Tuesday, February 23, 2010

ZD Wines of the Carneros: It’s a “Family Affair”

by Dwight Casimere

“It’s a Family Affair!” The opening line of the 1971 hit Sly& the Family Stone song “Family Affair” for Epic Records is the appropriate description of ZD winery.

A pioneer in the Carneros winemaking district, which straddles both Napa and Sonoma counties, the winery is the legacy of the late Norman deLeuze to his family, which is still involved in hands-on operation of the winery.

“Zero Deviation” is the phrase that graces the side of a commemorative glass. The words speak to the origins of the winery, which was the brainchild of deLeuze, who was an aerospace engineer, by trade.

An intimate luncheon for special guests and the media featured a sneak preview of the winery’s auction lot of Petit Abacus, to be presented at Premiere Napa the following day. The luncheon was hosted by Norman’s widow, Rosa Lee, and presided over by winemaker Chris Pisani.

In the garden room setting of Go Fish restaurant’s airy private dining room off St. Helena Highway with the lush mountains and vineyards of the Napa Valley visible outside its picture windows, attendees dined on assorted sushi, lobster rolls and fresh local oysters and scallops while drinking ZD’s Gold Medal-winning vintage Chardonnay, which has graced White House dining tables for the last three decades.

One neat touch, the activity preceding the appetizers was a little wine ‘quiz’, which I later learned is a parlor game played by many at informal gatherings in the Napa Valley. Guests were poured a blind tasting of wines produced by the winery and asked to identify their year of vinification. I, of course, missed them all, but there was lively discussion and banter from the family members and guests familiar with the wines about their various properties and telltale characteristics. It was a lively exchange and very revealing. It really gave an insight into the character of the people who create the wines we love and the psychological sparks that keep their creative juices flowing.

Besides pioneering the Carneros designation, the winery is also one of the trailblazers of organic farming practices dating back to the 1980s. ZD’s Estate Vineyard and deLueze Family Vineyard have been Certified Organic since 1999.

“Our basic philosophy is that we be ecologically sound in everything that we do. We not only wanted to do things better than our previous generations, but we wanted to do things that were smart. What we learned that organic practices are not only beneficial to the ecological, but they’re also smart business practices.

“What you have in your glass are the 2007 Founder’s Reserve Pinot Noir and the 2008 40th Anniversary Pinot Noir, both from Carneros. These are both Certifiably Organically grown Pinot Noirs. I’ll let their qualities speak for themselves. They also say a lot about the importance of organic farming as the starting point for great winemaking.

“We’re not only farming organically, but we’re also using solar power. So much so, in fact, we’ve even starting to get credits from it.”

Matriarch Rosa Lee deLeuze was quick to point out that not all of the credit for the success of ZD’s organic practices belongs to the younger generation. “We actually started the organic farming with my Norman, so the project was well underway before the younger generation took charge!”

“This is the identical wine (Founder’s Reserve), that was the Reserve Pinot Noir, which is now no longer, ” said ZD Wines Robert deLeuze, son of the Founder. “This wine is in honor of our dad who loved organic farming and who was a huge believer in what it was all about. He was also a lover of Pinot Noir. So this is in honor of him and his passion for the wine industry and what’s in that bottle.”

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