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Wine to me is passion. It's family and friends. It's warmth of heart and generosity of spirit. Wine is art. It's culture. It's the essence of civilization and the art of living. - Robert Mondavi

Happily Ever After...Storybook Winery Guarantees It

Wednesday, September 22, 2010
Once upon a time, two weekends ago, we went looking for a big, full-bodied, spicy, juicy wine...and we found our knight in shining armour at Storybook Winery. Tucked away in Napa close to Calistoga, Storybook Winery sits on an eastern slope of the Mayacamas Range whose ridges separate Napafrom Sonoma. The winery bottles and ages itsEstate wines where its vines grow - 46 acres of vines, among 120 heavily forested acres that receives warm eastern sun exposure, an orientation shared with many of the greatest vineyards in Bordeaux and Burgundy. The winery was founded in 1888 by the Grimm Brothers, who dug the original 3 wine cave tunnels that remain today, and also named the winery “Grimm’s Vault” - not quite as playful or endearing as “Storybook”.Unfortuntely, the Grimm Vault came to a grim finish when a fire in the 1970’s destroyed the entire vineyard. Enter Jerry and Sigrid Seps - a couple of city folks from southern California who had no experience with farming or making wine whatsoever, but loved the charming plot and were determined to learn everything they could to transform their new land into a successful winery. The Seps’ re-named the winery Storybook to honor its majestic beauty and to pay homageto the original founders - the Brothers Grimm. After spending a year clearing it out, they determined that the land was best suited for growing Zinfandel - the thick-skinned grape with big bunchesof tightlyclustered purple berries that requires plenty of warmth to ripen, yet cool nights to create perfectly balanced wine. In the mid-seventies, Zinfandel was rarely planted in the Napa Valley - so when the Seps’ decided to plant their vineyards with 100% Zinfandel, many were skeptical. However, the Zinfandel produced by the winery was hugely successful (the winery won its first gold medal in 1983 and won the became the highest rated Zin in history in 1989) and thus Storybook produced exclusively Zinfandel for 20 years! Only after phyloxera (which attacks only Zin in California) spread through Napa Valley did the family decide to take some precautions and plant 20% of the vineyard with Cab, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Viognier to insure against a deadly outbreak, which fortunately never harmed the precious Zin vines. However, the 20% non-Zin varietals are still grown and bottled at the Storybook Estate, but are given the name “Seps Collection” so that the Storybook names denotes strictly Zins.

Jerry Seps was originally a professor and carefully planted the vineyard based on the subtle differences in terroir. The winery is now comprised of 98 picking parts, which are hand-harvested separately by four workers who are kept very busy throughout the year. The grapes are not necessarily harvested in neighboring order - Jerry Sepps was originally a science professor and takes great care and a hands on approach to determine exactly when the grapes should be picked based on the perfect ripeness, sending the the 4 workers out to pick the vineyard each day as if they were on a scavenger hunt. Once the grapes have been harvested, Jerry, his wife, and daughter hand-sort the grapes, removing any but the best from the final blending mix. Once the juice is pressed by part, the family again tastes each individual part to determine which ones will make it to the elevated status of “Reserve” Zin. Apparently, Jerry Seps takes copious notes on the subtleties he tastes, while his wife, Sigrid, simply rates them by number as her final answer. This “first pick” blend creates the most intense, balanced Storybook Zins which also have the best aging potential. The wines are then aged in parts in three types of oak - French, American and Hungarian, for 12 months before being blended together in the original Oval Barrel (see pictured). After the wine is brought together inside the neutrally flavored barrel for 1-2 months, it is finally bottled and though it ages well, is also a good young-drinking full-bodied wine - already complex and balanced in its youth.

Back to the subject of visiting the winery: Your tour begins with a stroll up through the vineyards, which is a truly wonderful way to begin, because you can really see the different parts of vines planted in a quiltwork of different directions that best capture the sun. The tour then leads you through the ancient caves built by the Grimms and still used today. The highlight here is realizing that these are the original 100+ year-old caves and there are places where you can actually see the original unenforced ceiling and walls - cobwebs and all, and truly imagine you are in a fairytale. The caves provide the perfect temperature for wine making and require no additional cooling. After a tour through the barrel labyrinth and past the large oval tanks, painted with the storybook emblem (Fox and Grapes) you alight at a tasting room, to sample a myriad of Seps Family wines - from Storybook Zins, to Seps Cab and Viognier (added to some of their syrahs and also bottled separately if there is enough of it left over). Below are my notes on a few of the tastings:
* Zin Gris: A modern twist on “white Zinfandel” - this wine is perfect for summer, but nothing like the award-winning Zins Storybook is known for. It’s light pink in color and has hints of grapefruit, watermelon and strawberry.
* 2007 Mayacamas Zin: This Zin makes up 50% of the Storybook production and is rich and sexy with dark fruit flavors, blackberry, anise, tobacco, and mulling spices. It’s huge without being overpowering.
* Anteas: A blend of all the Seps red Bordeaux varietals: A strong, earthier wine - that truly tastes like its namesake Greek character, Anteas, who drew its strength from the earth. Lots of earth, and damp forest floor with foxy red cherry-berry notes.

Storybook Winery is charming, intimate and a beautiful place to visit. As we departed with bottles in hand, I had a happily ever after feeling - or maybe that was just the Zin...

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