A Zinfandel Odyssey

“Wine is of the earth’ it’s a connection we need, that we seek out as our lives become more cut off from the natural world. It is part of what’s behind the interest in wine that separates it from other alcoholic beverages. Great vineyards are a reflection of that piece of earth the vines grow in and of the sun and rain that fall upon them.” Paul Draper, Vintner

Greetings wine enthusiasts! If exploring new wines or learning more about old vines is one of your learning passions, today’s featured subject, “A Zinfandel Odyssey” authored by friend of the vine Rhoda Stewart may serve as a perfect starting point!

Written with a poet’s flair, researched with a detective’s intense focus, and presented as an enchanting romance, Stewart has come to know Zinfandel like no one else. She shares philosophy, technology, culture and heritage complemented with her beautifully detailed photography capturing the mysterious red grape in all its seasons.

Stewart’s extensive interviews with the grape’s pioneers and current Zin producers including Paul Draper, Don Galleano, Jon McPherson, Joel Peterson, Kent Rosenblum and others, provide the color and depth to make ”A Zinfandel Odyssey” a most entertaining journey through a unique wine’s spirit. Her passion for everything Zinfandel shines through every turn of this 431 page extended love letter of California’s most distinctive grape. She traveled throughout her adopted state and even into Mexico to search out the origins and unveil the mysteries that have always surrounded Zinfandel.

Wine experts agree that Zinfandel has become one of the most popular red wine varieties among American consumers today. It’s a grape with a most confusing history and lineage however, with origins disputed for decades. Until recently Zinfandel was thought to have originated in southern Italy’s Apulia region, where the genetically related Primitivo (di Goia) variety is widely grown. Further research suggested a possible parent/offspring relationship with the Plavic Mali grape from Croatia. Experts conclude notable differences are evident in both vine and wine characteristics of Italy’s Primitivo and California’s Zinfandel.

Zin is the only red grape that compares to Cabernet Sauvignon in total acreage and volume crushed in winery cellars. It is widely planted throughout our state, in a vast range of climactic zones. It reaches its height in the ancient plantings of Amador County’s Sierra Foothills, in northern Sonoma appellations including Dry Creek, Geyserville and others. Zinfandel from Napa, Lodi, San Luis Obispo, Paso Robles, Temecula and Cucamonga Valley winegrowing regions are all prized.

“Zinfandel symbolizes the Cucamonga Valley. It has played a significant role as the grape of choice of commercial and home winemakers throughout the country. Rhoda is passionate about Zinfandel. She followed from the north to south and into Baja California. People who love wine and history would appreciate her book. It’s a great read,” said Don Galleano of Galleano Winery in Mira Loma. Galleano is a fourth-generation grower and winemaker of Cucamonga Valley Zinfandel.

“A Zinfandel Odyssey is the culmination of several years of research and photography. It is magnificently done, and portrays the expansive California Zinfandel scene of the 1990s in wonderful detail and insight. Especially Zinformative, it’s a must-have for every wine consumer,”
said Kent Rosenblum of Rosenblum Cellars in Alameda.

Stewart was born in eastern Saskatchewan, Canada. She earned her B.A. from Waterloo University College, Ontario, Canada, in 1963, and her M.A. from University of California, Santa Barbara, in 1968. By 1974, having completed all course work towards her Ph.D., she moved to San Francisco, where she began work as a photographer.

By the time Stewart had joined the Napa Valley College faculty in 1978, she had photo publications in cat, llama, baby animal, and wild flower calendars. Her contributions to wine journals followed soon after her move to Napa, with photos and articles appearing in journals Napa Valley magazine, Wine Country magazine, Practical Winery & Vineyard, GuestWest, Wine Enthusiast, Wine News, Wine Spectator, Sauveur and others. Her first report on Zinfandel appeared in Practical Winery & Vineyard in 1987.

“Rhoda Stewart is clearly the mistress of the Zin image. Not only does she expose us to California Zinfandel in carefully crafted photographs, but she also creates beautifully detailed written images of the many regions and unique individuals involved in the production of California’s heritage grape and wine. A Zinfandel Odyssey has all that a wine aficionado could request: romance, history, exciting characters, and California winemaking lore and myth combined to create a mix that is satisfying, moving, and informative,” said Joel Peterson of Ravenswood in Sonoma.

Stewart is quite active promoting her favorite subject. “I gave a presentation on Zinfandel for a summer offering in Winemaking at NVC last summer, and focused on what have been the major improvements to making Zinfandel better in the years since Repeal of Prohibition, given that the old vines haven’t changed, yet the wine has,” shared Stewart. “That has been my latest interest, following up on Paul Drapers point that putting Zinfandel in small oak barrels has been one of the most revolutionary practices to date in taking Zinfandel wine from a rough peasant-style wine to a world class offering.”

 If you are interested in purchasing your own copy of “A Zinfandel Odyssey” the price is $60. plus sales tax. ”I ship to customers, and will gladly sign, and include an inscription of choice, if I am given the request to do so,” said Stewart. The book is hard bound, with a beautiful jacket. For details, please visit http://www.zinfandelodyssey.com. Rhoda Stewart can be reached via email at rhodairis@prodigy.net

Gino L. Filippi can be reached at Ginoffvine@aol.com

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