When considering the rare grapes of the world, unusual wine varietals like charbono, a grape that thrives in Calistoga’s terroir, and malbec, a strong Argentinian varietal, might come to mind. You may not think to group the once-ubiquitous zinfandel with these uncommon breeds, but this black-skinned grape (also referred to as primitivo) is becoming more and more popular in the Napa Valley. Because many vineyard plantings have been replaced with the ever-popular cabernet sauvignon, zinfandel vineyards are less common than ever before in Calistoga; in fact, within the entire Napa Valley.
Given its scarcity in the Napa Valley, Laura Swanton takes pride in her zinfandel vineyard perched on the hillside along Lake County Highway in Calistoga. When she purchased the vineyard in 1999, the property had already been planted with zinfandel 19 years earlier. Though experts advised Laura to pull out the vines and replace them with cabernet rootstock, Laura’s mission was to retain the property’s history and zinfandel vines. Her label, Laura Michael Wines, was formerly known as Zahtila Vineyards, but when Laura remarried her long ago ex-husband, Michael Swanton, they changed the label to honor their second chance love story.
In addition to producing delicious estate grown zinfandel and Dry Creek zinfandel wines, Laura and Michael make rosé of zinfandel labeled as “Michael’s Muse”. This rosé is light and refreshing with a hint of pomegranate, and perfect to sip on a sultry end-of-summer day in Calistoga. To supplement the winery’s production, the Swantons also buy cabernet, chardonnay and Russian River pinot noir grapes, as well as produce a Port-style dessert wine.
Despite the diversity of their production, zinfandel is a best seller for Laura Michael Wines. Laura says she plans to continue producing estate grown zinfandel as long as she lives on the property with their two dogs, surrounded by the almost 40-year-old vines that produce their prized grapes.