Friday, October 4, 2013

ZD Wines, home of Abacus (among other things)

One of my favorite wines on the planet is ZDs Abacus so on my recent trip to Napa, I decided to pay a visit to the winery to gain some on-site insight into the facility and its processes. This post is a report on my findings.

ZD Wines is located on Silverado Trail in the lower eastern half of the Rutherford AVA and is bordered by Mumm Napa Valley to the north, Caymus Vineyards to the west, and Beckstoffer to the south. My visit was scheduled for 11:00 am but I got there a little early and was able to roam around on the grounds and survey the beautiful views of the valley afforded by the property.

My group consisted of four people and our host for the visit was Jorge Guzman, Hospitality Lead at ZD Wines. According to Jorge, ZD is the fruit of the dreams of two former aerospace engineers -- Norman de Leuze and Gino Zapponi -- who pooled $3000 each to launch a venture aimed at making wines akin to the famed wines of Burgundy. With grapes purchased from Winery Lake Vineyard in Carneros, the partners produced 300 cases of Pinot Noir and a small amount of Riesling in 1968, their first vintage.

Grapes for ZD wines are sourced from a mix of owned-vineyards and purchased fruit (According to Jorge, fully 60 percent of the grapes utilized in wine production at ZD is purchased fruit.). Grapes for the earliest incarnation of the winery's Pinot Noir were sourced from Winery Lake Vineyard in Carneros, as were the grapes for the earliest Chardonnays. A 33-acre parcel was purchased in Carneros in 1996 and that vineyard is devoted primarily to the production of the Reserve Chardonnay (27 acres). A 6-acre block in the northwest portion of the property has been planted to the Hanzell Pinot Noir clone and is the source for the ZD Founders Reserve wine. Grapes for the Cabernet Sauvignon wine is sourced from 3.2 acres of sloping land around the vineyard plus purchased fruit from low-yielding, Napa hillside vineyards.

A number of interesting processes are employed in the cellar.  For example, the Chardonnay grapes are cold-fermented in barrels (using Champagne and Montrachet yeasts) in a long, slow process which imparts a sur lie feel to the completed wine. In order to preserve the wine's characteristics, malolactic fermentation is not allowed. The winery eschews pumping-over for maintenance of skin contact, opting instead for a manual punchdown of the cap using the device depicted below.

The winery's offerings, and associated production processes, are depicted below.

The standout offering from the producer is Abacus, an attempt on the part of the winery to retain the purity of fruit that is associated with young Cabernet Sauvignon wines while also taking advantage of the benefits bestowed by maturity. According to Benjamin Lewin MW, the mono-varietal Cabernet Sauvignon shows greater purity of fruit in its youth but is linear compared to a Bordeaux blend which exhibits a broader flavor spectrum. But, according to Lewin, it is with age that the differences between the wines really appear. The mono-varietal Cabernet Sauvignon matures but the purity of fruit of its youth yields to austerity while the blend produces the "savory notes of tertiary development." The ZD team had a similar view and set out to create a varietal Cabernet Sauvignon that would retain that purity of fruit through the ages. They accomplished this goal by blending the 1992-1998 vintages of their Reserve Cab with each vintage contributing 15% of the initial Abacus bottling. The company is on the verge of releasing its 14th bottling of Abacus.

We tasted a few of the wines before, during and after the tour. The Chardonnays were very Burgundian in tone with a richness resulting from the extended cold maceration. These wines were rich, balanced, well-endowed with bright fruit. The 2010 Pinot Noir was reflective of cherry, raspberry, vanilla, and earth on the nose and silky tannins with a long finish on the palate. The 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon exhibited licorice, blackberry, and spices on the nose and black fruit and power on the palate.

I enjoyed this visit immensely and can now rest peacefully knowing that I have completed my pilgrimmage to the source -- the source of Abacus.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme


  1. Lovely, just lovely. I am still wondering which Abacus bottling did you taste?
    I had the pleasure of tasting 4 of them and I bought bottling # XIII, without tasting it. But the best part was that we all had a chance to create our individual unique blend from our Vertical tasting from bottling X, XII, and IVX. We enjoyed bottling XI with lunch as well as the Founder's Reserve Pinot, and the 40 Anniversary 2008 Chardonnay, which has always been my personal favorite ZD wine. I think we had a total of 8 or 9 wines at the June 2012 Abacus Vertical Tasting. It was surely my lucky day.

  2. Sounds like an awesome time was had by all. I like IX and XII but they are all great. Complexity of the kind you do not encounter often: the ability to have old and new notes on the palate at the same time.