If there ever was a variety to capture my heart it is Zinfandel. From my earliest days as a winemaker, I was enchanted with the variety. I have had the opportunity, nay the gift of working with some very old and very special vineyards. Each one produces wines of individual character and quality. Here in Lake County there are not as many old vine vineyards as in other areas. It is a good place to grow Zinfandel and we do get grapes from the old Catfish Vineyard but most of the Zinfandel plantings are less than 20 years old. These are nice vineyards and with the gift of time will turn into fantastic old vine Zinfandel. It is our custom to take the fruit that is lighter and less tannic and use it in our Shooting Star bottlings. Two of the vineyards that we get grapes from are located on the flanks of Mt. Konocti the long dormant volcano that dominates the skyline of Lake County. These red volcanic soils are perfect for grape growing. They drain well and are not too fertile and the exposures are wonderful. This wine has great aromas of raspberry, and the flavors are also berry like. We age the wine in older French and American oak barrels and bottle it 7-9 months after the harvest to capture as much of the aroma and flavor of the grape as possible. These are not wines which need to be cellared nor should they be. Enjoy with good spicy foods, grilled meats or sausages.
Jed Steele has worked making wine in California since the late 1960s. In 1991, he founded his own small winery in Lake County. Steele Wines specializes in Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, Pinot Blanc and Syrah.
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California has nearly 100 American Viticulture Areas (AVAs) and accounts for almost 90% of wine production in the United States. In our section of Other California, we include wines from smaller AVAs as well as wines from the California AVA. Here are a few smaller AVAs you may see on the label:
Livermore Valley AVA
, located right outside of San Francisco and home to wineries such as Wente.
Lodi County AVA
, an AVA further east of San Francisco and known for its excellent, old-vine Zinfandels.
San Francisco Bay AVA
, a sprawling AVA that covers Contra Costa, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties, to name a few.
Wine that holds only the California AVA is typically a wine that includes grapes from a number of different AVAs, which leads to the general labeling of the wine as California. This does not denote the quality of the wine, only the diversity of where the grapes originate.
It's not rare to see a wine's country of origin listed as "California." A country into itself in the wine world, California makes enough varieties and styles to match many European wine countries. It produces a diverse range of wines that span the quality spectrum.
The most famous of the California wine regions is Napa Valley, and these wines are certainly outstanding – but it's not as broad and diverse as its larger neighbor, Sonoma County. Down south, Santa Barbara's Santa Maria Valley is well-known for its Rhône blends, as well as cool-climate varieties like Pinot and Chardonnay. The Central Coast, the largest California AVA, has many different microclimates that lead to a wide range of wines with many sub-AVAs.
Most wine ranges from 10-16% alcohol by volume. Some varietals tend to have higher (for example Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon) or lower alcohol levels (Pinot Noir and many white varietals), but there is always some variation from producer to producer. Some wine falls outside of this range, for instance Port weighs in closer to 20%, while Muscat and Riesling are usually a bit below 10%.
Wine Style Guide
Light & Crisp
Light to medium bodied wines that are high in acid and light to medium fruit. Typically no oak.
Fruity & Smooth
Light to medium bodied wines with lots of juicy fruit, typically medium acid and medium oak.
Rich & Creamy
Full bodied wines that have typically undergone malo-lactic fermentation and/or spent time in oak.