Winery’s Zinfandels are hidden gems

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There is a well-kept secret among Zinfandel lovers in Napa, Calif. Tucked away in the St. Helena neighborhood of renowned Cabernet producers is Charter Oak Winery, a tiny artisan producer of hand-crafted Zins. Owner Rob Fanucci has a reverence for Zinfandel and is committed to the pursuit of quality. He resides in an area where Zinfandel is rarely discussed in public. Fanucci inherited Charter Oak along with the craft of winemaking from his grandfather, Guidu Ragghianti, who continued to make wine until the mature age of 98. Today, Fanucci uses the same wine press, large redwood bats and tools originally used by his grandfather. As a boy, he recalls being fascinated by the color and aromas of freshly crushed grapes and the sweet grape must it produced. Fanucci has inherited an enthusiasm and talent for winemaking, which he has translated into crafting Zinfandel’s with character and personality.

As a transactional attorney by profession, Fanucci’s relationships with his clients have helped him identify some of the best vineyard sources for his winery. His friendship with winemakers such as Louis Martini allowed him access to a small 2-acre parcel of coveted Monte Rosso hillside vineyard fruit. There are 3 Zinfandels in Charter Oak’s portfolio. Along with the Monte Rosso bottling, there is the Robert Fanucci Estate Napa Valley Zinfandel, produced from a 1-acre parcel behind the winery, and the Zin Mind made from the second crop of fruit sourced from a 50-year-old vineyard in St. Helena. Fanucci’s wife, Layla, is also an accomplished professional and cityscape artist who incorporates her works on the labels of the Zin Mind.

Fanucci has added an Old Vine Petite Sirah and Mt. Veeder Cabernet to his list of achievements as he continues to contour the identity of Zinfandel. Charter Oak wines are currently on niche wine lists of many well-known restaurants and retailers around the country. Its production is a miniscule 700 cases per year.

The 2011 Charter Oak Monte Rosso Zinfandel is sourced from 120-year-old Zinfandel plantings grown in the red volcanic soils of Mayacamas Mountain. The wine is unfined, unfiltered and produced from native yeasts in the vineyard. The ruby reflection of this Zinfandel suggests an underlying elegance that is expressed in all of the wines from this historic vineyard. The heady fragrance of fresh baking spices, earth and anise are unmistakable evidence of its pedigree. This wine is described as the “wild child” because of the “wild cherry pie” overtones, which are noticeably intertwined with some cracked pepper and briary raspberry flavors. Although this wine is approachable now, it is sure to have a long and graceful future.

Suggested Retail: $47.99