Operative: Agent Red
Objective: Return to Optima Winery, a winery that we first placed under surveillance in 2009. Secure the newest vintage of their Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel, a wine that we have shown – and loved – during the past two successive vintages.
Mission Status: Accomplished!
Current Winery: Optima Winery
Wine Subject: 2009 Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel
Winemaker: Mike Duffy
Zinfandel is related to the Italian Primitivo grape, tracing its origin to the Croatian grape Crljenak Kastelanski. Zinfandel is one of the most versatile varietals with the ability to make wines, both rich to fruity, dark to light, and dry to sweet. Dry Creek ValleyZinfandel, which are characterized by their balanced flavors, are gaining in popularity with our Operatives.
Look – Dark magenta, with a darker but perfectly clear core. The edges of the wine show off a lovely band of purple. After swirling, the wine settles quickly, leaving behind short clusters of wine-stained tears that move very slowly down the glass.
Smell – Warm and lush with a rush of blackberry, black cherry, bramble, brown spice and tobacco leaf. Under these, cigar box, tobacco leaf, dried fall leaves and black pepper round out the nose.
Feel – Plush and velvet smooth across the front palate. Then, the wine gains a grippiness at the edge of the palate, introducing a soft, spreading dryness.
Taste – Mixed berries and spice, with blackberry, wild blueberry, wild strawberry, raspberry and warm brown baking spice. After the wine opens up a little, these flavors are soon joined by black cherry, leather, black pepper, cigar box, dried fall leaves and softly toasty oak.
Finish – Very long, with a plush and elegant overall feel. Black fruit flavors gently yield to red fruit. Then, cedar, earth and spice are sustained, eventually fading to a soft black pepper flavor.
Conclusion – As impressive as ever, today’s 2009 Optima Winery Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel the same sort of delicious and exciting experience as prior vintages of this wine. Where previous vintages of this wine showed power and hard edges, this lovely 2009 is more elegant. Plush, lush and very approachable, this delicious Zinfandel is a wonderful and very food-friendly wine. It would be equally at home with a zestyBBQ as it would with finer fare. There is a lot of fruit to be enjoyed, here, and the plush feel of the wine seems to bind the flavors on the palate in a very elegant manner. 2009 is shaping up to be a fantastic overall vintage for California Zinfandels, which is great news, as vintages on either side were relatively small. If you love really fantastic Zinfandel, dear operative, follow our advice and stock up on this delicious example from our friends at Ootima Winery!
WINEMAKER INTEL BRIEFING DOSSIER
SUBJECT: Mike Duffy
DATE OF BIRTH: May 1959
PLACE OF BIRTH: Oregon
WINE EDUCATION: Graduate of UC Davis in Enology
CALIFORNIA WINE JOB BRIEF: When I finished my Enology degree from UCD in 1981, I was already employed as the Assistant Winemaker at Trefethen Vineyards in Napa Valley. “I was very motivated to earn my degree and start working after being a broke college student for so long. I moved to Field Stone as winemaker in 1988, studying under the legendary Andre Tchelistcheff. For nine years, I worked full-time at Field Stone, saving weekends to tend to my own fledging winery, Optima.
SIGNATURE VARIETAL: Cabernet Sauvignon
AGENT RED: Greetings, Mike. I know how busy you are right now, so I really appreciate the opportunity to talk with you – if even for a few scant minutes, today.
MIKE: As always, it is great to be back with you – and your Operatives, Agent Red.
RED: Thanks, Mike. Tell me, was there a specific experience in your life that inspired your love of wine?
MIKE: Yes, I was raised around wine. My first job in High School was helping my parents, Bill and Della, at their wine shop, that is what sparked my interest. Later I played with making wine out of anything I could get out of my parents garden. I would take flats of strawberries, peaches and blackberries and craft them into wine. One time I even raided the rose bushes in the neighborhood so I could make a rose petal champagne
RED: And where did you learn the most about winemaking?
MIKE: UC Davis gave me an excellent technical background. It was the basis for my ability to solve problems when they arise. The experience of making wine came from getting in and getting dirty at my internship at Trefethen in 1980. That’s where it all came together for me. I have a unique work ethic and a strong mechanical background, both of which I have my father to thank for. Both those qualities served me well when I left the academic world and helped distinguish me from other classmates and co-workers.
