time will tell how the story plays out here.

The wineries that continue to excel make exceptional wines at fair prices from classic vineyards and provide amazing customer service.

So there you have it! The 2018 version of the Zinfandel Chronicles Power Rankings.  As always, I welcome your feedback.

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6 thoughts on “The 2018 Zinfandel Chronicles Power Rankings

  1. Bedrock is 18% of my cellar and Carlisle is 10%. They are almost virtually the same in style/varieties/vineyards/etc. not sure how I let this happen, but I can’t stop buying!

  2. Funny that you put UltraMarine on here. I heard about them several years ago. I got on the mailing list right away and never bought. Finally got dropped recently. Always seemed like I had something else to buy.

    1. I started a 2019 version and it was not materially different than the 2018 so I decided to hold off until 2020. So some time around mid year I will get a new version published. Thanks for reading!

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