2018 Martha Stoumen, Zinfandel, Venturi Vineyard, Mendocino County.
Martha Stoumen, who was celebrating her birthday yesterday March 20, is one of the new generation of California small batch producers that is working in a natural way to craft her wines with old world techniques that she learned during her time in Europe doing winemaking internships. Best known for her time at Giusto Occhipinti’s COS Winery in the Vittoria region of Sicily and her love of the Nero d’Avola grape, as well as her commitment to organic farming, both with vines she works herself and her partnerships with multi-generational family grape growers, like this Venturi Vineyard in Mendocino County located just north of Ukiah, in the Calpella Valley, on a combination of sandstone, shale, quartz and gravelly loam soils. Stoumen crafts her small lot offerings at Pax’s facility in Sebastopol and makes an exciting lineup of wines with bottlings of unique varietals, like her signature Nero d’Avola and (French) Colombard plus California classics like Petite Sirah, Carignan and this young vine, organic and dry famed Zinfandel, to name a few, as well as her Post Flirtation line of blended wines, red, white and a Rosé. I have eagerly been waiting to dig into Martha’s latest releases, especially these 2018 vintage reds and this Venturi Zin is an absolutely delicious and fresh wine with a pleasing old school rustic charm and a bright low alcohol personality. This is the first year Stoumen made a Venturi Vineyard Zinfandel from a parcel of younger vines set on rock strewn part of the vineyard in an area that was formed from ancient alluvial flows and this deep and well drained sites makes for expressive and concentrated fruit which shows in this wine with its layers of earthy and spicy flavors on the medium bodied palate that shows fresh crushed raspberries, tart cherries and plum fruits along with Asian spices, orange tea, truffle, wild fennel and pepper jelly. This exciting low sulfur and almost crisp red deepens with air and an amazing perfume of dark flowers comes alive in the glass, it is a joyous crimson and unfiltered ruby colored wine that goes brilliantly with robust cuisine and or hard cheeses and charcuterie. Italy has played a big part in Stoumen’s education and during her undergraduate studies she immersed herself on a Tuscan farm learning the inter connected balance of natural farming and traditional agricultural systems working with an olive orchard, farm animals, bees, and vegetables along with grape vines going valuable insights into organic synergies.
The Venturi Zinfandel, which is vegan safe, was fermented using 100% whole cluster, with Stoumen starting with a small portion of the bunches being foot treaded and placed in the bottom of the tank, then un-treaded clusters are put on top. Then, according to Martha, they slowly foot-tread or perform (body) punch-downs for about a week until things are soft enough to gently do pump-overs. She adds, that because grapes are broken up slowly over time, sugars are also released more slowly rather than all at once, resulting in a slower fermentation, maybe adding to the lower alcohol here, which is 12.7%, but with a ripe and textural feel. The primary and secondary fermentation is all native or indigenous and saw a 28-day maceration before pressing with Stoumen’s minimalistic approach and a gentle racking before the wine rested in all well seasoned used barrels for 12 months on its lees. The final bottled wine shows good intensity of form, lively acidity and mild dusty tannins that gives this Zinfandel a transparent and raw character, but the nose especially develops with sensuality and adds an elegance to this lighter style wine with lilacs and lavender emerging. You can see why these wines are gaining a fan base and not only with the natural wine crowd, as these wines deliver a fine performance and you can clearly see Martha’s personal style shinning through, in particular I love her Carignan, the Nero d’Avola and this Zinfandel. Stoumen, who got her start initial exposure to grape farming and winemaking in Tuscany, got a Master’s at UC Davis, and has before starting her own label spent stints at some of the world’s best wine estates, she worked under the renown Reinhard Löwenstein at Heymann-Löwenstein, in the Mosel, as well as working under stars like Jordan Fiorentini (Epoch), when she was at Chalk Hill, Chris Brockway of Broc Cellars, Clive Dougall at Seresin, in Marlborough New Zealand, Didier Barral at Domaine Léon Barral of Faugères fame in France’s Languedoc, and the mentioned Giusto Occhipinti. These experiences have shaped Stoumen and led her to take her own path to create terroir driven California wines from unique grapes and sites, and they are well worth checking out.
($38 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive