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Behrens & Hitchcock Napa Valley Zinfandel 1997
However, the roots of Behrens & Hitchcock are found in Folie Douce, the award-winning restaurant Lisa Drinkward and Les Behrens launched in 1991 in Arcata, California. While Lisa was developing an incredible, French-inspired menu, Les was busy cultivating a superb wine list and cellar which eventually received the Wine Spectator's Award of Excellence. In the course of creating the wine list, Les met many winemakers and received encouragement from several to begin making his own wine. The idea, which seemed almost nonsensical at first, quickly began to take root in Les' mind.
As customers of Les' frequent wine tastings at Folie Douce, Joe Bob and Lily Hitchcock learned of Les' winemaking idea and that Les was trying to raise the startup capital. Almost immediately, the wheels began to turn in Joe Bob's mind. If Les was really crazy enough to make wine, Joe Bob thought he just might be crazy enough to join in the venture. Joe Bob's background in business management - both in the corporate world and more recently as a business consultant and tax preparer - was the perfect complement to Les' winemaking. Joe Bob became General Manager of the winery and, together with Lily, handled the finance and administrative side of the business while also jumping into much of the "dirty work" of making wine under Les' winemaking direction.
The inaugural 1993 crush produced 175 cases and was indeed a labor of love. The two families quickly developed into a team dedicated to the common goal of making small batches of high quality red wine. Over the next three years, the winery expanded to 750 cases per year and took over a new building at Les and Lisa's home as well as a lot of Joe Bob and Lily's house which was used for case goods storage.
In August of 1997, they decided it was time to give up their day jobs and move the winery from Arcata to the Napa Valley. They rented a winery east of Napa where the winery grew even larger to 3,500 cases, but something was still missing. What they really wanted was a winery of their own. After looking at every winery, shack and vacant acreage available in the Napa Valley, they finally found their home on top of Spring Mountain. Les designed the winery, and together with his son, Sean, and lots of helping hands, built the winery in possibly record time as the 1999 harvest was only a few months away. The 1999 crush took place in an incomplete facility with only a generator for electricity. There have been significant additions, including two caves, as production expanded, but this always-under-construction winery, with their crazy dog and beautiful views, continues to be the beloved home of their passion for making small batches of handcrafted wines.
One of the world's most highly regarded regions for wine production and tourism, the Napa Valley is the AVA that brought worldwide recognition to California winemaking. The area was settled by a few choice wine families in the 1960's who bet that the wines of the area would grow and flourish. They were right. The Napa wine industry really took off in the 1980's, when vineyard lands were scooped up and vines were planted throughout the county. A number of wineries emerged, from large conglomerates to small boutiques to cult classics. Cabernet Sauvignon is definitely the grape of choice here, with many winemakers also focusing on Bordeaux blends. Whites are usually Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.
Within the Napa Valley lie many smaller sub-AVAs that lend even more character specifics to the wines. Furthest south is Carneros, followed by Yountville, Oakville & Rutherford. Above those two are St.-Helena and the valley's newest AVA, Calistoga. These areas are situated on the valley floor and are known for creating rich, smooth Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chardonnay. There are a few mountain regions as well, nestled on the slopes overlooking the valley AVAs. Those include Howell Mountain, Stags Leap District, and Mt. Veeder. Wines from the mountain regions are often more structured and firm, benefiting from more time in the bottle to evolve and soften.
Unapologetically powerful, heady, and fruit-forward, Zinfandel is often thought of as a truly Californian grape, though in fact it is anything but. This variety has followed an intriguing trajectory to reach its adoptive home, beginning, surprisingly, in Croatia. Originally known as Tribidrag, it first made its way to southern Italy where it became known as Primitivo. From there it eventually migrated to what is now unarguably its most successful outpost, in California, and has thrived throughout the state. Of course, this is also the grape of White Zinfandel, a sweet pink wine that enjoyed great popularity in the 1980s and 90s. Though White Zin still has a significant following, today the variety is increasingly associated with the red version.
In the Glass
Zinfandel commonly features a bold, plush texture and notes of dark plum, blackberry, sweet spice, black pepper, dark chocolate, leather, and licorice, and can often be described as “jammy” and a little bit sweet. Very ripe examples may express a hint of dried fruit like raisin, fig, or prune. Despite its significant alcohol and weight, Zinfandel has very smooth, gentle tannins.
Zinfandel is a powerfully flavored wine, mingling happily with bold food like brisket, lamb shanks, pork ribs, or anything barbecued. If care is taken with regards to alcohol levels, Zinfandel’s hint of sweetness can work well with milder Indian-spiced dishes like lamb curry.
Thanks to its popularity both for home winemaking and as communion wine, many Zinfandel vines were able to survive prohibition, leading to the abundance of "old vine" Zinfandels. These low-yielding vines tend to produce wine that is concentrated, complex, and elegant.