RED: Great places to get your footing! What wine or winemaker has most influenced your winemaking style?
MIKE: Andre Tchelistcheff was the biggest influence on how I make Cabernet, and the greatest source of perspective, history and wine knowledge that I have been fortunate enough to have enjoyed. He approached the entire winemaking endeavor, from the vineyard in the spring, to harvest, and through barrel aging, as one integrated whole. I learned to take Alexander Valley Cabernet and to use its brilliant fruit as the basis for my wines. “Don’t bother making one of those huge Cabernets like many do in Napa, Mike. Anyone can make wines like those.” Andre would say. He inspired me to make a Cabernet that spoke to the virtues of Alexander Valley. A wine with an intense core of fruit and coco, balanced with vanilla and oak. Complex and powerful, yet subtle and soft. He also impressed on me the critical concept of not manipulating the wine, rather helping it become its best.
RED: You don’t know how many winemakers mention Andre as an influence! How long have you been making wine?
MIKE: Well one could say since I was a child but 2009 was my 30th harvest in Napa and Sonoma. I still enjoy the “seasonality” of winemaking.
RED: Please tell me a little bit about the wine we are featuring today.
MIKE: Ah, our 2009 Zinfandel from Dry Creek Valley. This vintage has a lot of really great fruit. It just jumps out of the glass. The mouthfeel is rich and supple, with lots of complexity. And it is distinctively Dry Creek Valley , with its spicy elements. Some people call it “Peppery”, but I think that it’s a lot more complex than that.
RED: What is your favorite pairing with today’s wine?
MIKE: One word: BBQ. Nicol and I took the kids camping recently. Dinner was slow smoked baby back ribs. We paired dinner with several other wines, and in fact a number of cold beers were required for its proper preparation. The Zinfandel was a perfect match. The fruit complemented, but was not overwhelmed by the spices and the wine was a refreshing addition to the meal. Really nice.
RED: In your opinion, what makes the Dry Creek Valley such a special place for Zinfandel?
MIKE: To tell the truth, I think it is a number of factors, all coming together to contribute to Dry Creek Valleys success growing Zinfandel. Notable are the different soils, the topography which creates differing microclimates and the long tradition of Zinfandel vineyards here in Northern Sonoma County . Additionally, yet seldom mentioned are the guys in Dry Creek Valley doing the farming. It is not uncommon at all for third and fourth generation families to continuing the rich farming tradition here. When you contract to buy Zinfandel grapes from a fellow who was born on the same ranch, you know you are in good hands.
RED: Who do you make wine for?
MIKE: I began making wine for my own creative satisfaction. I worked for several top wineries that produced Cabernet, and there was always some step in the process when I said to myself, “If this were my wine I would do this differently”. That need to satisfy my own creativity from beginning to end is why I started my own winery when I was 25. My approach to winemaking combines art and practicality. “I always liked the honesty and hard work of agriculture and to me, winemaking is the ultimate fusion of agriculture and art.
RED: What is occupying your time at the winery these days?
MIKE: Late Spring and Summer are “Slow” times at the winery. We have minimal wine work to do, just maintenance really. So now is the time for my other interests. I am building some furniture from some beautiful Maple. I have several very old machine tools ready to rebuild. I am midway through the restoration of a ‘68 Ford truck, and have several other vintage cars waiting patiently. Oh, and now that its summer and hotter than heck, I have a large block retaining wall at home to finish.
RED: Please share one thing about yourself that few people know
MIKE: I enjoy cooking; to me this is another form of taking an ingredient and using your creativity to make something incredible. My wife thinks I cook so well that she refuses to cook anymore. I love watching all of the cooking shows on TV, especially Iron Chef. I just can’t get enough, they are very inspiring.
RED:What is your favorite ‘everyday’ or table wine?
MIKE: I enjoy drinking a dry Gewurztraminer from Sonoma County, Anderson Valley, or from the Alsace region of France. It’s a wonderful wine that you can drink alone or with Thai, Asian or Mexican food all of which I enjoy cooking and eating. The best examples have a depth and a perfume that is unbelievable.
RED: Thank you so much for your time. We learned a lot about you – and about your wine. Keep up the great work, we are big fans. Your Alexander Valley Cab is stupendous!
MIKE: Thanks, very much, Red. Now, back to the grapes!
The location of Optima Winery in Healdsburg can be seen in this satellite photo.